Day One (July 17, 2017)
It was a long-ass night. Samy and I left our flat in Malta at 9 o’clock the night before. We landed in Barcelona around 2 o’clock in the morning. We had a four-hour layover in which we planned to catch some sleep. After getting a quick snack (my first time eating McDonalds since leaving America) I caught some shuteye on the cold floor of the airport. Three hours later, Samy woke me up and we made our way to our gate. A bit of confusion at Customs made us late and we arrived to the gate just as they were boarding.
At 7 o’clock, the plane touched the runway and I took my first step on African ground. Samy’s brother, Hany, and his best friend, Reda, were waiting at Arrivals for us. It was the first time I met the two of them, although I already felt a sense of closeness to them through messaging on Facebook. In addition, Algerian culture is very brotherly (meaning, your brother’s best friend is your best friend, too – or your best friend’s best friend is your best friend, too.)
However, it was nice to meet them properly throughout the car ride home from the airport. It was also nice to be back in a car instead of public transportation. Hany was 16 and had perhaps the best English of any Algerian I will have met. He seemed to have a good head on his shoulders at such a susceptible age. Reda, too, spoke English well – which I didn’t expect judging from his written English on Facebook.
After a long time coming, I finally met Samy’s family. I felt like I had already met them. Last year, they had offered to house me for three months when I was having visa issues. I knew their culture to be extremely warm and inviting before even coming. But the culture I learned through them during my stay was entirely more accommodating and affectionate than I could ever imagine.
Samy’s mom had a heart of gold and the family lived and breathed through her. She gave the family energy and her sadness brought the family with it. Every child loved her dearly and you could tell. I wish so much that I could’ve communicated with her during my stay more.
Samy’s dad spoke English, so I got to know him well during the month. He provided his family with all they could ask for and always treated me with the upmost respect.
Samy’s sister, Melissa or “Mimi” as I called her most days, was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. More on her later, for sure.
We were pretty tired from the night of travel and took a nap almost directly after breakfast. We didn’t wake up until 7 o’clock that night. Samy and I went on a drive – Samy really missed driving – and got lost (literally; I guess it had been a while since Samy had been home) touring downtown. After dinner, we met Reda and Zino for a traditional night out in Algeria; tea, nuts, and sweets with a view. We drove to what was like the top of Algiers at The Maqam Echahid. We returned home late and Samy’s mom was still up waiting for us to return – a good reminder that we’d be living with parents for a month – the first time we’d been together when we can’t act the way we normally do at home.
Day Two (July 18, 2017)
Samy and I woke up early in the morning to pick up his older brother from the airport. Imed, one year older than me, arrived fashionably late. I wasn’t strangers with Imed. We actually met about a year and a half prior in London – where he lives. Hilariously, I met his wife-to-be before anyone in the Zeghmati family did. Imed hadn’t returned home to Algiers for three years after moving to England. It was bound to be a sweet homecoming.
Samy’s mom had gotten me the traditional robe, a bisht, worn for Salat which is what Muslims call their prayer time. I had planned on buying my own before arriving because I wanted to participate at least once. Little did I know I’d be participating every day, every time. But I didn’t mind most days; it was an experience and opportunity I’d probably never get again.
In addition, she brought me a bottle of natural spring water from Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which is Islam’s holiest place. Samy’s parents had visited Mecca the month prior for Ramadan. The water is meant to make your prayers stronger after drinking it – and it really works! She gave me instructions on what to say and do before drinking and Samy translated for me. I was told to drink it slow, because it is not to be wasted. How honorable that she had thought of me when gathering water from the holiest place in her religion thousands of miles away from home.
The family started Salat later that morning. I stayed in the bedroom while I heard and saw them preparing themselves – which is quite a process. Melissa came into my room shouting something in Berber, the regional dialect of Algiers. I asked Hany for a translation. “She said, ‘Aren’t you gonna come pray with us?’” I was excited to get an invite. I hopped up, threw my brand new gown over my head and it fell to my ankles. I stepped into the living room and onto one of the prayer rugs the rest of the family was using.
“Hold on, dude,” Samy said to me. “We have a way you must do it in our religion. Follow me.”
He led me to the bathroom where he started to explain the process. “We have to clean ourselves as if we are meeting God himself and have to present ourselves in the best way. That’s why we always have to cover our knees and wash ourselves in a certain way.” He turned on the faucet and left it running while he looked at me.
“Rinse your hands – three times. Wash your face – three times. Rinse out your mouth – three times, nose – three times, arms – right one first, three times, ears – right first – three times, rinse the top of your head, and finally your feet, right and left, three times – right first.” He gave me the entire rundown. I did as he did and rejoined the family.
As they began to pray, I followed their every move. Mostly concerned with not disrespecting their religion, I couldn’t close my eyes or else I’d be lost. The Muslim religion has a very active prayer routine.
I would get better at this, learn more about it, and start to grow tired of it throughout the month.
Day Three (July 19, 2017)
Today was Samy’s little sister’s birthday. She was turning six. To celebrate, we made our way to a small village known as “Nouvi”, but good luck finding it on Google. It’s about an hour West of Algiers and where Samy and his brothers went to high school and spent many summers in their youth. They have a lot (I mean A LOT) of friends and family in this village.
It’s the type of place that you literally can’t go anywhere without running into someone you know. Often, as soon as you step outside, someone is already shouting at you. It’s the type of place that you have a friend working at every shop and simple errands turn into social hour.
It’s not the kind of town to be in when you’re in a rush or an anti-social because you’re going to have to stop and talk every time you leave the house.
Arriving at Samy’s grandparents, I met just a small portion of the family, but Samy said it was the important part of the family. People he really wanted me to meet. He had told me a lot about his aunt that I could tell he was so close to by the way she screamed his name and his face lit up as she was squeeze-hugging him for five minutes. Same happened when Imed arrived ten minutes later. After not seeing family for three-plus years, tears were flowing. It made me miss family.
Samy warned me we’d feast that night because we had the three best cooks in Algeria in his mom, his aunt, and Grandma preparing a birthday meal for Melissa. And he wasn’t wrong. It’s rare to experience a traditional feast such as the one we had that night. I felt fortunate.
We celebrated Mimi’s birthday – singing happy birthday in three languages. I wondered if that was the norm or they just sang in English because I was there. I was glad to be a part of it.
I met several of Samy’s childhood friends. Houcine, Omar, Malek, and Walid are just some of them. It’s hard to remember everyone’s name because, as I said, we ran into so many people Samy knew it’s like I met the whole town that night. It was hard to tell who was really Samy’s friend and who he just introduced as a friend while we were in front of them, but I knew these guys were sincere friends.
It actually became a bit monotonous. We couldn’t make it more than a few hundred feet without running into another person that Samy or his family knew.
Conversations usually went like this in Nouvi:
Samy and said person would reunite (speaking in Berber) quickly catching up while I stood in the background. Several minutes later, I’d be introduced – some people already knew me as “the American” (word spreads fast in a place like Nouvi). I’d share a very short, limited conversation based upon the amount of English the person knew (either way, conversations were always the same) without ever learning each other’s actual name, and then the conversation would switch back to Berber. This was fine, but very quickly it became uninvolving.
Day Four (July 20, 2017)
We spent today at the beach. Beaches in Algeria are completely different from anything I’m used to. Matter of fact, I don’t enjoy them too much – I am a bit put-off by them.
