Thursday, April 11, 2019

Beauty and The Beast

In 2008, when the world’s eyes were turned to a new kid in the block, giving a victory speech in one of the most historic passings of power in recent history, thousands of miles away, another history was being made. The president of Algeria was to change the constitution to allow himself to stay “with” the presidency until death do them part. 

When Bouteflika was brought in by the army in 1999, Algeria was trying to turn the page on one of the most difficult and darkest chapters in its history. A decade of blood and terror where the struggle to survive and the fear of facing death was the daily routine of all Algerians. A few years into his rule, peace-in the form of decrease in the number of massacres-started to crawl back into our lives; daily news of death was not the norm anymore, and life started to go back to normality, except that everything had changed, and society was never to be the same again. Suspicion of the other meant that people started to withdraw into self-inflicted confinements, and apathy started to reign. Public space was confiscated from Algerians by the regime in place and the ghost of the black decade was always hovering around to deter people from any attempt of change. The people had divorced their country, their regime and each other.

With all this apathy, a new beast was growing, fuelled by soaring oil prices, the appalling management of public money meant that anything was up for grabs. Algeria was the new Eldorado where anyone who wanted to make a quick buck would go to. The regime running the country continued to deteriorate and became a mafia in all sense of the word, and as the oil prices started to plummet, the mafia had to find new ways to satisfy its insatiable appetite for money, this meant that illegal trading, money laundering and drug dealing was also on the table; the mafia was pushing the country into a dystopia.

My family like many other families had to think of ways to survive in a country under regime that cared for no one and where everyone was for themselves. Water supplied by the government is not trusted for consumption so my dad started a weekly trip to a spring to fill jerrycans with clean water to use for cooking and for drinking as bottled water would not be sufficient. Meat was sourced directly from farms as my sister, an inspector of food quality warned of the dangers of meat consumption, hospitals were to be avoided at all cost as my sister who is a doctor warned against these. Our cities became open air prisons, and got uglier by the day, so trips to the countryside were our escape from small living spaces and eyesores mushrooming like there is no tomorrow.  

As the beast grew bigger, it engulfed every corner of the country and every fabric of society, very few were those who resisted the regime and its practices. But as history has it, against the backdrop of all this chaos, a new beautiful generation which saw the pain, the chaos, and the injustice, and witnessed on a daily basis the further descent of the country into an abyss was waiting for the right moment; it seized it in the most beautiful way , it broke the silence and lifted the fear and the rest is very recent history.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Back in Blighty

"You must be mad!”. This is how friends and family  greeted my decision to return to England after leaving it some years ago. Four cities and three countries later, I find myself in the town that I used to love so very much, but which I had to leave for greener pastures.
I do question my sanity when I look out of the window and cannot tell whether it is morning or afternoon because of the constant dark aura that wraps this country in the autumn months, or when I look at the sky and the dreary greyness is all I can see. I sometimes wonder if it was the right decision when I think of all the taxes we pay and how childcare fees make you think that you get punished for having children in this country.
I left England because I was lonely, I wanted to be close to family. London was great, it offered me everything I dreamed of as a youngster, yet hitting the age of 30 and having no kids and no family around me made me unhappy.  I convinced my husband that brining up kids in a good area of London without having a million pounds stashed away was going to be impossible. I could not see myself continuing to take the tube or public transport beyond the age of 30 or as a pregnant lady, inhaling all the horrible black dust on the underground…  Aside from the vibrant atmosphere of the city and the illusion that you are somewhat important just because you happen to wear a suit and take a boat to a business meeting, there was nothing to keep us in London, so move away we did.
When I left, I wanted to be somewhere that offered me everything; the family, the children, the sun, and the money. Above all, I wanted a new beginning. Fast forward a few years, my decision, which was great for my social life did not seem to do much for my career. My freelance business never really took off and I had enough of sponging off my husband. So after a few years of dwindling income, I decided it was time to head back to England  to spend more years working in a box, looking at a box and dealing with people who cannot think outside the box, aka the corporate world. Now that I am back, I sit in front of a box all day making sure I clock up enough years, serving my corporate sentence so that I can be free again. For a rebel like me, every day is an agony mostly because of the red tape that exists everywhere. People follow procedures blindly and seem to leave their common sense and brain at home before heading for work. What the business world calls streamlining, I label dumbing down and automating tasks so that work becomes merely a robotic repetitive mechanism. Sitting at your desk wishing your life away until the weekend is what I do. But the weekend is not a time for fun anymore.
We left as 2 and now we are 4. Life with young children is very different; nothing prepares you for it. What seemed like a given before is now a luxury-at least in this country. Life for middle class families here is hard. Finding Alibaba’s treasure cave is easier than finding decent childcare. Nurseries are run by half-wits who cannot even spell and who hate looking after children;  but they ask for astronomical amounts of money.
As parents, we run from school to nursery (which are never near each other) to after school activities to nowhere. The weekends are spent trying to entertain the kids or get ready for a new school week. Nannies and babysitters are so fussy that you think they are doing it for free. As a result, your social life as an adult away from the kids becomes non-existent
In all this chaos, you find pleasure in knowing that your kid attends an outstanding school and seeing them thrive there makes all the agony worthwhile. The school becomes your life again as a parent, and your kid performing a song or a play during a school assembly warms your heart.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How green is your grass?

