from the blogosphere to pure fantasy

Taking a break from blogging. Most of my free cyber time now spent on Second Life... which goes in the category of things that fascinate and amaze me.

Maybe I'll be back...or maybe not. Time will tell.

carnac, the truly magnificent

You may have heard of Carnac... no, not "Carnac the Magnificent" the Johnny Carson (I can hear many young people saying "Who?") character. This Carnac is in Brittany (France) and is, in many opinions, the most important megalithic site in the world, surpassing Stonehenge. It's comprised of thousands (as in over 3,000) prehistoric megaliths (from the Greek meaning "large stone") which were placed sometime between 3,300 and 4,500 B.C. Standing amidst the stones, placing your hand on them and looking at the vast field of perfectly placed menhirs (some up to 180 tons) is a truly unique experience.

We often are filled with arrogance, thinking that we're the smartest most advanced civilization since time began, and that those who came before us lived in ignorance...just seeing this and pondering how a society that lived some 7,000 years ago was advanced enough to conceptualize and create such a site, whatever its purpose (religious, astronomical, its purpose will remain a mystery) is humbling and inspiring.

constructive beauty

Who knew what beauty could be created from a stack of construction paper!?! see more pay a visit to

danes "liberate" muslim women? not...

I don't usually borrow from other blogs, but saw something so shocking on Svend White's thoughtful and incisive blog called Akram's Razor (link added to my list) about the Danish People's Party's new campaign targeting Muslim women.

Called "Free Yourselves," they offer an escape for Muslim women as though they are trapped in a cult and in need of an intervention to "deprogram" them. The image speaks volumes of the message they wish to send out, and it's highly offensive. Now I'm not a big fan of the veil, but I also believe it's every Muslim woman's right to choose her path...clearly this group doesn't agree. The text of their campaign webpage, which Svend translated, reads:
If you as a Muslim woman free yourself from old Muslim traditions that require you to submit to male family members, you can become an independent woman and member of modern society. A woman who is not dependent on a man. A woman able to create for herself a career on the job market and not just stand over the stove or serve as a baby machine. You can show your children what a woman's potential is by having a job, home, and family while remaining a good mother. Women in the West have done it for decades. We live well and are thriving. You can be one of us.

One of us, indeed. No thanks.

tony + maria, david + fatima

Fifty years after "West Side Story" filled the stage, the Israeli-American filmmaker Ari Sandel brings his reinterpretation, "West Bank Story," to the world. Winner of the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film, it's available for download for a mere $1.99 (or so it was at press time) from iTunes.

Politically incorrect to make a film about a war between West Bank Arabs and Jews, owners of "Hummus Hut" and the "Kosher King?," perhaps... A good innocent laugh for partisans of both sides?...definitely.

quran in tamazight

It was shocking to me to read that the very first translation of the Quran into Tamazight is being published, funded by the Religious Affairs Ministry of Algeria and the Saudis. Considering the fact that North Africa has been Muslim since the Arabs arrived in the 7th century, I can't believe that it took that long.

Portions of the Bible were published in Tamazight as early as 1919, with equally old and even older translations in multiple other berber languages including Tachelhit, Kabyle, Tarifit, etc.

One of the things that always encouraged me to forge ahead when learning the prayer in Arabic was the story a friend once told me of his mother, a Kabyle berber who spoke no Arabic. Throughout her life she performed her prayer regularly, having memorized the basic verses and simplest prayer as a child in Arabic, but without ever understanding the words she said. While she clearly understood the general meaning, the Arabic words were as foreign to her as, say, Chinese.

the blue of chefchaouen

Nothing really to blog about. Thinking a lot about the movies I saw this weekend, Babel and The Last King of Scotland. Both haunting and frightening.

Also, finally was able to get my photos off my camera onto my computer, so I just had to share one. This is a picture I took this past September, in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Chefchaouen, Morocco. My visit there coincided with the King of Morocco's, who stayed several days (I was shuffled up to a front-row seat to be able to wave to his motorcade as it cruised by)...the man has good taste in vacation spots, although I must admit that I didn't join him in shooting boar!

a radioactive sahara

A group of French veterans (AVEN) who witnessed nuclear tests in the Algerian desert in the 60's have offered their support to the Touareg who were exposed to the radiation and asbestos from this testing, as part of their effort to force the French government to acknowledge the testing and compensate its victims.

Between 14 and 17 tests were held in Algeria, with bombs four times more powerful than those dropped on Japan during WWII. Radioactive fallout was detected in areas 1000 kms. (over 600 miles) away from the bomb sites, and many believe there is still evidence of contamination. Mansouri Amar, an Algerian nuclear researcher, when discussing the Saharan regions of In Ecker and Reggane where much of the testing was carried out, said:
Thousands of hectares have been contaminated, and the region is still dangerous for humans and the animals. Our goal today is to show our invitees what happened here, and we should also mobilise public opinion on this issue.

Toureg bedouins for years have told tales of how they dug up metal around Taourirt Tan Afella and made it into jewelry and ornaments, not realizing that doing so could cost them their lives.

Also sought is an acknowledgement by the French of the link between this testing and cases of thyroid cancer in those exposed to the fallout, as well as the drafting of a law formally recognizing this link. This effort has been led by Christiane Taubira, a Segolene supporter and a deputy of the PRG. The French government has not made public any documents about nuclear testing in Algeria, which has impeded the study of any possible links. The declassification of these documents is critical, and an urgent call to do so has been made by Dr. Florent de Vathaire, head of cancer epidemiology at the Gustave-Roussy Institute in Paris, part of the French Institute of Health and Medical Research.

De Vathaire has studied the correlation between France's nuclear testing in Polynesia (after Algerian independence, testing was moved to French Polynesia), and has found a direct statistical relation between the testing and the cases of thyroid cancer in the islands.


P.S. Yours truly, a frustrated doctor with no medical training whatsoever (read: disclaimer!) has for many years told anyone who would listen that there must be a reason for such a prevalence of thyroid disorders in Algeria, evidenced not merely by the multiple cases within my Algerian family, but also by the number of people one sees throughout Algeria who clearly suffer from Thyroid Eye Disease, evidenced by a wide-eyed and bulging stare.

the thing that covers the head and doin' the nasty

OK, I won't say the words, but let's just say that one starts with "hij" and is the arabic word describing a certain headcovering and the second starts with the letter "s" and ends in an "x." The reason I won't say the words is that those words, which I included in a previous post, have generated a ridiculous amount of traffic to my blog, originating from a google search containing both...and most of these come from the middle east! So that leads me to believe that perhaps the covering meant to show modesty is actually the object of desire to many....ewwwwww!

la mezquita de córdoba

An age-old battle has been revived in Spain, in Córdoba, to be exact, between the cristianos and the moros. Ever since Mansur Escudero, president of the Islamic Board, asked the Catholic hierarchy permission to allow Muslims to perform their individual prayers in the famous Mezquita de Córdoba, a war of words has followed, as evident in the press and in internet forums.