First of all, they are very dirty. Litter, literally, everywhere! I couldn’t believe my eyes! How could people be so ruthless to the environment? It’s as if nobody cleaned up after themselves. And then I looked around and I noticed there were no garbage cans anywhere either; even the country of Algeria didn’t care enough about their beaches to throw a couple cans out for the public.
Plastic bottles, aluminum cans, grocery bags, snack wrappers; EVERYWHERE! Gobs of rubbish idly piled in forgotten corners of the beach. It was so disheartening, and yet, there was nothing I could do about it being here for such a limited amount of time. It was repulsive.
In addition, beach culture is not the same in Muslim countries. Due to the religion, it is very different. No alcohol, no loud music, no girls – or fewer girls, at least. All women must be covered fully even while swimming. It was a very different beach setting than I’m used to. Beaches in Algeria seemed more family-oriented compared to beaches I’ve been to around the world. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not necessarily my kind of entertainment.
However, with that being said, Algerians know how to come to the beach prepared. They bring the full set-up. Table, chairs, umbrellas, grill, food, drinks, beach games – you name it, they’ve brought it. And it wasn’t just Samy’s family that was prepared. If you walked the length of the beach, you’d notice that every single family had the same set-up. It was the norm – no one half-assed a beach day in Algeria.
Later in the afternoon, I created an altercation when we were searching for tinder to fire up the grill. I spotted some on top of a hill that sat behind the beach. The wood was surely a part of the beach ‘resort’ that was at the top of the hill. Samy and his brothers were reluctant to go collect some of it. I, however, suggested that I could shrug off any confrontation by claiming to be a tourist.
I went to collect just a few pieces of wood – enough to keep us burning long enough to cook our sardines. I returned with the wood that we proceeded to break into small enough pieces to fit the grill. I thought I had saved the day. Then, all of the sudden, a man rapidly approached us and said something to me.
Not being able to defend for myself, Imed stepped in for me. And Imed didn’t want to shy away. It escalated into yelling and soon the guy called for back-up. I thought we were about to fight. More guys came, some were elderly. It was a big scene.
Samy’s dad came to the rescue and tried to reason with the elderly men. Finally, things started to calm down. Imed was still fired up and we had to tell him to sit down.
It turns out they weren’t going to let us use their wood and they thought we were some young hooligans who were part of the reason their beach was so dirty. Once they spoke to Samy’s dad, they realized we were just another family having an afternoon barbecue.
We apologized, they apologized, and soon after they brought a different, bigger grill down the hill for us along with some pre-cut wood. This is usually how confrontations end in Algeria. After all, it is a brotherly place.
The barbecue went on for a few hours before we called it a day and made the drive back to Algiers.
In the night, we met up with Samy’s friend Nicorine, or “Niece”, and her girlfriend at a small café called Central Park. It was the most Americanized place in Algeria, I’m sure of it. The entire menu was in English with baseballs as door knobs. I found it strange that a non-English speaking country would do this. I figured it’d be unappealing for business but it was good for me!
Niece was a really rad girl. She spoke English very well, was my age, an aspiring videographer and cinematographer, and seemed to have plenty self-confidence for all other girls who lacked it. It was attractive and it was the first time I really got to have a conversation with one of Samy’s friends as he took to getting to know Niece’s new girlfriend for the short time that we had to spend with them.
Although we only had a half-hour with the girls, I could tell Niece was inspirational – like a backpacker I’d meet in Europe – and I needed to see her again. We made plans to hang out after we returned from Samy’s family vacation. We were leaving at four o’clock in the morning (which was about six hours from the time we left Niece).
Day Five (July 21, 2017)
Today is Hany’s seventeenth birthday. I constantly forget how old the kid is when I’m with him. He looks like a full grown adult (he had a full beard by the age of thirteen for Christ’s sake!) I guess it runs in the family.
We were on the road in the early morning (not quite as early as we had planned). It was a dreary morning which was sort of nice for an early morning road trip; easy on the eyes and the sun couldn’t beam through the windshield. However, when we reached the mountains and it was too foggy for much of a view, it was sort of a bummer.
The Zeghmati’s and I were headed to Tlemcen for the week – a city that stretches for hundreds of kilometers and is one of the most heavily-populated cities in the country. We’d be staying in a flat on the beach only about twenty minutes from the Moroccan border.
After a seven-hour drive, we finally arrived. I saw a lot of the north of Algeria on the way. Matter of fact, I saw almost half of it.
The flat we’d be staying in for a week was basic. Nothing to it, but nothing against it. We kept the front door open the entire week for the Mediterranean view and the cool sea breeze that we could feel from the top of our hill.
Day Six (July 22, 2017)
Day Seven (July 23, 2017)
Day Eight (July 24, 2017)
On this day we made our way to the border of Morocco. Unfortunately, road borders between the two countries were shut down because of the imminent threat of terrorism. Each country could only be entered by plane despite neither country requiring a visa for the other country’s citizens. It would have been a treat to travel into Morocco, alas, save it for another day.
Our destination was another beach on the Algerian side of the border. This one sandy and full of people – most being domestic tourists. The beach was packed with people until we left around sunset.
Taking pictures for the family, I was approached by a man of a family next to us. He looked directly at me and spoke to me. Of course, he spoke in Algerian tongue, so I had no idea what he was saying. I stared into his eyes and didn’t let-up eye contact.
His face was more stern than anybody I had spoke to in Algeria. Samy stepped in and told him something for me and he turned away. After taking two steps away, he turned around and gave one last glare at me.
Samy explained that he wanted to see the camera I was holding. He thought I had been taking pictures of his family. Clearly, I wasn’t, but this interaction turned me self-conscious about what and where I was taking pictures.
Later, I had another interaction in which a pre-teen questioned whether or not I was taking a picture of him. Just a kid! In the age of social media and the internet, I didn’t think any kid worried about his or her picture being taken.
These two interactions made me a bit timid to take pictures of just anything, anywhere in Algeria. Clearly, it was not Algerian culture to do so and people were very weary of their picture being taken. I took note of this and was more concerned of what I was taking a picture of the rest of the time.
On the drive home, I saw the biggest sun set I had ever witnessed over the horizon of Morocco. We were at a perfect vantage point for it up on the mountainside, however, we were following Samy’s family home and they didn’t stop to watch it. But, wow, the color and size of that sun. It was a picturesque African sunset.
Day Nine (July 25, 2017)
I woke up feeling sick this morning. I don’t know what it was, but I believe it was the fan being pointed in my direction the entire night. The family believes otherwise, but this was the reason for an identical sickness in Malta only a month prior.
We went to Tlemson today. I didn’t realize that the center of Tlemson would be about two and a half hours from our flat at the beach. I didn’t feel sick with the exception of a normal migraine for the majority of the ride. It wasn’t until we stepped out into the heat of the city when I started feeling less than decent.
As Samy’s father was speaking with me about the route we’d take in the city and what we could see, the only thing I could focus on was staying balanced on my feet. I got light-headed, my skin pale, I started to get dizzy and came down with a cold-sweat. I interrupted Aissa (his dad) to run to the bathroom on the second floor of the nearest building. Samy’s family, concerned and confused, followed me to the door.
