Wednesday 13 April 2011

An English girl in Algiers ....PART II

Last day in Algiers before we head back north to our beloved island;

My parents house is situated within a 2 mile radius of three mosques, the muezzin calls for Fajr (dawn) prayer at around 5.20am, I lay in my bed staring at the fluttering shapes on the ceiling reflected by street lights and the faint moon light filtering through the scattered clouds, "Steph, are you awake?” she was also staring into space listening to the sound of the muezzin's enchanting voice and the melody of this call to prayer, 30 seconds later a sound of another muezzin starts and then the third, we sit up in shock, it feels like an ancient Chinese torture method, the sounds flooded the space and assaulted our senses with what has become nothing short of noise pollution. Equally annoyed and frustrated, we get up and follow the smell of coffee to the kitchen where my parents sat and enjoyed their freshly made brew whilst chatting after their prayers; we say Bonjour and I quickly start complaining about the noise, Steph couldn’t dream of uttering a word or commenting on the situation for fear of making a faux pas, but I tell her its normaaal to comment and question, nobody was going to defend the Tappage noturne we just witnessed, so my dad explains that when mosques are so close by they should agree on who would do the first call to prayer, that three unsynchronised calls to pray overlapping each other is not an inviting sound or a motivating one to leave bed at 5.20am,
Steph appears to be astounded to hear my father, a presumably devout Muslim, explain this, she expected him to defend the sacred call blindly and irrationally and take offence at our comments (hers and mine), so she sips her café au lait, sits back on her chair, seemingly relaxed and satisfied.

My mum looks at me and says; “don’t you want to try, now that you’re awake”, I look up from my coffee mug, look at my mum and then look at Steph, whose head was going between mum and me, as though she was watching a tennis match. I ponder the thought for a minute and head to the bathroom without saying a word, Steph follows behind and I explain that I was going to wash for prayer, she stands there shell shocked and without questioning then says: “Let’s have a go then”.

You wash your hands three times, your month three times, et cetera, we finish our ablutions, dry ourselves and head to the bedroom, I deploy Steph to borrow prayer mats from mum as I cannot look her in the eyes because of a silly pride not to give her the impression she convinced me of doing anything, I explain briefly to Steph what to do, and to follow my lead, so we cover up and raise our hands to the air, ALLHU AKBAR (1), we pray two ruk3at (bows) and finish Fajr prayer, I glance to my left to see Steph smiling, she gets up and says let’s do more, as a matter-of-fact there is more I say, we have to do the Soubh (morning) prayer, so we start again, two bows and two prostrations and we’re done, now raise your hands to the sky and ask Allah. Ask him what? Whatever the hell you want, She, smiling joyfully exclaims: SCORE.

What do you want to do today? She wants to visit every famous mosque in the Capital, I look at her in astonishment and decide it was not a bad idea, Algiers boasts some of the most beautiful mosques in North Africa and nobody takes a slight interest in these amazing landmarks, should make for an interesting photo shot. My sister drives us around priding herself in her Schumacher-like skills, she doesn’t pass the opportunity to comment that it is like we’ve come to Algeria on a religious holiday. Steph remarks: so cynicism runs in the family I take it??

We park the car in downtown Algiers and start walking through the busy streets of the capital, it’s a sunny day as usual, sky is a clear blue, accentuates the blue painted balconies and windows on all the white buildings that distinguish Alger la blanche,

we stop many times to take pictures, but sure enough, we get the odd policeman waving us away or vigorously gesticulating for us to stop taking pictures, Steph looks at me and say “what the hell is he saying?” So I, true to my Algerian short temper, start screaming bladi bladi, tssalni?(2) he looks at me stunned and then throws his hand in the air in defeat, Steph laughs and follows with a loud Normaaal

We visit the Great mosque of Algiers or Djama’a al-Kebir near the Algiers harbour, it was prayer time, we were not allowed in, so we circle the beautiful edifice and discover it was built in 1097, take a few snaps then we get bored so we take a walk through the bustling street market heading to beb El Oued, past Dar Aziza bent el bay(3) a grandiose palace of Moorish architecture, built for Aziza daughter of the bay of Algiers during the Ottoman rule, not maintained to the best level, and is currently the office of the National Archaeology Agency, the typically self-important but equally friendly guard announces that it wasn’t open to the public, but we’re not the public I say, we’re journalists with the BBC, she’s English, he believes us and lets us in as far as the courtyard, from what we could see, it was dilapidated and shamefully dusty and worn, so we say merci and take our disappointed souls across the road to the beautiful Ketchoua mosque located at the foot of the Casbah, this, we discover it was built in 1612 but in 1845 during the French occupation it became the Cathedral of St Philippe until 1962(independence) when it was refurbished to become one of Algiers most prominent mosques, we cover our heads and climb the flight of stairs to enter the mosque, old men line the steps, presumably residents of la Casbah, we take a minute and sit with them, take in the atmosphere and chat about politics and religion, some are wearing a changais(4) which I recognise from when I was a kid, a symbolic outfit for Wled Alger (true sons of Algiers), and almost all wearing a arakiya(5), at the bottom of the stair, a few plastic baskets filled with bread baguettes, women in Hijabs stop to buy some on their way home, nobody paid attention to us, Steph is astonished that no one made her feel like a foreigner or unwelcome despite her ginger hair, I explain that they probably just assumed she was kabyle.

