`**In a Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria, next to the border of Western Sahara, Hassan is hosting a tea ceremony in his tent. His five European guests are not the usual tourists though. They are businessmen and scientists who have come a long way to meet him.
Enzo, one of them, takes the floor and unravels a project they envisioned to transform his camp into a nomadic concentrated solar thermal power plant that, coupled with a waste incinerator, would be able to both generate energy and materials to build and serve movable adobe houses for its people. The vision is to raise a self-sustaining nomadic camp that can be moved to their homeland the day they will resolve to take it back from the Moroccans.
When Hassan asks what these men want in exchange and how he can help, Enzo explains that there’s a movement of thousands of anarcho-capitalists (behind the BiTerrarium project) ready to join his people in the effort if they are promised they will be granted a piece of land in Western Saraha in case of success. His people have one month to embrace the endeavour and prove its commitment by upholding two conditions: hold a referendum to approve the grant to the BiTerrarium project and adopt a constitution of just one sentence: “PERPETUA ET FIRMA LIBERTAS.”
Hassan is the man they have chosen to evangelize the project and create the necessary consensus among his people. When Enzo is about to go into the details the meeting is interrupted by many phones ringing at the same time. The news breaks about how the British royal family has been wiped out by a bomb during the coronation. Hassan receives messages from his Crypto Cell dealing with the event from a very different point of view.
At the centre of the tent, there's a brazier with charcoal of acacia wood. There lies a metal teapot in which the water is slowly heating up. All around him, at arm's length, there's the tea tray, an array of glass tumblers, the bowls with the sugar and the green tea leaves. Once the tea is ready Hassan starts pouring it from one vessel to another before tipping it into small glass tumblers from an ever-increasing height. Then he tips it from tumbler to tumbler, until the required alchemy is deemed to have taken place, whereupon he pours is with one last grand flourish that leaves a foaming head on each glass.
For the whole time, Hassan has been sitting with his legs crossed never changing position nor ever bending down. Wrapped under his traditional Sahrawi tunic of an intense pastel blue, his body is endowed with exceptionally wide shoulders from which he stretches two long arms. His body frame reminds the one of a long-distance swimmer. Hassan is almost two meters tall, skinny, lanky and yet elegant in his gestures. When reaching out for the tumblers and the teapot he operates his long dangly arms like cranes with the mastery of a croupier. His face is of a dark brown skin tone with Moorish traits. His cheeks are scarred by traces of teenage acne that appears burnt by the sun. The long face with slit eyes and sharp features would remind those of Lurch if it wasn't for an ever friendly expression that comes from an unavoidable smile he has plastered on his face. His receding upper lip and the over-eruption of his anterior teeth reveal, in fact, a gummy smile that makes it impossible for him to have a neutral expression.
Hassan is often the chosen candidate for the tea preparation on occasion of important visits. The Saharawi tradition requires, for the role, what his people would define a 'good poet'. A person proficient in the Hassani dialect of Western Sahara, endowed with elegance, civility, and a well-kept appearance.
In time Hassan has grown an uncanny sense of discomfort and unease in staging tea ceremonies. He can't help but think how pathetic and fake could have felt those Indians on reservations that found a living by rehearsing pipe ceremonies for sympathetic tourists.
His visitors are usually people from the UN, the NGOs or simply tourists, that like concertgoers come to enjoy en exemplar execution as described in tour guides or shown in online videos. There simply cannot be the surprise and the fascination that might have accompanied historical first encounters with the Saharawi people.
In those gatherings there where explorers, traders, emissaries or even military vanguards. They weren't there for the tea, they were there to gather information or close partnership and treaties. The tea was just a contour. Nonetheless, the wrong timing, the wrong gesture or facial expression could lead to painful or comic misunderstandings and outcomes. No doubt the first detailed recounts would have struck the imagination of people back home, but the main intent was confined to the need to learn and teach those who may follow on how not look hostile by just being rude.
Around Hassan's tea trays there are no decision makers nor deals to negotiate. His task is to just re-enact those moments. The parties involved have no other purpose than serving and being served tea. He is just putting on a show.
His usual guests don't want to be told that he's not different from them. That he's connected to the rest of the world just like anybody else. That most of his friends, like him, speak Spanish and English fluently as they have been studying abroad. That they probably even share the same internet memes on WhatsApp.
There is a bit of irony in the fact that, despite the long preparation, the tea, when served, is drunk swiftly with no hesitation. And his guest are caught of guard by the sudden gobbling of the precious drink by Hassan and the other hosts. They must be not the usual visitors. They have been waiting in that kind of respectful silence and hesitation of those who don't belong and can't blend and now they are thinking that the ceremony may have come to an end before they could even join. They probably don't know that there are three rounds of tea. His guests today are naif and yet genuine.