Luckily, they took the upmost care of me and dosed me up with every medicine imaginable until I was feeling fine enough to make it through the day. We took the typical tourist route throughout the city on a hop-on, hop-off bus. Thus is the route of a family on vacation.
We saw secret swimming spots, bridges designed by the same architect who designed the Eiffel Tower, and even walked through the second largest cave in the world in absolute awe. It was hot, and I was still feeling less than perfect, but I forced my way through not to ruin the day for one of the most accommodating families I had ever met.
Day Ten (July 26, 2017)
Day Eleven (July 27, 2017)
Day Twelve (July 28, 2017)
After a late start to the day catching up on much-needed sleep and running a few errands in “L.A.” (as Algerians refer to their hotspot boulevard downtown), we were on the road to Nouvi once again.
We arrived in the mid-afternoon. I remember thinking it was a tad exaggerated how Algerians greet each other every time they see each other. I previously thought it was just because Samy and Imed had been gone for so long from Algeria, but really it is just a part of the culture to greet each other in a big great way. It seems by the time the greetings are done and over with a half-hour has passed by already.
It was my second time meeting most of the family and so they had become accustomed to having me around. There wasn’t as much introductions this time – just welcoming. Samy’s family, on both his mother and father’s side, is beyond welcoming and accommodating. They really make me feel a part of the family during events and weekends together.
Unfortunately, I never learned names; however, even if I did, I’d probably have forgotten as is true for so many people I’ve met on this journey already. Algerian names are uncommon to me and, therefore, difficult to retain.
It didn’t take long before the tiny nieces and Mimi were riled up and ready to play with me. I didn’t have a problem giving their moms a break and distracting them for a while. Plus, most conversation between Samy’s extended family was always in Berber and it was hard for me to find a place to enter a conversation. Only his aunt on his mother’s side could speak English.
The girls were much more comfortable around me which was a curse and a blessing. Not being able to communicate with them, it was only fun for bursts at a time for me, but they were relentless when they played. They didn’t stop.
I started to teach them some English to the best of my abilities; starting with numbers. I taught them how to count to ten by repeating me before I’d raise them high in the air one at a time like a rocket. I felt proud when all of them could finally count to ten before I launched them to the ceiling.
I still wasn’t able to eat properly as my appetite was not fully recovered from being sick. This was beginning to kill me as all the food Samy’s aunt prepares is absolutely phenomenal. The smells and the tastes.
Day Thirteen (July 29, 2017)
This day was a slow one for me. I was losing motivation to be around people. It’s not that I didn’t want to be around people – I just wanted to be a part of the conversation. It’ll start to wear on you when your only conversations with new people are about how you perceive Algeria and discussing Algerian words that you have already learned dozens of times. And even when I spoke about my experience in Algeria – I’m not sure if they understood too well, just as I could hardly understand most people whenever I asked them questions about themselves. The language gap was becoming increasingly frustrating.
Normally, if I got introduced to a group, several people would already know me as “The American!”, and then without learning my actual name – or before I could learn theirs – I was asked to recite the words that I knew of the language like a pet doing a show. I’m not one to take myself seriously, so it didn’t bother me until around this time. Everyone would laugh and enjoy my poor pronunciations, which isn’t what grew old. It was just my frustration of not being able to converse normally for so long. It was always the same thing every day.
After we’d share a good laugh over my pronunciations, I’d stand around and wait for the proceeding conversations in Algerian to finish until someone gave me a one or two sentence summary of what the conversation was about. I’d put my two cents-response in, and they’d continue in Algerian. It was all becoming redundant.
On this day, a flat the family owned in Nouvii was being rented by a few guys from London. We cleaned the place up a bit and waited around the flat for the afternoon until the Londoners showed up. They were actually Algerians who had been living in London, like Imed.
This was, at least, a nice change in pace. They all spoke English well and I was able to participate in an actual conversation with someone outside of Samy’s family for the first time in a while.
In the early evening, the family packed into two cars and we drove to the mountains to show respect to two of the family’s elderly members who had recently passed. I missed the mountains. Little did I know it was actually named ‘Land of Zeghmati’. In traditional Algeria, each family usually had a piece of land named after them. The Zeghmati’s ancestors got a piece of prime land for the family name. We visited the tomb of the family’s ancestors which was a unique experience and took in the views from the top of the mountain.
Later that night, we met up with what has to be some of the craziest people in Algeria. It was Samy’s childhood friends from Cherchell, my second time meeting them. They grew up together, were in the same classes in high school together, and were obviously really comfortable with each other. Houcine, Omar, Walid, Malek, and Hamza. These guys may forever be the most bazaar people I’ll ever meet.
We made a plan to camp out which turned into a night spent in Omar’s bunk house. However, we spent a majority of the night at the beach. Malek had some Moroccan hash and we smoked it all. Passing joints in a circle and passing juice around to compliment it (which made the joints feel so innocent.) They joked and laughed about old memories – updating me about the subject of the conversation occasionally. It was just like my friends and I back home recounting memories. Even though I couldn’t understand the stories, I laughed with them with my friends back home in mind.
Malak broke a pill open and put the dust on my palm. “Lick your hand,” he said in his broken English. Trusting him because he was Samy’s friend, I licked it all off my palm before thinking about the potential struggle of a hospital run in which I didn’t speak the same language of the doctores.
Luckily, nothing went wrong. It didn’t even get me higher. It certainly worked for the others though. No more than an hour later, Mallek, Walid, and Hamza were bouncing everywhere. Running, swimming, naked, pissing anywhere – I saw more than I wanted to see that night.
I was able to have a decent conversation with Omar on the beach as he seemed to be the tamest one of the group. However, even conversations with him couldn’t get too in-depth because my Algerian language knowledge wasn’t improving and his English was below-average at best.
At four o’clock in the morning, no one seemed the least bit tired, but I was almost falling asleep with my eyes open. I had to call it a night. It was an interesting night; I’ll leave it at that.
Day Fourteen (July 30, 2017)
Officially two weeks in Africa! The morning didn’t come until well after 11 o’clock for us. We awoke in the same bunk house we fell asleep in. Omar, Houcine, Walid, Malek, and Hamza were still fast asleep. Samy woke me up after a phone call to hurry home from his parents. On the walk home, Samy told me the guys had stayed up well past 7 o’clock, so they’d probably be sleeping for a while.
We went for some breakfast pastries. Flies and bees covered every single pastry in the shop like chocolate chips. However, I love the feel of shopping for food in Algeria. I didn’t even bother asking how much each cost while I just about threw one of each kind of pastry in the bag. The total of more than enough pastries for the both of us was less than a dollar.
We immediately left Nouvi and headed east on N11 until we got to the next small village where Samy’s family also had a flat. Don’t bother to find any of these places on a map, because they don’t exist on them – especially on Google.
We met the rest of Samy’s family, including his Aunt and nieces. We headed to the beach five minutes away where Samy told me all of the Zeghmati’s “learned to swim and grew up at”. We weren’t there long, but I loved seeing the stomping grounds of my best friend from around the world.
When we got back to Algiers, we went to eat at Zinou – a famous fast food restaurant in the city. It’s popular for its generous portions and cheap prices and it didn’t disappoint at all. The man working in the restaurant recognized I wasn’t from Algeria before I even said a word to him. “Where you from, man?” in good English. Turns out he’s spent a majority of his life living in Northern Ireland. And he’s a phenomenal cook.