We are told that the grass is greener where we are not. Just like the color of the sea which gets bluer the further away you move from the shores, the grass seems greener the further away you drift from your home.
Undeterred by Dahmane Elharrachi’s song  and the tales of those older than us who tell us that leaving one’s  home is not for the faint-hearted, we embark on a journey of discovery and adventure,  leaving everything familiar behind. We follow our dreams, which we later realize they are not even ours. We taste the different flavors of each land and we keep moving in search of that perfect place to finally realize that it only exists in our hearts.
Some wise people exercise discipline and convince themselves that whatever they have is perfect and that the only way to be content is to accept what is there, deal with it and improve it. This is the case of those Algerians who enjoy their life back home. The case is also true for citizens of other countries who never complain about the bad weather, the high taxes or the dirty and polluted cities. They will just live in their little town or big city never yearning to know what if feels like to be somewhere else.
I came across people on my various trips who are just like me, they have lived in various countries, and are always willing to move, this gives me reassurance. But, I have also met people who stayed in one place all their lives, and worked at the same company for as long as they have been employed; life abroad does not tempt them in the slightest. These people have travelled but they have always come home. I feel jealous of them sometimes. They have found satisfaction, and are confident that the land where they are offers just as much as anywhere else.
Along my trips, I met so many people each with their own story of leaving their land. For some, it is the search of freedom. A roommate of mine in college told me once that she could never imagine herself wearing a bikini in England (on a hot day), but she would gladly do it in Egypt because there she feels free(er). Many other expats also re-iterate the same feeling of being free,  away from the eyes of those who have come to know them very well; as if ones’ homeland becomes a confinement and freedom is only to be found away, anywhere but at home. For those of us who come from conservative societies, we think that our society is suffocating because of customs, and religion; we flee to get away but even those from the free world seem to be fleeing. Some flee taxes, others flee the cold weather, for others it is just the experience to put in a CV to get promoted and earn more money. For a few, it is the love of adventure.
Beacuse you have lived in multiple lands, people think that you are an authority on the best places to live; I personally think that there is no perfect land but that which exists in your heart and that the grass is as green as your eyes make you see it. If one’s heart is content and happy, it will always be happy no matter where it lives, and if you are miserable grumpy soul, you’ll always find faults with every country that you have called home. I belong to the latter category I am afraid.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ramdhan Z'man

As someone living in nostalgia, I keep trying to convince myself that many things used to be better before. One of them is Ramadhan. As a kid, I used to get so excited about this month and await its arrival with great anticipation; for me, it meant eating more sweets, and being able to play outside when it is dark.

One of the things I miss dearly these days is the smell of Ramadhan and the aura that accompanied this month. You could not escape it,  it was in the air everywhere; it was not just the smell of coriander in shorba emanating from every house in the neighborhood, not the smell of Z’labia being deep fried or dipped in syrup, not that of Qalbellouz sold in stalls in many places, and not that of orange flower water in the Sherbet. It was all of that and a lot more. Even if you were too young to fast, or were at school where you would not whiff any of the above delightful smells, you could still feel the presence of the month.

