Part 1: We never made it to Algeria

I’m sitting here, with a glass of cheap chilled white in one hand (it’s too warm to drink red) and a cigarette in the other. I occasionally type a word ot two, I can only type with one finger as the cigarette occupies two of my fingers. It’s taken me 5 minutes to type the first sentence of this post.

I re-read what I’ve written so far and find it plain and an uninteresting start to a post. Maybe it’s not a good idea to start posting at 2 am.

I’m completely jet-lagged, not because I’ve travelled to some exotic and remote place lately but because since my vacation started 2 and a half weeks ago I’ve gone to bed even later than usual. And then, there’s the heat. This heat has been unbearable. I can’t move, I speak even slower than usual and my brain is so switched off that it makes my eyes look as vacant as as cheap motel in Nebraska. Where is Nebraska anyway? Probably as far as my inspiration.

However, it’s not like nothing has happened to me lately. On the contrary, I’ve been fortunate enough to go on vacation to wonderful places with great people. Everything went smoothly, and the only one who suffered from it was my wallet.

Where should I start? Oh yes, it all began with Algeria. Well actually we never went to Algeria. It wasn’t safe enough. The official website said: Algeria is entirely safe. However tourists should not travel in the north-east, the south and some areas of the north-west, tourists have been reported to be kidnapped in markets in the big cities, these should therefore be avoided as well. Algeria is a large country but these instructions didn’t leave much space left for a relaxing vacation. Which is sad because I really wanted to go there.

So a few months ago, 4 friends and I decided we would go to Algeria this summer. Well, let’s put it this way. A few months ago I managed to brainwash 4 friends and convinced them to go to Algeria although they all told me what a crazy idea it was. Why Algeria, you’re asking. Well, it’s a long story and there are many reasons for it.
Firstly there’s the “I’ve been there before everyone else factor” it had made me quite popular in the 90’s when I entertained crowds at expats’ parties as I had just returned from Cambodia at the time when Polpot was still alive and when Khmer Rouges were still roaming the woods outside of Angkor Wat.
Then, as you know, Algeria is not the place one would choose to go to on vacation. Algeria belongs to the no-no-places-for-a-holiday-list together with Kabul, Bagdad, Beyrouth and Pyongyang. Still how cool is it to discover a place before everyone else and where there’s sun, friendly and good-looking people who speak my favorite language (Arabic), who cook the most delicious food and who have an amazing Roman, Arab, Berber, French history all of that mixed with a little bit of danger? I don’t know what you’d say but to me, it sounded like the perfect destination.

Moreover, parts of my family used to live there back when Algeria was part of France. It was more than a colony, it was a region, an intrisic part of the French territory. French had a tough time letting go of Algeria. The country reached its independence through a nasty and bloody war and unlike neighboring Morocco and Tunisia (which had become independent in 1956), Algeria finally became a state in 1962. France never really recovered from this and like the USA with Vietnam, the French are not too eager to talk about this defeat, especially not about the various massacres of Algerians that took place because of the French during this period.

My grandparents were born and raised there, my mother was born in Morocco on the other side of the border but they lived in Algeria. They are Pieds-Noirs as we call them. The Black Feet. That’s how the French who lived in Northern Africa are called. This name has throughout the years become a bad word as these Black Feet had to go back to metropolitan France upon Algeria’s independence and nobody really knew what to do with this million of French citizens who suddenly reapeared in the picture after having lived glorious days in the sun being served by underpaid locals. So they thought.
Culturally the Pieds-Noirs had become very different from the Metropolitan French and the latter would make sure this would be understood by the former. Unemployment and racism were not rare towards the Pieds-Noirs at that time and most of these families had lost everything they owned and suddenly ended up in the misery of Parisian or southern French suburbs.
Fortunately, my grandfather was employed by the state and could get a job as he returned with his whole family. But it’s always with a tear in his eye that he would mention Algeria and all the places they had lived in. Algeria was his country. He never went back.
Therefore, going to Algeria felt like the natural thing to do for me. For a long time, I’ve wanted to see the streets they lived in, where they went to school, the square in Tlemcen where my grandparents met 70 years ago. Rest assured, my goal was not to go there out of tacky post-colonial nostalgia, for I do think Algeria should have never been colonized in the first place, but this country is somehow part of my history. It was therefore high time I compared the blurry black and white pictures with today’s reality.

So, I’m afraid I’ll have to wait until it becomes a bit safer there. So in the meantime, Morocco seemed like a better option…

Coming soon: Part 2: We never made it to Morocco.

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10 Responses

  1. in a hurry to go to town right now and consider it is a rather long read, i will have to come back and read it slowly and savour it 😀 la bise!

  2. Oh Frog, what a wonderful story. I would have gone with you, oh yes I would’ve. My Father was called Black Irish which is kinda a racial slur, if you will within Ireland. When the Spanish invaded Ireland, of course they bedded down with the women. Thus, the pale, red haired, freckled, possibly Irish/Scot peoples, evolved into what my father was, darker complexion, jet black hair and blue eyes. I am my fathers daughter. If I go into the sun, I am dark within a matter of weeks(my ass hasn’t seen the sun in 20+ years)and as a child they looked down at my fair, red/brunette, freckled mother who looked like she had a latino baby in the stroller;me!Back then, it was all wrong to have an interacial marriage and I’d get so dark they’d ask her if I was adopted.But I didn’t get the blue eyes of my father, mine are brown but I did get his hair color but a bit of red highlight. As if you needed to hear all this. Your story was good and I can’t wait till the Morroco trip that didn’t happen comes out. Glad you’re back sweety!Mwah!

  3. Thanks, Nyasha, good luck on the job interview.

  4. Babs, I want to hear more about your story. You do look a little latino actually or is your resemblence with Jennifer Lopez that makes me think that?
    Kiss kiss

  5. sorry to hear your travel plans did not materialise…. but since the “mohamed cartoons” episode, the arab world is not too safe for the western liberals….
    OMG, that story reads quite familiar. my grandma grew up in Angola, and then my mother was born, raised and married there – so whole generations. so they were in the same situation as your grandma when they returned to Portugal – they were all labelled “retornados” back in 1974 – and still today if i tell this story, portuguese will nod and say: “ah, retornados”. the stigma is still there 30 years later!
    We want more stories!

  6. Of cours I have BEEN to Algeria, although only to Algiers. The whole country was in a state of emergency at that time and I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere without an armed guard. I was surprised by all the little French touches everywhere, but the food was appalling. I think Corsica sounds much nicer, and just as dangerous ;D We were talking about the origin of the term Pied Noir only the other day at work – I didn’t realise it referred to the colonists’ boots – who would wear boots in that heat, I ask you? Anyway, lovely to have you back but could we please hear about some of the places you HAVE been?? Mwah!!!

  7. The black boots story is just a legend, nobody knows for sure where the name comes from. But since the French military were the first to invade Algeria, I can assume that they had black boots. So the theory is likely to be true.
    OK, will soon tell you about my vacation, but admit, you don’t often get to read posts about where people haven’t been on holiday.

  8. no, no, I love the concept, but I also want to know about Berlin (as I still haven’t been). I sneaked a look at your photos tho’ ;Pgt

  9. Frog, it’s all a lie. I have no money of my own it’s only my family that is weealthy. The wonderful comments are nice but you’re up to something, tehte. J-Lo maybe my puta resembles…
    Kisses my Prince!!

  10. I want to go to Berlin and Amsterdam. Rhino, will you and Frog take me??

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