Imed, Samy, and I were sated for less than seven dollars total. We went on a drive with Reda afterwards and I realized I started to recognize where I was throughout the city – relatively. I was gaining a footing.
Day Fifteen (July 31, 2017)
Samy and I got a late start to the day. I woke up, per usual, to Mimi at my bed wanting to play. This morning she was pouring me “tea” (water) and handing it to me to drink. When I told her no, she dipped her fingers into the glass and proceeded to start flicking water at me.
Around noon, we headed out to scour the city for anything.
At lunch, we ran into one of the guys from England who had rented the flat in Cherchell a few days before. He was eating at Chicken Burger and immediately invited us inside. Free food on him as his cousin ran the store and was able to get us a free lunch. It’s amazing how quickly Algerians become close.
I tried ordering my own ice cream after Samy taught me the words to say. Still, after saying exactly what I was told, the man replied to me in English. I don’t think I look that recognizably different than an average Algerian so I still don’t understand how people can tell I’m not from here.
We met up with Samy’s friend, Ryan, later on – just briefly. He is a cool guy. His English is fairly poor, but I appreciate the fact that he still makes an effort and we have built a connection through that effort. We went to the park for some tea. I mainly talked to Samy’s cousin while at the park whom I’ve also made a connection with despite not knowing his name for a solid twenty-four hours together (later I learned it’s Nassim).
That night was Imed’s last night in Algiers before heading back to London. We went out to eat to say farewell and took on the biggest pizzas I had ever seen. Mammoth things at Woodpecker’s Pizza.
After, we took a walk through a wooded park where I was shown a video of poor Algerians not more than fifteen minutes away from where we sat. The video showed people of young and old lining up to purchase food from a makeshift “store” under the bridge where the homeless community had been born. It made me grateful to be in the situation I was in and although the guys were cracking jokes, I saw the look on Samy’s face and knew he felt silently grateful as well.
I’m becoming close to some people here and it’s going to be sad to go.
Day Sixteen (August 1, 2017)
Early morning wake-up call. We thought we were taking Imed to the airport. Turns out there wasn’t enough room in the car. We said our goodbyes and barely got back to sleep before we got a ring from the family. Imed forgot his phone at home.
Quickly, we ran his telephone up to the airport right before he had to make it through security. Luckily, he made his flight.
The plan for the day was to make it to the ancient Roman city of Tipaza; which is a modern day tourist/beach city. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had suggested that we go merely to get up and out of the house before three o’clock like it seemed like we had been doing most days as of late.
Most people would be surprised to learn that there are Roman ruins in Algeria. I certainly was. What was left of the Roman ruins was astonishing. It was huge, I can’t believe it’s such a secret to the rest of the world.
It was more complete, less expensive, and less crowded than Ancient Greece. To sum up, it kicked Ancient Greece’s ass! It was the first time my wanderlust had truly been turned on while I had been in Algeria.
The problem, or one of the problems, with Algeria is its tourism industry – or lack thereof. This place would be a gold mine for tourists anywhere else in the world. The ancient ruins in Tipaza remained despite hardly any maintenance efforts, no rules placed inside the park, and an overall lazy effort at making the ruins known to the outside world. Inside were nothing but locals and very few locals at that.
I’ve been feeling very inspired to learn a new language recently after hearing Algerians struggle with English. I get caught up in believing that learning a new language comes so easily for everyone except me when I’m in Malta but that’s not true.
Later that night, Reda, Ryan, Hany, Samy, and I went to Notre Dame D’Africa at the top of a hill downtown with one of the best views in Algeria. I was curious if church service still operated weekly and was surprised to hear there were more chuches in Algiers than I thought.
I liked the group that was out tonight. I felt comfortable with them and more importantly, I felt like they wanted me there.
Day Seventeen (August 2, 2017)
Most of this day was spent at home in Algiers. That part of this journey is starting to get to me. I think the fact that we came here for a month plus some days makes us feel like we have a long time. However, our time is quickly winding down. I want to quit being lazy, but sometimes, I have no choice but to go with the flow.
We didn’t leave the house until around six o’clock in the evening. We were heading to Nouvi – for the third or fourth time already. Nouvi is just the type of place I’d love to explore and get an idea of the people of the village and their lifestyle. However, when we are there, it’s not like that. We usually spend some time in Samy’s Grandma’s house before running some family errands for dinner or something similar.
The fascinatingly annoying part about Nouvi is the immense community feel it holds. Normally, I’d eat up this kind of environment. However, when you’re walking the streets with guys that have lived in the village their entire lives, you travel immensely slow to your destination. This is because every person in the village wants to have a conversation.
I kid you not, every ten meters brings a new face and new conversation. I’d dream of this in places that English is more widely spoken, but standing awkwardly trying to look intent on a conversation you don’t understand a word of can only be amusing for so long. Fortunately, I usually get a shortened version of each conversation (by shortened, I mean a two sentence summary of a ten-minute conversation) where I’m forced to respond so vaguely because the conversation has already passed.
It has got rather annoying; however, it’s just one of the hardships of traveling a country in which you don’t speak the native language. We had a relatively quiet night in Nouvi. Samy was tired of plans with friends and family – as was I. We stayed to ourselves most of the night along with Nassim.
Day Eighteen (August 3, 2017)
An earlier start to this day – this time before noon. We met up with Ryan and Idriss in nearby Cherchell. They followed us back to Nouvi where we grabbed lunch and went for the beach.
I read most of the day – or, at least, tried to. My new friend, Idriss, whom I found out speaks English fairly well kept my ears occupied all day. Idriss was born and raised in Algeria, spent a few years in Russia, and is now studying in France. He seemed to be knowledgeable in several areas including United States culture.
I have been relatively surprised at the difference between the little amount people want to talk about the United States here comparatively to Europeans who are generally hungry for United States-related conversations. I haven’t ran into that kind of situation in Algeria. However, Idriss wanted to hear all about anything there was to hear about. In addition, he also was notably insightful about the rest of the world’s perception of Algeria. All Algerians are.
They’re aware of what people think of the Islamic culture and Muslim religion and it’s disheartening. They all feel as if they’ve been dealt a poor hand in life and that must feel so hopeless. But it’s true what they think of the world’s perception and it’s something I’ve always sympathized with but don’t like talking much about with actual Muslims. They know the stereotypes, I know the stereotypes; the best way to silence the stereotypes is to not talk of it.
I enjoyed conversing with Idriss. I’ve enjoyed conversations in general lately as I haven’t had many of them. It hasn’t been near as often as I’d anticipated that I’d meet friends of Samy who can speak English decent enough to have a conversation. I suppose I expected a lack of English from strangers, but for whatever reason, I thought it’d be different with Samy’s friends. I thought most could speak fluent English. However, not really.
Many of them can speak English well enough to communicate, however, holding a conversation is a struggle on both ends. Usually, it results in trying to use underdeveloped sarcasm which I don’t understand; and our interactions end in a fake smile and laugh from me with no idea how to respond to it.
For example, Walid, the Zeghmati’s cousin, can speak English decently. I can understand him most of the time and if he needed to communicate with someone in a different country, he’d be able to use English no problem for a short interaction. However, I have yet to have a full conversation or anything resembling a conversation with him because his English isn’t that developed. In turn, I haven’t been able to make as strong of a bond as I’d like with him and most people.