This architectural jewel, which represents for many the glories of the period of Muslim rule in Spain called Al-Andalus, has been a Catholic church since the 13th century. Construction of the mosque lasted over two centuries, commencing in 784 A.D., and the image of its giant red & white horseshoe arches and over 1,000 columns are familiar to centuries of lovers of art and architecture.

On Christmas Day, the Islamic Board sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI asking his permission to allow Muslim prayers alongside the Christians (and the tourists, who no doubt outnumber the faithful on any given day), as a model of tolerance and a way to foster interfaith dialogue. “Do not fear,” the letter read, “together we can show the violent, the intolerant, the anti-Semites, the Islam-phobes and also those who believe that only Islam has a right to remain in the world, that prayer is the strongest weapon imaginable.” Calling upon the image of the Pope praying shoulder to shoulder in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Escudero stressed that rather than an attempt to reconquer the mosque, they seek to restore “the spirit of Al Andalus,” when Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in relative harmony.

At the end of January, Escudero held a symbolic prayer at the door of the temple, which lasted five minutes and ended with his placing some white roses at the entrance. A supporter, Antonio Cutanda, writer and president of the Avalon Foundation, subsequently asked him to withdraw his petition. Cutanda, a supporter of peaceful coexistence between races and religions, expressed his sadness over the Catholic leaders’ absolute refusal to participate in a dialogue with the Muslim group: “There is nothing wrong with a dialogue between them, we should require religious leaders to also build a culture of peace…We have to eliminate radicalisms, tolerance is not enough: we must build respect.”

Escudero’s prayer was met by a small group of ultra right neo-Nazi’s, who view Escudero's request as evidence that Muslims are preparing an attempt to reconquer the power they lost several centuries ago, to regain the glories of Al-Andalus. Escudero and Cutanda stress that the Islamic group advocates non-violence and respect for women, and in no way supports any idea of reconquering the lands lost back in the 500 years ago.

These battles over religious sites are not new, and go back to the beginning of time. The same year that King Ferdinand III conquered the city, the mosque was reconsecrated a Christian church (not unlike the Hajia Sophia which was consecrated a mosque the day the Ottomans entered the city). There are buildings throughout the Iberian Peninsula and beyond that have been synagogues, mosques and churches in a musical-chairs type of rotation, depending on the powers at the time. When visiting the mosque/cathedral (whatever you want to call it...) the architectural tragedy of these conversions is evident in the nave, built in the 16th century, which even the King, Carlos V, recognized “destroyed something unique in the world.”

In a previous post, I mentioned the incredibly intricate replica of this amazing mosque in the virtual universe of Second Life, and the creepy parallel world of conflicts and religious bias that reared its ugly head there. I’m happy to report that the mosque is once again open in Second Life, where anyone Muslim, Jew, Christian or furry headed avatar with a tail, can pray.

Inshallah I’ll be standing under these same arches in a little over a month when I travel to Spain. No doubt the rebel in me will remain quiet, but I can assure you that, faced with such a monumental and mystical center of Islamic history, I will certainly, and quietly, say a prayer, for all of us.

...with a winged heart

Starting in September NYC will have its first public school dedicated to teaching Arabic language and culture, with half of its classes eventually to be held in Arabic. The Khalil Gibran International Academy hopes to attract not only Arab-American students, but also those students with no background in Arab cultures.

Efforts such as these will no doubt help to educate people so that hopefully, someday, we'll see fewer posters such as the one in my previous post, fueled by ignorance and blind hatred.

no comment

Found this photo on flickr, but saw a very similar one on the street the other day.

bees in the city

The UNAF (The Union of French Apiarists) is getting the word out about their project “The Bee, sentinel of the Environment” which promotes urban beekeeping, or putting hives on rooftops in cities all over France...and beyond. So far, the results have been impressive. Sounds nice, right? But what’s really disturbing is their reason for doing this: to save the ever-dwindling bee population, decimated by their lives in the country where they buzz about in bliss amongst all kinds of pesticides.

Populations of bees are dropping worldwide. Because farmlands are often heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides and dominated by monocultures, bees often find life in the city to be easier than that in the bucolic countryside. They happily set up house in city parks, balconies, gardens, vacant lots, and rooftop hives, where higher temperatures and a diverse urban plant life translates into a longer period of pollination from a wider variety of flowers, without the exposure to the toxicity of pesticides and other crop treatments.

These little hymenopterans (ok, I had to look it up to…the order of insects which includes sawflies, wasps, bees and ants) possess a filter which protects them better from urban pollution than from the neurotoxins in pesticides. (Bet a lot of city dwellers would like to get a hold of this filter for themselves...). Bees roam within a radius of three kilometers from the hive, and if they encounter pesticides on their wanderings, they die. And before they die the neurotoxins cause disorientation which prevents the poor bee from finding its home, causing some regions to “lose” up to 45% of their bees.

Interestingly enough, the beehive which produces the most honey in Paris is that on the roof of the Opera of Paris, which yields 100 kilos of honey, conveniently sold to tourists and bee lovers at quite a premium. Hives placed in the city of Nantes produced far more honey that those in the countryside 30 km away. City bees have longer, happier lives than their country relatives: the mortality rate of city bees was 6% compared to 33% for the rural bees studied. And apparently their honey is believed by many to be even tastier!

By 2009 the UNAF hopes to convince all the countries in the European Union to join this effort.

sahrawi refugees in tindouf

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Program (WFP) have sounded the alert about the conditions of the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. These camps, comprised of between 160,000 and 200,000 (depending in whose estimates you believe) Sahrawis, house those who fled the Western Sahara when it was ceded by the then colonial power, Spain, to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975. This makes the Tindouf camps among those with the longest duration, not a very admirable title.

Acute malnutrition is on the rise among the refugees, especially among the children, and the group recommended several measures to curb this trend, included a more varied diet, supplementary nutrition for children and pregnant/nursing mothers (two-thirds of whom suffer from acute anemia), better monitoring of food distribution and adding soy to the general ration. They also suggested education programs targeting the refugees to address nutrition, water handling and hygiene. Another recommendation was to separate those children suffering from acute malnutrition (which requires immediate attention) from those suffering from chronic malnutrition.

