Wednesday 27 June 2012

Algerians in London: Mind the Gap

What is it that makes us so very proud to be Algerian? Is it our exceptional Football? The cult of the flag? The indoctrinated nationalism? The martyrs of the revolution? Rai Music? Chaabi music? CousCous? Or perhaps it’s Cheb Khaled? Or maybe Chaou I wonder…are we candidly and actually proud of being Algerian?

Algerians seem to have a love-hate relationship with their country, with each other, even with themselves and with their nationality, they waver from love Algeria to hate all Algerians, it changes on a daily basis, it’s even instantaneous at times.

Algerians are known for their mutual sense of suspicion and will go to great lengths to avoid, scrutinise, judge each other and flee their own kind as far as Tokyo and Fiji, only to encounter someone there saying “Assatar”(1) when they trip and fall!

Yet their curiosity is far stronger than their contempt and so when a community event is announced, they will flock like moths to a flame, if only to make an inventory of who’s who and who’s here.
And as suspected, a few days ago, in London, there was a rare Algerian event. Chaou, the Dean of popular Chaabi music, performed for us Algerian-Londoners. A much anticipated event that saw a good turnout of Algerians and nothing but Algerians.

The hall was an old Convent Garden building in dire need of restoration, old unmatching (free standing) chairs from the 70’s. A large Algerian flag draped over the back wall, which was being hung during the actual performance, the musicians looked very smart in all matching white shirts and black ties. Chaou was a delight as he captivated the audiences with old Chaabi tunes and indulged the exited crowds in their requests, the crowds were full of joy, sing-alongs and ululations.
Chaou sang in front of an excited and very mixed crowd of diplomats, intellectuals, media, artists, families, and a large number of exited young men who were probably more harmless than they looked.

Although to the naked and inexperienced eye, everyone was having fun, dancing and singing along, a sense of disparity was very palpable. The dance floor was claimed by the same young men who looked very happy to dance and film each other on their phones; they were evidently having a blast, looking around the room however, there was a feel of apprehension and an indecisive look about the young women present, very few were dancing and when asked, one of the young women said “I felt awkward initially but thought we need to get over it, it’s a Chaabi concert and it involves people from different backgrounds, didn’t think anyone was disrespectful. Chaabi is for people to sing along, shout and dance

This made me think, are we thinking too much into it and by refusing to dance and mingle, we are subconsciously trying to maintain the social divide and thus keep the wall up that segregates these two very clearly different social circles this kind of event brings together? And in doing so keeping the pseudo-community weak and divided?

Admittedly it was to be expected, although Chaabi is a refined music, by definition it is a popular music and might not always attract the most refined public, and although the crowds were completely harmless and just there for a good time, what seemed apparent the most was the complete lack of respect for this great artist who was struggling to be heard (even by his own musicians) through the poor sound system available first then due to the noise level emanating from the crowd which was obliterating, and no not the sounds of cheers or ululations but the very loud conversations taking place causally amongst the crowd and the fact the stage was highjacked as soon as Chaou sang “abkaw ala khir”(2).

These young people who represent the stratum of the Society that is often disregarded and blamed for the bad image and poor reputation the Algerians seem to be suffering from amongst host societies are nothing if not lost and in need of a role model, which in social norms would be the Elite class’s role, which we’ve seen here and there focused on restraining their muscles from twitching to the sound of the music or too busy occupying themselves with how much money they can make and who goes to the farthest destination known to another Algerian (I’ve been to Antarctica. Beat that!).

Which brings us to the organisation of such events; although the majority of the audience seemed very grateful for the effort and the opportunity to have a home-like experience in the heart of London, the way this kind of community event is handled and portrayed is very important to the image of the community itself and should not be handled lightly and irresponsibly, which was obviously the case here.

The 100% Algerian crowd choice becomes clearer, with the “hna fi hna”(3) mentality, there is less pressure to do anything outstanding or good enough to represent a community that is suffering an image problem.
Some of the people questioned on the choice of the venue and organisation were less than pleased, Karima said “It’s really at the image of our country isn’t”
Whereas Aziz said “Dzair mlesska bel bzak khti” (Algeria is glued together with Saliva, nothing sticks).

His Excellency the Ambassador (who was least pleased with the venue and was overheard saying that had he known about the venue, he wouldn’t have helped, well he's the one to talk really, with their track records of events organised, it's almost like they insist on maintaining third world status) and Madame la Consul were present and unfortunately for them, were seated on the front row which means under direct dance-move attack from the Chemma(4)-Squad delivered in true Hooligan style.

