We have heard news that one of the great Saharawi poets, Beyibouh has passed away in the Tindouf camps. Beyibouh features heavily in our publication, Settled Wanders (by Sam Berkson and Mohammed Sulaiman).
It has been a privilege to publish Beyibouh's work and we send condolences to his family and loved ones. As a tribute we are publishing his poem of the Saharawi resistence, Dreimissa here on the blog. You can of course read more of his work in Settled Wanderers.
Below Dreimissa is Sam's poem, Tea With Beyibouh, which captures wonderfully what it was like to know the man be in his presence.
Rest in peace.
Dreimissa (ode to the Land Rover)
by Beyibouh El-Haj
[In the war against Morocco, before the ELPS had tanks, Western Saharan fighters used the reconditioned Land Rover, which was popularly known as the ‘Dreimissa’ – literally, ‘hornless goat’.]
sawn-off shotgun loaded
with the bullets of liberation –
this song is for you,
for the fate that gave you to us,
for the amazing things that you’ve done
and the praise that you have rightly won.
I hope, Dreimissa, that these words
will do you justice.
Daring to do battle against far-superior odds,
you stripped the reputation of an invading army
and left them,
for all their high-tech weaponry and influential friends,
Dreimissa, you have come into your own in this war
and grown into a role no other has played before.
Seeing you from a distance, nimble and lithe,
the way you zig-zag across the night, vital and bright-eyed,
a far-off speck … and then suddenly you’ve arrived.
A graceful note to your engine’s beat,
stirring up courage, you lift us out of our seats,
confident in your presence, you won’t overheat.
Now, with a group of fighters waiting within,
and the enemy trembling,
knowing the danger you bring:
this is the dual part
for which you hold a place in our hearts.
Dreimissa, squat and shorn,
It’s no shame that on your slender frame
a heavy load is borne.
Day or night, cabin pulled away, gun mounted;
even in the glare of the midday heat
you stand up and are counted.
Topless, you return,
painted with the dust that has spattered your sides:
believe me, Dreimissa, this is good reason for pride.
It is no mark against your name,
in fact, small as you are,63
low to the ground, open to the sky,
you have captured fat-necked tanks,
and brought down big bellied bomber planes.
Dreimissa, big thanks are due.
Injured people, riddled with bulletholes,
gushing with blood, have been rescued by you
back to safety in the nick of time.
It is you, Dreimissa, compassionate and kind,
fearless and agile, who fills out these lines.
Tea with Beyibouh
by Sam Berkson
‘bitter like life, sweet like love, soft like death’
the traditional order of the three cups of tea customarily served to guests
The billows pump the coal.
Frankincense floats lightly
through the four-doored tent,
open at all sides to chance breezes or wandering strangers.
Squares of light across the carpeted floor
hint at that glasstop glare
of the engulfing desert
that swallows vast swathes of the continent.
But, here, enclosed in cooling gloom,
we are pitched on the edge of the settlement,
where sandbricked camp meets expanding Sahara,
and goats and camels pick about the rubble on the frontier,
penned hundreds of miles from
the land the poets used to sing of,
the other side of a wall and landmines and diplomatic impasse.
The flies flicker and fuss busily.
Tea is poured and repoured from cup to cup.
The ceremonial liquid, strong and dark.
Glasses clatter on metal tray.
Bitter like life.
The tea is the generosity of
fourth generation poet,
but once a camel herder in Spanish Sahara
like the rest of them.
He was nearly fifty when the Moroccans came,
moved out in the night when the soldiers stormed their homes.
They escaped east to exile carrying little more than
a head full of memories.
Eighty if he’s a day.
He talks with a vigour
and energy that stirs the room to life,
apparently undimmed by the years.
People watch him.
His wife, working the billows,
casts a look that is proud
but mindful he does not overstretch himself.
His grandson shyly shuffles in,
then clamours for attention.
He sprawls in his lap,
pulls on his ears,
flashing two rows of milkwhite milkteeth
and unconcealed affection
until he leaves at his grandfather’s orders.
We sweep up the tea cups, pass them back
and, for the second time, his wife pours the brown liquid
from cup to cup in sweeping arcs,
heading each glass with a froth to sift the sand and dust,
enriched with sugar,
freshened with mint.
Sweet like love.
He has the gift of laughter.
He speaks in slow, guttural Hassaniya,
considers and weighs his phrases,
winds up towards the breathy punchline
that breaks us all out in laughter.
He slaps hands with everyone.
And another tea is poured.
His poems stripped King Hassan’s rhetoric
and mocked his naked intentions.
They breached the berm,
they roared through skies,
no S.A.M could touch them.
Now in time of theoretical ceasefire
when demonstrations are besieged and battered and broken
behind global media silence;
after decades of underweight and undernourishing food aid;
at a time when civilian settlers are rearranging borders;
after remaining as exiles unmoving through the years
while U.N workers serve their time and envoys come and go;
his poems bring laughter, keep memory alive,
enliven our tea talk,
way past the third step in this familiar ritual.
Tea drained to the dregs,
just a taste on the tongue when there’s nothing left.
Soft like death