Janak Upadhyay, who took part in the mission, was quoted as saying: "Most of the refugees have been there for more than 30 years.... We met children in the camp who were born and raised there…They are children who don't know any better than living in a desert – dependent on aid, part of a political problem without a solution in sight. It is very sad."

Tindouf, in the western Sahara, is known for its very inhospitable conditions, with summer temperatures reaching over 122 degrees in the shade (if there is any) and in winter the temperatures reach freezing. In addition to these harsh weather conditions, the area is devoid of economic opportunities and the refugees depend on aid for all of their needs. One year ago, torrential rains inundated the camps and washed away food, belongings and tents, leaving the camp devastated.

In an ironic twist, it’s the WFP, the organization that sounded the alert, that has contributed to this crisis. Yahia Bouhubeini, president of the Sahrawi Red Crescent, reported in January that the WFP was withholding donations from different humanitarian organizations, valued at several millions of euros, which are needed to avert an imminent famine. Houhubeini asked the UNHCR to convey to the international community the gravity of the situation for the region’s refugees, who exhausted food supplies in October. The Sahrawi Red Crescent (SRC) officially declared the situation to be an emergency of the first degree.

Hep brezhoneg Breizh ebet*

I don’t know if it’s that I have a habit of living in and traveling to places where there is an autochthonous cultural and linguistic people who struggle against the powers that be, or if it’s just that I’m drawn to their struggles, but here I am, once again faced with the same, or similar issues.

Here in Brittany, arm-in-arm with the political (and military, but apparently it’s illegal here to even discuss that so I won’t go there in this post) struggle, is the linguistic one. The knowledge and use of the Breton language, or “brezhoneg,” is in decline, and there are valiant and very interesting efforts to preserve it, through bilingual French-Breton classes in the public schools (first one opened in 1983), in “Diwan” or immersion schools (first opened in 1977), and in private Catholic schools (first opened in 1980).

Whereas the government still clutches in its hand the Constitution of the 5th Republic which states that French, and only French is the language of the Republic (sound familiar?), and the subsequent Toubon Law determines that French is the language of public education (thus no government funding for Breton-language schools), the Bretons are using creative ways to get around that in order to ensure that their language survives.

Breton is an indo-European language, which has been spoken for the last 1500 years. The first written texts in Breton date from the 9th century and, interestingly enough, predate by 50 years those written in French. Declared as a language in danger of extinction by UNESCO, Breton speakers are in decline: from over one million at the beginning of the 20th century, to 270,000 one hundred years later. According to the website, at least 10,000 Breton speakers are lost each year, which translates into 28 a day and 1 each hour…an illustrative way of viewing this linguistic decline, no?

This past Fall 11,000 students attended bilingual Breton-French schools, which is an increase of 6.6% over last year, and approximately 2000 attended Diwan schools (unable to be more precise because for some mysterious reason¬---call me a conspiracy theorist---the diwan website is down). The Diwan (Diwan is Breton for “sprout”) immersion schools were created in 1977, modeling themselves after other immersion schools in Western Europe such as the Basque “iskastolas,” the Occitane “calandretas” and the Catalan “bressola.” Most diwans are in Brittany, but not all: the “Skoazell Diwan Paris” was opened in 2004, representing a symbolic coup by establishing a diwan in zee most French of all French cities, Paris.

There are clear parallels here to the Tamazight movement in Algeria and its struggles to establish itself within an Arabist educational system. Based on web searches I didn’t find any evidence of collaboration between the Algerians and the Bretons, but it seems that the experience of the Bretons might be very helpful to those who believe in the preservation and revitalization of the Berber language.

*Without the Breton language there is no Brittany.

pass the crepe, please

After a week in France, I feel like I'm on another planet. Better said, I feel probably as close to a North African immigrant as possible for a gringa like me. Everythings seems so, well, civilized. Clean, sanitized, polite, organized, formal. The apartment is in a 15th-century building (found that out when large groups of young children, pads in hands, convened under my window looking up and sketching the façade), the food is amazing (except for the fact that I have to keep my pork-radar on permanent's everywhere), and life is good. That said, I do miss Algeria...really I do. Will be happy to get back there this summer, but in the meantime will enjoy eating lots of crepes, traveling around, saying a lot of "bonjour madame's" and walking freely around for hours without anyone once looking at me oddly. Oh, and there's amazing merguez and couscous here, so I won't feel that lonesome for el Djazair!

no escape from reality

Mentioned in an earlier post that I'd been checking out the virtual world at

Today I tried to teleport to lovely mosque where in a techno twist I sometimes visit and even pray, virtually that is (I still haven't figured out how to get a head scarf, and my avatar has impressively flowing auburn hair which no doubt is a distraction to the ummah)...only to be barred from entry. When I IM'd one of the mosque's members, found that the mosque was closed because of vandalism. First there were posters placed outside the mosque that were pornographic and then apparently the mosque was occupied by some racists who sat on the koran, made racist slurs against jews (whoops, didn't they realize that the synagogue was next door) and arabs and then did something with the code that crashed the computers of those there. Don't know if these were the same culprits as the virtual members of Le Pen's Front National who apparently visited the mosque earlier and harassed mosque members.

I may have some of the details wrong, but suffice it to say that virtual "reality" is just that...another reflection of our lives, good and evil. So much for any lofty ideas I had of peace and harmony of races & religions in this new frontier.

off to meet my master...

...the colonial ex-master that is. Yes, getting ready to leave the bled and spend some time in France.

Looking forward to some things, like regular hot showers, dishes that don't involve lamb or legumes, being able to actually go out for a walk, not having all eyes on me even when I'm in the back seat of the car, controlling the remote, seeing pets other than birds (am so amused by the number of young men who take their caged birds along with them when they're hanging out with their friends), going to the movies, sitting in a café etc., etc.

Things I will miss: family, family, family, kesra, chorba frik & bourek (oh that's right, there are so many paisanos in France I won't need to go through withdrawal when it comes to N. African food), the view of the mountains, 70 degrees (and mosquitos) in January, "Volf" the permanently chained guard dog I grew to love (and feel terribly sorry for), the lambs and chickens who graze in front of the villa, seeing Boutef saluting at the airport every evening on the news, Algerian pizza with one black olive per slice, hearing the adhan, being able to buy the latest dvd's for mere pennies, hearing darija 24/7.

