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!

For Sale: Algeria 2016 Wall Calendars

Monday, December 7, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Need a touch of color in your home or office? Looking for the perfect year-end gift? Just can't get enough Algeria in your life?

Then you're in luck! Ibn Ibn Battuta has just sold out to the man and produced his first merchandise: a 2016 Algeria wall calendar.

The calendar follows my own design, consistent with this site's, and features 12 lush, large-format images from across Algeria (including some that have already appeared on the blog and quite a few that have not). Like the other photos published on this blog in recent years, all images in the calendar were captured on Kodak film using my 1951 Rolleicord camera—a combination that produces uniquely vibrant images.

I have printed 75 copies, and will number and sign each one by hand. They are available for sale here in Algiers only. Order here: http://tiny.cc/algeria2016.

Bou Saada: A Begrudging Appreciation

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 | Bou Saada, Algeria (map)

Under sunny skies, the swimming pool at Bou Saada's Hotel Kerdada looks far more inviting.
That's it?

After six hours dodging reckless truckers along the rain-soaked two-lane highway from Algiers, past mile after mile of dreary fields and depressingly rundown one-horse towns, that was my reaction when we finally pulled the car to a stop in our destination: Bou Saada.

With Nina's parents visiting from Germany, we had been seeking a new destination for a weekend outing, and chose to visit this little oasis town so many friends in Algiers had raved about. But instead of a desert paradise, we found a drab cement-block town that—at least at first view—closely resembled the colorless truck stops we had passed along the way.

In Arabic, Bou Saada translates roughly to "Pleasantville." One of several Algerian towns billed as "the gateway to the desert", it sits inland from the Mediterranean, where the fringes of Algeria's northern highlands yield to the vast Sahara. But the drive had provided yet another hard reminder of Algeria's most constant

In the Latest Belaredj Outing, Remixing Traditions with a Twist on Gender

Tuesday, September 29, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Belaredj founder Souad Douibi models the shanghai, an outfit traditionally worn only by men.
Belaredj, meaning "stork" in Arabic, is a fitting name for an artistic movement whose principal medium is the haïk, the elegant white traditional dress of Algeria's women. But this month the Belaredj collective, led by local artist Souad Douibi, pushed beyond the bounds of its previous performances with an outing centered on the shanghai—the sailor's outfit long favored by the men of Algiers.

Explanations differ as to how men in this North African capital came to wear a blue sailor's outfit named for a city in China. One of the more plausible accounts describes Chinese sailors in the port of Algiers early in the 20th century swapping uniforms with the Algerian dockers, thereby launching a trend that persists until today. (French speakers can read that entire account here, though it is by no means definitive.)

Not that the shanghai is ubiquitous these days on the streets of Algiers. Like the haïk, it is now sported by only a few, usually of a certain advanced age, and more often in the Casbah and other working class neighborhoods.

One thing is certain: the shanghai is definitely not worn by women. And therein lay

My Own Look Back: Jordan, A Decade On

Thursday, September 10, 2015 | Amman, Jordan (map)

Andrew pondering life's mysteries at Dana Nature Reserve in Jordan. (Original photo by J. Ehresman)
This post is a more personal follow-up to my previous entry, "Jordan 2005: Looking Back, A Decade Later".

"Ten years already?!?!" That's what I said to myself earlier this year when I realized that it would soon be a decade since I left my family and college friends back in the US for unknown adventures in Syria and Jordan.

I quietly recognized the first of those anniversaries—that of my arrival in Syria—with one post mourning the country's recent disintegration ("In Syria, Humanity and Heritage Suffer War's Irreparable Devastation") and another reflecting on the difficulties of contributing to solutions from afar ("In Taking Action for Syria, No Easy Answers").

The second anniversary I reached this summer—that of my joyless arrival in Jordan, after spending the summer of my life discovering neighboring Syria—excited me far less. As my friends and longtime readers of this blog know well, I was no fan of Jordan nor of my experience there. Frankly, I was miserable. (Don't believe me? Go back and read my entries from Jordan.) Sure, today it's clear that I was surrounded by a fascinatingly diverse crowd of people, and living with a warm and generous host family that wanted nothing more than to ensure I enjoyed Jordan. But with its Starbucks and strip malls and abundant English speakers, in my eyes Jordan didn't hold a candle to Syria's isolated exoticism, and I spent my time there lamenting my decision not to stay back in Damascus. With that lousy outlook—which was compounded by simultaneous family troubles back home—I set myself up for a bad experience.