We made it to the foot of a mountain for sunset. Later, Nassim told me that where we were isn’t safe. Their Grandma had warned them that it’s “dangerous” and there are extreme Islamist activists that use the mountains as a base for solitude and easy access to Cherchell’s supply of resources.
Algerians seem to be more scared of Algeria than I am. However, it’s always better to be on the cautious side, I suppose. I’d like to explore that rumor more, though.
Day Nineteen (August 4, 2017)
Another day in Nouvi. It was a late start to the day that ended up being a pretty authentic and real end to the day. After a late night and waking up around noon today, we barely made it in time for Friday Salat which takes place only a few meters from the Zeghmati’s grandmother’s home. Friday Salat was bigger than imaginable for a small village such as Nouvi.
The mosque was full, and still people crowded into the main square of Nouvi to pray. The square filled and STILL people lined the sidewalks at least thirty feet on each side. I was amazed. It was surely a sight to see as I took a spot in the back of the crowd to take it all in.
Afterward, there was hot couscous ready for us, prepared by his grandma. Couscous is an Algerian specialty and a tradition on Fridays after Salat. After being told so many times about the couscous from Algeria, my first taste was everything I expected and more.
We helped clean-up the flat in which we were using – no one lived there and I believed they were preparing it to be lived in. Although it’s frustrating staying inside until six o’clock in the evening when you’re exploring a new country, I understand that I owe the Zeghmati family a whole lot and their lives can’t just stop because I’m visiting. Besides, later that night may have been my favorite in Algeria so far.
It was already seven at night, I was a little confused as to why we were going to the mountains so late at night. We were no longer camping like we had planned to; we waited too long for that. We wouldn’t even be able to do any hiking which bummed me out. I wasn’t expecting much. But, oh, how I forgot how the mountains can put me in a mindless relaxed state of being.
We drove up and down hills on mountain roads that changed from asphalt to dirt, back to asphalt, and then back to dirt. It was incredibly mind-numbing. I forgot all about how days were flying by and my experience in Algeria would soon be done.
I was surprised by how wild their grandfather’s farm was. We pulled into a jagged dirt road driveway and a path cut through the bamboo sticks that blocked the field from the road. Immediately, I noticed another man getting water from the family well. I asked Samy who it was.
“I’m not sure, maybe a family member – uncle or cousin, probably.”
I was amazed that no one spoke to the man that they figured was family. It just goes to show how big Algerian families can be. Their entire family now shared the land that their great grandfather could no longer manage. It seemed the man at the well lived in a nearby village in the mountains.
We picked some fruit – grapes, figs, apples, peaches, pears; you name it, we picked it. We loaded the car with bags and bags full of fruit. I enjoyed it. I felt like I was taken back in time. But it seems as soon as we arrived, we left the farm.
As the sun was setting and we were driving out of the valley, back up the mountain, Samy and I sat in silence and listened to the most calming music perhaps I had ever heard. Miraculously, even the three youngsters, Mimi, Arwa, and Maileene sat silently in the back seat and gazed out the window. remember looking back at the three girls. Five-year-old Maileene was standing, gripping the window’s frame with eight fingers and peaking her eyeballs just barely over the frame to view the setting sun. It was cute.
We made our way to their grandfather’s farm house that was now destroyed and had been since the war in the 1990’s. It was missing a roof, the windows were gone (maybe looted), and the greenery around the house was overgrown. The first thing I noticed was the grapevines that hung over the front terrace and acted as sun shade. It was remarkable – I’d never seen anything like it. It was like something out of a movie based in Tuscany, Italy. Bushels of purple grapes, juicy and ready to be picked, hung from the low-hanging, natural ceiling. Absolutely beautiful.
I was up on the mountainside watching the last of the sun sneak below the peak when Samy mentioned a traditional wedding taking place later in the evening that we were invited to.
“Of course!” I said, not exactly sure what a traditional wedding was going to be like. I was just thrilled I got an opportunity to take in such culture. “It’s getting late though, when does this wedding start?” I asked. It was well after eight o’clock at night already.
It turns out, it wasn’t an actual wedding ceremony; it was only a tradition in which they call the groom’s dinner. It usually takes place the night before the wedding and all friends and friends of friends are invited. However, it is only men who are invited to this night – sort of like an innocent man’s Bachelor party.
There was food, dancing, singing, and traditional events such as the groom being given a henna tattoo from his mother. At first, I felt a bit out of place. Without the time to even go home and properly clean myself up or shower (or even change clothes), I had felt dirty from sweating on the farm in the evening (not showering for three days prior could play a part in that as well).
I didn’t know what to expect or how formal the event was. It was happening close to Samy’s grandparent’s house. We were able to walk. We arrived in a backstreet of Nouvi where blankets were hung to make the event semi-private.
We sat and were served food, given dessert, and invited to dance. Everyone was interested in me, but I tried to reflect the attention back to the event.
Then, as we were leaving dinner, I met the groom and I felt very privileged to have a one-on-one conversation with him. Imagine a groom having time to talk to a complete stranger for ten minutes on his wedding day. Now, imagine the groom having that time for a stranger that doesn’t speak his language!
Abdullah, the groom, was an extremely nice man – about my age – and had taken considerable interest in me. He didn’t even take the time to speak with Samy, Samy’s cousin, or his Dad; all whom I attended the dinner with. It was only me who he spoke with.
As he saw that we were leaving, he invited us back later in the night so that I could experience traditional customs on the night before an Algerian wedding. I gladly accepted the opportunity and invitation, went home and showered, and made my way back to the party only an hour later.
We arrived back at the party at the perfect time. There was live Algerian music, fireworks, chanting, and train-dancing. It was a blast and I found myself dancing with Abdullah who found me and dragged me into the middle and the thick of the action. I felt honored.
Shortly after, the band took a break, and some of the few traditions before the wedding took place. Soon, Abdullah’s mother and grandmother joined the men and you could see other women hiding behind the makeshift wall on the outside. The entire party happened inside walls made out of bed sheets which hung from balcony’s of houses. I asked Samy if they received authoritative permission to block off an entire road for this ceremony. He replied with something like, “Absolutely not, this is Algeria, remember?”
I also asked about the girls hiding behind the walls. It wasn’t normal to see so many women out and about in Algeria at night. He told me it was respectful to keep my wandering eyes away from the area where they were peaking in.
It was a night for Abdullah and attention was not to be placed on his family – especially on women whom he was close to. I understood and did my best to keep my attention away from that direction.
What an experience it was. I thanked Abdullah for everything and bid him good luck in the next day and for the remaining future. We said goodbye to a few more people and left the party as it was winding down.
We took a walk out to the edge of the village where there was only a lazy school security officer and wild dogs within the vicinity and we smoked a few joints under the Algerian sky. I reflected on everything that had just happened within a few short hours and the opportunities and experiences that I had just been given and smiled.
Day Twenty (August 5, 2017)
A late night and an early morning called for a short four-hour car ride to an even smaller village than Nouvi in Northwest Algeria. I slept the entire ride. We had to be up at the crack of dawn to attend a funeral. I would see both sides of the spectrum in their cultural ways within a twelve-hour span of each other; a celebration of marriage and a celebration of life at a funeral.
