Monday 11 April 2011

An English girl in Algiers…

Is that Algerian she’s speaking? Steph enquires about the recording in Arabic on the British Airways flight to Algiers, no its Arabic in a Kuwaiti accent bizarrely, is that different? No I guess not, it’s like listening to a voice recording done of a Scottish lady, you wonder why they chose a Scottish accent.

After about 30 minutes of flight time, food and beverages are served, an adapted lazy version of a halal meal for these passengers who don’t eat pork, a cold cheese and tomato sandwich.
Two gentlemen to our right dig out a Tesco’s bag, they packed sandwiches and cakes, I look on curiously, I had to say something and I on my way to the bathroom, I take the opportunity to ask them with a friendly smile “where did you get that then?” they inform me that when one flies BA, one has to take precautions, and that they preferred Air Algerie where they'd be served a proper hot meal, I enquire politely if the flight time was longer? They look at me in confusion as to the purpose of my question. I smile and walk away.

Aircraft lands in Algiers, sky is hazy neither fully covered, nor blue, ambiguous weather; there is surprise for you, reflects the local socio-political system I thought, temperature mild and humidity high, my skin feels sticky, my skin cells are screaming for water, a shower is in order, I signal to my sister who's came to pick us up that we'd better get home quick before Steph starts to strip and cause a stir.

The drive from the airport to my parents’ house should take about half an hour, but the usual horrendous traffic caused by a police check in the middle of the motorway means we might as well dig out the BA sandwiches now, to my surprise Steph had packed them away in her bag! I want to ask her why but decide against it, I was worried I would get a disconcerting response and thought whatever assumption she had made, it was probably best to let her review it herself.

Traffic almost stationery on the motorway, some kids skate past us on their rollerblades, whilst I was getting over this first chock, comes the second, another kid swerves past us in his VTT with no helmet naturally,  when I realise we might be in for the long haul, I give up complaining and commenting, slouch in my seat and hold on to the door handle whilst my sister drives us home, Schumacher style, breaking every traffic code there is, if she knows any, when I scream in fear she sniggers “Normaaaaaal”
Steph and I exchange horrified looks but I feel protective of my home country, I have this overwhelming desire to make it look PERFECT and want Steph to have a great time, but realising this was an impossible task I relax, smile at Steph and say Normaaaaaaal

Arriving home, my mother had a feast prepared for us and to her delight, my guest declares she’s ravenous to which she (my mother) replies in French as though Steph would understand anything “ah you should have flown Air Couscous, they give you a proper hot meal”
“Ah we’re having couscous?” Steph shrieks, she clearly picked up the word couscous.

I ignore her and start ranting; It’s 2h40 minutes flight time maximum, we are not going to die, “yes but you get more luggage allowance too” she retorted. I don’t bother translating this to my guest. But I do however explain that with the inevitable flight delays with Air Algerie, the hot meal is a write off.
A hot meal is needed after 4 hours minimum delay, they know what they’re doing those Air couscous people.

Mother announces there’s a cousins wedding over the weekend, and we are invited, invited? Does it matter how many members of the family are invited?  apparently not b
ecause people usually bring their friends and neighbours too, free food, a good dance and you might get the chance to be spotted by a grandmother shopping for a bride for her favourite grandson.

Not wanting to disappoint my mother, I reluctantly agree as long as Steph comes too, my mum is over the moon and suggests I give my friend a lesson in weddings attires so that my she doesn’t get a cultural shock. Mum – it’s too late for that.

We go to the local hairdresser; her salon is an extension of her house, a converted garage, garden chairs for us to sit on and an old sink in the corner, my friend is loving it, she’s taking pictures of corners and getting into strange positions trying to get an arty shot, don’t you dare point that thing at me is all I have to say.
The hairdresser washes our hair with a “shampoing Professionel”, it smelt of strawberries and looked radioactive, she moves on to straighten and style our hair, she did mine so straight I could pass for a Chinese from behind, my friend had curls put in. it was not pain free.

The wedding is in a couple of hours, so we decide we needed a drink, we drive to the Sheraton Hotel, one of the few places you can get a drink without getting judged or stared at, and these little liberties don’t come cheap, I suggest we opt for a liquor which smell wont linger on for hours and I would be found out by the meddlesome old women “invited” to the wedding. I sense that Steph is starting to understand the ramifications.

I address my mum over the blaring music being played “I need to make a phone call” a lady sitting at the table behind ours, who was clearly eavesdropping offers her phone, I smile politely and say “merci” so she plunges her hand into her generously bulging bust and produces a sweaty mobile phone, I hesitate for a bit but I could feel my mother staring at me with trepidation expecting me to embarrass her, Steph giving me an evil laugh and whispering as if anybody can understand her if overheard her: "dude, don't do it " and the phone lady trying to read my face, so I take the phone with clenched jaws in an attempt at hiding my queasiness, my mind is racing, how can I talk on this phone without having to put it near my face, I don’t even have a kitman(3) as the lady called it, she watches me, she is afraid I’d dial a +44 number, I brave her gaze, take my chances and wipe the handset with a tissue! She didn’t even flinch and gave me a faint smile, to her is was normaaaaal

Dinner was served, more couscous, Steph is loving it, she sits down with the old ladies and talks to them in broken French and English and they seem to understand each other, some touch her blond locks, some mutter lahibarak and some are showing her pictures of their sons on their presumably sweaty mobile phones. I sit there smiling and nodding, glancing at my watch, but all the same pleased that my guest was able to experience a “traditional” Algerian wedding.

