Illizi to Djanet Overland: The Lost World of Algeria's Tassili N'Ajjer

Sunday, September 1, 2019 | Tassili-N'Ajjer National Park, Algeria

Sunrise over Issendilene Canyon, in the heart of Algeria's Tassili N'Ajjer National Park
If you’ve never been to the Sahara, chances are you’ve never met anyone as cool as the Touareg. Is charisma in their genes, or is it just in the water down here? Meet them and you’ll be convinced that it is—that a whole population can walk with a regal air, poised and captivating, draped in elegant swathes of brilliant cloth, people of few words with a splash of white smile always at the ready.

Or maybe it’s just that, when you’re on a desert excursion in their world—the deepest reaches of the Sahara Desert—you romanticize those who hold your lives in their hands. And make no mistake, they really do. If, one morning, you would awake to find them nowhere in sight, exposure to the scorching heat would do you in by nightfall, if not earlier. Even today, in the 21st century, the Touaregs who guide visitors in these parts still know how to navigate the brutal landscape from watering hole to watering hole, hidden oasis to hidden oasis, without so much as a glance at a GPS.

Last spring, Nina and I joined three close friends—Belgian-Bulgarian couple Laurent and Dessi, plus our ever-entertaining Spanish buddy Pedro—for a long weekend excursion in the Tassili N’Ajjer National Park, in Algeria’s remote southeast. A UNESCO World Heritage Site slightly larger than Ireland, the region holds over 15,000 prehistoric rock paintings and carvings dating as far back as 10,000 BC, alongside many natural wonders.

Guiding us through this far-flung heart of the Sahara was Ahmed Benhaoued and his team from Admer Voyages. Through no fault of our guides, on the logistical front nearly everything that could go wrong with our trip did go wrong. We had

Andrew Here, Announcing "Andi Hulm"

Sunday, August 4, 2019 | Algiers, Algeria

"Hey, Andrew here. Do you have a dream you want to make reality?"

That's my opening line in the promo for "Andi Hulm", the new entrepreneurship reality TV show premiering this fall on Algeria's Echourouk+ ... with me as host!

This being my personal blog, I don't often write much about my day job with World Learning Algeria, where I'm lucky to meet and work with talented, ambitious young Algerians every day. This new project links that work together with the fun I've had with online video and TV appearances—albeit this time on a much bigger platform.

"Andi Hulm" (عندي حلم, which means "I Have A Dream" in Arabic) is sponsored by the US Embassy in Algiers and the American Chamber of Commerce in Algeria. On the show, young entrepreneurs will complete challenges hosted and judged by leading American and Algerian business owners, competing to win startup cash and other exciting prizes.

It's scheduled to air for 10 weeks this autumn, but first: For a few more days, we're still recruiting participants!

If you're Algerian, between 18-35 years old, and have a great business idea that you're hoping to turn into a reality, this is the chance of a lifetime. Apply here by August 10 to be part of the "Andi Hulm" adventure! If you're selected, you'll join me and the rest of the team for filming later this month in Algiers (all expenses paid), giving a huge boost to your new business right from the start!

Follow "Andi Hulm" on Facebook for news and updates in the coming weeks.

Update: For more details, don't miss this article from World Learning: "New Reality TV Show Will Support Up-and-Coming Entrepreneurs in Algeria".

Panaf: For a Dozen Days in 1969, Algiers was African

Wednesday, July 31, 2019 | Algiers, Algeria

Backstage: One of a series of atmospheric images captured by American photographer Robert Wade at the 1969 Panaf festival in Algiers, Algeria. (See full album here.)
"Muslims go to pilgrimage in Mecca, Christians go to the Vatican, and national liberation movements go to Algiers."