When we arrived in El Abadia, I could hardly recognize that we arrived anywhere. This is a village in its truest definition. I don’t see how anyone could make a life here – much less a life that could entertain the human soul for 90-some-odd years like the grandmother of Samy’s dad’s work colleague of whom the funeral was for. The place was vibeless and sleepy.
Again, the ceremony for the funeral wasn’t exactly what I had been expecting. When we arrived, there was a group sitting around tables placed in the garage (all men) – it looked like they had just finished eating. I was introduced to a million-and-one people all at once and sat at the table at the end of the garage.
It was hot. There were flies by the dozens swarming my every move. I didn’t know anyone. It smelled of stench. Oh yeah, and did I mention it was hot?
Then, a few words were exchanged between Samy’s father and the host and all of the sudden the three of us were moving to a room inside – with air-conditioning. I have no clue for the reason; matter of fact, I meant to ask Samy but never did.
As conversation progressed between Samy’s father and a half-dozen men who joined us twenty-minutes later, I thought about what could have led us to being moved inside. I noticed several things:
- We were late to the luncheon – as was everyone who had joined us inside.
- We were from far away – as were the men from Marseille, France and Algiers who joined us.
- Samy’s family has a considerable amount of respect within their community – as did the men who owned businesses in France who joined us.
I thought any of these reasons could have played a factor in why we were privileged and got to move into the air-conditioning after all the men I had been introduced to when first arriving ate outside in the heat-sweltering garage.
I sat, mainly alone in my thoughts, for the entire afternoon while the men discussed politics, lives, and laughs. Occasionally, one of the men would pause the conversation and ask that Samy translates the conversation to me before continuing. Although a flattering gesture, I often found this to be embarrassing and unneeded as most of the time all I could do was make typical remarks to the conversation as it had already passed the point of discussion. Still, it was a courteous move and I appreciated them thinking of me.
We weren’t there long – maybe three hours. One of the men from Marseille invited me to stay in his home as I told him I’d be in the city in two week’s time. Another offer that was beyond generous and shows off Algerian’s superior hospitality. I thanked him.
On the ride back to Nouvi, Samy told me that it was a great honor for them to have someone from the United States at their grandmother’s funeral. I was embarrassed by this, though. This feeling of embarrassment probably stems from my negative attitude towards my own country, however, I’ve noticed that being from the United States has a more positive meaning to Algerians than to Europeans. Probably because there are few Americans that travel through Algeria, but I thought it was interesting to note.
I thought about that some more. Perhaps I was the first American to ever spend an afternoon in El Abadia. And in that mindset, perhaps I had finally achieved what traveling first meant to me; being a true explorer and stepping foot in places that nobody has before me. El Abadia may have been a lackluster town and a lackluster experience, but at least I have the claim of being the first American to step foot in the village, maybe.
Day Twenty-One (August 6, 2017)
A wasted day and a lot of work to catch up on. It’s hard to pursue a travel writing career and travel for thirty-three days without working. At night, Samy and I met up with Reda. We drove around for a while and got late-night tacos. It’s amazing to me how close I feel to Reda and I believe he feels to me after only meeting a handful of times.
Day Twenty-Two (August 7, 2017)
Samy and I went out for a drive around downtown Algiers. It was then that I realized I had only spent a minimal time in the capital city for the length of time I had been there; and even less time during the daytime. I noticed a lot in the daytime that I hadn’t seen in the night. Downtown Algiers is a city of many cultural aspects. There’s beauty in it as well as poverty. It certainly got me excited to explore it more in the remaining days.
At night, we were again downtown. We stopped for some fresh cheeseburgers for a price cheaper than I have ever paid for a hamburger and it was loaded with all toppings imaginable. It was a unique scene at this popular burger joint. Twenty men (no women) packed inside a hot, sweltering joint, all shouting their orders to the men on the front line. There was only one option on the menu – the cheeseburger specialty. However, what they were shouting was how many cheeseburgers they wanted. Often, they were ordering for a group.
“Twenty-five burgers!” all shouted in Algerian tongue. Reda, Samy, and I split twelve burgers between us. Ryan and Ahmeen joined us later in the night for ice cream and driving around downtown.
Day Twenty-Three (August 8, 2017)
It seemed like the start to what became a routine day during my month-long stay in the North African country of Algeria in August of 2017. We got a late start and weren’t out of the house in Algiers until after noon. I had problems sleeping and had stayed up until 8:30 A.M., waking up to my alarm soon after at 10:30 A.M.
It was going to be a hot day with temperatures in the capital city reaching over 100 degrees. Unbearable heat mixed with the thought of getting out of the house later than I wanted with two hours of sleep seemed unmotivating. Regardless, my best friend – an Algerian whom I was visiting – and I were in the car and on our way to the Old Town of Casbah in downtown Algiers.
Casbah, which translates in English to “tree branch”, is a neighborhood in the thick of downtown Algiers placed upon a hill with no roads open to vehicles. It’s a pedestrian neighborhood with narrow alleys and steep, rugged steps. Many North African cities and towns have a traditional quarter named Casbah. More generally, the term is used to refer to a walled citadel. The traditional neighborhood in Algiers is old; it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the 17th Century. It would be the height of tourism in most countries, but Algeria didn’t receive tourists. Matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if not a single tourist map has ever been printed in the country.
The neighborhood is divided into two; the High city and the Low city. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a pedestrian neighborhood. Even trash is collected by mules each day because cars are not allowed. Historically, the Casbah in Algiers has played an important role in Algerian history. Specifically, in the era of the Algerian struggle for independence from France. Being up on the hill, it gave the Algerian army a safe haven to plan attacks and required France’s focus for several years.
Today, there is no longer war in Algeria, but Casbah can still be a dangerous area at night. I was warned several times to come back in the morning when I attempted to stroll through the neighborhood at dusk on the night prior. I listened to the warnings because I would stick out like a sore thumb at night with an expensive camera around my neck. Muggings and robbery are apparently common at night in this area.
When I first arrived to the area, I had to walk through a long outdoor alley market. Vendors were selling toys, fresh produce, socks and underwear, and anything in-between. Though, nothing seemed of interest and my friend and I pushed our way through the crowded street. As we got closer to Casbah, it started to smell of garbage. It was almost hard to breathe sometimes because every breath just felt unhealthy and gross.
There was extreme poverty like I had never seen in the streets of Casbah. Another small flea market we passed through featured items that looked like they had been picked from trash cans and I couldn’t believe anyone would buy them. The smell would get worse and nobody seemed to bat an eye at the stench. Most of the locals we passed were sitting on the stairs to their front doors. Some were talking to each other, some were sitting in silence. It was rare to see someone with a phone – much less a smart phone. Most everybody would stare at Samy and I as we walked past with an expensive camera around my neck and iPhone in hand. I was worried I was creating a target out of myself.
Samy, although Algerian, had only been to Casbah once in his life and it was many years ago. He didn’t really know any history behind the neighborhood or what to look for. We had been walking around the confusing streets, getting ourselves lost for about twenty minutes already when it seemed we had reached the outside edge of the walled citadel. I was sure we would leave once we reached the outside.
Then, we met someone and our whole experience changed.
Mohammad, an older gentleman – probably early in his sixth decade of life – asked me from his doorstep, “Where are you from?”
