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.
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.
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.
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 because 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 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!
To be continued….
(3) Kit-main-libre – hands free