Saturday 28 April 2012

International observers - observe!

As I stroll in downtown Algiers, amongst the haussmanian buildings, Moorish and art deco architecture, the confused identities and confused faces, the travellers, the office workers in their suits, the vagabonds and all the rest, this rest that makes our youth, our unemployed, our unrepresented and ignored future, amongst these people, stand side by side the electoral candidates's posters, in their best suits and in their best "advised" positions some chose a bruce lee stance (witness preposterous exhibit below) whilst others are content with looking their positively corrupt and untrustworthy selves.

As I look around and watch people, I can't help but feel their indifference to these electoral campaigns (if they even qualify as such), posters badly stuck on, completely uninviting, lacking in colour, aesthetics and message, you could almost feel their contempt for the people, these so called politicians who lost touch with the people, they're not capable of explaining to the masses why they should vote, their messages are so ambiguous and false, they're incapable of standing out as a real opposing party. They're all bought, and as Simon Cameron said"  An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought".

As you walk around, you can feel people's total and utter distrust in these clowns in posters! The odd ones who stop to look at the posters for a fleeting second quickly walk away shaking their heads but promptly forget about them, it's a non issue. they're not going to vote.

Café des artistes and bohemian bars are unusually quiet, gone are the heated political debates,  no body knows who these so called deputies are or what they stand for, they're an insult to our intelligence and to our country.

I thought to myself, so who's going to vote? and for whom? For the clowns who will sit in the parliament (where the rate of absenteeism is higher than that of a high school in Thénia(1)) raise their hands to vote "YAY" so they receive their enormously, ridiculously large salaries that are well above 30 times the average Algerian salary?

On one of the Algerian radios, I heard a message urging people to vote and to make their voices heard, my sister who was driving seemed to be immuned to it, didn't even hear it, she continued insulting the driver in front of her, she didn't even feel concerned or gave it a thought, I asked her if she was going to vote, she said "na3adine babak yal kavi"(2) to the guy driving the Audi Q something!

Then I thought back to the times when I was younger (and voted for the FLN party because everybody else said better the devil you know) and of all the people you see on TV casting their votes and voicing their opinions, the people who vote and will always vote, on whom the government count to vote, are the people who don't live in villas, the ones who don't travel to Paris for the weekend or visit le salon du Livre, the people who need to have their voting card stamped because Algeria needs their votes and their opinions, the people who are receiving countless SMS from their telephone providers urging them to vote, if they don't want to live another black decade or witness closely what happened in Tunisia and Lybia and the people who think that not voting will stop them from obtaining their 12S* and certificat de nationalité and the ones who count on God's will to prevail and say things like "acheda fi rabi" so they can sit back and wait for God to fight for them.

Free and just elections with international observers is the image they're trying to portray to the world because they care more about what the world thinks, whilst the youth is drawing cartoon characters like sponge Bob and Mickey Mouse on the electoral posters in reference to Bled Miki.

Free and just elections indeed, with one candidate running around escorted by 4 Gendarmerie Nationale land-rovers and an entourage to compete with that of P-Diddy and another one pitching up in his old Honda and can't afford a poster, one using the Government resources with unlimited access to newspapers and national TV, when others are denied 5 minutes on the NATIONAL television channel, leading the latter to accept international funding.
As for the handful of international observers, they're all guests of the Algerian government not of the people, they're here to protect the interest of their countries with Algeria and will not denounce fraud if it bit them in the ass.

If this is not proof of total and utter contempt for civil society, then I ask you, what is?
Yet it amazes me that people are still willing to vote and express an opinion that is invalid and pointless as tradition has it, Algerian elections are and will always be rigged.
Have the past elections not teach us anything? 

As long as people voted, the situation will continue, only a boycott of this mascerade could save our dignity and perhaps bring a glimmer of hope, be the beginning of a change, a revolution....of something.

Where is this Algerian dignity we're so known for? How can we let a group of dinosaurs destroy our land, our present, our future and that of our children.

Maybe one day, the laws of physics will change and we'll be able to construct a solid base on sand and swamps but for now, it remains an impossibility.

We need to stand our ground and let our inactions speak as loud as our words. ABSTAIN.

Dz-chick…The jig is up Algeria!

(1) a town somewhere near Algiers
(2) A generic algerian insult, invoking the father, the religion etc
* Some kind of biometric birth certificate

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Hen(na) nights!

The women mill around dressed in their best, donned with enough gold to destabilise the world economy and enough silk to set the house on fire, tunes from Naima Dziriya blaring from an old CD player in the corner, it is loud, so very loud. The women screech louder to be heard, all smiles and laughter and admiration for eachothers attires and jewellery.

It’s Wednesday, the night of the Henna, a few days before the wedding, all the women gather around at the bride’s house, the Algerian version of the Hen night.