And the list goes on...

a savage war of peace

Apparently this is the book that sits next to glass of warm milk on President Bush's bedside table. Written by British historian Alistair Home and published thirty years ago. Who recommended it? Henry Kissinger.

While clearly there are numerous differences between the situation in Colonial Algeria and that of Iraq, hopefully on one of the deadliest (for the Americans that is: 25 dead. Iraqi losses are commonly much higher) days of the nearly four-year war, Mr. Bush we see the similarities of these long drawn-out and bloody conflicts. Withdrawal may be complicated and painful, but it's preferable to the constant loss of life and devastation of a nation that we're seeing in Iraq.

put your arm around me baby

Was people watching the other day, from the car, as we drove around town. (Sometimes I dream about hiding behind a veil...just for one day, so I can watch without being noticed.) Was struck by the physicality of the relationship between young men here. Women too, but Constantine is a man's paradise and, especially after a certain hour (we call it the unofficial "curfew" for women, slightly before dark), 99% of the people you see in the street are men.

A common sight is that of boys or young men wrestling with one another. Another equally common sight is two friends walking down the street, arms entwined. Yesterday I saw two 20-somethings walking with arms linked, each with his free arm holding a cellphone to ear, talking away, another pair arms around one another while one fixed the other's collar with the utmost tenderness. On the same trip I saw dozens of kisses, one on each cheek for the standard one, or double cheek kisses for an especially happy greeting. And then there's the quick touching of hand to heart...a gesture I find so ineffably endearing. I only wish that women were allowed to use it...I would love to add it to my repertoire of gestures.

The freedom and sheer joy and innocence of spontaneous touching among friends is delightful to see, albeit difficult to get used to for a westerner.

There is time for friendship here. People hang out together for hours over coffee, or just on the street corner, in a way that you just don't see in the U.S. where we are always rushing, always stressing. Perhaps it's unemployment, but the "hittistes" who hold up the walls make me a bit jealous. They clearly relish in the art of friendship and conversation. "Dinia hania," as they say in Morocco: "Life is Good."


As an American who has traveled over the years outside the U.S. I’ve found that one of the things most often thrown my way are charges of racism in our society. No arguments there…but I also have found that racism exists everywhere, although it’s not always as clear cut as it has been in the U.S., and that it is almost always denied.

Algeria is a country where skin color is varied, ranging from the very dark to the whitest of white. These variations can even exist (and often do) within the same family. Like other North African countries, Algerian society values and grants social privilege to those who are perceived, rightly or wrongly, of being of the “purest” stock, and the darker the skin and the curliest the hair the lower on the totem pole.

From the tiniest store to the largest pharmacy’s shelves, skin-whitening products are prominently placed.

I have witnessed the importance deemed to skin color within the family, where, when I mention my affection for one niece who I feel is extremely beautiful, my comment is always dismissed with a pitying smile and the word “cahlouche,” which means dark-skinned. Another relative recently had a baby who is the picture of health with his lovely light brown skin and curly hair…same reaction when I ask how he is: “Cahlouche,” they say, as if to say “Poor thing!”

In another North African family the son married someone with much darker skin than the rest of the family, and she is clearly treated as lower class even though her family is relatively of the same social status.

North Africans are clearly subject to the most insidious forms of racism already; how sad that there is further racism which is self-imposed due to something as insignificant as skin color.

happy new year!

Saturday is the first day of the Islamic new year 1428, which begins with the month of Muharram. Ashurah will be celebrated on the tenth day, or on 1/29. Note that the word "Muharram" comes from "haram" and refers to the fact that fighting was unlawful during this Wyclef Jean put it so well "No fighting!"


The government announced today that of the 11 million landmines planted during WWII, the war of independence from France and the insurgency of the 1990’s, 3 million remain along the Algerian borders. These mines contaminate nearly 60 square kilometers along over 1000 kilometers of border on the East with Tunisia and West with Morocco.

The government signed and ratified the Mine Ban Treaty and has been active in international organizations working towards this end. Under this treaty Algeria is required to destroy all antipersonnel mines in mined areas as soon as possible, but no later than 4/1/2012. Between November of 2004 and March of 2006, Algeria cleared only 6.2% of the mines on its eastern and western borders, and nearly 5000 mines laid by the Algerian army during the 1990’s still required clearance as of last March.

The mined areas are often not marked or fenced, and the total number of mine casualties in Algeria is not known. There are reportedly 7000 registered landmine and UXO (unexploded ordnance) casualties, and more than 500 widows and descendants of mine casualties who receive support. The Ministry of Interior and Local Collectives stated that between 1995 and 2005, mines and IED’s have killed approximately 4000 and injured 13000.

(Much of the data above is from the Landmine Monitor Report from 2006).

the circus is back

The Italian circus "Il Florilegio" announced in a press conference yesterday in Algiers that they will return with their tents this summer to Algeria. This is the 5th year that the circus has appeared here.

I attended one of their shows in Constantine that first year, and I will never forget it. I still have the ticket tucked into the small book I carry around with only the most special of mementos. Now, I've seen my share of circuses, but never have I felt the magic that I did during that show. The magic came not only from the circus itself, which included dogs playing soccer, trapeze artists, motorcyclists in a cage, etc....standard circus fare but with great european charm (the circus traces its roots back to 1872), but from the audience itself.

The great majority of the audience, you see, had never, ever in their lives seen a circus before, and the faces were priceless. Looking around the room I saw such a mixture of people, old and young, traditional and not so, veiled and bare-headed, all joined together, laughing and awestruck by the events in front of them. Alas, a moment I wish I could bottle...

40 days

In my musings of late about the solitary and/or anonymous life so many of us lead, compared to the community/familial tight circle so apparent here in Algeria, I've often thought of a good example of this to be the importance of 40 days to both birth and death rituals.

After delivery, a mother traditionally remains home with the baby for 40 days, during which time she is constantly surrounded by women who take care of both her and her baby's needs. She is pampered, fed nourishing foods, offered advice and care on how to deal with her own health issues as well as those of her child. During this period she is allowed to get used to her new baby while being supported emotionally by other women. While I haven't done any research into this, I would venture to say that post-partum depression rates are far lower here than in the U.S., where a mother is sent packing from the hospital often within 24 hours after birth, returning home to deal with both the physical and emotional needs of herself and her child, as well as the logistical needs of the family (shopping, cooking, cleaning) alone or with her also overwhelmed spouse. I would also venture to say (and I will research this and the prior claim I made earlier re: post-partum depression) that women have more success with nursing here than in the U.S., where breast-feeding support is either non-existent or brief in the hospital, and where the stress of dealing with any breast-feeding issues (usually easily resolved with the help of a midwife, lactation consulant, or experienced mother) alone often leads to the decision to abandon efforts and pick up the easily accessible formula (even though according to nearly all studies breastmilk provides far more benefits, both short and long-term, for both mother and baby).

