Saturday, 26 October 2013

Postcards from Algeria Part 2

We were at the beach one evening waiting for a promised car to bring us home, and I watched a couple pull up in their car, get out, buy a snack and sit watching the sea and wondered what their life was like as a married couple living in Algeria, when my husband suddenly noticed the husband and got up to greet him in the manner of an old friend.  My husband was not in any way related to my father, but he had the same knack of finding old friends in the strangest of places.  This friend was someone whom he had known in London and who now lived in Algiers with his Italian wife.  They gave us a lift back to my in laws and it was wonderful for me to have a woman to converse with in English… and one married to an Algerian at that.  As we talked I realized how good it was to share the same observations of life here with someone who had had the same experiences.  When she talked about how strange she found the fact that her husband could get up from the breakfast table and just walk out the door without saying where he was going or how long he’d be gone for, when in England he wouldn’t go to the garage without saying so, I thought, ‘Bingo’!  My husband couldn’t understand my feeling of total abandonment whenever he just walked out the door.  ‘But I’m just around the corner… all you have to do is send one of the kids to me and I’ll be right back.’  As my 20/20 vision didn’t include being able to see around corners, he might as well have been in the Sahara where I was concerned.  She rang me one afternoon and asked if I was having coffee, and when I told her I was, she said, ‘All Algeria is having coffee right now at this time’ and she was right.  Breakfast  was always at 8.00am, lunch at 12.00, coffee at 5.00pm, dinner at 8.00pm and no meals or snacks whatsoever in between. 

We spent many a happy afternoon in her and her husband’s company, and one day they drove us out to the Kabylie region, which, with its rolling green hills and valleys reminded me so much of Ireland.  We stopped at one shop selling traditional silver jewelry embedded with blue and red stones, and when the jeweler realized I was foreign he insisted on dressing me up in the full regalia complete with headdress, armlet, anklet cuff and necklace. I’m afraid my western clothes didn’t do it justice… it really needed the traditional Kabylie dress to show it off properly. We stopped in a small village where my husband knew his father had originally come from, and bumped into his cousins who insisted on us going for coffee.  We were plied with coffee and beautiful cakes, and after a brief interlude we were served a meal of cooked meat, to which, to my everlasting regret, I could not do justice as I had made a pig of myself with the cakes.
El Aurassi Hotel, Algiers
One year we travelled with another cousin, to his home in Laghouat, not that far from Ghardaia, at the edge of the Sahara.  It took us 10 hours to drive there and we stopped not that far from our destination in a very small market town to buy provisions.  I got out to stretch my legs and walk around with my husband and daughter, and found myself feeling extremely self-conscious and, dare I say it, naked!  I was dressed in a short sleeved t-shirt and a skirt that came to below the knees, but I realized I was the only woman in the whole market, and I was being stared at.  To my amusement I saw some children edging each other on to throw some coloured sweet wrappers at me, not in an nasty manner but more in a daredevil way!  It reminded me of my sister’s story about standing in a market square in Kenya, and having small children edging shyly up to her and then quickly rubbing their fingers along her arm and looking at them to see if the white colour came off!

We spent a few days with my husband’s cousin and lovely family in Laghouat, and his wife decided she was bored with the way she cooked chicken so asked me how I usually cooked it.  I, foolishly, told her my recipe for rice and curry so she 'volunteere'd me to cook for them that night.  When I asked her for this or that spice she would send out to the neighbours and I received an assortment of spices, but few from the original recipe.  With me trying to figure out how long it would take me to walk back to Algiers, I nervously cooked some kind of a chicken and rice concoction which I euphemistically called a curry, and watched with great trepidation while they tasted it… they loved it and I breathed a great sigh of relief.  One day a neighbor needed to go to the hospital and, as my husband’s cousin was at work, my husband volunteered to drive the woman.  With a great deal of bemusement on my part, I was told that I, too, had to come and sit in the front of the car as neither my husband’s cousin’s wife or the neighbor would sit there with him, and I was there purely to chaperone them!!!  How quaint I thought to myself!

It was a difficult time for my husband’s cousin whose heart was not with us, but with his Mum in Algiers who was dying of liver cancer, and who passed away during that holiday.  I remember going to see her in her home, as that is where she preferred to be, amongst her family, and looking at her brought back such memories of going to visit my Aunt’s husband, when I was 6, when he too was dying of the same disease.  I didn’t go to visit the family on the first day of the funeral as my husband thought all the emotion might be a bit overwhelming for me, so I visited on the second day, and when I walked into the crowded room of women, every single one got up to greet me and, as I kissed each one twice on each cheek, I could see the endless queue of women yet to be greeted.  To this day I remember that surreal moment. 
Presidential Palace, Algiers

No comments:

Post a Comment