“The mass has ended you can go with God, fellas,” Hassan says with a smile. A liberating laughter from his guests bursts in the tent. “Nah, don't worry guys, there will be two other rounds of tea. And if we don't get along... there will be a fourth one. Just so you know.”
A second louder laugh follows.
Hassan’s family members in the tent are staring at him. They hadn't been watching his guests as he had.
“The first round is bitter like life, the second smooth like death, and the third sweet like love. The fourth is a not so subtle way to tell our guest that it’s time for them to leave.”
A murmur of aprouval can be heard in the tent. For once, Hassan can give not for granted that his guests are new to the Sahrawi traditions and possibly their story and struggles.
“It is through trades with the British in the 18th Century, that tea was introduced to us Sahrawis. The beverage soon became popular among the people of Western Sahara for whom clean water, tea leaves, sugar started being luxuries taken in the highest esteem. It is said, that tea was so precious that we Sahrawis were reluctant to offer our guests tea initially. In contrast, reminded of our infamous generosity we made the tea ceremony an obligatory and a central aspect of our hospitality. However, being a rare indulgence in a land of extreme scarcity, the preparation is taken very seriously, and it must take its time. So much time that for somebody not accustomed to it appears kind of a social sickness. The hours spent in preparing and performing the Saharawi tea ritual is not for the sake of enjoying the custom itself but rather it is about creating the right setting for people to get acquaintance, to share in the life of the community, to discuss social issues.”
“My name is Hassan Al Sarcaz, son of XX and YYY. I was born in 1992 and like other 173.000 Sahrawis have been living most of my life in one of the four Sahrawi refugee camps dislocated outside Tindouf in Algeria. The desert is our place and its sand is the floor of our homes. But this is not our desert.”
His guests are five men of different ages and looks. They've been whispering among themselves in english with interest and excitement. They are possibly from various countries of Europe. They have been knowing each other at least professionally, or by fame, but they behave like it's the first time they are meeting in person. They are not colleagues or collaborators because they relate with a dynamics that doesn't show any hierarchy or deference.
“Hassan, my name is Enzo Fiano.” A voice with a lyrical Italian accent raises from the group. It’s a man in his sixties in a pale blue open-neck linen shirt with rolled-up sleeves. He has silver combed hair receding from a high and distended forehead. His unshaven sunken cheeks are brightened by two remarkable crystalline blue eyes behind pale grey glasses. “I should like to start by saying that it's being an honour and a pleasure having tea with you and your family. I think I can speak for everybody by saying that we didn't expect such a cosy and charming reception.”
His thanks are quickly met with nods and murmurs of approval from the others.
“I and my... ehm... friends, are from various places and very different walks of life. These people are businessmen, entrepreneurs, and scientists who have been extremely successful in their fields. I feel a sense of privilege in joining this gathering with these men who are very important to me.” His words are igniting a spark in the eyes of his friends. “We've come a long way to meet you”
A round of amused faces is staring at Hassan expecting a reaction from him. He is un-squinting his eyes, but his involuntary smile makes it look like he's figuring out the joke.
“Meet you” One of the men repeats with a satisfied grin.
"Let me ask you a question," Enzo continues. "If you were in your thirties thirty years ago, when your people moved to this camp, what would you be doing now?"
“I... uhm, I probably. I probably would be telling my people to...our leaders to... I would be doing things differently”.
“You know? I don't think so.” He’s interrupted by Enzo. “I believe you wouldn't be doing anything different. You would be the ‘crazy with bottles’ anyhow. Even then. You would have come out with your smart idea about building houses with plastic bottles with thirty years in advance. While your friends would be looking at each summer as the one that could be last one in the camp, you would be envisioning a brilliant cheap escamotage to build a home for your grandma. And then for your friends. And then for anybody who could see the value in it. You would be trying to improve the condition of your people and its cause probably in the same your way. And you know what's worse? You probably would have been sticking to your plan even today in your sixties. Only, today, your houses would be even smarter, if not buildings or infrastructures.”
Enzo pauses for a few seconds
“You are a builder Hassan. I know your kind. Problems for you are hooks for solutions. And you can't wait to grab them.”
Hassan’s smile is now stuck. The man is clearly talking about him.
“We know your story. The young Saharawi who, after becoming an expert on energy efficiency at universities in Algeria and Spain, decides to come back and help his people with a stupid idea; building adobe houses with sand and trash, the only materials that a refugee camp can offer. Plastic bottles that filled with sand can work better than bricks.