Clearly the period immediately following birth is critical for both mother and child, especially in the past when mortality rates from birth and childbirth were much higher. Both mother and baby were considered to be on the threshold of death during this period, and it was only after the 40 days that she would resume her normal activities.

The 40 days also exists in death rituals. It is believed that the soul of the person who has died is hovering over the threshold of the home and will return after 40 days. The cemetery is visited on the 3rd and the 40th day after death. During this period the grieving family is constantly surrounded by family and friends. They are offered companionship and constant care, fed and nurtured during this difficult period. As with the birth of a child to a family member or close friend, after the death of same it is considered obligatory to visit, and often the visit lasts hours or even days, not just popping into the funeral home, signing the book and heading home. How many times I've seen grieving widowers or widows in the U.S. left alone soon after the funeral, overwhelmed by their sadness and incapable of functioning normally.

The beauty of a traditional society often lies in the fact of its humanity, and its acceptance of life and death and the importance of the rituals that surround these. As a child I often questioned or rejected the need for such rituals, but as time goes on I respect their importance, even today in this modern world, in helping us deal with life and love, joy and sorrow.

at a crossroads

President Bouteflika spoke eloquently and forcefully on the "cultural wasteland filled by a vindictive and reductive religious view," in his inaugural address to Arab writers, poets, artists and philosophers at the inauguration of the "Algiers, Capital of Arab Culture." He specifically referred to the "dark decade" in Algeria, when "the intellectuals who vitalize cultural life were targeted by a terrorism without faith or law," but also stressed that thoughout the Arab world the intellectuals and creative members of society are the wealth of the Arab nations, better able than anyone to know the social realities and to feel the "quiverings and aspirations" of the societies from which they come.

He continued (and please forgive any errors in translation): "We have, in our nations, paid a heavy price for this internal and external evolution in terms of the degradation of national expressions of Arab culture...We find ourselves now at the crossroads: either we will react and reinvent, if you'd like, the content of Arab culture which will regain its vitality and will participate, in its humanism, by heralding a society which is sure of itself toward the creation of a harmonious world, or we will be condemned by our own cultural errancy to become prey to the dominant cultures imposed by the hegemonic powers that be."

Clearly this is a critical time, or a crossroads, as he so well put it, for the Arab world.

clash of cultures

Apparently there was a protest march held by university students in Boumerdes to express their upset with the fact that the inauguration of the "Algiers, Capital of Arab Culture" festivities were planned on the Berber holiday of Yennayer. One student was quoted as saying "We are not against Arab culture, but we say no to the ideological manipulation and to the attempts to drown tamazight in the Baathist ideology which is in power. The choice of the date (1st day of Yennayer 2957) is not innocent. Tamazight is not folkloric entertainment..."

Ouch! Perhaps they might give President Bouteflika a calendar for his Yennayer gift this year?

second life, blogging & anonymity

During my time in Algeria, where I am far removed from my “normal” U.S. life of non-stop activity and have way, way, way too much time on my hands, I’ve begun blogging and discovered “Second Life.”

We all know what blogging is (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this), and for those who aren’t familiar with Second Life, it is an online virtual world, which was developed a few years ago but came to international attention in late 2006/early 2007. What distinguishes it from other virtual worlds is that in this one the user can actual design and develop its content.

In the U.S. it doesn’t seem so odd to spend time behind a computer screen…we all do it for pleasure and/or for work. It’s not uncommon to find a household with multiple computers. Here, since the great majority of households do not have a computer or internet (let alone reliable electricity or water, but that’s a previous post!) most people have either never been on the net, or if they have their time is limited to internet cafes where (as far as I’ve seen and heard) they mostly chat. I know that some in the family view me oddly when they see me tapping away at my computer, so during the day I spend time with them, eat, drink coffee, sometimes go to town, etc. Life is centered on human interaction and companionship, with lots of laughter and discussion and sharing of time and thoughts.

At night, however, when everyone is asleep, I power up my computer and enter my own personal twilight zone, one of two worlds: the blogosphere or SL. Last night, for example, I was up until the wee hours of the morning reading news and blogs on the internet and then took advantage of a great internet connection to enter SL. I’m only on day 2 of my free SL membership, but I’ve already designed my avatar, learned to fly, to navigate around, and even to pray (virtually). Yes, last night I visited two areas I’d read about: Virtual Morocco with its replica of the Hassan II mosque, and Chebi, or a replica of the Mezquita de Cordoba. OK, true confession, I also visited a café and learned to bellydance…even winning a contest (they felt sorry for me since I didn’t even know how to use the animation) and earning Linden dollars.

The whole issue of SL and Islam is one that fascinates me and will no doubt be discussed frequently in the upcoming months. There is already some very interesting discussion of same on While one could no doubt argue that it’s haram to “design” beings, clearly the benefits of including Islam in the SL world, with its discussion groups and possibilities for communication and learning, are promising.

The other issue that interests me about SL, and about blogging is the anonymity factor. I remain, I believe, anonymous as a blogger, and certainly so as a SL resident. I wrap myself into the cocoon of anonymity when I blog or fly around in SL in the same way I looked inwardly as a child when I wrote in my journal. Possibilities are endless and reality enters only when I allow it to. I’m still not sure whether the benefits of this outweigh the dangers involved in this separation from real life, real relationships and human interaction.

Like many things about my time in Algeria, the contrasts evident both within Algerian society and within myself and my experiences make me ponder where I am and where I, and we as a society, are heading.

berber & arab culture, all on the same day

[written on 1/12, even though I wasn't able to post until 1/13...translation: internet down, surprise, surprise]

I'm not berber, nor is my family, but sure do know a lot of people who are (none of whom consider themselves arab, god forbid), and all are celebrating the amazigh new year, or yennayer today. Wishing them all the best today and always.

Also today is the grand opening of "Algiers, Arab Cultural Capital 2007," a year-long celebration of the arts. This morning was the opening parade (think Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, but with an all-Arab theme), and tonite was a live musical extravaganza on tv, which I watched for awhile but then turned off (sorry, but it was a bit boring). There was a high point when a young boy spoke about Lebanon, bursting into tears, and then wiped his face and sang a song. After that it was downhill, although after I turned it off I heard there was an interesting Touareg performance. There was also some flamenco and a rather funky number with a sort of Algerian reggaeton singer singing "Allahu Akbar, uh huh, Allahu Akbar, uh huh," while waving his arms in the air.

the lovers of algeria

“The Lovers of Algeria” by Anouar Benmalek, translated by Joanna Kilmartin, Graywolf Press.

