People and Stories: Foreigners Who Love Algeria Edition

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Watch the full "Foreigners Who Love Algeria" episode on YouTube.
Last night, Algerian television channel El Djazairia One aired a 90-minute edition of its regular Arabic-language talk show "People and Stories" ("Ness w Hyakat - ناس وحكايات") on the theme of "Foreigners Who Love Algeria" ("أجانب يحبون الجزائر").

I joined Magdoulina from Russia, Jérôme from France, Georges the pied noir of Maltese origin, Hirofumi from Japan, and a local sociologist as guests on the show, which we taped several days earlier in a studio outside Algiers. Interspersed throughout the dialogue were short video profiles the producers had previously recorded at our homes, complete with interviews of our friends. (Thank you to my dear friend Mohamed for his kind words about me!)

While the episode's theme might sound innocuous to outsiders, in this peculiar country it proved provocative—just as the show's producers knew it would. How so? Because the suggestion that foreigners could love Algeria, simply and without reserve, conflicts with the traumatized affection that quite a few Algerians feel for their country, which they love out of genuine patriotism but nonetheless seek to flee, propelled by frustration and lack of opportunity. Allow me to explain:

In Tindouf Refugee Camps, Resignation and Frustration Do Battle

Thursday, February 8, 2018 | Tindouf, Algeria (map)

Who could possibly take offense at a McDonald's Happy Meal?

Back in December 2008—a few months into my year-and-a-half stay in Morocco—the country's government was livid when it discovered what toys McDonald's was distributing to kids across the North African kingdom. McDonald's, it turned out, had innocently decided to serve up their local Happy Meals with small plastic maps of Morocco. Just one problem: in Morocco, the map doesn't look like it does anywhere else. Instead, it includes Western Sahara: a vast, sparsely populated expanse of sand and minerals that Morocco vehemently insists constitutes its own "southern provinces"—even if no other country officially recognizes that claim.

The dispute stretches back to—you'll never guess!—the colonial era, when Western Sahara was a Spanish colony. When domestic and international pressures obliged Spain to relinquish the territory in the mid-1970s, Western Sahara fell prey to regional rivalries. Neighboring Morocco and Mauritania swept in, asserting dubious historical claims over the territory. While Mauritania wasn't able to maintain its possession, Morocco made annexation of the Western Sahara its national mission. In 1976, King Hassan II launched the Green March, in which

Americans in Algeria Speaking Arabic

Saturday, January 27, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Interviewing July Blalack at Allaqta's studio in Algiers.
One of the perks and peculiarities of being one of just a handful of Americans here in Algeria is that I get a lot of interesting cold calls from the few American tourists who pass through. Given how little is written on Algeria in English, it makes sense; many English speakers who Google the country land here at my blog sooner or later.

Last summer there were Jeff and Steve, a pair of adventurous guys from Minnesota who had stumbled upon ultra-cheap roundtrip Minneapolis-Algiers tickets and bought them before doing any research. (After they reached out to ask, more or less, "Did we just make a crazy mistake?" I reassured them that they hadn't, and helped them map out an exhilarating 10-day itinerary. We met for lunch on their last day in Algiers. It was great fun all around.)

Not long after, Daniel, an LA-based friend-of-a-friend, got in touch about visiting the Sahraoui refugee camps in Tindouf. I gave him some contacts and advice on logistics, and he ended up taking me with him on his trip! (More on that to come very soon. Update: Read now: "In Tindouf Refugee Camps, Resignation and Frustration Do Battle")

For Sale: "Algeria 2018" Wall Calendars

Thursday, January 18, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

With all my travels and projects in 2017 (ahem, not to mention my day job), free time was at a premium last year. Among other things, it was a challenge to piece together enough hours to prepare my annual Algeria photo calendar. Hoping to gain a little time, I called on a friend's communication agency here in Algiers to help with production... and let's just say it didn't pan out as planned.

But the show must go on! So I have printed an extremely limited run of Algeria 2018 calendars, complete with 12 of my film photos taken across the country and brief accompanying texts. They will be on sale starting from this Saturday, January 20, at two locations in Algiers:
International sales will unfortunately not be available this year. However, I will be holding a free global giveaway via Instagram in the coming days. Follow me at @ibnibnbattuta to participate!

Looking Back on 2017, and Ahead to 2018

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Well, 2017 sure flew by.

Between all my work here in Algiers and travels near and far, it was a blur of a year.

Early in the year, Nina and I partied with friends in Beirut, celebrated a friend's wedding in Rome, hiked Cinque Terre, and explored Paris. Within Algeria, I visited Biskra and El Oued for the first time and returned several times to Oran, among other destinations.