Yet my Syria-to-Jordan transition, while painful for me at the time (and probably much more so for those around me), left me with an invaluable life lesson. It will forever serve as my quintessential, hard-earned example of how travel—and life more broadly—gives you back what you put in. My widely divergent experiences in Syria and Jordan were different precisely because of my differences in attitude.

Jordan 2005: Looking Back A Decade Later

Monday, August 31, 2015 | Jordan (map)

Petra, Jordan, September 2005. Standing (left to right): Rob Lowell, Ian Lee, Matthew Southard, Andrew Farrand, Ben Jones, Emily Antoon, Jessica Ehresman, Mike Myers, Tom Hojem, Taylor Luck, Hayden Weiler, DeAnna Arabaty, Julia Robbins, Austin Branion, Lauren Gentry, Ryan Lospaluto. Seated (left to right): tour guide, Andrus Ashoo, Craig Hansen, Kristen Nivling, Lindsey Stephenson, Lindsay Zoeller, David MacDonald, Mariam Banahi, Sami Jarrah, Molly Langer, Emily Wright. Not pictured: organizer Sally Shalabi, Morgan Nilsen.
"I cannot put it simply enough: Jordan shaped me into the man I am today. Those few months would later lead to me finding my religion, my profession, my wife, and personal happiness. A semester well spent."

Taylor, a Chicago-born journalist living in Amman, Jordan, wrote those words last week in response to a survey I sent to 26 fellow Americans.

Exactly ten years earlier, almost to the very day, Taylor, I, and the rest of that same group—then just skittish college students—had been sitting awkwardly in the continental breakfast bar of an Amman hotel, sizing each other up out the corners of our eyes during a crash course in Jordanian culture, all the while eagerly awaiting our host family assignments and the start of Arabic classes a few days later.

I had hopped a taxi there from Damascus. Others had flown from California, Florida, Maine, Missouri, or Wyoming. Some would stay a semester and others a whole year, through a study abroad program run by CIEE in conjunction with AMIDEAST and the University of Jordan.

All of us came to Jordan from different backgrounds, shared several intense months together and, for the most part, went our separate ways. As the 10-year anniversary of our arrival in Jordan approached, I was curious to know where we all ended up. And while it can be fun to play "Where Are They Now?", another question intrigued me even more: How did those few months in the Middle East shape our lives?

To mark the anniversary, I invited my companions in Jordan to help me answer that question. I sent them a brief survey, and received responses from over half the group (16 in fact, with an almost even split between men and women, and between those who stayed one semester or a full year). Perhaps not everyone's life was as transformed as Taylor's was, but this exercise—while far from scientific—revealed a range of experiences even more formative, varied, and fascinating than I had imagined.

Bourek Meets World

Saturday, August 1, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Lucky dog: Several days after his adoption, Bourek has put on weight and gained confidence.
My sister, Maggie, was 8 and I was 11 when our family dog, Ilex, died.

The loss of our childhood companion and protector left an instant void in the house. So the next Christmas, I didn't hesitate in listing "puppy" at the top of my holiday wish list. I wanted a dog of my own so badly that it ached. My mother, mercilessly practical, tried to talk sense into me, pointing out how little time our increasingly busy work, school, and sports schedules permitted us to be home.

Today I can see that she was right—it would have been unfair to the dog. But at the time, I wasn't interested in listening. Until the day I got a puppy, I swore to the whole family, I would call my sister "Puppy". Unfortunately for Maggie, the innocent victim in this battle of wills, I have continued to execute the threat faithfully ever since—long enough for the nickname to stick of its own accord, long

The Good Life, à la Marseillaise

Saturday, July 25, 2015 | Marseille, France (map)

Dining seaside with the crew, including gracious hosts Mendouh and Mohamed, in Havana hats.
Mendouh thinks big. An Algerian Berber raised in southern France, Mendouh now lives in Algiers, running in the same mixed crew of Algerians and expats with whom I spend my evenings and weekends. He was one of the ringleaders of last November's memorable Marseille odyssey—an experience that weighed heavily in my decision to accept his latest invitation.