The bride walks in one of the many dresses she purchased for the wedding, her hair so intricately styled it looks untouchable, make up looks slightly less extravagant to the naked eye but on close inspection looks about 10 mms deep, you can actually smell it.
The bride walks in escorted by two young girls holding two long twisted candles, the women ululate incessantly; she sits on a throne of red velvet cushions embroided with golden threads.

An elderly relative dressed in a serwal Chelka (traditional trousers-skirt I guess) and a silk scarf around her hair is mixing a bowl of henna, she adds an egg, some rose water and sings a Henna lullaby to commemorate the ritual, a dollop of the mixture is put in the middle of the right palm and spread in a small circle, then a silk mitt is used to cover the hand. More ululations explode in the air, a feel of bliss and romance fills the ether and the bride’s mother sheds a tear, traditionally because her daughter is leaving the family home, but everybody knows it’s the lullaby, so damn sentimental.

After the bride, it’s the bride’s younger sister to have henna applied to her hand and then every other single girl present, all hoping to follow suit and get married before her one day.

Mint tea is served accompanied with one of the hundreds of almond cake variety there is and everybody is on a sugar high. Music gets louder, everybody starts showing off their best dance moves they learnt in the belly dance classes they’ve been taking or copied from the latest Assala* music video.

The aftermath; no hangovers, just a load of makeup to remove, physical damage is minimal if you don’t count the ear drum perforation and the odd injury sustained through the customary evil eye.

Would have been good to get a bit drunk!
A night wasted of my life I’ll never get back!
I am super jealous happy! 

Meanwhile, in London, about half a dozen girls go out to town to celebrate Sally’s hen party, the hen posse are dressed in coordinated dresses, with legs that start here (around my breasts) , and array of perfumes, fake tans and make up to cause a sense-seizure, they’re loud, so very loud.

As they enter the restaurant gaggling, in their coordinated pink sashes “brides maids” and the bride’s L plate, veil and flashing tiara, all the punters stare and think “oh no…it’s about to get loud in here”.

Dinner and drinks are served; and out comes the penis shaped straws and an a giant inflatable one that sits next to the bride whilst all the girls pose for pictures with the centre piece, loud and incessant laughter fills the place, within 2 hours, everybody is sufficiently drunk and collectively the girls hold enough alcohol to set the house on fire. The mother of the bride leaves after dinner and the girls loose their inhibitions – yes only now! 

To the relief of the punters and waiters, dinner is finished and the girls move on to the next venue, a night club, their tacky limousine awaits and they all get in without showing too much cleavage or knickers. The pink posse enter the bar, the lonely boys at the bar rejoice at the prospect of an easy pull with blondie no. 2 or 5 whichever…

They dance around the club grinding against every single guy available, as if the pink sash is their license to behave like total tarts with no judgment passed; they’re just here for their friends’ hen party after all! Give me one of those sashes I tell ya!!

A few gallons of novelty cocktails and questionable shots later (drunk through the penis shaped straws naturally)…TROUBLE! A few scenarios go like this: 
One passes out in the club toilet and has to be rescued by the “mother” hen, this might be the bride’s actual mother but we already decided she sensibly and thankfully (who wants to go clubbing with their mother anyway) left straight after dinner, so she’ll probably be rescued by the toilet attendant who’ll most probably charge her the costmary £1 because she had to use a splash of her perfume to wake her up.

One or two might go home with someone and wake up somewhere dubious, but mostly the girls will stumble out drunk onto the street to hail a cab, the limousine company probably refused to hire out for afters for obvious reasons…cab drivers won’t want to take them because they’re too drunk and disorderly and don’t want to risk the puke in their cabs. 

The aftermath, the group is dispersed, major hangovers, headaches, losses occurred include handbag, oyster card, jewellery, phone and with any luck the flashing tiara.

After thought: 
Should have gone to a spa and traditional English tea like normal people.
Had a brill time!
How much did it actually cost?
Oh my head hurts!

Having experienced both celebrations (the latter only from afar), not passing any judgment, only commenting on the cultural differences of the celebration.
Hoping to experience an amalgamation of this celebratory event between the Algerian and the British traditions. 
Our Diaspora here will perhaps create a halfway style of this cultural phenomenon that is fun, fabulous and classy, keeping the best of both worlds. No bingo games allowed.

Dz-chick…sending hints to her soon-to-be-bride pal! I am not wearing pink velour!

* Lebanese singer

Wednesday 4 April 2012

The Others

A few years ago, when I was going about my life as the only Algerian girl in London, when it was rare to meet a fellow Algerian in the street, in the park or at the supermarket, I believed I was the only one here, whatever I would or would not do, I would be the first, PHD in Maths and further maths or a Masters in Superhero science or a BA in Mickey mouse history wouldn’t matter, with no home-biased competition, I would be the first and therefore I was on top, so suddenly the drive to compete or be the best was less prevalent. I was already IT.

