there are a lot things, little and big, I've been meaning to mention and haven't. my friend muriam, from georgetown, is coming to visit today - she lands in Algiers this afternoon, and her connection is due to land in Oran at 5 pm Algerian Time, which means we'll probably pick her up around 8 ;). she'll stay for the rest of my visit and then some, to take french and to see the country.
here are some things I haven't talked about that she will see when she's here:
-cats. cats are the squirrels of algeria. of the arab world, in fact - because the prophet liked cats, people here have granted them special license to roam as they like. as a result, there are feral, free-roaming cats everywhere. this is awesome. we went to a park last week in the city, sat on a bench and watched the cats roam in and out of the bushes. it was like a little piece of heaven.
sometimes a cat will settle in the courtyard of a house, or the lee of a house, to have babies, and sometimes these babies become housepets. I met a girl who's had three cats in succession this way, and whose aunt currently has five. "You have to pay for cats?" she said to me. my cousin Nibras finds it funny that we take them to the doctor.
-men. also in the street, also fairly feral and free-roaming. young men, especially, who congregate outside shops and cafes to laugh and talk and "drague les filles" - try to pick up girls as they walk by.
a couple weeks ago I got dropped off early for my aerobics class, so I decided to walk around the neighborhood by myself. bad idea. mid-walk I was tagged by a persistent (but not at all bad-looking) young man who stayed at my side for several blocks, talking to me in dialect. I didn't say anything, didn't even look at him, but he kept at it til I got to the gym and took cover inside. it made me really nervous, but it wasn't at all dangerous - he was actually pretty polite (the truly impolite ones don't follow, they just whisper at you when you walk by) and kinda flattering. but I wouldn't want to repeat the experience. walking with a partner (male or female) is best.
-the front de mer. Oran is right on the sea, and downtown there's a palm-lined promenade that gives you a view along the front - an almost-beautiful view, because the industrial port of Oran takes up most of the immediate coastline. but the sea itself is gorgeous, and so are the mountains surrounding it.
-al-medina al-jedida. a teeming market filled with people selling everything and buying everything - clothing, shoes, furniture, household goods, makeup, toys, jewelry, food (and more food) - all of it at a bargain. we go there for everything house- or clothing-related: sweaters, pillows, blankets. I have a housedress and a jellaba direct from al-medina al-jedida (in dialect: lmdInljdIda - they swallow the vowels, like klingon), and almost all the utensils in the house were found there. it's crowded and noisy and cheap and wonderful, and there will definitely be some mdinjdida-ing with muriam.
-chinese. there are lots of Chinese here. which is kind of surprising, because...they're Chinese. in Algeria. and for most of the last 15 years, Algeria's been more or less closed off to the world - or at least, a large part of the world has been skittish about coming to Algeria.
[Air France suspended plane service in 1994 after a plane was hijacked - it only started again in 2003. you can tell that Algeria hasn't exactly been North Africa's number one tourist destination because it's extremely difficult to find postcards. In Fez, everbody sold postcards. Here, almost nobody does - what postcards you do find are mostly leftover from the 1980s. This is my excuse (coupled with my apology) to all of you who have yet to receive postcards (and that's... all of you). But back to the Chinese...]
It seems that while Euro-Occidentals were busy not going to Algeria, Chinese (and Koreans, to a lesser extent) were busy strengthening the east-mideast bond: ramping up trade, creating exchange programs, signing agreements with Algeria to come and build things - roads, buildings, manufacturing plants, water facilities. China exports tons of products to Algeria, including a large percentage of the clothing and household furnishings sold in al-medina al-jedida and elsewhere around the city - mass-produced acrylics, brand name knock-offs, plastic furniture, electronics and appliances, household linens (and of course, products with English phrases - my favorite is my bedtime pillow, embroidered with "Ok Happy Goodnight").
between 2000 and 2001 - 2000 being the year the current president came to power, the year the civil war effectively ended - trade with china skyrocketed, such that it's now second only to france in trade with algeria. the influx of chinese people skyrocketed too, most of them here to work on construction or development projects. in neighborhoods where lots of chinese workers live, you'll find shops that have taken steps to accomodate them - chinese added to the arabic and french signs marking the cyber cafes and photocopy shops; restaurants boasting "chinese food" (the chinese food craze hasn't really caught on here, though, mostly because of the myths and realities surrounding what chinese immigrants eat. cats, for example).
here, the chinese are both admired and resented - admired because the quality of chinese work is considered superior to that of algerians; resented because the Algerian government has signed over almost all the country's major construction and development projects to chinese companies, granting them permission to use their own workers instead of hiring algerian labor. it's bad policy on the government's part - algerians could use both the employment and the long-term know-how.
so this is what muriam will see, and we'll see lots more together. I'll keep you posted, best I can.