As I grow wiser, I feel that aura less and less and start to believe that it was maybe one of those childish feelings I had, which rendered my world a lot more exciting. Sometimes, I wish I could reconstruct the atmosphere in my head for it is a great one. I travel to Algeria in Ramadhan sometimes hoping to experience that feel again but it is not there anymore. All you experience is the heat and the dead streets. I think that people have just given up on trying to make this month exciting.

People complain a lot about this month, I do, sometimes, as well. We find the fast difficult, and I find the cooking difficult. We are expected to fast, pray, be spiritual, and cook decent food without tasting it. If there is an invitee, we pray that the salt is just right.

In all of the extra tasks we create during this month, we distract ourselves from the true essence of this month, and as Ramadhan nears its end, we feel a sort of regret for having complained about its arrival, for not welcoming it warmly enough, for not having done enough good deeds and wonder what our lives will be like next Ramadhan, and whether the aura will visit us again. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mrs La Blanche

Mr Le Blanc, according to Gad Elmaleh, is this guy whom the universe conspires to make his life as smooth as silk. When he eats all the components in his sandwich enter into a pact and decide to do their best to make it to his mouth without soiling his nice clean clothes. Eating a sandwich for him is a pleasure, no mayo, no sauce leaves that sandwich until it reaches the desired destination. At the airport, his luggage is the first to arrive on the belt, intact and spotless; and the list of fortunate events in his life is endless. At the other end of the spectrum there is Mr. Swad essa3d, whom Murphy’s law shapes his life and everything he does goes awry.

For every Mr. Le Blanc, there is of course Mrs La Blanche. You spot her at the local coffee shop drinking a skinny latte, looking like a million dollars. She has three kids, not one, not two but three! Yet she manages to have a figure of a single woman in her teens. She has three kids and she manages to have hair that looks like she has just stepped out of a salon. No dark circles under the eyes; so her kids must have slept through the night from day zero.

Mrs La Blanche’s kids sit quietly when she eating out with hubby, playing with their toys; eating all their veggies and any crap that Mrs La Blanche offers. She of course manages to stay as fresh looking as when she stepped out of her house. Her kids do not seem to grab her hair or clothes. The kids smile or laugh all the time, you wonder if they were born in Stepfod town. You look at what she is having and you want to ask the waiter to get you exactly the same stuffs maybe some of that luck would rub on you.

She drives a Range Rover to drop her kids at school or at nursery. She wears a different outfit everyday, which looks like it has just arrived from the drycleaners. Her kids put a kiss on her cheek and say bye and run to their classroom looking like they are going to a playground. At nursery, she leaves her baby who has such a big smile on his face, you wonder if he on something. Everyday you see Mrs La Blanche, you hate her more; you try to convince yourself that she has at least two maids and three nannies for she sets the standards so high you wonder if she is human.

You, on the other hand, never sleep through the night, because your baby does not; so looking fresh is out of the question. Your barely have time to comb your hair because your baby is screaming for something that is not among the 1000 things in front of her. You decide to wear hat nice outfit to outdo Mrs La Blanche just that once but on the way to the car, the baby decides to puke all over you and you run back to the house and grab that dress that does not need ironing but which makes look like Jo Brand. You decide to wear it anyway because you are so late for everything. You run around the house like crazy checking and rechecking that you have got the million things that you baby does not need at nursery, but which you decide to pack anyway because you want to make your life more stressful.

At nursery, your baby screams and screams when you leave her that you decide to either be the first or last to arrive at the nursery so that you can make it out quietly and avoid the accusing eyes of  those mums looking at you like it is your fault that your baby does not want to leave your side. There is nothing worse than judging eyes of other mums who want to tell you how to bring up your child.

When you have had enough and you want to eat out with hubby, you pray and pray that your baby does not make a scene; she of course does not let you eat and you end up taking turns with your husband on eating and drinking. She barely eats her food, and ends up being grumpy as she can see all the people around her eating and she cannot do the same. Your baby decides all of a sudden that bedtime that night is when the dessert arrives. You ask the waiter to pack it for you and make your way back home.

As a mum, you want to be Mrs La Blanche everyday, you tire yourself like mad to get there; but then you realize that she is 10 years younger than you, she started having kids when you were busy climbing the career ladder. She married a loaded Mr. right, and after all her kids go to school, she can start her career and will become a CEO by the time she is 45. You give up trying...

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Married! Keep away from me!

