In Algeria, in the Sahara Desert, lives a community of 100,000 Sahrawi refugees who escaped war over 40 years ago. This is also where Inma Zanoguera, a UT master’s student, traveled to find out the story of her personhood.
Hers is a unique story but, at the same time, is one we all can connect with — the pursuit of one’s identity and background.
Inma and her siblings were adopted at a young age and had what she described as a comfortable and normal childhood with very loving parents. As she grew up, she got involved in sports, playing basketball for Toledo while an undergrad. She also played professionally after graduating in 2015.
“But it was there that I found out, or rather discovered, that wasn’t really the life that I wanted to lead,” Inma said. “I felt in my bones that I was done with basketball.”
Inma was 22 at the time, having spent 15 years of her life playing basketball. She said she found herself not really knowing who she was outside of sports.
“I think that’s where my curiosity about everything that makes me a person began,” Inma said.
She spoke with her family and friends and, soon, her sister got the idea to provide Inma with some answers about their adoption. She sent her some documents that didn’t provide much information, but, for Inma, it was enough to start with: her mother’s name, the place she was born and her birthday.
“That’s where it all began,” Inma said. “I set out unconsciously that day to find out more. That was a part of my life that had been neglected, forgotten or dogged as unimportant.”
While she was researching her mother and the adoptions, Inma came across a website advertising a race in the area her mother was from that would benefit the refugees. Her biological mother was one of these displaced refugees. She said that before she even signed up, it was a done deal.
The 42 kilometers that constitute the Western Sahara Marathon connect the refugee camps of Laayoune, Auserd and Smara. In February, Inma ran this marathon, having only picked up running the year before.
“I get the running part is a parallel story that I sometimes forget because people are like, ‘Why can’t you just go there and not run?’ That’s what the running is all about,” Inma said. “I didn’t set out to take on another sport, it just kind of happened actually.”
She said the questions about her origin and the place she’s from started coming around the same time as she started running. When she saw the marathon, Inma said, “I just knew that this was going to be my path.”
She questions if “fate” is the right word to describe her situation, but she said the events just seemed meant for her. She said she’s a very curious person by nature, and her search is fueled by that curiosity.
“It's a constant discovery of my personhood to finding out about my origins and the story of my mom and the history of the people of the Western Sahara and also just like what is means to be adopted and start out in a world that is supposedly not the world that you were fated to live in,” Inma said. “So that alone, regardless of where you are adopted from, brings out some existential question of why.”
Leading up to the trip to run the marathon and visit the refugees in the Sahara, Inma still couldn’t believe what she was doing was real.
“I knew it was going to happen, but then I would wake up and be like, ‘This is so crazy. Am I really doing this?’” Inma said. “So there was a part of me that was questioning if this was really happening, so when we finally landed, I was relieved to see that something that I wished for so much actually come to fruition.”
Inma, along with Michelle-Andrea Girouard, a cinematographer and friend, are making a documentary that followed Inma’s training in Toledo; her family life back home in Mallorca, Spain; and her journey in Tindouf where she stayed with a refugee family and ran the marathon.
The documentary raised $6,315, and 20 percent of these donations went directly to the refugee camps through the organization of the Sahara Marathon, according to the documentary’s website.
Nothing is set in stone yet, but Inma says her efforts with the refugees is “something I maybe will start; I gotta graduate first.”
She says her journey isn’t over as only some of her questions has been answered, but she is very grateful to the Toledo community who have supported her.