Meriem: "when I think of the Consul’s face, I can see the same contempt as that of the at Alg government towards the for the rest I think these young men helped clean the hall at the end and that’s the image I want to retain"

On the total highjack of the dance floor, stage and general chaos, Reda said “it was to be expected, I can deal when mentally prepared” and Amir: “normaaal”, a more controversial view from Mourad “We Algerians have a mentality where if it’s just us,
we don’t care, but if there was one more foreign person there, say English, our whole mentality changes, it’s like we can’t be trusted to manage ourselves, we have the mentality and predisposition of the colonised”

Yasmin didn’t dance all night though she enjoyed the music, she had a lot of concerns about the organisation and mentioned “notice how we behave differently when it’s just us, on board an Air Algerie flight we defy the rules and all stand up before the plane stops, aboard a BA flight, we behave according to regulations

It seems the consensus is that by avoiding any foreign observers or outsiders, there is less pressure on the organisers to excel and make it a memorable event, as they say “hna fi hna”, amongst the same group there is less pressure, we Algerians know eachother, we know our ways and have no choice but to accept the low standards or leave. There are no high expectations, only a sense of resignation and acceptance of the low and negative image the Algerian holds of himself and of his fellow Algerians.
The organiser knows this, he doesn’t make a huge effort or maybe he does make mammoth efforts (from the look of him at the end of the evening), they just don’t seem to meet the expectations of the divided crowds. They do however meet the expectations of the group with no sense of expectation, of image that his/her community should have or portray.
He RSVP’ed and he will judge it normal to be able to dance and behave like he always did if no boundaries are set, or indeed standard to uphold.

But who sets the Algerian standard here in the UK? In light of recent discoveries and since the government does so little to help raise the Algerian image or positive visibility, it is up to the people, who take it upon themselves to set the standards by creating community events and calling it “our culture”.

There are many other statements that I will not share with you here today, because it is easier to criticise than it is to do something positive and beneficial for this community we all cry for.
But who’s this “we”, we refer to? Everybody seems to be pointing the finger at the organiser, because the young men, haraga(5) or not, educated or not, are not to blame, they allegedly paid for their tickets as everybody else did, danced when the music said so and sat down when it said so.
We can’t blame the organisers for trying (and failing) we can only blame ourselves for letting this happen. If these pseudo-intellectuals and self appointed elitists want their culture, country or music rightly represented, they need to get involved and cover the huge gap in our culture in the UK stop the cultural highjacking by neighbouring countries that are more business-savvy than they are over-zealously proud.

Nissa: "We can’t blame the guys, they are haraga, some of them have no education, they’re not used to such events, they are nostalgic and for someone who hasn’t been home for over six years because he’s illegally here in the UK, this is the closest for him to feel at home"

Is Mourad right? Do our reflexes change when amongst non-Algerians because we are only image-aware when not in Algerian company? But what about our judgmental and scrutinising stances towards other Algerians? Perhaps it’s time to put theses to good use and stop this socialist mentality, where if you can’t unite for one cause, then by all means do act more like individuals; responsible, respectable individuals, who whether aware of it or not, act as the Algerian ambassadors amongst any group and in any setting.

A thought provoking, emotionally exhausting evening. Where anti-nationalism, patriotism, anger, disgust, joy and love are experienced in an overwhelming simultaneity. I believe I may have acquired my first wrinkles from excessive frowning and laughter. It can be so confusing being an Algerian abroad.

Dz-Chick...has overdosed on Algerians for the month!
(1) if you sneezed we’d say bless you, if you tripped …well that what we’d say.
(2) Song: Bid you goobye
(3) just between us
(4) of the highest repugnance Sniffing tobacco
(5) Illegal immigrant/overstayers

Friday 8 June 2012

Ecological torture

London looks as angry as it is infuriating, rain lashing out of the sky, the sun extinguished by the unrelenting downpour, sitting here at my desk in the City looking out of the what is supposed to be a window, for you see, I am not important enough to have window seat but I scavenge on what little light trickles through the window-office closest to my desk, its occupier often catches me staring in his direction from my seat and with the corner of my eye I can see him shaking his head. One pseudo-word: pffff

The summer comes in minutes not seasons, autumn comes in eras; time really is relative here. I own five umbrellas and for vanity’s sake 4 pairs of sunglasses mostly worn on hangover days.

The only tan here is the fake kind or the expensive kind that usually involves an exotic destination and an extortionately expensive flight – Benidorm then?

Oh summer where art thou!

This weather is playing pogo with me, my mood is changing by the minute, with every ray of sunshine that scurries through the grey clouds, I cheer up and love London, then it all goes morose again and I curse ….Coldplay who are not the second coming of the Christ you know!

No it is not hormonal and it’s not the passing of Venus across the surface of the sun and it’s not my friend’s amazing tan from her amazing Belize holiday, or her consistently unexplainable good mood, it is not people who use “summer” as a verb. It is the weather. This bloody, miserable, mind-of-its-own London weather, that is such a central part of our lives and conversations, we have to personify it to hate it better.

Breaking news: A rebellious ray of sunshine spotted somewhere near East Anglia (that’s Bordj Bou Ariridj for you in Algeria). Mark my words in the near future there will be a sun spotting sport. This will come into a more sane perspective when you check the current weather in Algiers or even France.

I read a quote by someone saying that "bad weather always looks worse through a window", except in London. There is no misrepresentation, it is as bad outside as it looks from inside, it is in fact so bad that even the sight of your soft duvet doesn’t make it better.

I think somewhere a new breed of ecological terrorists is laughing, their attempt at collective prayers for rain ( صلاة الاستصقاء) has been successful. You can quote me on that.

Dz-chick…mood weather forecast for tonight: Dark!

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