Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Little Algiers N4
My train alights at Finsbury Park station, too absorbed by my book and practicing the ever annoying read & walk, I hear a couple of Algerian guys whinging behind me “jat’ha leqraya hadi”(1) I control my reflex and manage not to turn around and acknowledge their protest or indeed acknowledge I understood what they were saying, I walk on thinking….and so it begins…
What was I doing here again? My mind is mangled with the plotline of my book and it takes me a few seconds to readjust my mind and my bearings, it comes back to me, I am here to view a flat, as I punch in the post code into my Google map I quietly pray it indicates a minimum of 2 miles away, but it doesn’t, it’s showing 0.8 miles to destination to the ghetto more like I thought, dear Lord I have to walk through Black Stock Road, the notorious little Algiers known to all Algerians as the Algerian ghetto and to the police as a hot zone or red, I am not familiar with coppers’ terminology.
So I brace myself, put my sunglasses on, button my shirt up, lower my jacket to hide my curves, I stand in front of a shop window frantically looking at my reflection, trying to alter details to avoid looking remotely attractive, Algerian or interested, I pray to god I walk the length of that road until the moving little blue dot says you are here.
I walk decided, take fast and determined steps, I fix my gaze on the horizon, my phone clenched in my palm, my thumb hurts, I am pressing too hard, my muscles are tense, I feel indignant, why must I feel uneasy and apprehensive walking down little Algiers, surely I wouldn’t have felt the same in big Algiers…
I feel eyes on me, stares, somebody points his chin in my direction to bring his mates attention to me, I continue walking with a firm step and a security about me that is supposed to deter any harmful intentions, after a few hours walking down this road, actual time 3 minutes, I start to feel at ease, I am in Algerian territory here and above all in England, surely I am safe, so I start taking in the surroundings all behind the safety of my shades;
Young men lining the walls all along the road, some in congregations laughing aloud, some in twosomes gesticulating something passionately, I notice the customary position, one leg on the floor and another bent backwards to lean on the wall, not without leaving dirt marks, some huddled around a small box of Chemma (snuff) taking it in turns to put a small dollop onto their upper lips, producing a fat lip that brings back my initial angst; A coffee shop, two tables on the terrace/pavement, five men huddled around a single cup of espresso, passing it to each other in what looks like a very odd coffee ritual, I do a quick survey and count 5 out of 7 fat lips, 3 tracksuits and all wearing trainers, Oh I am sure they have a football game later, they wouldn’t be hanging out in sports gear for no reason…or so I’d hope.
I check my phone quickly as I reach my destination, a beautiful Victorian house, ground floor flat conversion with garden, I curse the Algerians and grudgingly inform the agent that the area is not suitable for me and that I hadn’t checked the location prior to accepting the viewing and for that reason, I am out, I dare not mention that I would refuse to live in this beautiful Victorian house in this “once” lovely area because my “own” people claimed the area and turned into little Algiers.
I wondered if houses around this area were difficult to rent out due to the high concentration of Algerian around and if the property values have decreased for the same reasons, I dare not ask him as I am sure he would not dare comment, but if he did, I wondered if I would take offense or agree…
I resume the 0.8m walk back to the station and make sure to walk on the opposite side of the road, I pass a “patisserie” and couldn’t resist the urge to go in and buy Garantita(2) , the croud of young men gathered aimlessly in the shop all look at me in unison and their loud chatter quickly becomes muffled she is Algerian I felt like I had just walked into Harrods sporting a shell suit with Burberry trainers, I ordered in Algerian attini 2 garantita(3) please so the waiter all smiles proceeds at cutting a huge baguette and starts inserting the pieces of Garantita into it, I assumed it was someone else’s order so I stood there scanning the display of cakes and patisseries from the 90s with think creams and strawberries, do you want harissa khti?(4) I politely decline just the garantita thanks, The waiter shakes his head in disapproval and mutters something under his breath, I look around the other tables, baskets of bread on every table, ahh that love affair Algerians have with bread, I recall seeing a man pick up a piece of bread from the floor, kisses it lightly then puts it on top of a bin or a higher surface from the ground, as an Algerian, witnessing that doesn’t shock me but it makes me smile fondly. Ok I will take the bread khouya (5)
200 yards to the station, I glance over the other side of the road where that single espresso was being turned around like a joint of Hashish, the espresso was still there, I realise there sips didn’t qualify as such, they are barely touching their lips to the glass and making a swift sucking sound to make the pleasure last, I will not pretend to understand this odd phenomenon but I find it highly amusing and couldn’t help but smile inwardly of course – no facial movement when walking down Black stock road.
Back in my neck of the woods, I feel relieved then irritated by my feelings of apprehension in the midst of the Algerian community, where I should feel safe and right at home, but I was safe and it was like being back in Algiers, perhaps a more rough area of Algiers, but Algiers nonetheless, apart from a few stares and harmless albeit annoying whistles my trip to little Algiers was a reminiscent of a trip down Belcourt (6) but I question what deters us from living near little Algiers, or be seen there, is it because of the dodgy antics some of our fellow Algerians are getting up to there and some extremist views or because it reminds us of things we wanted to get away from ourselves
It remains amazing to see how the Algerians in London have claimed their own little area and made it their own and ours even if some of us tend to avoid it like the plague/hate it or snob it, every single Algerian will find him/herself drawn to it at some point in their London life.
Think of it as a tourist attraction the little Algiers of London, full of character and multi-cultral atomsphere that makes London so Unique.
Dz-Chick …she likes her garantita sans Harissa
(1) Expression to say: She got the urge to read this lass…but it holds a more condescending connotation
(2) Chick pea flour based pizza/flan …yum!
(3) Can I have 2 slices of Garantita
(4) Do you want Chilli paste sis?
(5) My brother- a more polite way of addressing people, I wasnt trying to talk ghetto
(6) A popular district in Algiers
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