So said the hero of Guinea-Bissau's anti-colonial struggle, Amilcar Cabral, at a conference in the Algerian capital in 1968, when Algiers served as a haven and staging ground for rebels across Africa and beyond, from Nelson Mandela's ANC to freedom fighters from Angola, Mozambique, Palestine, Western Sahara, Zimbabwe, and more. Coming just six short years after Algeria's own hard-earned independence—which inspired anti-colonial dreams across the world—Cabral's pronouncement crystallized the city's reputation and lent Algiers a new moniker: "Mecca of the Revolutionaries." (For more on this era, watch Mohamed Ben Slama's insightful 2017 documentary of the same name.)

The next year, Algiers hosted an event that would further solidify that reputation: the Festival Panafricain d'Alger.

The Panaf took place 50 years ago this week, from July 21 to August 1, 1969, organized by the Algerian government under the aegis of the Organization of African Unity (predecessor to today's African Union). It was one of several high-profile, continent-wide cultural summits held during this period, each with its own flavor. And whatever the OAU's intentions might have been in selecting Algiers as

A Second Chance for Egypt, A Third Way for the Arab World

Sunday, July 28, 2019 | Cairo, Egypt

In downtown Cairo, a minaret casts a shadow on an apartment building housing an El-Ghad Party office.
This is the last in a six-part series on my 2017 trips to Egypt. Read previous entries here: "To Egypt, At Long Last", "Daily Life in Giza, Straight from the Horse's Mouth", "Cairo, Conqueror of Skeptics", "Ancient Egypt in the Modern World: Touring the Pyramids, Luxor, and Beyond", "The Nile: Egypt's Endangered Lifeblood".

Our trips to Egypt also gave me the chance to finally see firsthand the country about which I have spent so much time reading, discussing, and writing since the "Arab Spring" kicked off.

Back in early 2011, media across the world were filled with images of jubilant protesters in Tahrir Square. In Cairo six years later, I got to meet a few ordinary citizens who had been among those crowds. We shared a meal with Fadi and Huda (not their real names), middle-aged professionals whose children were young teenagers at the time of the revolution.

"Did you keep the kids at home?" I asked, when the conversation drifted toward the protest movement that had pushed out longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

"Not at all!" Huda exclaimed, "We were out in Tahrir Square, and we made sure to take them with us."

Huda recounted the story of how their son was spotted by the police while filming on his mobile phone. A cop snatched him, but Huda grabbed her son's leg and

The Nile: Egypt's Endangered Lifeblood

Tuesday, July 16, 2019 | Aswan, Egypt

The triangle-sailed felluca is an icon of the Egyptian Nile.
This is the fifth in a six-part series on my 2017 trips to Egypt. Read previous entries here: "To Egypt, At Long Last", "Daily Life in Giza, Straight from the Horse's Mouth", "Cairo, Conqueror of Skeptics", "Ancient Egypt in the Modern World: Touring the Pyramids, Luxor, and Beyond".

On the map, Egypt looks like a hefty yellow block, roughly as wide as it is long. But so central is the Nile River to life there that nearly all 99 million Egyptians live in just four percent of the country's land, within the two narrow ribbons of habitable green space that flank the Nile along its final 1,600 km course from the Sudanese border to the Mediterranean. (Because the river flows from south to north, geographic references are reversed, with "Upper Egypt" below "Lower Egypt" on the map.) Habitable points in the surrounding desert are few and far between.

The Nile has been the epicenter of Egypt's unusually one-dimensional, inverted geography for millennia. Traditionally, summer floods brought an influx of nutrient-rich waters from the Nile's source in central Africa each year, enabling the ancient Egyptians to plant the crops that sustained some of humanity's greatest empires. To set taxes each year, the pharaohs used specially designed "Nilometers" to measure the high-water mark of the annual floods; higher flood levels meant higher crop yields, and thus higher taxes. In Cairo, I visited the Nilometer at the southern tip of Rawda Island, descending narrow stairs down into a dark well past rings of discolored stone that marked long-ago flood waters.