Hassan is embarrassed. One again he’ll need to explain that what made the headlines of prominent outlets around the world as un up-lifting news celebrating his inventiveness, is an idea that, at the end of the day, is not really catching on with his people. The men can't know that, although his exploit got him the applause and the recognition from his community, in practice, he hasn't been able to really establish a business, apart from sporadic projects sponsored by NGOs. His people are not buying it: costs, workforces, priorities, the lack of clarity regarding the property rights about the land. A land that, for forty years, the Algerian government has been both offerings and at the same time taking it hostage.
Hassan is about to tell his guests how he's failing in following up with his vision when the Italian man speaks again:
“I come from Bergamo,” the Italian man says, “a city from Italy where everybody is a builder like you.” He smiles. “I'm not joking. Almost everyone works in the construction industry. If there's a construction site in Northern Italy, chances are the company in charge and the workforce are from Bergamo. You know which language you need to learn if you want to work as a scaffolder?
"The Bergamo dialect!” A laughter fills the tent.
“You know what does a Bergamasque do at the bus stop?
"He will start building a wall!”
This time, even Hassan can't contain himself and explodes in a laughter that unleashes his real smile.
“I'm sure I'm now going to ruin my stand-up comedy with what I'm about to say.”
The man pauses “Hassan, your people have been waiting at a bus stop for 40 years...”
A respectful silence falls into the room. Hassan is now nodding seriously at what is a one of the best metaphor he ever heard describing his people state of mind. Then, his smile come back again.
“You really hit home with this one Enzo.” He pauses.
“Gentlemen. I hope you don't mind if I ask: what's the purpose of your visit? and how can I help you?”
“We want to build something with you and push your vision further” says Enzo.
“We have the crazy idea to build the largest concentrated solar thermal power plant ever. Thousands of mirrors pointing at a majestic solar tower. The electricity generated would be enough to serve the need of more than 400.000 households during peak hours. But this is not it. The plant will be coupled with a modern incinerator that will transform plastic waste into giant lego bricks you can fill with sand. They will be easy to move and assemble but once filled they become solid walls and homes. On top of this homes, we will put those same mirrors that will reflect the sun straight to the solar tower. During the night the plant could exchange the heat generated with those same houses that are usually left bearing the cold of the desert at night.”
“W... what. What about the energy in excess?”
“It would be a happy problem, don't you think? We could store it in batteries or mine bitcoins”
“I.. I'm not sure there would be enough waste around here for...”
“I'm sure we can buy more... the world would be happy to help.”
“Who said here? Today here, tomorrow there” he points out toward west.
“We have in mind a nomadic solar plant. Every part of it, the tower, the incinerator, the mirrors, the grid, the water pipes, the homes, all things are designed to be easily dismantled and reassembled like a nomad camp. It's clear that your people can't find any purpose, or energy or hope in putting the foundations of their life here. This is just a bus stop. Forget about foundations. Let's just build a modern nomad encampment here and now. Something that can be moved in the right place when the time comes.”
“You talk like you already have a blueprint”
“We do, the persons in this room have been working on every single detail of it.”
“How about the funds. What's your budget?”
“10 times more than enough. I can prove it right now.”Enzo has reached out to his phone and is typing something.“Show me your Bitcoin address”
“Why?” Hassan replies concerned
“Just show me your address.“ Enzo insists.
Hassan takes his phone out of the tunic. There's a notification displayed on his scream. It's a strange message from his Crypto Network Cell. He opens up his bitcoin wallet and shows it to Enzo. The man is now pointing his camera phone at his QR code.
“Check your balance!”
Even the men have a curious look now, as kind of caught bit off guard. Hassan is looking at the screen. He is blinking his eyes in a gesture of incredulity.
“There's an incoming transaction of...of th...of 2 billions euros, this can't be true“
“Oh, It's true. True like gold. And that's just part of it.”
The men in the tent are now frozen. Their eyes wide open. Hassan's phone is now dangling from his two fingers like he is holding a snake from the tail. In his hands there is enough money to grant the survival of the camps for a decade.
“You know what was the real novelty of Bitcoin when they appeared? For the first time in history, digital transactions could be irreversible. That was not a bug...it was the feature.” He pauses. “Do you want to keep it? It's yours know. I trust you'll give it back.”
Hassan is speechless. He is staring at his elders in the room with the look of somebody who needs advice or consultation. It's kind of entrenched in the Saharawi culture to always look for a collective consensus in takings decisions or positions. But his family members are looking back at him even more lost. His father, in contrast, is beaming at him encouragingly. His eyes are wet. They can’t hide the pride of the father who is seeing that his son's time has come.
