More Travels with Rollei

Friday, November 22, 2013

Back in June, locals spent a Saturday watching the waves along the Mediterranean coast west of Algiers.
The lady friend and I had planned a long weekend in Paris primarily to catch up with each other, but I was also very excited to develop the film I had been accumulating for six months, ever since leaving DC. In Algeria, photo shop staff laugh when I ask if they can develop film. But in Paris I discovered that almost every corner photo lab both develops and sells the specialty 120-format film that my Rollei uses.

In a rare moment when we weren't stuffing ourselves with bread and cheese, I biked to one lab to drop off nine rolls of film. Then I waited and worried: After dragging the film all over the world—through the Algerian summer sun, the Swahili coast's humidity, and dozens of airport x-ray scanners—would it be salvageable? Would any of the pictures even be any good?

What a relief, then, to finally pick up the photos and learn that they had all turned out better than I could have imagined. Paging through shots from around Algiers, from this summer's trip to Burundi and Lamu, and from my visit to Constantine and Timgad, I was amazed all over again at how this rudimentary little box that's been knocking around more than twice as long as I've been alive can still capture such images, even in the hands of someone still learning how to use it.

Without further ado, here are the latest:

With Help from the Rollei, Making Friends in Lamu

Monday, November 18, 2013 | Lamu, Kenya (map)

At left, friendly Lou Shauri relaxed with his friend Abbas beside Lamu's town square.
During our time in Lamu back in August, I found that just showing the Rollei a bit more overtly made it a great tool for meeting new people. Its appearance in the hands of a peculiar blond-haired mzungu seemed to surprise many, and instantly invited conversation.

Late one afternoon, I was strolling among the fruit and vegetable sellers who had spread their wares across Lamu's main square, looking for photo opportunities in the dappled light sneaking through the grand trees overhead. A man selling used sandals and shoes from a blanket stopped his work to ask me all about the camera, grinning with fascination as I told its story. "1951?! Mm, mm, mm…"

Across the square, I paused to load a new roll of film, and attracted the attention of another local, Lou Shauri, who was lounging with his friend and waiting for iftaar to arrive. Lou was a Lamu native, but told me how he left the island at age 23 to come live in the US. He had spent the last three decades in Columbus, Ohio, where he has a family, but returns regularly to Lamu for his holidays.

House Hunters International, Algiers: Episode 3, "Is It Over Yet?"

Sunday, November 10, 2013 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

What do you say to a gift like that? I was damn near speechless.
The joys of homemaking in Algiers continue where they left off (see Episode 1, "It's Worth It for the View" and Episode 2, "MacGyver's Revenge").

October

By the time October rolled around, my apartment was finally starting to look like a proper home, except that I still had no bedroom door, no lamps, and a satellite dish that picked up only German channels. As the extended Algerian summer finally faded away, the long-promised patio furniture and barbecue for the terrace—probably the features I had been most excited for back in June—were still nowhere to be found.

The first fall storm brought water creeping in from all sides. Hamid—jack of all trades, master of none—was soon up on the roof, first to jerry-rig some temporary gutters from chewing gum and water bottles, and then, in the following days, to build proper ones. (They sloped toward the middle. No surprise then, that the season's second storm brought more water damage. Soon after, a man with an eye patch was working on the roof; we'll see how his gutters fare.)

House Hunters International, Algiers: Episode 2, "MacGyver's Revenge"

Saturday, November 9, 2013 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Hamid (left) and Jaouad (right) enjoy some coffee before getting started on the day's work.
The joys of homemaking in Algiers continue from where they left off (see Episode 1, "It's Worth It for the View").

July

Hamid wiped off some snot with a wrinkled forearm and squinted at me through his Coke-bottle glasses, over a bulbous nose and bushy gray mustache. It was hard not to feel sorry for him as he whistled at me through the gummy space where his front teeth once were, now just framed by the odd browned incisor: "Andrew, je suis tres fatigué aujourd'hui. Tu sais, Monsieur Andrew?" Yes, Hamid, I know you're tired today. It was Ramadan, after all, and scorching hot at midday.

As a result, progress on the apartments had slowed to a crawl. The oft-promised "ten more days" slipped further behind us as July wore on. But not to worry, realtor-turned-contractor Reda and his band of merry men were still on the job.

One day I entered the villa's foyer and almost tripped over Hamid, who was standing in the entryway, his pants around his ankles. He yanked them up and refastened his belt. No explanation offered.

House Hunters International, Algiers: Episode 1, "It's Worth It for the View"

Friday, November 8, 2013 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

In June, the magnificent view of the Mediterranean from my kitchen was not yet hindered by silly things like windows.
Soon after shipping off to Algiers back in June, I and another recently arrived colleague visited a series of apartments around town, hoping to find the perfect homes.

We saw an apartment irreparably infused with the stench of a fishmonger two stories below, an otherwise beautiful apartment with all the windows bricked up, an apartment decorated in Rolling Stones lips motifs, and more.

Our guide for these visits was a giggly real estate agent named Reda, who finally did come through when he showed us a villa on the pleasant hillside neighborhood of Telemly, overlooking the port of Algiers. Sure, all the apartments in the villa needed some work, but what potential, and oh what a view...

The owner, a jovial middle-aged businessman named Aziz, assured us that he would need just a little more time to finish the work—"Nothing to worry about; we'll take care of it. Another ten days or so." That was the beginning of June—and the beginning of a very long adventure.