For his 31st birthday, Mendouh invited 120 friends—childhood buddies from France, drinking buddies from Algiers, plus his mother, brother, and seven sisters—to spend an extended weekend at a countryside villa he rented near the family home in Provence, outside Marseille. Nearly everyone invited made an appearance at some point during the weekend's events, which sprawled over several days at a scale more reminiscent of an extravagant Indian wedding than of your average birthday party.

In Taking Action for Syria, No Easy Answers

Sunday, July 5, 2015 | Syria (map)

Extending a hand: a Greco-Roman mosaic at the Syrian National Museum (Damascus, 2005)
In response to my post last week ("In Syria, Humanity and Heritage Suffer War's Irreparable Devastation"), a regular reader back in the USA wrote me to express his dismay at the state of affairs in Syria: "Why all the killing and destruction? It's just evil... and it seems like it is all around us." He concluded, "[It] seems there is little hope."

When you stop to reflect on the Syrian crisis, it can be easy to reach this conclusion. What hope exists for a place that seems to have generated nothing but bad news for five straight years? For a people whose desperation grows exponentially month after month?

Fatigue with the seemingly intractable sectarian conflicts of the Middle East has pushed many people outside Syria to simply tune out. Many ordinary Syrians feel the international community has abandoned them. (Sadly, it's largely true.) In

In Syria, Humanity and Heritage Suffer War's Irreparable Devastation

Monday, June 29, 2015 | Syria (map)

This church in Quneitra, the largest Syrian city in the Golan Heights, was damaged during the 1967 war with Israel. When I visited in 2005, the devastation visible in the Golan was the exception in Syria.
Ten years ago this month, I quit my summer construction job early and, buoyed by the single year of Arabic studies I then had under my belt, left my friends back at Georgetown and my family back in Baltimore to fly off to Damascus, Syria.

Looking back a decade later, the two brief months I spent in Syria—which I wrote about extensively on this blog—stand out in my mind as some of the happiest of my life, and among the most formative. I spent my weekdays absorbed in Arabic study, advancing swiftly thanks to the patient Syrians all around me. Each weekend, I explored a different part of the country, clambering over ancient ruins, wandering unknown souks, and revelling in Syrians' warm hospitality.

The place wasn't without its frustrations, to be sure—and the political tensions were palpable—but I came away from that summer with a deep reverence and respect for the country, its people, and its heritage.

Today, those fond memories make it that much harder to watch the destruction that is being heaped upon that same country, those same people, and that same heritage. The Syria I fell in love with no longer exists, and will never again exist as such.

Onward

Friday, June 26, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

What progress looks like. (Image source)
Today was a big day.

On three continents, we saw a series of yet more brutal terror attacks—this time leaving dozens dead and wounded in France, in Kuwait, and at a beach just next door in Tunisia.

Back home in the US today, a nation still in mourning after last week's similar killing of nine black worshipers in a South Carolina church finally got some good news. The Supreme Court announced a narrow 5-4 decision extending the right to marry to gay couples.

These seemingly unrelated events coincided today amid the broader era of transition in which we live. The attacks serve as a reminder that we inhabit a world where reactionary forces seek to manipulate violence, fear, or hatred to impose their own views and lifestyles on others at the expense of individual freedoms. The judicial ruling, however, serves as a reminder that it is those of us working to advance personal liberties and freedom of choice who gain the most ground, year after year.

16 Essential Algiers Experiences

Monday, June 8, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Why 16? Each of Algeria's 48 wilayas, or regions, has an assigned number for its license plates. Because plates on every car registered in Algiers end in 16, the number has become synonymous with the city.
After over two years of living and working in Algiers, I have spent considerable time exploring the city and its surroundings, as well as entertaining a handful of adventurous visitors. In the process, I've gotten to know this city well—even if I'm still discovering more each day.

One thing I've learned: there is lots to do here! (Not a surprise in a Mediterranean port of 4 million people that is also the capital of Africa's largest country, and yet its reputation sadly suggests otherwise.)

