Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Postcards from Algeria Part 1

Sidi Fredj
We tried our best to alternate our holidays with one year in Algeria and one in Ireland, so we visited Algeria again in 1989 and 1993.  While I found the people still as warm and as welcoming as ever, the sun as hot as on previous occasions and the North African ambiance a welcome relief from grey England, I also found myself, on many occasions extremely frustrated.  I could never just get up and go out the door and have a wander around for myself.  It didn’t help that we stayed in Bab El Oued, one of the oldest and most crowded areas of Algiers, and my husband’s family treated me like a precious thing that had to be protected at all costs, which resulted in me feeling like a little girl waiting for her daddy to take her on an outing.  It was very difficult to find any kind of vehicle to borrow to take us anywhere, and impossible to hire one. These were the days when I took great pleasure in observing that most of the cars were older than me, and the ones that we did manage to acquire were barely held together with twine, cellotape and spit.  We visited my husband’s uncle in the countryside in a car through which I observed the road beneath our feet whizzing past through the copious holes in the floor.  We spent many an exasperated day waiting for a car that was promised only for it not to materialize, and public transport consisted of extremely overcrowded buses or exceedingly fussy taxis who refused to bring us some places, e.g Notre Dame D’Afrique which was up a very high hill.  We became cunning and learnt the art of getting into a taxi before stating exactly where we wanted to go.

I found the times spent kicking my heels at my in laws particularly annoying as I was on my hard earned Annual leave break from work and resented feeling like Left Luggage.  The upside was that my husband and I walked Algiers up and down, and back and forth, in the heat of the mornings and the slightly cooler late afternoons, and I never felt better, and always came from my holidays with a healthy glow and looking a lot slimmer, better than, and a lot more enjoyable than a health farm any day.

Mint Tea room
We visited the aforementioned Notre Dame D’Afrique, one of the few Catholic churches still in Algiers, and heard the story of the priests there who helped the local Algerians against the tyranny of the French, and who were rewarded by not having their Church confiscated.  Mass is still held there every Sunday in French.  We walked down the narrow, overcrowded streets of Bab El Oued with men sitting around everywhere, to the sea at Kitani.  We crawled through the market place of  Place Des Martyrs (Sahat Ashouhada), finding many a bargain beneath the beautiful brickwork of the old Ottamon Ketchaoua Mosque. We went to the long golden beach of Club Des Pins under the watchful gaze of the well-guarded Presidential State Residence, to the beaches of Zeralda and Tipaza, had mint tea in a beautifully mosaic tiled tea room right beside the Monument to the Martyrs, Makam Shaheed, walked along the pier at Sidi Fredj where the French first landed when they invaded Algeria. 
Makam Shaheed
 We went camping for a couple of days with the family of a friend of my husband, in a place called Gouraya in a camping ground for families.  As we were leaving I heard that one woman had gone into labour during the night, had been rushed to hospital and, after the birth, had returned to the camp to finish her holiday!  My husband told me that, for 40 days, she would not have to lift a finger as all the women would rally round and do all her housework for that's what I call a holiday!
Many of these trips came courtesy of one of my husband’s cousins who insisted on taking us everywhere.  We went to visit the family of one my husband’s friends, and one of the brothers, trying to be helpful, replaced the finished film in my camera… and totally ruined it.  I was devastated… all the pictures I had taken in all the beautiful locations we had visited were lost forever.  I was still fuming and ranting and raving days later, when we met up with my husband’s cousin again, and his solution was to bring us around again to all the places we had visited so that I could take some more pictures. To this day I have never forgotten his kindness to me. 
Sidi Fredj

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