An Afternoon on Oran's Corniche

Sunday, December 24, 2017 | Oran, Algeria

"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.

Before long, a few betracksuited hustlers approached, flat-brimmed hats cocked askance just so, dangling fake silver and gold chains in my face. I politely refused their offer, but one insisted: "Hey, come on, just buy one at least. Come one, I'll make you a deal. How much you wanna pay?"

But I refused again and again. "Come onnnnnn, khou..."

A boardwalk photographer noticed my Rolleicord tucked carefully beside my leg and stopped in his tracks, craning his neck for a better look.

"Yeah, it's an old one," I confirmed, inviting him over for a peek. He insisted that I pose with it for a photo, and I in turn insisted on shooting him.

"Wait here," he instructed, before darting across the boulevard into a narrow side street.

I finished my sandwich and stared at the diving sea birds until he returned a quarter hour later, breathless, and thrust a stack of printed photos into my hand. I promised to send him his.

A young guy in a knockoff Abercrombie hat noticed me and broke off from his friends. "Hey what's up, khou [bro]? You a photographer or something? Wanna take my picture?"

I smiled and obliged, standing to shoot a few frames of him along the rail.

"Get one like this too, khou." He turned, then turned again, adjusting the pouch of tobacco in his upper lip, and waiting patiently for me to focus and shoot. "And over here too, yeah, yeah like that."

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Billel." He thought a moment. "No, no, it's Billie Ouahran."

"Oh so you're from here? From Oran?" (Ouahran is the city's Arabic name.)

"No, but it's a cool name. I'm from Bab El Oued." Of course. I should have known from the accent, from the outfit... he was from the notorious working-class neighborhood back in Algiers. He and his friends had come to watch the Algiers soccer team take on Oran's, he told me. Their team had lost.

"Khou, can you send me these photos?"

I assured him it wasn't a problem, but he paused, pensive. "No, you know what khou? Send 'em straight to my girl. It'll be, like, a surprise for her. Here's her number..."

Back on my bench, the spring breeze pumped a strong and steady stream of salty air into my face, and the gulls shrieked in the distance. On the mountaintop beside the port, I could see the Fort of Santa Cruz silhouetted by the pink and purple sky.

A man without all his faculties paused to preach to the ships and cranes and cargo containers far below, and to the waves beyond.

The teenagers shuffled along, ogling one another, flirting, cat-calling, and strutting along the walkway—one of the few semi-free, semi-governed public spaces in the city where kids can be themselves.

Epilogue:

Billel's eyes lit up when he saw me from across the train station, and he and his friends dashed through the crowd to intercept me. "Hey! The American! The photographer!"

"Hey khou, we're trying to get back to Algiers but we're out of cash. Can you help us out, khou?"

I smiled and handed over a few bucks' worth of Algerian dinars. "Thanks, khou! You saved us!" They hugged me and slapped my back, then rushed off into the crowd.

A few hours later, on my way to the café car, I passed Billel, hunched low in a window seat, evidently trying to hide his presence. "What's the matter, khou?" I inquired, puzzled.

"We miscalculated the fare, so we could only pay enough to get us to Blida," he replied. "We're hiding for the rest of the way, and if they kick us off, oh well, we'll figure it out!"

For more Rolleicord shots from my recent trips to Oran, visit the full album here.

4 comments:

bright sun said...

The Algerian is really a beautiful country

Anonymous said...

J'adore oran .. Wahran el bahia ��

med wahrani said...

Macha Allah merci frère super

AMAL said...

ماشاء الله

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