Not a new release, but a book I read some time ago that has come to mind of late. Winner of the prestigious French Rachid prize, here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

"Nine-year-old Jallal is old enough to know that his life in Algeria is precarious at best—friends are as likely to kill you as save you. Having run away from home, he lives by selling peanuts and single cigarettes on the street. The proposal by the elderly Swiss woman named Anna is shocking and preposterous: travel with her through war-ravaged lands, as a translator, so she can find her lost husband and pray over the graves of their murdered children. To Anna, however, the risk is no less than when they first met in Algeria during yet another time of unspeakable terror decades ago. As Anna and her lover, battered by time and memory, circle each other, Benmalek asks what of humanity endures in dangerously lawless times. The Lovers of Algeria is an unflinching novel that resonates powerfully in today's world."

lonely no more

I have kind of a love/hate thing with travel books…I love the fact that they give me inside info on where to stay and eat and great advice on cool (and no so cool) places to visit. What I hate is that so many others read the same books and show up at the same darn places. When I traveled recently in Morocco I was humored by the fact that practically every other tourist I saw (or at least the ones I identified with somewhat) were carrying the same Lonely Planet guide, with it’s lovely babouche-colored cover. These were in English, German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese, but offered the same advice to all, and we all accepted it eagerly.

When I first came to Algeria, back in the early 90’s, I was able to buy travel books and read up a bit before I arrived. When I returned, after things settled a bit, in 2002, there were no such books to be found, reflective of the removal of Algeria as a travel destination for all but hard-core travelers.

No more. Lonely Planet is publishing its new tome on Algeria this August, with a whopping 304 pages. The book is available for pre-order on Amazon (doesn’t even appear yet on the LP site). Sign of the times...

bad stereotyping

Was reading an interesting article on Malcolm Gladwell's (Tipping Point, Blink, New Yorker...) blog ( on racial profiling and stereotyping. He boils it down to this:

"this is what racial prejudice is: it is the irrational elevation of race-based considerations over other, equally or more relevant factors."

the rule of utilities

I know there must be some pattern to this, but I can't seem to figure it out...

Some days we have electricity, but no water. Then we have water but no phone/internet, and all of this in a large urban area. Taking inventory of what's working seems to be a daily event: "Kan el ma?" (Is there water), "Makansh telephone?" (No phone?) etc. Very very rarely is everything working. Days are planned around the abundance or lack thereof.

I joke about it, but I shouldn't. The lack of water and/or electricity can have very serious effects, besides the mere inconvenience of it, on many, especially the elderly, the very young and the sick. Lack of water can lead to poor hygiene and the proliferation of bacteria and spread of viruses.

In the West we don't even think about this, and let the faucet run and leave the lights on in empty rooms without thinking twice.

touareg rocks

Just discovered, albeit ironically via itunes, the Touareg group Tinariwen. From Mali, these musicians are all former Touareg rebels who in the 80's lived in refugee and military training camps in Algeria & Libya and in the 90's, when peace was established, put down their guns and picked up guitars...lucky for us.

I'm planning on looking for their CD's here in Djazair, but might not find them as I read somewhere that their lyrics have been banned due to "political content." Fortunately I'll be travelling soon and will hopefully find them in France or the US.

Their new album "Aman Iman: Water Is Life" will be released in March, and I for one, can't wait. It was recorded in Mali and was produced by British blues guitarist Justin Adams, whose 2002 album "Desert Road" is also worth checking out.

18 ways to say hello

I’ve always been fascinated by multilingual societies, and the interesting dynamics that surface in societies where they coexist. Algeria is no exception, and while 77.1% of Algerians are Arab speaking, 22% are Berber speaking, and within the group of Berber languages there are numerous dialects.

When I did a bit of research (I found that a large many of the sources with information on the languages of Algeria are Christian evangelists…interesting especially when there are so many claims that the Muslims are trying to take over the world.), I found that there are a whopping 18 living languages spoken in Algeria, as follows:

Algerian Sign Language
Arabic/Algerian Saharan Spoken
Arabic/Algerian Spoken
Tamazight/Central Atlas

Fascinating, and yet another example of how rich and varied Algerian culture is.

_ 欢迎对阿尔及利亚

The title means "welcome to Algeria" in Chinese, according to my mac widget...forgive me if it really says something totally unrelated...

China’s presence is everywhere in Algeria, as the ties between the two countries are strengthened and trade between the two countries is expected to have exceeded two billion dollars for 2006. It’s estimated that if China maintains the momentum it showed at the end of 2006 it will surpass Italy to become the second largest supplier to Algeria. President Bouteflika attended the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in November followed by a state visit, and the tv was full of images of him addresses large groups of Chinese businessmen and diplomats. There are agreements involving everything from satellites, to security to cultural interchanges.

What does this mean to the average Algerian?

•the market is jam packed with Chinese products, from clothing to vegetable peelers

•I’ve even seen a Chinese restaurant, although it didn’t seem open. The rumors on the street about Chinese restaurants remind me of those that circulated in the U.S. for years about the Polynesian restaurants, with rumors of street cats disappearing etc. Nasty rumors fueled by ignorance...It may take some time before Algerians embrace dim sum.

• Chinese visitors have been spotted walking around Constantine, which in a city not known for tourists is quite an event.

•The Chinese store here sells cute little kimonos for children, dresses and bags for the ladies, and lots of slippers and shoes. Everyone talks with amazement how the owners speak Arabic, and I must admit that hearing them speaking Algerian slang is quite adorable.

la caravelle

The highlight of this trip to Annaba was a meal at La Caravelle, where I had eaten three years ago and dreamed of ever since...

Suffice it to say they have absolutely the best fish soup I've had in my life, with an amazing garlicky roué served with little pains grillés. They bring a large cart over, brimming with shiny fresh fish and seafood, of all shapes and sizes, and you can actually choose your own fish. So fresh and delicious.

The view from there during the day is stunning, almost as exquisite as their food...

i lost my hijab in the bushes

Hijabi love is alive and well in Annaba. During a 2-day stay we witnessed not one, but two romantic encounters, and I swear to God we weren’t looking for them! Both were witnessed from the bird’s-eye view from our hotel balcony.