Over the summer, I finally made my first visit to Egypt—and enjoyed it so much that I convinced Nina to return for the year-end holidays. (Now that I've developed my film, expect many photos and stories to follow shortly!)

I also made several trips to the US, including (most exciting of all) the East Coast book tour with Algerian independence hero Zohra Drif and the Just World Books team to promote Inside the Battle of Algiers, my English translation of Mme Drif's memoir, released worldwide in September. While my translation didn't make the

An Afternoon on Oran's Corniche

Sunday, December 24, 2017 | Oran, Algeria (map)

"Harraaaaaaga... babor wla felloucaaaa ?"

"Harraaaaaaga... babor wla felloucaaaa ?"

Emigrating, yes, but in a ship or a rowboat?

One of the many teens shuffling along Oran's seaside corniche, hair gelled heavenward and listless friends in tow, belted out this refrain over and over as he and his posse rambled down the boardwalk.

My tie loosened and suit rumpled after a day of meetings, I sat on a bench, squinting through the evening sun's rays, observing the passers by.

Over the course of several visits to Oran this year, I spent my free time wandering the city and shooting pictures of its many textured corners. But more than any other, I returned repeatedly to the palm-lined corniche that overlooks the port. It wasn't the place itself that continually drew me back, but the people: the couples strolling arm in arm, the aimless young men, the hawkers of miscellany, the selfie-taking teens, and many more.

On this particular afternoon, I sat down with a chwarma sandwich and discretely slipped my old Rolleicord from my briefcase, waiting to see who would pass.

This Is Oran: Radiant, Rhythmic, and Raw

Saturday, December 9, 2017 | Oran, Algeria (map)

Oran's central train station is just one vestige of its colonial past.
Aboard the westbound train from Algiers, it takes a full morning to reach Oran—plenty of time to ponder all the usual surroundings—the scenery, the fellow passengers, your shoes—before working your way down the list until you're pondering the very air around you.

It's an especially vivid air, punctuated by a rhythmic clanking that keeps time alongside the rails' steady, high-pitched hiss. Above the seat backs, the passengers' heads undulate side-to-side in unison as they murmur prayers, rustle through the newspaper, or cluck over children. A thin film of dust tints both the landscape and the car's interior a faint goldenrod. Lacy airborne seeds from a local weed waft through the carriage, glistening and leaping as one each time a mustachioed businessman or anxious mother returns from the café car. As the door crashes open, the wind sweeps in a pungent marriage of manure from the freshly plowed hillsides and the acrid tang of hot steel—an odor from the depths of an industrial cavern somehow misplaced here amid the blinding midday sunlight.

"Inside the Battle of Algiers": Where to Buy, and US Book Tour Info

Thursday, September 7, 2017 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

(Video by Allaqta. Subtitles enabled by default. Video also available on YouTube.)
Inside the Battle of Algiers is officially here! After two long years of translation, I'm excited to share this book—and an important chapter of Algeria's history, from one of its most prominent heros—with the English-speaking world.

Purchasing Information
You can purchase the book today in paperback or e-book form via:
  • the book's publisher, Just World Books,
  • Amazon.com or your local Amazon site, and
  • other major booksellers worldwide. (If your favorite bookseller doesn't stock it, invite them to order here today.)
U.S. Book Tour (UPDATED)
This month I will also accompany Madame Drif on a book tour to several cities on the US east coast. Books will be available for sale and signing at each event:

Washington, DC
  • Monday, Sept. 18, 1:30pm | Woodrow Wilson International Center | RSVP here
  • Tuesday, Sept. 19, 6:00pm | Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Mortara Center for International Studies | RSVP here
New York, NY
  • Thursday, Sept. 21, 12:30pm | New York University Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies | Event details
  • Thursday, Sept. 21, 7:00pm | Alwan Center for the Arts | RSVP here
  • Tuesday, Sept. 26, 7:00pm | Nomad Restaurant | RSVP here
  • Friday, Sept. 29, 6:15pm | Columbia University | Details here
  • Sunday, Oct. 1, 6:00pm | Anthology Film Archives | Tickets here
Boston, MA
  • Monday, Oct. 2, 4:00pm | Harvard University Kennedy School of Government | Event details
  • Wednesday, Oct. 4, 12:00pm | Tufts University Fletcher School | Details here
Finally, if you missed my behind-the-scenes look at the translation process, I think you'll find it an enjoyable introduction to the book: "Translating Madame Drif".

Enjoy your reading!