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.

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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