“Go on, son.” He says in a calm Hassani dialect, making a gesture with the hands.
“W... w... why? What's in it for you?” Hassan mumbles.
“I hope you’ll like what I'm about to say, Hassan. Because we really need you to like it. What we want, in exchange from all this, is something that our people and your people consider priceless and yet it should be costless. And that is: perpetual and secure freedom.”
“Let me tell you a story that dates back to 1441 in Italy. It’s the story of the Repubblica of Cospaia, the smallest republic ever existed which lasted undisturbed for 4 centuries.
You know, to obtain a loan, people offer guarantees. When Pope Eugene IV asked a loan from Florence of 25,000 gold florins, he pledged the little region around the city of Borgo Sansepolcro in the upper Tiber valley. At the end of the tenth year, the loan was not returned and the land became part of the Republic of Florence. It was, therefore, necessary to agree on the new borders between the two states and each appointed its own commission. Both commissions - acting independently - fixed their own border, leaving out a strip of land that was enclosed in a bifurcation of the same river. 330 hectares, between 500 and 700 meters wide and a few kilometres long, within which stood the village of Cospaia, a farming village located on top of a hill, with about 350 people in less than 100 families.
The inhabitants of this strip found themselves living in a territory that was unclaimed by both reigns. The political situation between the papacy and Florence advised not to start a dispute for an un-strategic and economically marginal strip of land. Thus, a sort of no man's land was established. Its inhabitants didn't need to be told twice and hastened to proclaim Cospaia 'free'. A self-proclaimed independent republic was born. In 1484 its status was formally recognized.
**The micro-state resolved to base its independence on the total freedom of the inhabitants, all holders of sovereignty. Not subject to anybody or any power. The Cospaiesi were not subject to taxes nor duties. They didn't have any army or prisons. A Council of the Elders and Heads Families was just enough to resolve disputes. Engraved in the parish's bell, the only ever written rule of the tiny republic had been for 4 centuries “PERPETUA ET FIRMA LIBERTAS.” The Cospaiesi, a people of illiterates, had been smart enough not to complicate their life any further. They just minded about how to prosper by trading and maintaining excellent relationships with nearby towns. Everybody could join the republic as long as they had a trade to run or a land to settle into."
Enzo pauses for a moment."Now, Imagine if that had happened to Western Sahara when Spain left!"**
"This story is to tell that people can be better off if left alone and that there may not be the need of a government to enforce the only natural law that really counts: nobody should initiate or threaten to initiate force on an individual and its property. There could have been hundreds if not millions of communities like Cospaia. Instead, we only had few other examples in history and they all end up being overpowered and annexed by bordering nations.
We are told what can and cannot be said or written. Why?
We are told what to do with our bodies. Why?
We are told where we may or may not live. Why?
We are told how to run our business, who we have to hire or serve in our shops. Why?
We are told what sort of contracts we may or may not make one another. Why?
We are told which religious belief or practice we may have. Why?
We are told what goods or services we may and may not buy or sell. Why?
We are told to pay taxes to be told all of that. Why?
We are told to join the military and make wars we don't agree with. Why?
If your answer is a genuine 'I don't know' then you are, like us, a rare breed of the human race. A modern descendant of those illiterate farmers from Cospaia.
“You are talking about Anarcho-capitalists” Hassan interrupts him, receiving a wide smile from his audience
“Yes, Anarcho-capitalists. And not only.
We are idealists, but we don't gather in protests. We are not violent. We are not organized. True to our principles we don't have leaders or armies. We are sparse around the world and dedicate our lives just saving the money to shield ourselves from governments and their intrusiveness. But some of us are heroes that have contributed to the cause.
The creator of Wikipedia is one of us
The creator of WikiLeaks is one of us
The creator of Bitcoin is one of us
The creator of Symptom Checker”
“The creator of the Silk Road is one of us. I mean, one of them.”
The words slipped from Hassan's mouth in excitement.
“Oh yes, even Pirate Roberts was one of us!
People like them has been proving the world that there's no need for governments to regulate, supervise or even provide fundamental things like education, information, monetary policies or markets.
Men like them, and us, belong to a nation in exile. Sparse like in a diaspora we are disconnected. Unrelated. We've been living our entire life with the feeling that we don't belong to the countries where we are born. We are a nation whose homeland is somewhere else or yet to come. Ours is a hopeless and yet kind of a comfortable struggle."