I won’t go into great detail, for after all my object on this blog is not to titillate…but let’s just leave it that both involved women wearing full hijab and ended with, shall we say, full contact. The first involved a woman doing what I’d call a pole dance without the pole for her man to the sound of rai music coming from the car stereo, which then proceeded to a more intimate encounter in the car. The other took place in a wooded area just below our hotel, where couples apparently congregate in the afternoon. One such couple escaped to a bushy area (no pun intended, really) where we actually could see them in flagrante, albeit from far away…but don’t worry, she kept her hijab on. The oddest thing was they then proceeded to wash with a bottle of mineral water, which I suppose was to adhere to islamic law which requires a full washing after sex (or perhaps they were getting ready to pray to ask for forgiveness?).

OK, I promised to stop talking about the contradictions of religion here in Algeria, but sex in the bushes while wearing hijab?...a bit much, and I just had to mention it. Now to be fair, I shouldn’t assume that they were premarital or even extramarital encounters. I’ve heard that the housing shortage and economic hardship sometimes means that even married couples sometimes have a hard time finding time alone...

annaba, la belle

OK, needed a break from the dusty city of Cirta and headed to Annaba for a couple of days. Now, I’ve been to Annaba several times in the height of the summer, when it’s hopping with tourists and locals until all hours of the night, so didn’t know what to expect in the off season and, frankly, wasn’t expecting much.

I was very, very impressed. Don’t know if it’s just the contrast, or the fact that it was sunny and in the 70’s, but found Annaba teeming with life and activity: construction that's clearly in progress and not begun several years ago and then stalled, road-widening and beautification, tourist development, etc. Had a long talk with someone in the tourist industry and was told that in five years Annaba will be unrecognizable…but in a good way. The coast is being developed by Saudi and Spanish funded projects which include ports, hotels and tourist complexes, etc. Apparently the projects are well thought out and if carried out to plan will revitalize the economy and make Annaba a great destination for travelers, both local and foreign.

Algeria has only to follow its neighbors Morocco and Tunisia to see how tourism can be developed successfully. Ten years behind due to the “black period” when tourism wasn’t possible here, with the support of the government and outside funding, Algeria, which many compare at present to Spain 25 years ago, will no doubt establish itself as a prime spot for tourism, which will change it but will bring jobs and a boost to the economy that will benefit all.

As far as Constantine, well, they have a longer way to go…I read on one forum an idea of offering tourists the opportunity to bungee jump or rock climb from the gorges du Rhummel! (That's instead of committing suicide or throwing garbage, which, unfortunately are its main uses today).

up your GPA, wear hijab

Today I had a long conversation with a young woman, a first-year university student. She is one of the few girls her age who do not veil, or wear hijab. The pressure (like adolescents aren't under enough pressure for so many other reasons!) is great to veil. She told me that in her elementary school, when a classmate began to wear hijab, she was enthusiastically commended in front of the class by the teacher and it clearly affected her grades.

Now, I'm all for choice, and have always had the gut feeling that prohibiting someone from wearing hijab (as in Turkey, or France, and now in Tunisia) was about as wrong as forcing one to wear the veil...but now I'm wondering if maybe the ban on veils in public companies, government positions and schools is not so wacky. Veiling or not veiling should no more affect your job status than should it your educational progress.

For those who read French, here's a great article from El Watan about hijab as a style phenomenon:

In my time here in Algeria I've seen too many people doing things only for the "points" they believe they'll get on judgement day, and they have no shame in telling you upfront that this is why they're doing it. People are constantly saying "if you do this, God will reward you.," and "If you help this person you'll gain favor with God." Am I naive to believe that people should do good, be honest, treat people well and with kindness, because it's simply the right thing to do, without concerning oneself with the reward? Actually, when the reward is first in the mind rather than the act of kindness/charity, that would seem to nullify the act altogether.

It's clear just by looking at the way that the veil is worn by so many here (skin tight sexy lacy top, matching veil with dangling hijab pin, tight long skirt and killer heels) that it's not being worn for modesty or respect for what they believe to be God's teachings (I would disagree that the veil is a religious requirement). I'm far more modest in my dress sans hijab than a huge percentage of the women here, and yet there are those who would criticize me yet applaud them for being more Islamic. There's something wrong with that, and I find it so apparent and extremely disturbing to see that with the increase in veiled women there is a decrease in sincerity.

jefferson's quran

It is awesome that Keith Ellison will take his oath to serve in Congress on a copy of the quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Sending the right message, especially to those ignorant (said with kindness, not all are ignorant by choice) americans who think that Islam is some strange cult created by Osama who worships a god called "Allah."

Here's evidence that one of the world's most revered leaders, the 3rd president of our country, was a reader of the quran...perhaps our current president should follow suit.

what's for dinner?...lamb, again

OK, I know that Algeria is still basking in that bone-sucking, organ-slurping paradise that is post-L'Aid culinaria. I also understand that in a country where income is low and meat is expensive, this is a veritable luxury. That said, I'm ready to become a vegan. Now, I love a good steak now and then, but this lamb for lunch, lamb for dinner, lamb for breakfast (just kidding) thing is getting a bit much.

Today, my brother-in-law sliced up a nice big fat juicy testicle for lunch, while we ate lamb butt (I thought it was neck, but when I asked they each spanked themselves to show me where the meat came from) with sauce for dinner. Just a bowl with a big hunk of meat and some sauce to be soaked up with veggies, no nada, so it was either eat meat or starve... Yesterday was chops and the day before was shoulder. The fridge is full of little plates containing brains, stomach, intestines. Head has been frozen (thank God) for later.

They love to laugh at me as I gingerly bite at my meat. Silly American girl, doesn't know what's good... and I do feel a bit like the spoiled ugly American when I don't dive into my plate with relish like they do, but I'm hoping they understand that it's my first time eating what I considered to be a friend. Baa baa.


I mentioned in an earlier post that Algeria is a sea of unfinished concrete. Apparently President Bouteflika is on the case, and in a recent speech he gave to the National Council of Architects, he addressed the fact that more attention needs to be made to building codes and beautification, saying "I am ashamed, as an Algerian of our cities and villages." He called on the architects to work towards a well-built and vibrant architecture to transform the country and bring it into the 21st century.

Apparently there will now be fines for houses left unpainted...which should, in itself, change the landscape of the country dramatically, and there will be fines which will eliminate the sea of unfinished houses (lower floor(s) complete, upper floors with main columns in place for future construction)...

don't touch that tourist!