It was past midday prayers so the keeper of the mosque allows us in, we walk in sheepishly, our heads already tilted backwards admiring the edifice, breathtaking architecture, intertwining alcoves and arches, beautiful red carpets line the floor, an opulent chandelier ornates the ceiling, and a feeling of peace overwhelms us, Steph squats on the floor and prostrates, I stand there looking at her in disbelief and then realise she was having a moment with God, she stayed in that position for a few minutes, I join her on the floor, she rises with a smile, I ask if she was ok, she says she feels at peace, so I propose we pray tahiyat al masjid which is a prayer to salute the mosque, she agrees and adds: is this not the house of God after all.

So we raise our hands to the sky and pray in unison. We only stay for a few minutes; we thank the mosque keeper and leave feeling exhilarated.

It was past three o’clock in the afternoon, hungry and grumpy, we head back towards the harbour, stop for lunch at a café near Kitani in bab el oued, overlooking the sea, we’re served the plat du jour, roast chicken with chips, an hors d’oeuvres and a bottle of Hamoud boualem(6), Steph is overwhelmed and exhausted at the same time, but her eyes are wide open like an exited little girl, she photographs everything she sees, takes a picture of the young waiter who is working here during the school holidays, his name is Omar, she tips him a generous 100 dza (aprx 1gbp), he shyly declines it, Steph flustered, doesn’t understand why he would reject her tip, so I explain that Algerians don’t expect tips and are not used to that, tipping just does not have a strong presence in our culture, but it is changing, so she copies me and pops it in his apron pocket, we say goodbye and leave.

Back at home, last supper with the family before heading back to London the next day, my mum makes my favourite meal, a tagine of chicken with green peas, I was always a grateful child my mum confesses, I don’t hide my pleasure when I eat, hummm and more hummm, my sister looks up at me from her plate, in disgust and says: bal3i (7)
To be continued...
(1) God is Great = is proclaimed during the prayer at least 5 times
(2) bladi = my country, Tssalni = I do what I like.
(3) House of Aziza daughter of the bay
(4) Changai suit, is a working men’s blue suit that became a symbol of true Algerois
(5) arakiya: Islamic skullcaps worn mostly to mosque.
(6) Hamoud Boualem: Local award wining lemonade – can also be found in London
(7) shut up


  1. what a let down. part one was much better, you failed to deliver on this occasion my dear!

  2. :) What you were expecting? a comedy? it can't be funny all the time, and I went with my instinct.
    Sorry to have let you down Anonymous.

  3. maybe some people were expecting some post-midnight orgy in the sahara.

    personally, i liked it: factual, cultural and funny albeit with the occasional piece of cheese. reading it feels like you were in a state of excitement whilst writing it.

  4. Thanks for the feedback Raul! And for the record I am ALways in a state of excitement am passionate about my stories.
    Cheese? Where? What cheese? Its all inspired by a true story!

  5. actually you're right, no cheese really, i somewhat need to be less repressed, but am working on it :P

  6. DZ Chick,
    I think you delivered beautifully!
    You actually brought tears to my eyes, Wallah, as I haven't been back home for 4 years now, and those areas are some of my favorites. I miss bladi so very much that my heart is aching. I used to walk all the time after work or on my days off, like I knew that one day I will not get the chance to do it again. I don't know if I will live long enough to do it again.
    Thank you so much for doing it in such candid way, I love it, thank you, and please keep it up! Much love to you yal fahla!


  7. i didnt mean to put a downer on it! it is good work, but with the first part it left me wanting to read more, the second part was just a bit "slow".

  8. @ Rahul: you do that ;)

    @ Star: I am happy the story touched you in such a deep way, but come ON! you're still young (right???) of course you're going to see your Algiers, sooner or later, maybe you could take the same walk I did.

    @ Anonymous: you did not put a downer on it at all, it’s fine you either like it or you don't, but think of it as that heavy chapter you have to get through in every book before you get to the good part ;) stay tuned.