"The struggle of your people, Hassan, is incredibly harsher and yet so hopeful. And here, let me get to the point: you may have heard about BiTerrarium”
“I do, I mean, I have... yes”
“As you may know, Giacomo Zucco has yet to decide where to establish BiTerrarium. There are various options under scrutiny. Sea steading platforms. New islands emerging from the sea. Etc.
These men and I are leading the front that considers the option to terraform a piece of land in Western Sahara as the most spectacular and viable option.
We would like to join your people in your dream. There are an estimated 100.000 anarcho-capitalists ready to start camping here with you in 1 month. They will bring technology, funds, energies and the will to start the march that will bring your people back home. We are willing to sacrifice anything like you, if you people will allow to share the fruit of this joint effort. We obviously need your people not just to consent but to embrace our proposal.
You don't have to, but you can.
Before we kick off we need all the Saharawis to officially approve with a 'reasonable unanimity' the following conditions. The first one being: the new government will grant the BiTerrarium project a piece of land of XXXX hectares wherever you want in the territory. The second one is: a new constitution will be redacted and approved. A one sentence constitution: eternal and secure liberty”
Hassan is now trying to look calm but inside he's overwhelmed.
He's kind of an outsider in his people political arena. Certainly not an active member of the youth ranks of the Polisario. Nonetheless, his natural charisma and his higher education have earned him the consideration not just from his friends but also from the older generations who consider him a natural born leader.
He could be defined a moderate for the Saharawi political standard. He's convinced that non-violence, higher education and a relentless effort to bring awareness to the world public opinion has been the best strategy forward. Nonetheless, he would be ready to take arms and go to war tomorrow if his leaders said so. With no questions asked. Like any other Saharawi.
There's an ever-increasing generational divide that is splitting the Saharawi society. More than 75% of the population is younger than 30 but the power is held by the older generation. The divide has been going on for a while already but surprisingly it is not as conflictive as it could be.
Each side has, in fact, a deep and genuine respect for the other. The youngsters admire and they are thankful for most of the decisions and the strategies pursued in the last 30 years. Especially in regard to how the refugee camps have been democratically organized and managed (mostly by women) and how resources have been spent on health care and education infrastructures. The elders see that the youngsters are the ones who are surprisingly sticking to the dream of taking back a land that they have never seen. When or if they go abroad to study they almost always come back to contribute to the cause.
Hassan's attitude has won the appreciation of the elders but also suspects from the younger generations. They see in his attitude the one of somebody who will be useful to co-opt because he is domesticated enough not to make any fuss when in power. Somebody who would never take any resolutive action for the cause. Truth is Hassan has been holding, for quite some time now, a deep belief that the stall may come from the almost total dependency of his people from UN and Humanitarian Aids. They are not allowing the kickstart of a self-sustaining market economy and they are transforming their society into an aid dependent bureaucracy. And a bureaucracy is fertile ground for careerists that tend to hold tight the status quo. He's been looking for a peaceful radical solution for his people all his life.
Hassan takes a breath and says:
“I shall repeat my question. How can I help you, gentlemen.”
Enzo stares at him: “in the next 2 months where will be the National Congress. It will be the right occasion for your people to reach a consensus. We need your people to uphold those conditions and we want and need your help to make it happen”
We can even bring here up to 1.000 evangelists, take seminaries and explain in the details every single part of our plans in total transparency. We are also planning to distribute quadrants of BiTerrarium and implement a centennial UBI bitcoin scheme for up to 500.000 of those braves that will march west when the day will come.”
Enzo is now interrupted by the ringing of a phone quickly silenced by the embarrassed owner. But some other phones in the room are starting receiving notifications. Even those of the members of Hassan's family. It's clear that something is spreading on the ether and reaching out to the tent from all places. People are now looking at each other getting more and more aware that something not ordinary is going to appear on their screen. Until one of the men breaks the silence:
“You should all check your phones. Apparently, we are not the only one who missed the British coronation. The British royal family may have been wiped out by a bomb. The whole world missed the coronation.”
Hassan too is now checking his phone, but his messages have a really different point of view. His brothers from the cell are getting crazy. And it seems they have a very good reason to.
"Sirs" Hassan stands up and speak.
"I'm sure we have plenty to talk and I'm looking forward knowing all the details of your proposal. There's a time for everything and I believe this is the moment to check on our families and friends. I pray God they are all safe.
We may adjourn this meeting for now so we may talk about this amongst ourselves. I invite us to reconvene tomorrow at the same hour. I may ask you the favour to let few other persons join. Is of utmost importance that I... we can have the full picture of... of your proposal."
In sign of agreement the men stand up. Hassan feels dazed. What started as a normal tea ceremony is going to stay impressed in his mind like a flashbulb.