Stars and Time (and Tea for Two)
“We are poor, but still richer than you when it comes to stars and time”. Our hostess smiles as she looks up at the thousands upon thousands of stars shining down on us. We are sitting on a carpet rolled out in the sandy courtyard of Mahamuda Lipsir and her three daughters and two grandsons. A good day is coming to an end and we have nothing better to do than studying the sky above us and listening to the sound of the on-going tea-ceremony. One giant lump of sugar in is dissolved in hot tea before the contents is poured from glass to glass to glass and back to the pot to be re heated before it is poured back into the first glass, and the to the second, and the third… The process goes on forever, and the sweet drink isn’t served until all the pouring has created a white layer of foam in each glass. Mahmouda puts the sugar bombs on a tin tray and watch us as we finish them in two sips. The empty glasses are put back on the tin tray and the ceremony starts over again. According to Saharawian tradition you must drink three glasses: The first one bitter as life, the second sweet as love and finally one as mild as death.
There are no hotels in the refugee camps. Visitors are staying with local families, and we are being hosted by Mahamuda in the north-eastern corner of the 27th of February camp. The moon has got a funny angle compared to what we are used to back home. It resembles a white hammock in the sky and reminds us that it’s time to call it a night (after finishing our tea of course).
The slow pace of the desert is strange for a Norwegian. We have got everything the Saharawians lack. We have a country, we have money, we have an education system for everybody, we have health care and roads and a climate where you can walk outdoors at noon without risking a heat stroke. But what do we miss? A beautiful starry sky and time to lay on our backs and study it – and maybe some sweet tea.