I heard from a reliable source, my husband, that there is a new law which was recently put in place which deems tourists to be guests of the country, who as such receive even more protection than an Algerian citizen. In other words, if a tourist is robbed in the street and the robber is apprehended, the punishment is more severe than had the crime been committed on a native. This is to support tourism as a new industry, and if I'm not mistaken I believe tourists have similar legal protection in Morocco.

I guess the booty (literally and figuratively) is greater if it's a tourist, but with higher stakes...

baa baa

(written on 12/31, posted on 12/2 when internet returned)

On the site of the subtitle is “Sheep are for Eid,” and that is certainly true. The following is not for the weak of heart or the vegans among us…

I’m not sure when I’ll actually be able to post this, as we’re still without internet and phone (a friend of my brother-in-law who works for the phone co. identified which pole is the problem, but didn’t have a ladder tall enough, and well it’s Eid and then the 2nd day of the Eid and then New Year’s, so best-case scenario we’ll have all back on Wednesday). At least we had water today, because we needed it…

Up bright and early to peek on on our little (big) lamb. After the Eid prayer, which only the men attended…women in this family stay home, much to my disappointment, all the fun began. Was on the fence (no pun intended) about watching the actual murder, I mean slaughter, but was pulled away at the last second so when I rejoined I found the whole family in the garage struggling to lift up a semi-skinned lamb while my mother-in-law charred the skin & hair off the head and hooves on a little butane burner. The actual égorgement happened in the garden, but the skinning and gutting was done in the garage (don’t really know why). Apparently the lamb was surprisingly docile (it hadn’t been up until then) and nearly offered itself up for slaughter without so much as a bleat or an attempted head butt (no Zidane jokes here, please). It was my brother-in-law’s first time doing the dreadful deed on his own and he did an admirable job, even though I kept calling him “heart of stone” in my garbled arabic (something like “gelb hajar”) to tease him for days before.

Once skinned the carcass (yes, my dear sweet lambie, who we call “Jimbo” has now officially become a carcass) the guts were removed, a huge steamy mess of intestines, organs and other unidentifiable stuff. These were then brought out again to the garden, where they were cleaned. Both the stomach and the intestines were cleaned by flushing them out full force with water from the faucet. The stomach produced a massive flood of brown muddy water mixed with partially digested hay (all the hay we’d hand fed the poor little thing). The intestines needed some squeezing, and produced a long stream of poop pellets. The whole matter was really quite messy and I admired their stoicism as they calmly splashed around in the poop and bile and water and bleach while I watched cautiously from afar.

Lunch was organs: liver, lungs, kidneys, it all looked the same, charred on the small hibachi grill and served in French bread with loads of harissa. It was quite good but I did get a bit squeamish when my mind flashed back to visions of the little cutie who lived in our garden for a few days. Then the house was cleaned and the carcass was placed on a plastic sheet in the entryway of the house, right by the stairway that I use 500 times a day, so that each time I passed I looked at little Jimbo as he “dried” as they explained, but rotted in my mind, his little testicles hanging sadly near his open ribcage. The fridge is full of plates holding brains and stomach and intestines.

Tomorrow is couscous made with the shoulder and my other brother-in-law will come to cut up the remaining meat. The rest of the day and into the night was spent receiving guests and discussing in great detail the slaughtering of everyone’s lambs and how it went.

To top off all the bizarreness of the day, I heard (don’t know how, no internet, no phone, but yes, Algerian TV) that Saddam Hussein was hanged today. A horrible choice of an execution day, no doubt…rather insulting I’d say, and clearly not the right message to send to the Muslim world, already so angered with Americans. Oh, and Bouteflika did not, it turns out, go to hajj, as I saw him on tv at the L’Aid prayer in Algiers. Now I am beginning to understand that just because it’s published in the Algerian newspaper doesn’t mean it’s at all confirmed by anyone in particular.

Happy Eid to all.

the far west

(written 12/27, day internet went down for nearly a week)

The phone lines went down today, and with that our internet connection. In a strange way we felt shipwrecked. Living in Algeria one often feels the odd contradiction of being in the middle of the city yet being in the Wild Wild West, or the “Far West,” as they call it. You see, in the short time I’ve been here we’ve been without water frequently, the longest period for nearly ten days (at which point both the tanks or “reservoirs” we have on the roof ran out, as did the large plastic jugs we keep in the event of water shortages), we had no heat for a few weeks, no internet many times due to the “sickness” of the phone line, and now the double whammy of phone & internet. Had we had warning of any of the shortages, be it water or heat or phone or internet, we might have prepared ourselves, physically and mentally, but such is life and “maktoub,” and all happens in an instant, when life goes from being one thing to another all together.

So, what does one do in a situation like this? Check out the lambs…

You see, Eid is just days away (another reason we’re freaking about the phone/internet outage…it probably won’t be fixed for days!) and the city is full to the brim of lambs. Right down the street is a “rond point” (love that word spoken with a North African-accented French) where there is a huge congregation of men selling lambs and men and boys buying them (this is clearly a male-bonding experience…men buy & slaughter, women clean, all eat). It’s a massive ball of people and mud and poop and smells so strongly that the smell clings to your skin and your cloths even after walking by.

I suppose we form part of the privileged group, as we bought our lamb from a farm on the outskirts of the city, where they were fattened on real grass and not on the garbage-filled urban "pastures" as many lambs are here. Tomorrow we’ll bring it home. Poor thing. Today I saw a lamb on a sort of improvised leash walking jollily alongside its new owner, tail wagging. Little does it know it’s on its way to slaughter.

I must keep in mind the religious importance of this tradition as, frankly, it’s a bit hard for my westernized heart & mind to take. L’Aid to me has always been going to the mosque and then to a restaurant, my lamb chops bearing little resemblance its provenance…not feeding and growing attached to a lambie and then slitting its throat. But then again, I’m not a farm girl, and to a farm girl here as in the US, raising livestock and slaughtering it is a natural part of life.

I still think I’ll hide in my room and bury my head to avoid seeing & hearing the slaughter, and I’m not real keen on the butchering either…am hoping that my status as a guest doesn’t obligate me to partake in the butchering & cleaning and cooking of organs and such. If it were up to me I’d just give money to another poor family (we’ve already bought a lamb for one) and eat couscous…but apparently that’s just “not done,” and the only time you don’t have a lamb is either because you really really can’t afford one (I’ve heard people actually take out loans in order to buy a lamb) or something really really bad has happened to you. None of the above, Alhamdullilah, so wish me luck.