Distilling all the Algerian capital's unique sights, culture, and activities into one brief not-to-be-missed list isn't easy, but summer tourism season is upon us, and I have to try something to get more of you to visit! (Plus, the country's tourism officials don't seem likely to try it anytime soon.) So without further ado, here is my selection of 16 essential activities that every visitor to Algiers should experience:

The Haïk's Enduring Allure

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Many Algerians consider the haïk to be just as much a symbol of the nation as its physical monuments.
How much power can a few square meters of white silk wield? A lot more than you might think.

That was my conclusion after the latest outing, one sunny Saturday in late March, by the "Belaredj" collective, the cultural group behind the haïk events I tagged along for twice last year. (To learn more, see "Celebrating the Haïk, and Debating an Algerian Icon" and "The Haïk: A Symbol of Algeria's Revolution".)

The unique allure of the haik—the traditional women's dress of Algeria, now rare on the streets of Algiers—was in full evidence at this spring's outing, organized as always by Belaredj's founder, local performance artist Souad Douibi. Souad's other recent events (which she bills as "performances" rather than mere cultural festivals) had garnered increasing attention, as photographers—myself included—inundated Algerian social media with modern images of this classic symbol. In a country so fixated on its history, such images hold particular power, and motivated more than a few photographers to attend this spring's event.

Algiers Photos Featured in L'Eclectique

Monday, April 27, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Une touche de couleur à Alger centre
L'Eclectique Magazine, an online magazine of culture and arts "from Tangier to Baku", has just published a series of my Rolleicord photos of Algiers accompanied by a brief French text on how I came to live here and what the experience is like. It is my honor and pleasure to share the text and photos here, accompanied by a rough English translation. Enjoy:

Taghit: Photos from the Algerian Sahara

Sunday, April 12, 2015 | Taghit, Algeria (map)

A Portuguese Touareg: Jorge disguised in a chèche, the blue scarves favored in the Sahara.
Last month's trip to Taghit, a striking Saharan oasis in western Algeria, was a highlight of my experience here so far. (If you haven't yet, read my write-up of the weekend: "Two Days in the Dunes: The Oasis of Taghit".)

I passed a good portion of the trip snapping shots on my Rolleicord, assuring my travel companions that one day they would indeed get to see the resulting photos. After several weeks of waiting impatiently—and nobody more impatiently than me—that day has arrived. This weekend I was finally able to escape to a city with full-service photo labs to develop these and many other photos.

Enjoy this selection of shots from Taghit and its captivating surroundings:

Where Are You From?

Monday, March 30, 2015

"Where are you from?" It's the first question asked of anyone, anywhere, who seems foreign there. Having often been the random white guy in an east African village or the random anglophone in a Middle Eastern souq, I have fielded the question thousands of times in my own travels, and asked it just as often. As central as it is to the pastime that I love—travel—it is a question with which I have a complicated relationship.

"Where are you from?" An innocent enough question, right? Sort of. I once read that, in a survey, New York City cab drivers listed it as far and away their least favorite thing to be asked by clients. It can grate on expats, like it can grate on ethnic minorities back in America. On some days, however innocent its intention, the question can serve as a reminder that you just don't fit in here. I have definitely felt that sting before, when someone popped the question on me, thousands of miles from home and all that is familiar.

The Casbah of Algiers: an Imperiled Heritage

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 | Casbah of Algiers, Algeria (map)

The Casbah's homes, shops, and other structures, built over centuries with traditional methods and materials, require constant maintenance. Above, braces support a wall in the lower Casbah.
Almost every first-time visitor to the Casbah, the walled historic quarter of Algiers, has the same reaction upon entering: "Wow, this place is amazing." And in almost every case, a second reaction follows right after: "But it sure is in bad shape."

Those were my own reactions on my first visit, during one of my early trips to Algiers. Since moving here two years ago, I've found many more opportunities to explore the Casbah, including some in just the last few weeks. Even today, every time I enter the place, those same two thoughts keep dueling in my head.

