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.