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!

Translating Madame Drif

Monday, September 4, 2017 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Six decades after executing the attack that made her a wanted woman and changed her country's history, Zohra Drif has no apologies and, at 82, remains every bit the warrior. (Photo: A. Farrand, 2017)
"I have a bomb down in the basement. I should really go get it out of there."

The dignified elderly woman seated beside me on the sofa tried to swallow a chuckle as my gaze snapped up from the scrawled-over pages spread across my lap. "Pardon?" I stammered out.

It was a Saturday morning back in March, and I was in a sunlit home on a serene Algiers hilltop, fully absorbed in debating final edits to my host's memoir, when she so casually mentioned the bomb.

But her admission shouldn't have surprised me, since this was no average octogenarian. No, this was Zohra Drif, the freedom fighter who, as a young law student in 1956, carried out the bombing that would prove one of the most decisive acts of Algeria's liberation war.

"Oui, j'ai une bombe," she confirmed, in her typical flawless French. "Well, it's a sort of shell of one…" Years ago, she explained, a farmer had offered it to her husband, Rabah Bitat, one of the original architects of Algeria's revolution and, like her, a prominent post-independence leader. "The freedom fighters used to stash them in private families' homes for safekeeping from the French patrols." Returning the bomb he had faithfully kept hidden away for decades was this farmer's way of showing his loyalty to his country and its revolutionary heroes.

"Anyway," she continued, "It's a kind of cylinder shape, and when you shake it you hear all sorts of nails and things rattling inside..."

When you shake it. Because of course, being the fearless Zohra Drif, she would shake the bomb.

Young Algerians, Tell Us Your Stories! A Video from WikiStage Algiers

Wednesday, August 30, 2017 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Video of my presentation on the importance of storytelling at WikiStage Algiers 2016. Translated subtitle translation available for those who don't speak French. (Click here to watch on YouTube.)
Say what you will about Algerians, but they sure aren't boring. All over the world, everyone has a story to tell, but that seems especially true of Algerians—and all the more so given how isolated the country is, and how few chances Algerians have to share their stories with the wider world.

Back in December I delivered a talk at a TEDx-style event here called WikiStage Algiers, organized by a prominent local university club and attended by several thousand local students and youth. (If you missed it, be sure to read my previous article on that experience: "WikiStage Algiers: Young Algerians Tell Their Stories")

This week the organizers published the above video of my talk. (I spoke in French, guessing that would be the best way to connect with my audience, but for non-French-speakers YouTube offers translated subtitles in the video settings menu.)

In my talk, I discussed the importance of storytelling and urged Algerian youth to share more stories in whatever form they prefer. I closed by inviting young people in the audience (or even their friends or others) to send me short stories, promising to select a series for publication here on my blog. I published those earlier this year, but want to let everyone know: My offer remains open. I'm collecting a new round of stories and will publish a second series as soon as I receive enough submissions. Similarly, I encourage any aspiring young Algerian filmmakers to enter the "Algeria's Best Kept Secret" film contest throughout the month of September 2017. 

Thank you again to the talented organizers of WikiStage Algiers for giving me the opportunity to share this message with young Algerians. Keep telling your stories!

This is Paris: City of Two Faces

Monday, August 28, 2017 | Paris, France (map)

Paris's Museum of Natural History, which few tourists find time to visit, contains several imposing galleries of skeletons, all arranged by Victorian-era curators and seemingly untouched ever since.
Understandably, most visitors to Paris can only stay long enough to see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, and similar must-see attractions. With few exceptions, those classic destinations are classic for a reason, and well worth seeing, but spend more time in the city and you'll have the chance to explore the up-and-coming and edgy, the multicultural and worldly, the odd and the downright macabre.

Having returned many times over the past years (it's just a quick 2.5-hour hop from Algiers—short enough to make a weekend of it), I've managed to work my way down the list and see several of the oddities that—unbeknownst to many visitors—are among the city's most intriguing sites.