* * *

For centuries, the Casbah was Algiers. As I have written before (See "Come With Me To The Casbah"), the old city was the epicenter of Algerian culture and history, and the heart of the resistance against the French colonizers. Even today, the

Two Days in the Dunes: The Oasis of Taghit

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 | Taghit, Algeria (map)

"Swim Taghit": No, we didn't actually swim with the tadpoles. But while waiting to develop my film in a few months, I've gotten creative with some of my camera phone shots. Any buyers?
Just how huge is Algeria? Fly an hour north from the capital, Algiers, and you're scarfing jamón and sipping sangria in southern Spain. But fly two hours southwest to the desert outpost of Béchar and you're still in Algeria, not yet even halfway to the country's most southern reaches. Living in the comfortable Mediterranean bubble of Algiers, it's easy to forget that there's a whole country out there to explore—the largest country in Africa, in fact—but a trip like this offers an unmistakable reminder.

Our destination for the weekend was Taghit, a tiny desert oasis town 1.5 hours drive south from Béchar.

Why come? They made me do it. More specifically, a few friends had been

Walking the Hillsides of Algiers

Saturday, March 7, 2015 | Telemly, Algiers, Algeria (map)

A narrow chute off Boulevard Mohamed V.
For many people, Chutes and Ladders is merely a board game. By contrast, here in Algiers it is the daily experience of navigating the city.

Almost a year ago, in "Around Algiers: Navigating the Invisible City", I wrote about the Algerian capital's circuitous roads and about the hidden staircases that crisscross its punishingly steep hillsides. Since then, I have continued to explore the city on foot, discovering yet more stairs connecting seemingly distant points, and offering the ambitious pedestrian a multitude of serene, jasmine- and bouganvillea-lined passages through town.

Just last month, Nina and I spent a few Saturday afternoons exploring along the hillsides above downtown, in and beyond my neighborhood of Telemly. Even after

Photo Expo: "The Casbah of Algiers, from Yesterday to Today"

Saturday, February 28, 2015 | Casbah of Algiers, Algeria (map)

Coin de la mémoire: One of my photos of the Casbah of Algiers featured in the exposition.
A few months ago, a Facebook group that I follow, called "Friends of Algiers: History, Arts, and Culture", announced plans to organize an exposition celebrating the Casbah, the ancient quarter of Algiers, and issued an open call for artistic submissions.

As a longtime fan of the Casbah, I was excited to participate, and sent the organizers a selection of the many photos I have snapped there with my Rolleicord. A few weeks later, I was happy to hear that five of my shots would be featured in the exposition, "The Casbah of Algiers, from Yesterday to Today", to be organized in the Casbah itself at the National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions.

The expo opened on February 23, Algeria's national "Casbah Day", earning

In Berlin, Encounters with Hipsters Beyond the Wall

Friday, February 27, 2015 | Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany (map)

Berlin blur: exploring Kreuzberg last weekend.
Germany was never high on my list of potential destinations, but something about dating a German girl managed to change my perspective. Nina and I are now back in Algiers after a long weekend in Berlin that was admittedly far more fascinating than I had expected.

We stayed in hipster central: the neighborhood of Kreuzberg (in an Airbnb apartment of course—wait, do people still stay in hotels?) Outside of Brooklyn, you would be hard pressed to find a higher concentration of organic brunch spots, screen printing workshops, vintage shops, graffiti posing as "street art", plus flannel, beards, tattoos, piercings, and all the rest. Once an undesirable quarter abandoned to Berlin's Turkish immigrant community, Kreuzberg has been reborn as an edgy arts district (read: overtaken by hipsters). Strolling through the neighborhood gave me an instant taste of just how alternative a city Berlin is—not

A St. Paul's School Alumni Profile

Friday, February 13, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Yours truly in Marrakech, 2012.
In the latest issue of its quarterly alumni magazine, my high school back in Baltimore featured me in its "Voices from the Hill" alumni profile, reprinted below. Many thanks to Alumni director Charley Mitchell for this nice recognition.
Algiers, Algeria is home to Andrew Farrand '03. He's lived there since 2013, after almost a decade in Washington, D.C., punctuated by frequent travels and over a year living in Morocco. His love of languages has led to fluency in French and intensive study of Arabic, with stints in Damascus and Amman—and even a summer in Tanzania studying Swahili. "I owe Catherine Eiff for all that," Andrew says. "She was my French teacher through much of Upper School, and offered me my first trip abroad: an SP exchange visit to France. That trip was when I first realized I had a knack for languages, and that it was a path to a whole world out there."

Christmas Rendez-Vous: Exploring the Underground and Other Sides of Paris

Thursday, January 29, 2015 | Paris, France (map)

Winter wedding in Paris, a city of old world charm.
Winter just isn't the time to go to Paris.