It caught me off-guard as no one had interacted with us while we were in Casbah besides the normal ‘Salam Alaykoum’ greeting that all Algerians use with each other. It turned me around even quicker because he spoke to me in English. Obviously he knew I wasn’t from here. Maybe it was the camera hanging from my neck and the fact that we were the only two people in Casbah walking around fascinatingly.
Samy answered for me in Algerian tongue, “America”, I suppose he said.
It turns out, Mohammad knew of Kansas City and was a big fan of the United States. This created a talking point, however, it was mostly just Samy and him speaking Algerian to each other. He didn’t really speak to me besides vehemently trying to get me to take pictures of certain things I stared at for more than a second – including the mule trash pick-up service in which I was forced to chase down after it had already passed.
Mohammad introduced us to a younger man whom was passing-by while we were talking. This man’s name was Nacer. He was 37, although he looked no older than 30. He was a plumber by trade and claimed his family was very well-known within the community. He had a very calm demeanor but didn’t speak a lick of English. All of our interactions were done through Samy. In a way, this made my experience with Nacer more enjoyable.
I have nothing against non-native English speakers trying their hand at the language with small talk. Matter of fact, I envy those people’s courage. However, there are very few people that I ran into Algeria capable of holding a casual conversation in English. After a month of small talk with strangers, it became repetitive and predictable. I started giving the most basic answers. And I’d ask people that I met questions that I wasn’t even interested in; only for the sake of keeping the conversation simple.
Being able to ask Nacer questions with more depth through Samy was a bit of fresh air. And I could tell he was knowledgeable from the answers Samy translated for me.
Nacer introduced us to a man named Zeki. He was carving a piece of wood into pure magic when we met him. He was a carpenter as a profession, but his work was intricate; more detailed work than a traditional carpenter. He was working in his work shop which was more of a shrine of all his life’s creations. His shop was on the bottom floor of his house which we were inside.
Zaki was also very nice, but spoke no English. I learned through Samy that his father was a very famous man within Algeria. As an actor, politician, and subject of many books, his father had achieved a lot and brought a lot of important people through the very house that we stood in. He invited us to have a look at his house and Nacer took us on a tour.
Houses in Casbah, at least this one, are surprisingly spacious. It is clear that the neighborhood was built with a focus on living space rather than public area. The house was four stories tall. Each floor had multiple rooms of which we didn’t spend too much time looking at. One of the floors contained old artifacts that told the family’s history. Nacer told the story as well as he could but we would have probably been more informed hearing the story from Zaki himself.
Nacer was eager to get us to the rooftop terrace that sat on one of the tallest hills in Casbah. Though it seemed the house was full of people when we walked through, a few chickens wandering about and we were the only ones on the roof.
Actually, Nacer told me that only one family lives inside the big house. However, from what I’ve learned about Algerian culture – one family can be massive in members.
Nacer shared with us that the very roof we stood on, with wooden pallets for seating and a straw-covered sunshade, was the place for many meetings with European Ambassadors in the mid-to-late 1900’s. Not only that, but the roof had also appeared in several Arabic movies back in the day. There was an excellent view, but I couldn’t believe the history behind the roof. It wasn’t until we made our way back down to the workshop, when showed us a wall full of newspaper clippings featuring his father with ambassadors and movie stars, that I believed the stories.
I thanked Zaki for letting me into his family’s home and I continued on with Samy and Nacer down the hill of Casbah. I didn’t realize Nacer was going to dedicate his entire afternoon to two strangers he had just met and show them around a place he had walked around every day for the past thirty-seven years. How genuine and generous. Samy and I were in for a treat.
He introduced Samy and I to a local coppersmith. His shop, although no larger than 50 square meters, was a true shrine of his 56-year-long passion. This man, although I never caught his name, was nearing 70-years old and his appearance was aging quicker than he was. He looked rough, but it seemed as if he couldn’t be gentler. He invited us to pack into his small shop and started handing me more of his work than I could hold in both hands. He even offered me a souvenir, but I couldn’t possibly take something he’d worked so hard on.
Finally, we made it down to Nacer’s grandfather’s house. Or, I should say, former house. The government possessed it from Nacer’s grandfather after realizing the history behind the building because they wanted to preserve its condition. And although they stole the house away without any trade, at least they kept it in good condition. Nacer now had lifelong free access as well as the authority to pretty much do as he pleased in the building. He got us in free of charge, as well.
It was a beautiful place and a true goldmine of the neighborhood. Painted tiles covered every wall of the massive palace-styled home. Every banister, every ceiling, every column pillar made with the most detailed hand I’d ever seen.
We were introduced to the director of the preservation of the building. He gave us access to a room that had been closed to the public because it was no longer structurally sound. A couple saw that he let us in and asked if they could also see. He wasn’t sly enough, so he let the couple come in with us. Come to find out, this was the room in which Napoleon Bonaparte III stayed in while France was at war for Algeria. I couldn’t believe it. However, it should have been easy to believe with the given luxury of the room. It was easily the most beautiful room in the entire house. All white, with clear French-inspired design on the walls and ceiling. I felt like I was transported back a century in time as soon as I stepped foot in the room. What a privilege to get that experience, and it never would have happened had we not met Nacer.
I was too busy in awe of Napoleon’s room that I didn’t even see Samy and Nacer sneak out with the director. When I looked down from the ceiling, I saw them quickly walking for a door that the director was holding open. I stepped out of Napoleon’s room and he motioned his hand for me to come his way in a hurry. When I got to him, he abruptly shoved me through the door and shut it as quickly as he could without making a sound. He didn’t want the couple who followed us into Napoleon’s room to follow us wherever he was taking us now.
We were led up a stairwell and out onto a roof that looked like hadn’t been visited in a while. I asked Nacer how often he came up there and he said quite a bit. It offered another spectacular view and an unbelievable look down on the impressive courtyard that sat in the center of the house. It offered another excellent view of Algiers, but the neatest aspect of being there was that it was forbidden to the public. Somehow, some way, I was snuck up onto a rooftop that most people living in Casbah their entire life had not seen – and I never even said one word in order to get there.
On our way out of the house, an orchestra of traditional Algerian music players started tuning their instruments. I so badly wanted to stay for it, but our parking spot had a meter that was ticking and there were other cool places to see in Casbah.
Nacer pointed out several collapsed buildings and showed us other buildings that had not fallen but were no longer livable. It was an authentic look at the true condition of Casbah beyond the postcard views of the neighborhood. He mentioned a building that had recently fallen only two days after a family had moved out of it.
As we walked, I kept noticing the poverty-stricken people. This neighborhood was much different than most of Algiers; it almost seemed like a separate entity from the capital city. I wanted to clean the streets of its litter. I wanted to help the short old lady struggling to get up Casbah’s steep hills. And I wanted to have a conversation with every kid on every doorstep. However, I couldn’t do these things. It wasn’t the time. It made me considerate of every fortunate thing that has ever happened to me and my life. For some time in Casbah, I felt emotional.
We stopped for tea and peanuts – an Algerian tradition that Nacer, of course, treated us to free of charge – and soon after it was beyond the time our parking meter allowed. Unfortunately, we had to rush back, but not before Nacer did one more solid for us. Instead of using a taxi to get back to our car almost two miles away, Nacer had one of his buddies give us a ride straight to our car.