    And remember, I didn't have a plot for this short story, I am writing about things I experienced and trying to make sense of the story as I go along, polishing my writing skills, am thinking about taking a writing course actually.

  9. lolol @ Rahul

  10. I join Raul on his first comment. The great thing while reading others' impressions about the very same places I come across everyday, is like seeing them from anew.

    I couldn't go through the whole blog(I have a gluttony towards blogs), but I read the last two entries. I can say like your sister said, you were in a religious trip :) From Liquor to the Mosque...keep it this way :)

  11. @Schneller: it sounds to me like Mr. Gluttony towards blog liked my short story :) anyway thanks.
    I hope you'll stick around for the last instalment and the finale.

  12. very nice..m not from algeirs but nchalah one day i will have the chance to visit all these placess..but great effort..keep it up..the only thing that is cheering me up after work is reading ur thank u so much...haniya..xx

  13. Is there still a part III?! I thought ye had left Algiers, already (I'm sticking to the storyline). Can’t wait to read the coming episode :)
    P.S. and yeah, Mr. Gluttony chooses his meals fastidiously :p

  14. Hi Zyber, so far we're still in Algiers! But we eventually will have to fly back to part III so you'll have to wait and see ;)

  15. Does it mean that they have completed the restoration work of Ketchaoua mosque, assuming that you visited the place sometime this year?

  16. Welcome back Ikosium.
    The story is based on a visit a few years back but when I again visited this Xmas, the mosque was still under refurbishment/restoration.

  17. is it me or do some of my comments (irrelevant ones) get deleted?

  18. Naaa it's all in your head :)

  19. no it's not me, it's youuuuuuuuuuuuu deleting my comments on purpose or by accident. i was saying the weather was lovely in essex over the weekend.

  20. Ok ok it was me, but in my defence they were irrelevant, you said so yourself.

    Arright essex boy?

  21. cool, just delete them all ;).

  22. فتاة من ولاية الشلف
    من عائلة محترمة، مواظبة على صلاة
    الجمعة بالمسجد، جميلة و لم يسبق لها إقامة علاقة عاطفية، ، تبحث عن شريك الحياة، شرط أن يكون إطارا في الدولة، ، سنه لا يتجاوز 49
    سنة، من

  23. I guess she thought "30 and single" is a place to look for a husband! :)

  24. This girl from Bouira (if this isnt a joke), will probably fall in "love" and get married before I do and be happier than me, Her criteria is literraly "not older than 49" THAT'S IT.

    I wish it was that simple.

  25. Oh no, you forgot he has to be from Bouira apparently! :)

  26. My bad, she's from Shlef.

    From Shlef to Bouira, with love

  27. given the irony of it all, you should give it a good cry (or try) hahahah see what i did there.

  28. I shan't cry about it nor will I try. :P

  29. not to try to cry.

    if you're serious about getting married, i don't understand why you're not being more pro-active about it?

  30. Not getting married, just not be single anymore!
    I don't what to say to you Raul...

  31. I actually enjoyed reading both parts! and looking forward to the next one(s)
    If I may, since you are MashAllah such a good writer, who is obviously careful about punctuation and vocabulary; I find it pretty odd that you didnt use a capital G when writing God.
    Also, I know it can be very loud and maybe even annoying to be awaken by some noise...but to the point of comparing the sound of the Muezzin to some Torture method!? That's pretty harsh. Especially when the rest of the story kinda shows that you are not a totally 'non-spiritual'person...
    But again, its your story, so you should be free of writing however and whatever you want ;)

  32. Good morning Yasmine! I thought I did spell God with a big G! It's just a mistake! As for the Muezzin, as I plainly explained the 1st one was lovely but the 2nd one with his kabyle accent and the 3rd one with a horsy voice it was awful! It ruined the whole thing! It was pretty bad! And not I don't think it was harsh at all, it is what I think and what I felt and there is nothing wrong with criticising the Muezzins or their call to prayer! They are not saints :)
    Am writing another short story about a girl called Safia. Stay tuned

  33. I know you have not asked for feedback, but I think you should make your posts shorter and straight to the point.
    Title is very important as well. Part 1, part 2 does not tell me anything about the theme of the post.
    Also I should be able to skim read and understand the whole post. Think about more effective use of paragraphs.
    Overall good, but could not bring myself to read the last few posts. I find earlier posts better structured, such Blonde Vs Brunette ect

  34. Dear Anonymous: Thank you for the feedback, nonetheless

    English girl in Algiers is a short story (in 3 parts), it is supposed to be longer than other articles and you are not supposed to be able to guess the end until the end, which is the point of a story or a tale.