That was my first conclusion from the Christmas season, when I rendez-voused with my mom and sister for a week in the French capital, followed by a few days there on my own. Paris, so verdant and effervescent when I last visited in the spring, is a chilly, rainy drag of a city in late December. Sure, it's still Paris, but with short and dreary days, it's hardly at its best.

Good weather or bad, our little family had a nice time catching up, as we had the year before in Lisbon. (At least I did, though I can't vouch that my mother and Maggie shared the sentiment!) Our Christmas meetup in Europe—neutral ground between our respective homes of Algiers, Baltimore, and Boston—is fast becoming an annual tradition, as the only time of year when we are all together.

Places to Go: Constantine, Algeria

Thursday, January 22, 2015 | Constantine, Algeria (map)

A 1920s footbridge spans the Rhumel River gorge, connecting Constantine's two halves.
In addition to publishing their annual "52 Places to Go" list every January, each month the New York Times Travel section solicits and publishes readers' "Places to Go" recommendations.

This month I decided to toss my hat in the ring with what I hoped was a unique and timely suggestion: Constantine, the unique and timeless capital of Algeria's east, which I've been lucky enough to visit several times. In my writeup, I packed as much color as I could within the strict 100-word limit, and also submitted three photos:
Constantine clings to the cliffs above Algeria's own grand canyon – the Rhumel River gorge, which plunges hundreds of feet below the city's dozen historic suspension bridges. Though little known abroad, Algeria's third largest city is home to lavish Ottoman palaces, an Oscar Niemeyer-designed university, and ornate hotels from the French colonial era. Timgad, Algeria's most impressive Roman ruin, is just down the road. Constantine's already vibrant cultural scene—the peak of which is an annual summer jazz festival—is getting a boost this year, as the city has been named 2015's "Capital of Arab Culture". Special events are planned year-round.

Arrows from the Bow of Exile

Wednesday, January 14, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

"You shall leave everything you love most: this is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste of others' bread, how salty it is, and know how hard a path it is for one who goes ascending and descending others' stairs."
Background photo by author, in Casbah of Algiers.
Life in North Africa can feel far from home and its many comforts. On the tough days—of which there are many—I sometimes recall this quote I came across last year from Paradiso, the third volume of Dante's Divine Comedy. Somehow, I draw strength from the words, perhaps because they are a reminder that the daily difficulties of life abroad are inevitable, and have always been so.

Are We All Charlie Hebdo?

Thursday, January 8, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

"Love: Stronger than hate." (Source: charliehebdo.fr)
Yesterday, when the news broke of an attack by masked gunmen on the Paris office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the Internet—that worldwide repository of timeless wisdom and oh-so-well-thought-out status updates—was soon plastered with the #WeAreAllCharlie hashtag and its many variations (#IAmCharlie, #JeSuisCharlie, #NousSommesCharlie, etc).

When I saw it, I instantly thought back to Le Monde's famous September 12, 2001 editorial "Nous sommes tous des américains". Many also shared the hashtag out of solidarity with the victims. But statements that some posted alongside the hashtag imbued those simple words with wildly differing meanings: an impassioned defense of free speech, a battle cry for embattled secular values, a simple statement against violence, a denunciation of Islamist terrorism, a cry of French national pride... The reasons people shared those words were infinite.

I realized this a few hours later, as I watched the backlash start. (If you don't live in

"When In Doubt, Go Out": Team Algeria Does Marseille

Saturday, January 3, 2015 | Marseille, France (map)

A partial group shot of the weekend's ever-changing cast of characters, at Chez Etienne pizzeria.
"When in doubt, go out" is a maxim I long ago learned to follow on those nights when a friend calls to invite me out but I'm feeling 50-50 about it. Almost every time, those somehow end up being the quirky, epic, unexpectedly memorable nights out.

In recent years, I've practiced applying that maxim to larger decisions. I now try to beat back my own inner wimp when weighing new jobs, international moves, or the possibility of hopping on airplanes for whirlwind last-minute trips. If you're on the fence, go.

Back in November, a few of my closest Algerian friends were dogging me to join them for a long weekend in Marseille. I had way too much work to do here in