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? 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Back in life

As I have disappeared from the blogging scene for nearly a year, I thought I would write a word or two to explain the reason behind the absence to the one or two readers who visit this page.

Well, I have been on maternity leave. I know that writing a post should not be compared to working full-time, but when you are sleep-deprived for what seems like an eternity, putting two words together in your mother tongue is sometime a challenge let alone trying to write something meaningful in another language. 

I have got some drafts  from before, which I will publish in the next few days. That is until I can get my brain to think about things other than baby naps, sleep and food. 

The Open Door

A friend of mine has lent me an interesting collection of short stories written by kids whose ages range from 8 to 18. The stories selected were winners of a writing contest on the theme “The Open Door”. These kids come from different cultural backgrounds; I read all the stories and was impressed by the quality of the writings, and the imagination that these kids have, and the effort that they put into their work.

Some of the stories were written in Arabic and others were written in English. One of the intriguing things that I noticed after finishing the book was the difference between tackling the subject between Arab kids and Western kids. Most of the Arab kids, writing either in Arabic or English thought of the open door as a metaphorical expression, and built their stories around hope, which the open door signifies. On the other hand, the Western kids always thought of the actual door as an object and their stories evolved around walking through open doors, or trying to open closed ones.

What makes things even more interesting is the theory that Malek bennabi proposed in his book Le Problème des Idées dans le Monde Musulman. He states that the European man has always looked towards the ground or his feet using what is beneath to make things, whereas the Eastern or precisely the Middle Eastern man has always looked towards the sky in search for answers to his existence and being. He also believed that the obsession of the European with material things (objects) made this continent incapable of producing a prophet or a religion.

In this book he cites the examples of Daniel de Foe’s Robinson Crusoe and Ibn Tufail’s Hay ibn Yakdhan. The Castaway Robinson Crusoe tries to occupy himself by writing a diary, making a table, and other things, whereas Ibn Tufail’s protagonist who finds himself alone in a forest searches for a meaning to life and he finally comes to realise the existence of a creator.
Although it is an interesting comparison to make, and it lends supports my observation above. I believe that Malek  Bennabi has missed crucial differences between the two stories. Danield De Foe and Ibn Tufail lived in completely different times, separated by hundreds of years of civilization, which at the time of the writing of Robinson Crusoe was moving towards industrialization, i.e. the making of things which must have influenced the line of thinking of Daniel de Foe. Robinson Crusoe was an adult when he was cast away on the island. He had already seen the world and experienced life, so he was trying to make a life that resembles the one that he left behind. However, Ibn Yakdhan was raised alone in a forest, away from human influence and civilization.
Having said that, it has been some time since I read the book; and I may be missing some other points which led Malek bennabi to deduce the crucial difference between the Eastern and Western man.    

Going back to the Open Door, I would have thought that the age of globalization would produce kids that were not so different.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The land of Timgad…The home of the mud

In an article published in World Finance on urbanization 2.0, Dan Lewis, a Director of the Economic Research Council, states that Today’s municipal planners dream wistfully of Timgad, a perfectly symmetrical, self-contained grid-laid Roman town in Algeria built in 100 AD. Instead they have given us the likes of Milton Keynes in the UK.
The statement above shows his dissatisfaction with modern town planning which has given the world cities without a soul. However, if this author were to visit Algeria, he would lament the state of our town and cities (and thank god for Milton Keynes), he would realize that Timgad, which appears to be an inspiration for town planners around the world, has not enthused our architects to produce anything remotely as decent.
If he were to drive on the East-West highway, he would find himself alternating between beautiful dreams and nightmares. One moment he could imagine himself in the best of countries, beautiful landscape as far as the eye can see unraveling herself to the observer, inviting to be seen and enjoyed. Another moment eyesores erected by men, never thinking about creating harmony between nature and buildings, resulting in an esthetic unevenness that would detract him from looking out of the car’s window and push him to look away. He would also notice the inexistence of spaces and structures that lift the spirit. He would certainly question the shocking designs by our architects and their inability to know where a building is not suited.
If he were to take walks around our cities, he would see how some rare decent buildings metamorphosed into ugly ones thanks to the jealous man who thinks that by turning a balcony into a window or even a block of concrete, he would be protecting the honor of his family, by hiding his wife, sisters or daughters from the preying eyes of other men. And if he were to venture outside his hotel room on a rainy day, he would bring heaps of mud back.
If he were to read comments on Algerian newspapers and blogs, he would find people objecting to the creation of beautiful buildings, he would come across articles criticizing any attempts to build decent roads and bridges. He would find people asking for a freeze on projects until a democratic system is established. If he were to talk to people about cleanliness, he would find everyone espousing the idea that cleanliness of homes and streets should be a priority, but he would realize soon after that everyone brilliantly destroys it.
If he were to visit Timgad, he would find a ghost town, revived only for concerts to hypnotize the people.