Who is Andrew? A Second Allaqta Video Profile Gives Answers

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

"Who is Andrew? The one who loves Algeria" (photo: Allaqta)
After the success of their first video profile on me back in August (which has since racked up over 1.2 million views between Facebook and YouTube) the Allaqta crew was getting a lot of questions. Where did you find this guy? Is he really American? What is he doing in Algeria? Does he really like this country? In short, who is Andrew?

To capitalize on the surprisingly strong reactions to the initial video, they decided to splice together some leftover footage from our interview to create a second video that would tell my personal story in greater detail, and hopefully answer some viewers' questions about my background. This second video dropped last week:

El Watan Profile: "I Photograph Algeria with a Camera Dating from the '50s"

Friday, September 16, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

This weekend's edition of El Watan, Algeria's most widely read French-language newspaper, includes an interview and profile of me, covering everything from my first visits to Algeria, to my interest in other cultures and languages, to my photography.

My thanks go to the El Watan Week-End team, in particular reporter Faten Hayed, who conducted the interview and then adapted my rambling musings into a concise snapshot—and in much more elegant French than I ever could have managed on my own.

Below is an approximate English translation of the contents, with some links to further info:

"An American in Love with Algeria": The Story Behind the Allaqta Video Profile

Monday, August 29, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

"Hello Andrew, I hope you are well, are you available for an interview in Algiers? an interview about your work as a blogger and photographer."

That was the message I received on May 29 that started it all. It came from Tarik, one of three young co-founders from the Algerian production company Allaqta (the name means "the shot", as in a TV shot, in Arabic). Three friends who grew up together in Algiers, Tarik, Mohamed, and Ibrahim, had launched Allaqta in 2015 in their spare time, alongside their day jobs in the TV business. By concentrating on producing high-quality, positive content about Algeria's natural beauty, historical sites, and popular culture, in just a year they had managed to quickly build up a massive following—half a million young followers on Facebook (the only measure that counts here in Algeria in 2016).

And now they wanted to make a short video about this curious American living in Algiers. Or as Tarik put it in his next message, when I inquired about their motivations: "... We would like to produce a short or a mini documentary about you,

Uncommon Alger

Sunday, August 21, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria (map)


« Son passé est surchargé des confrontations de l’histoire. Elle est la grande métropole de la rive sud de la Méditerranée. Ni Barcelone, ni Marseille, ni Naples, dans la lumière bleue, Alger la Blanche! »

French-speaking readers, there is your mysterious, enticing introduction. English-speaking readers, let me fill you in: This week I'm proud to announce that the newly published French-language Uncommon Alger is available for sale here in Algiers. I've just picked up my copy today and it is beautiful!

Based in London, Uncommon Guidebooks publish just that—unusual guides to cities around the world that are as much travel guide as cultural artifact in and of themselves. Filled with vivid photos, unique essays, artwork, comics, historical documents, and more, the books capture and convey the atmosphere of a place.

To this new volume on Algiers, I contributed a photo (of women wearing the

Algiers: (Re)navigating the Invisible City

Friday, January 29, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

The Martyrs' Monument, Algiers' most visible landmark, viewed from the Balcon St. Raphael in El Biar.
A travel magazine that I enjoy held a writing contest just before the holidays. Short on time and inspiration, I refined and combined several of my favorite pieces from this blog about discovering Algiers, based on my experiences exploring the Algerian capital since moving here three years ago. My submission didn't pass muster with the judges, but I find it to be a good overview of the city's unique geography, and so worth sharing here. Enjoy:

Back in my mom's basement in Baltimore, somewhere in a crate full of foreign coins, postcards, and other odd trinkets accumulated from Middle Eastern souqs and African in my travels, sits a magazine article, its left edge ragged where I tore it from an issue of Smithsonian back in 2007. Titled “Save the Casbah”, the article is an ode to the famed Casbah of Algiers, and to the community activists, historians, preservationists, and local residents trying to keep the iconic hillside settlement from crumbling into the sea below.

Out of fascination with this part of the world, I saved the article years ago, long before I ever visited the Algerian capital. Then, in 2012, I made my first visit on an extended work trip, and quickly fell in love. Within a year, I had successfully pushed for reassignment, leaving behind a comfortable life in the US to come explore Algiers' many twists and turns—both physical and unseen.

Timonium to Timimoun: A Very Algerian Christmas Vacation

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 | Timimoun, Algeria (map)

Maggie, tour guide Bachir, and Mom atop a sand dune, watching the sunset outside Timimoun.
My mother could be living a tranquil, delightfully simple life in suburban America if it wasn't for the disturbances that her dear beloved son sometimes foists upon her.

Mom lives in Timonium, a suburb several miles north of the rather rougher Baltimore City neighborhood where she raised me and my sister Maggie. She works at a nearby Catholic girls' school. She goes to book club every week, the gym every day. Her street is quaint and suburban, the lawns all perfectly manicured. The only pedestrians are joggers, dog-walkers, and hop-scotching, jump-roping, bike-riding, unsupervised kids. Every second car that drives by is either an ice cream truck or a fire engine going to extract a kitty cat from a tree.

At Christmas, every window in Timonium is trimmed in festive lights. But rather than enjoy the holiday peacefully at home like her neighbors, Mom accepted my invitation to visit me in Algeria. Maggie joined from Boston. And so several days before Christmas we found ourselves squished into the back seat of a 4x4, careening across rough desert roads and jolting over sand dunes deep in the Sahara.

My Favorite Global Reads of 2015

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Another great 2015 find: French photographer Julien Mauve's "Greetings from Mars" series, an alternately lighthearted and melancholy imagining of what space tourism may one day resemble.
There's never enough time to read them all. But every week, I try to gobble up an enormous quantity and variety of articles, analyses, reflections, memoirs, op-eds, and thought pieces from a range of online and offline sources. In recent years, I have been cataloging my favorite bits each week on sfarjal.com. (If you don't follow it, believe me: you are missing out.)

From among those, here are some of my most favorite pieces from 2015. Some might qualify as "travel writing", while others hew more broadly to this blog's global perspective and mission to inspire greater curiosity about the wider world. Some even go beyond this world. Enjoy:

Ibn Ibn Battuta's 2015 in Review

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mallorca double exposure, June 2015
Both in life and on the blog, 2015 was a big year for me. I took up rock climbing, and started driving in Algiers traffic. I witnessed two dear friends marry, and a dear cousin leave us too early. I took on a new job here in Algiers, and gained enough free time to adopt exciting side projects—not to mention a dog. Bourek's arrival has certainly marked the year, and transformed how I spend my waking hours.

On the blog, I managed to publish only about half as many entries as I had hoped to, and only a fraction of those that I began drafting. Yet this year I also published my most widely read post ever, "16 Essential Algiers Experiences", along with other reflections on daily life in Algeria.

With Nina and other friends, I traveled to Berlin, Mallorca, Marseille, and several new destinations in the Algerian Sahara, including TaghitBou Saada, and Timimoun (a writeup on the last one is on the way). And I looked back a decade later on my first forays into the Middle East, with retrospectives on my time in Syria and Jordan. I continued cataloging my travels with the Rolleicord, sharing images on Instagram.

I also sold my soul and released my first commercial product, the "Algeria 2016" holiday calendar that sold out several times over, far outstripping my expectations. This year also marked the first time a perfect stranger walked up to me (in the Algiers airport) and asked, "Are you Ibn Ibn Battuta?"

Best of all, I received great feedback and had engaging exchanges with readers and friends around the world. Thank you all for reading, reflecting, and sharing. I look forward to more travels and more exchanges with you all in the year to come. Safe travels and best wishes to all in 2016!