Marriage and men are a recurring theme in some excellent blogs run by single Algerian females. Patriots on Fire also has some posts dealing with the problem of marriage in Algeria, and in a post published last year,  there was a mention that Algerian women only care about getting married and Turkish soaps. As extreme as it may sound, there is actually some truth in this.

When I was in my early twenties, I used to get regular calls from a friend of mine, informing me of all the marriages amongst the small Algerian community in England. Some of the names I knew, but in most part they were people I did not know and could not care less if they got married, stayed single or did anything else. That friend of mine used to share the news to get things off her chest, for the news were too great a sorrow for her to bear alone. I remember once she contacted me to break the hot off the press news that one of our friends had a baby boy, with a lot of melancholy in her voice. As if the universe was conspiring somehow to give the baby boy to her friend and consequently deprive her of it.

Some years passed, and it was my time to witness things through the married woman’s eyes. As I am a discreet person, I did not send a group e-mail to everyone in my inbox who are spread across the globe telling them that I had got married. So, many of my acquaintances learnt about it from others, or years later.  

I was recently travelling and decided to inform an old colleague of mine whom I had not seen for 8 years, of my being in her city. I sent her an e-mail, and I got a reply straight away asking me of how I was and giving me her mobile number suggesting that we meet for coffee. In the second e-mail I sent her, I said that I was with my husband in town that it would be nice to see her. I had not heard from her ever since. The meeting for coffee was cancelled and my calls were unanswered.

The second funny event was at Harrods, and more precisely in the ladies bathroom. I was speaking to my sister and a woman was looking closely at us making it clear that she understood every single word; she was Algerian. She informs her daughter who comes straight to us and introduces herself, after names, the next question was: “are you married?” When the answer was positive, she did not look happy and decided to disappear with her mum.

Another recent event was a meeting with another single friend of mine after years of absence. She made it clear that she was not happy to see me and was quite aggressive towards me. 

These are all reactions of girls who have not even met my husband or asked about his profession or his looks.  It is true that some married women in Algeria think that they are somehow superior to their single counterparts. But these women are certainly sad creatures. Also, I find it strange that many single women always try to find faults with people’s marriages or husbands/wives.

My mother finds these reactions unjustified and silly as well. She always reminds us that most people end up getting married and that when she was young, it was not a big deal to be married, and no one felt jealous or bitter as it was the norm. Just like having kids; she, who has had so many,  never understood why women these days show off being pregnant and ostracize those who cannot have kids. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Black or White

When strolling around Algerian cities in recent year, a new phenomenon becomes apparent to the observer, the ever increasing presence of the colour black among women.

The little black dress has always been described as a must have in any wardrobe. So are black jeans or black tops, as these have the tendency to give the allusion that one is thinner than one actually is. As someone who has never suffered from excess weight, I never felt the need to acquire black clothes except for the odd thing or two; so I am not mad about this colour.

But the black thing that is parading in our streets is not the little black dress, but the abaya or the milaya as some would like to call it. After several years of the disappearance of the white hayek that women used to drape themselves in, and years of adopting the fashion that comes from the other side of the Mediterranean, our girls have found a new way to express themselves i.e. copy those from the Gulf countries.

Women after the independence started to conquer the work place and realized that the hayek was not practical, so they decided to opt for more practical clothes, those that allow the woman to move freely, catch public transport, and run sometimes to do that. This, in addition to the feeling that the hayek was a sign of backwardness, something the French encouraged by promoting the burning of the hayek in the fifties, contributed to its gradual disappearance.

When visiting Morocco, I noticed that women there were still wearing their traditional jellabah, young and old women alike. In fact, hardly any women were wearing the black abaya. The black abaya which made its way to the front of fashion in Algeria is a lot less prevalent in our neighbouring Morocco. I don’t know about Tunisia now, but last time I was there in 2007, there was no sign of it. 

What I like to question here, is not the hijab itself but the fascination of Algerians by what comes from abroad.  Since it was possible for the Moroccan kaftan to be adapted by top end designers around the world, and has become a must have item, why can't we have our own attire and develop it into something practical and fashionable? Isn’t the kablye dress worthy of developing into a modern fashion item? why not make the karakoo algerois a practical everyday clothing item? Have we no imagination or will do nothing but just import everything? 

Beauty and The Beast

In 2008, when the world’s eyes were turned to a new kid in the block, giving a victory speech in one of the most historic passings of power...