    Other previous articles I had written were dealing directly with one issue and are considerably shorter; hence they go straight to the point.

    I have changed my writing style over the years and have now settled on trying short stories, but I will continue to write other "to the point" articles

  35. Understand, but a story should have a gist. When I am reading it should feel like driving in one direction until I reach the end where I know the outcome.
    I understand you are just listing your diary in this case, but you could still make it more focused. Perhaps splitting your trip to Africa into small focused chapters

  36. My short story has a gist, it narrates a specific experience and it's about having a twist in the story or an unexpected outcome. No where did I mention it was my own experience, it could well be fictional

    My African story was perfectly paragraphed in observational parts and factual ones about Dar Es Salaam and then Zanzibar. So sorry I don't agree with your analysis but thanks for the advice.

    Perhaps you're an impatient reader who prefers transparent and obvious trails

  37. If your Zanzibar story is perfect I am sure I can defer reading it to when it is in WHSmith.
    Sorry for my impatience to dullness

  38. Why so touchy anonymous; I never said my story was perfect just perfectly paragraphed, never said that it was going to be published and on the WHSmith shelves! Just did not agree with your points! Why the big words!!

    Let's hope we can read some of your fascinating, non-dull work one day!

  39. The bit when you got touchy (interesting you have this word handy) was when you got personal, that is when you suggested that it is me who is impatient, rather than explaining your point of view in a non-childish manner.
    Nothing is more detrimental to a producer than ignoring user feedback. I would have taken a positive reaction as a good sign intellectually.

  40. You might think I got personal, but not undermining or insulting. In my opinion: you analysed my penmanship, I analysed your readership, and it was not meant to be derogatory in any way.

  41. You cannot analyse my readership because you did not see me when I read your post and even if you did, I will not be reading out loud, and even if I did, you will not be able to tell anything else.
    On the other hand I can see your final product here. Your post: I can read it and judge it.
    That is the way it is when you write something and hope that other people like it, you never go back and say it is you who do not know how to like it, otherwise it is called delusion
    My last cent to let you indulge in your competent blogging.

  42. Oh I sense sarcasm!!

    I can analyse your readership from the way you suggested I should paragraph and focus my texts to make the subject more obvious and the way you'd like to be able to skim read. I deducted you were an impatient reader. it is not in any way an insult, I am an impatient reader myself and don't usually last through a blog as long as my last one, but when the story is interesting or the plot is gripping, you go with it.

    Where I always appreciate feedback and ALWAYS accept criticism or compliments with grace, I simply did not agree with your point, you on the other hand do not seem to be able to accept that.

    Anyway, no hard feelings anonymous

  43. First of all let us stop using this readership and penmanship nonsense; they are not being used appropriately here (sorry for my nationalism).
    Secondly, when a peace of text is well written, the result is then an easy reading. Terms like Page Turner would not have existed if there were no page stallers. Granted , skim-reading is not appropriate for some stories, but this was only part of my comment. To be honest with you I am more concerned with the lack of structure , ease of flow, and of creativity (over including events when they not really interesting)

  44. If my texts are nonsensical, unstructured and pages stallers, why are you reading them?

    Also, what does nationalism has to do with it?

  45. I have not read them yet. I will be patient and try to read them.
    Thanks for your effort.
    In this case I hope to read an interesting story about an English girl's experience in DZ
    It would have been nice if Steph was following this blog :)


  46. @Anonymous: Just try to enjoy the story :)
    And "Steph" IS following the blog, she even comments sometimes!! obviousely her name isn't really Steph.

  47. I know she is :) some comments like 'Na3eddine' are obviously hers
    Take care

  48. @Anonymous, what an anal guy you are............DZ-Chick, excuse my French.

    This guy clearly wants to read a contrived story, in which case he is on the wrong blog. Creativity and freedom makes you amazing DZ-Bansky.

    If I was to guess the type of individual anonymous is, I would assume: a highly organised and disciplined person who ensures that his coloured boxer shorts (certainly not, more likely to be briefs) do not touch any of his white ones, une personne tres rigide et surement frigide, ooops...the cat is out of the bag (or maybe not, that might be the issue)!

    @Yasmine, wow....would you have preferred Allah rather than God with a lower case 'g'....and as for the call of prayer, synchronised it's fine, any other way will simply drive anyone to the edge.

    The post was great, I have never been to Algiers (or Algeria fo rthat matter) so thank you for the little tour.

  49.  Miss Polemique ha ha ha boxers vs. Briefs
    Thanks for the laugh; at least you’re not an ungrateful reader


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