To my family I was the hero, there was nothing I couldn’t do, they have total and utter trust and pride in me, and I ate it right up.

Then a few more years later, when I woke up form my glory daze (pun intended), and stumbled across a network of Algerians living in London, graduates, professionals, highly educated, smart and interesting people…I was pleasantly surprised and shocked at the same time, I am not the only one?
I thought I held the National flag here!

A sudden panic takes over you and the realisation that whatever you have achieved, someone else did it better and all the years of delusional eminence come crushing down on your average sized brain and your mediocrity rushes up to the surface.

I had to investigate these intruders and find out in what parallel worlds we have all been living all these years, and discovered a brilliant albeit not a very large network of young Algerian professionals, graduates, researchers and artists etc… who have been living in the same world-apart dream, probably in the studies phase, integration phase or the wow phase AKA the tmakhli3 phase, a lot of these individuals were obviously busy building the foundations for their new lives or careers, most of whom never crossed path, to their/our knowledge at least, or perhaps they crossed paths but refrained from direct interaction due to the famous Algerian sense of mutual suspicion and judgment.

You: Who goes there?
The Others: Euuuu a fellow Algerian Academic
You: That cannot be, I am the only Algerian Academic here. Imposter.
The Others: Yeah and I am Stephen Hawking
You: hmmmmm

Now if we attempt to analyse the cause of this, we can argue the following:
Algeria is relatively underrepresented in the UK and the host population is generally ignorant about the Algerian culture, geography or demographics, which makes the rapport ambiguous as they (Algerians) remain somewhat of an unknown entity with no known cultural references as is the case of the Italians with Pasta, the Egyptians with the Pharaohs or even the Olive Oil which is now linked to most Mediterranean cultures except that of Algeria. Instead Algerians feel stigmatised with Terrorism which they feel angry about since they were the victims and not the perpetrators.
They feel they have to fight for their culture and presence in the host country, always arguing what is Moroccan and what is Algerian, what is N. African and what is Middle Eastern, Berber or Arab. They may feel belittled and insignificant in the face of a world that does not seem to acknowledge their importance, their contributions or their talents, they certainly may feel frustrated about their culture being highjacked and unrecognised, which pushes them to over-achieve, compete and perform to prove they are worthy, capable and developed young people who are no different to any of their counterparts out there.

In the process of becoming Algeria’s super heroes, Algerians scrutinise each other and remain very suspicious of each other, they generally hold a low and quite negative opinion of their compatriots, they blame each other for the bad reputation Algerians have acquired on the international scene, evidence of this is clear when certain Algerians tend to stay away from the community if any and from anything Algerian generally, when abroad, which makes forming a community more difficult or at least a lengthy process.

Algerians in the UK remain a smaller group compared to other more established and cohesive ethnic groups, to which they may belong or feel they belong. This ambiguity about not belonging to the Arab world or to the African world, has been discussed in very few researches, Dr. Caroline Nagel (a Researcher and author from the University of S. Carolina) has highlighted the effects of belonging to the ‘Other Other’ category in the UK census as “a feeling of marginalisation in the UK discourse on the politics of race” but we should stop here and not divert too much from the topic.

Having said that, in the last few years, and this has probably not been documented yet, we notice that few associations have sprouted here and there, mostly with hidden agendas and armed with the old FLN mentality, these as you might have guessed have been created by the over 50’s and have yet to have any real affect on the community or creation of;

What is really interesting is how the Young Algerian Elite group that flourished and stabilised after years of studies and research, are now in stable and permanent professions and lives, have taken the initiative to create a cohesive community and rapport that is built on mutual understanding, trust, empathy, music, literature, academia, culture, integration and the odd political focus.

Such associations are to name a few: The Algerian Solidarity Campaign who despite their very political outlook and mission, remain a prominent community reference for the young Algerian professionals in London who gather at every event and mingle, talk of politics, culture, Music and the mother country.

The first Algerian radio in the UK, or The Caravan of Andalusi Music association etc, is another example of these newly created community groups that serve a purpose for inclusion and cohesion, to give the Algerian community in the UK a foundation and a platform for communication and strengthening their relations, and to raise awareness amongst the host nation about Algeria and the Algerians, and of course so we all stop thinking we’re the king or queen of everything, other people have done it before you and realise that other Algerians have also studied in renowned universities and obtained PHDs, speak English as well as you and are all under 40 or thereabouts. We’re all flying the flag and as it turns out it is you who are the others.

Dz-Chick…humbled by her fellow Algerians

Links to read:
A very interesting piece of research to read:

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