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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Stop the bashing!

Today, I decided to pick up on a a posting by an Algerian blogger on Algerian women.

On Patriots on Fire, a post entitled “Algerian women serve no purpose” was recently published,  which amongst other things states that some interviewed Algerian men think that Algerian women serve no purpose and that their interest is centered  around marriage and Turkish soaps.  Shockingly, the comments to the post seem to endorse the statement in the title.

I cannot deny that marriage and men are a recurring theme in some very popular blogs run by single Algerian females. Searching for a husband seems to be a favourite preoccupation of young women in Algeria. There is the famous slogan that girls at Algerian universities use which is diplôme plus un homme, which makes finding a man a priority for a young woman just as much as getting the degree. Indeed, some girls just want to go to university to be able to find a partner as the milieu offers more choice than one would find in the small community from which one hails.

Nevertheless, the interviewees or the blogger seem to suggest that there is a norm and that Algerian women by focusing on finding a husband or a partner seem to be shifting from the norm. But the need to find a male partner or a mating partner to be more biologically precise does not only occupy the Algerian female’s mind. Bridget Jones’s Diary and Sex and the City are very good examples of the pressure put on women in Western societies to be hitched once they reach a certain age and also to produce descendants. So, it is a bit unfair and shortsighted to imply that this phenomenon is purely Algerian or even Arab by reaching conclusions based on this fact.

On a recent assignment in a town not far from London, in a company dominated by women, I was surprised to find out that babies and children were the preferred discussion topic during lunch breaks, and that everyone made sure to mention the achievements, the concerts, the pantomimes, the sports days that their children were attending. These women were not without a purpose, 80% of them had PhD’s from top universities in the UK and in Europe. The question: ”Do you have children?” was asked by everyone I met, and someone went even further as to ask me: “Do you not want to have children?”. I decided to make a joke about it.

So, it is really only natural to try and find a life partner to fulfill a biological need and to pass one’s genes on.  If people who are looking for a partner are thought to serve no purpose, then most of young people on this planet are useless.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Memoirs of Little Aicha: Summer Camp in France

After experiencing the camp life in Algeria, the free-spirited little moi decided to cruise the Mediterranean, and witness at first-hand how the poor French kids spent their summers.

One happy summer day, quite some time agoooo, I was informed that I would have the fortune to be amongst some kids selected by the state to go and spend a few weeks at a summer camp in France. It is not exactly how they put it. We were just informed that we would be going to France on holiday, and who says France says shopping. The first picture that came to my little mind was the Eiffel tower, and then the Eiffel tower, and then lots and lots of shops.

My preparation for this trip was quite different from my Algerian summer camp days. I was going to France yew! I had to have nice clothes because no one would steal them, and then I had to give a good image of my country (beh mayadahkouch 3lia les Français). So, my three sisters who were at Uni then, chipped in using their summer grant money (bourse) to buy me clothes. We decided to go to Algiers. Shops in my hometown did not cater for young teenage girls who failed to grow up fast; you had to be either a child or a woman, you had to choose. If you went to a shop and tried something on and asked for a smaller size, the answer would always be a big NO!!!!! It was my fault after all, I was thin and should have defied my genes and grew fatter quicker. My mum always used to remind me: “I told you, you should have stayed in that volleyball team, you would have put on some muscle and grown taller!”. She was right of course, most of my friends who stayed in the team, undeterred by the psychopath coach that we had, were a few inches taller, and bigger than me.

My sister knew la Rue Disley very well and that’s where we headed for the shopping. My previous shopping trip that year was to Bab Ezzouar in Ramdhan to buy clothes for Eid. There was a big market there where they sold clothes that fit young teenage girls. It was my first time in that Rue Disley, and it was a real step up from souk Bab Ezzouar. After paying an arm and a leg for the clothes, I felt sad that I had used up my sisters’ grants for the clothes; and I promised myself that I would return the favour one day.

Departure day was in August, it was hot in Algiers. The port was full of  immigrés coming or going back, and over a hundred kids queuing up, all excited to be on this adventure of a life time! The ship was grand; it made me think of Titanic. It was the first time I had seen anything like it: a floating palace!
A day at sea, and lots and lots of laughs and happy moments later, the ship finally arrived in Marseilles.  After the formalities, the counting, lunching and a bit of sightseeing, we were divided into groups of 8, and each group was sent somewhere. That somewhere remained a mystery up until we reached the train station. We were overwhelmed by how different everything seemed, some of us had never been on a train before, so there was some excitement there. A train, then a bus journey later, we arrived at our destination, which was in the middle of nowhere...There was no Eiffel tower to be seen, no shops, and hardly any people walking around. It was raining and dark, and I could feel each one of us dreading what was to come.

Sleep came hard to me that night. I wanted to cry, but realized that it was silly of me to do that. I was in France, the land from where all that publicité de chocolat, de Chambourcy came from. It could not be that bad…

Things got better. After a few days, we realized that there were not many rules, no lines to walk in, no anthem to sing, no 3-4hr siesta. Well, there was a routine but we did not have to follow it religiously! The continuous sunshine of August, and the beautiful surrounding landscape made it easier for us to adapt. There were about 40 kids in the camp, 8 Algerians (4 boys and 4 girls), and a dozen adults (20 somethings) looking after them; One director, an avid photographer, who did not bring his family. I don’t think he had one; he had a red sports car!

The Camp had three buildings which looked like old chateaux, but were well-renovated inside, there were 4 of us in each room. The rooms were painted in a happy colour, I think it was pink for us girls. There was a nurse but no doctor. The gardens, full of fruit trees, were so big and as there was no fence, we could not tell where they ended. We also had huge sequoias, which were towering over us. Activities ranged from swimming and horse-riding, hiking and mountain biking to caving and kayaking. The siesta was less than an hour and it could be taken either indoors or outdoors. When it rained, there was a game room facility to use with table tennis and table football. Some afternoons were spent drawing wall frescoes. In the evenings, we had murder mystery games, board games, Pictionary, story nights, or quiz nights; there were two parties one to say hello and the other one to say goodbye.

Our sheets and clothes were washed regularly, and I was very surprised to find my clothes washed, ironed, and left on my bed, come sunshine or rain. I had to ask how they could do it when it rained. And it was then that I discovered the amazing mysterious sèche-linge.

During my time in the camp, I forgot about the Eiffel tower about the shops, and about the cities that I was expecting to visit. A couple of days before our departure, we were taken to the nearest city, ate McDonald, and did a bit of shopping. Time not permitting, I could hardly buy anything, and thought of all those requests I got before my departure and that handsome sum of Francs that was to be returned almost untouched.

When the three weeks came to an end, we had to say our goodbyes. We were told that we Algerians had made life a lot more enjoyable for the kids. I enjoyed my time in the camp mostly because there were people from my country to make it fun, to make jokes about everything, and to make life a bit less serious in the Camp. It was great to be there but I don’t think I would have been happy without them.

Judging by the red eyes of some of the kids who stayed up until midnight to say goodbye, the red eyes of some of the people who were looking after us, I understood that friendships could be knit between different people of different cultures and languages, within a short time.