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.