I owe everyone who I met, especially Nacer, a huge thank you. It was a complete honor to get the privileged tour that we received. It was the most authentic way I could have ever experienced one of Algiers most historic parts. What a day.
Day Twenty-Four (August 9, 2017)
We met Niece and her girlfriend this afternoon. I enjoy Niece’s company thoroughly. Her and her girlfriend are bad ass chicks not afraid to talk shit with the guys. I’m not afraid to say anything with them even after only meeting twice.
We went to Les Beaux Arts Museum (which is literally translated to “The Beautiful Arts” Museum) in downtown Algiers. Museums are almost never my thing, but they’re more interesting when you’re there with artistic and creative people which Niece is. I could feel her passion for the arts by the way she spoke to me about them.
We sat on the museums terrace with a nice view of the setting from The Jungle Book. They’re fun people to be around.
Day Twenty-Five (August 10, 2017)
Day Twenty-Six (August 11, 2017)
Day Twenty-Seven (August 12, 2017)
After yet another late start to our morning, we met up with Ryan and Reda who had come to Nouvi to spend the weekend at a hostel with us. It was a nice getaway idea. However, actually getting into the hostel was a hustle.
Firstly, we had to secure spots in the hostel. There are only two hostels within the vicinity of Cherchell. Samy and Reda had desired to stay in the one nearby the sea in particular – Although I’m not sure why – we never even went to the beach near the hostel.
After checking several times (not by telephone, but by physically going there and checking, we confirmed through management that there would be a room open for all of us to stay in. Hostels in Algeria are much different from the hostel culture in Europe.
The first major difference was the check-in process. There was no online booking – and apparently no phone number for the hostel. You had to book and check-in in person. However, there were stern policies regarding passports and ID cards. All Algerian Nationals required an ID to check in. Being that Samy and Walid didn’t have theirs on them, we had to commute back to Nouvi from the neighboring city where the hostel was to get them.
Non-Algerian Nationals (as if there are any of those ever staying in hostels in Algeria) require a passport to check-in. Being that I didn’t even know we would be staying in a hostel until we arrived in Nouvi, I left my passport in Algiers. This became the biggest problem of our weekend.
In Algeria, occasionally Rangers will stop by at hostels to check passports and identification to make sure everyone in the hostel is there legally. This seems a tad bit unnecessary as 99% of hostel-stayers in Algeria are native Algerians. However, that’s how it is and the hostel wanted no responsibility in me being found without proper identification. So, what did it take to be able to check-in?
A visit to the local police station – whom Reda chatted with inside about the situation while Samy and I hung out with the off-duty police who hung around the station in street clothes. This interaction lasted about thirty minutes, leading nowhere.
They sent us to the Ranger’s station a bit out of town. Our next three hours would be spent in the front visitor’s room of the station until approximately midnight. We had to talk to several Rangers, including background checks on all five of us. Then, still not able to confirm if it would be alright to stay in the hostel without a passport, the Rangers had to call their higher-up officer who had to commute to the station to have a word with us. He spoke on the phone with some people, and, finally, we were allowed to go check-in to our hostel room.
I couldn’t speak with any of the Rangers, so I only know what was translated to me. There were pictures of missing people, dead people, dangerous people, terrorists; almost anybody to be identified was posted on the walls of the Ranger’s office. It was interesting seeing pictures of wanted terrorists right in front of me. It made the danger of the situation seem a little more real. The Rangers warned my friends that I was their responsibility and that the area was not stable for foreigners.
To unnecessarily shelter me, my friends didn’t tell me this until the next morning. They didn’t want to scare me, however, what people here have yet to realize is that it takes a lot to spook me .
Arriving after curfew (yes, all hostels in Algeria have curfews), we were still able to get in for the night because of a prior arrangement with management. I hope I didn’t ruin the guys’ night because of the situation I put us in.
Day Twenty-Eight (August 13, 2017)
The next morning, after grabbing a bite to eat at the café up the street, we headed to the mountains. I learned to look forward to the mountains while we were in Nouvi because I much preferred it over the litter-infested beaches.
I’ve been warned several times about conservative-minded Algerians, dangerous Algerians, terrorists, and Algerians that otherwise don’t like foreign people. However, since being here, I’ve not ran into one single poor encounter with an Algerian. I feel as if I may be getting shielded from them or living in the sheltered part of Algeria, however, I have occasionally had experiences that prove most people – even strangers – are still good.
Today, while hiking in the mountains, we heard a voice from a hillside above us. It was a man in his mid-thirties who had invited us to lunch at the top of the hill. After hesitating for a while, maybe for the sake of danger or maybe for the sake of not being hungry, the guys decided to join the man for lunch.
When we got to the top of the hill, we found out that it was not just one man but a group of about twelve who were having a couscous picnic at the top of the mountain. Come to find out, they didn’t really want to chat with us or even eat with us. They were already done eating. They simply wanted to fulfill a good deed for the day which is an integral part to the Muslim religion.
They laid a picnic blanket down for us and served us promptly. We stuffed our faces until sated and shortly after, we thanked the men of the group (although, the women probably cooked and cleaned) and were on our way back down the mountain.
I sure hope I haven’t missed more of these kinds of happenings from being sheltered for the sake of rumors and potential threats. I came to Algeria in order to get the whole experience. And that’s what I want to do. Today’s lunch was a real experience. Maybe tomorrow I won’t be so lucky and I’ll run into some trouble, however, I want to experience that for my own.
Too many adults in Algeria are spoiling their country’s image on their own. I realize that they may have been traumatized from what they experienced growing up in Algeria’s civil war, however, there is no reason today’s youth shouldn’t live through their own experiences. I’ve been too sheltered in Algeria to call it a full grasp on the country as a whole.
I’ve also been getting a lot of grief from several people back home about pushing the limits of danger in Algeria. I can’t help it if I haven’t see any of it myself. For all I know, the danger is all another elaborate rumor. If it actually is dangerous, I want to find out on my own.
We went to the beach and out for ice cream and finished the day passing a joint back and forth at an abandoned café on the shoreline. Today was a good day.
Day Twenty-Nine (August 14, 2017)
I left Nouvi today, perhaps for the last time. In Europe, I always had the feeling that I’ll run into people I’ve met again later in life. However, I just don’t get that feeling in Algeria. Algerians don’t travel out of country as often because their passport doesn’t allow it. Therefore, to see them again, it means I’ll have to visit Nouvi in the future.
This comes at a time when I feel I was finally becoming a part of the group and not just making a guest appearance in which everyone treats me special. I had been waiting for this for the entire month and just on my last visit did I start to feel that way.
Truthfully, I’m bored of being treated like I’m a guest in Algeria. I started to form a close bond with most everyone in Nouvi. It was nice and I enjoyed this last visit to Nouvi even though from the beginning there was no part of me that wanted to spend these days in the small town.
To Walid, Malek, Ryan, Houcine, Omar, Reda, Hany, Idriss, and anyone else who has made an impact on me during my time in Nouvi – thank you for welcoming me to the group. My time in Nouvi feels special.
Day Thirty (August 15, 2017)
Day Thirty-One (August 16, 2017)
Day Thirty-Two (August 17, 2017)
33 days and 33 nights of the Algerian summer. We left mid-afternoon and arrived back home to our island of Malta at night. Thanks for reading (skimming) my Arabian journal.