“Mum, I warn you now, we came to the wedding, so don’t expect our company tonight we’re going out” isn’t it Normaaaal? She declares that it was not.

So we stay in with the family, more food followed by even more food, tizanne instead of coffee, Steph wonders why we’re not drinking mint tea instead of coffee or tizanne, I get tired of her questions so I deploy my sister to explain that it’s not as depicted in the movies, we don’t all wear jellabas and headscarves and walk behind our men cradling babies on canvas pouches, though if she wanted to see that, we can drive her to some village so she can take pictures like a tourist in a zoo and let her experience some bullshit white man guilt that is just a poor excuse for feeling superior.

I explain to Steph that, nevertheless, it is always refreshing to see how people can keep such a primal and basic way of life and be absolutely content as they are in these same villages, whereas we in the metropolis, need a big house, a car, many battery operated devices, a man, a good job, girlfriends, several memberships to a gym, spa, Jazz club and cinema, a local café, several pairs of shoes, overflowing and slightly ostentatious wardrobes (most with tags still attached), a therapist and chronic depression, a weight problem, 2 international airports at hand yet remain dissatisfied. What gives!

Steph winks at me with a knowing smile and says: Normaaaaal

To be continued….

(3) Kit-main-libre – hands free


  1. Can't wait for part 2...i bet she got lots of stares and proposals!

  2. omg, I nearly choked on my smoked salmon And cream cheese sandwitch, hahahahaha sweaty mobile phone lol, can't wait for part 2 too, another brilliant story, love it!!

    Naima - London

  3. I am impressed you read the whole thing; I was worried it was getting too long, so I cut it short! Glad you like it :)

  4. of course I read everything, it's just hilarious the whole story, please please don't cut it short, tell us the whole story, this blog can't get any better.

    Naima -London

  5. DZ-Chick, just give us part 2 soon, this is getting better, I am so curious, I don't think it was to long, normaaaaal;)


  6. Part II coming soon...but there will probably be a Part III as well, sorry am just inspired so the story doesn't want to end.

  7. The Highway's congestion is Normaaaaaaaaal ^^

    P.S. Do kids skate in Algerian highways? (where did this happen?)

  8. @Schneller: Kids skting on the highway, "where did this happen?" Only in Algeria.

  9. hahhaha...hilarious..loving this blog...cant wait for part 2...u just speaking my mind...xx

  10. Haniya, the second part is here too.

  11. a bit of self-promotion i see.

  12. Well no one else seems to want to do it! So its down to me!

  13. i found out about it from someone who knows someone who knew it ... so word's getting round, you might be on celebrity juice soon.

  14. hehehe, I meant by my question in which place that occurred. I know boys who use Roulemette not a skateboard :p

  15. @ Raul: ha celebrity juice indeed! But good to know re: sources

    @ Zyber: had a look at ur blog! Interesting, will read some more later and comment, criticise and analyse ;) re: skateboard/rollerblades on the motorway but will never be able to tell you which one! I only remember the old stuff from when I was younger and living in DZ! But it was between Benaknoun and Hydra. Or did I miss the point of your question again?

  16. @DZ-Chick (aka DZ-Bansky)

    I have immensely enjoyed this post, so humorous as always.....
    I can tell you that if I was a male reader I would want to marry you!

    The lost comment to the guys on the airplane regarding the flight time, ha ha ha. We all know that Algerians run on their own time which I strongly dislike as I run on London GMT time zone, my people get with it unless you are somewhere else in the world then readjust!

    The traffic sounds horrendous, reminded me of what I have experienced in Malaysia. You really let your friend eat those sandwiches?!

    Air Couscous, me love it.....and your mother speaking French to

    The sweaty mobile phone?! DZ-Bansky, now that is a dilemma my dear. You tokk it evidently not to appear rude but Lord that was quite gross!

    That's so strange how we, Algerians, always want our non-Algerian friends to have the best perception possible of our people, very challenging task considering ;-)

    As for the constant eating, I totally seems that's all we tend to do in family gathering, I guess that is a defaut de ne pouvoir boire. That reminds me of the liqueur to ensure the smell of alcohol cannot be detected and the heavy price to pay to be able to drink without being judged. Really?! This is a capital...we still haven't moved on. We have lost Poitiers due to our love of alcohol.We lost our empire we might as well enjoy a drink from time to time.

    Thank you DZ-Chick, you seriously ROCK!

  17.  Miss Polemique I learnt to relax about visiting Algeria now with non Algerian friends, I just let them enjoy it as it is without inflicting my neurosis on their experience, don’t be embarrassed, shy or a show off, just take it in and say what you will. We’re all so concerned Algeria might be viewed as third world when it’s soo clearly in the same league as Japan.
    Thanks Miss P.  I am liking the Dz-Banksy ;)


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