The Nile doesn't flood anymore. Since 1970, with the completion of the Aswan

Ancient Egypt in the Modern World: Touring the Pyramids, Luxor, and Beyond

Saturday, July 13, 2019 | Luxor, Egypt

Visit the ruins of ancient Egypt and you might just come away with a new appreciation for what humans are capable of. I found the Karnak Temple's hall of mighty pillars, in Luxor, particularly mesmerizing.
This is the fourth in a six-part series on my 2017 trips to Egypt. Read previous entries here: "To Egypt, At Long Last", "Daily Life in Giza, Straight from the Horse's Mouth", "Cairo, Conqueror of Skeptics".

The Ancient

Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only one—the Great Pyramid at Giza—still stands today, and it is a sight to behold.

At nearly 150 meters (500 feet) high, it dwarfs the adjacent pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure, though both are themselves staggeringly large, especially considering the modest tools available to their builders several millennia ago. The Great Pyramid was commissioned to memorialize the Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops), who ruled in the 26th century BC. Cleopatra lived closer to us today than to the Great Pyramid's construction.

If you haven't seen it, it is hard to fathom the Great Pyramid's size until you get close enough to lay your hands directly upon its massive sun-baked granite and limestone blocks. (Many of the blocks were quarried hundreds of miles up the Nile River with nothing more than simple tools, then transported to Giza on barges.) The Great Pyramid alone contains enough stone to build a wall two feet high the entire way around Earth. Oh, and except for a few scattered stones tumbled in long-ago earthquakes, even today you can't mistake the impeccable quality of construction and precision of the design. Egypt's pyramids serve more as

Cairo, Conqueror of Skeptics

Thursday, February 28, 2019 | Cairo, Egypt

From a footbridge connecting Roda Island to the Nile's east bank, it's almost hard to see that you're at the very heart of Cairo, a singular, cacophonous metropolis of 20 million people.
This is the third in a six-part series on my 2017 trips to Egypt. Read the first here: "To Egypt, At Long Last", and second here: "Daily Life in Giza, Straight from the Horse's Mouth".

Cairo's name comes from its founding by early Islamic warriors (القاهرة, al-Qahirah, is Arabic for "the conqueror"), but these days it's the Egyptian capital's staggering size that vanquishes and overwhelms the visitor.

Cairo, the city, holds more people than 46 of the US's 50 states, and more than over two thirds of the countries on Earth. Its population of 20 million exceeds that of the world's bottom 75 countries combined.

With those facts in mind, you can guess what a head-spinning experience it can be to visit Cairo.

And while it was indeed massive and unruly, in truth I didn't find Cairo nearly as chaotic, overwhelming, or generally miserable as I had been led to imagine by decades of exaggeration from friends.

Perhaps it helped that I started slow. Guided by my then girlfriend (now wife) Nina, who lived in the city as a young girl, I got my first taste of Cairo in the care of her close family friends, average Egyptians making ends meet in the down-and-out suburb of Nazlet El-Semman.

Or perhaps it was the Nile, around which the city clustered, as if every structure

Daily Life in Giza, Straight from the Horse's Mouth

Sunday, February 17, 2019 | Nazlet El-Semman, Giza, Egypt

Amr with Sukkar, a hard-charging stallion
This is the second in a six-part series on my 2017 trips to Egypt. Read the first here: "To Egypt, At Long Last".

If Nina had told me, when I first met Amr Ghoneim, that he was Omar Sharif's little brother, I probably would have believed her. Not just because he was Egyptian, or sported a similarly dashing mustache, but because like the famed actor, Amr exuded an unspoken charisma. He used his words sparingly, preferring to let his demeanor do the work of inspiring servers, porters, neighbors, and friends alike to scramble about in anticipation of his bidding.

Amr is the doyen of a vast lower-middle-class family in Nazlet El-Semman, the neighborhood just adjacent to the pyramids of Giza. The area was an outlying village during Amr's childhood in the 1960s, and he and his neighbors still call it "the village", though in reality Nazlet El-Semman has long since been subsumed by Cairo's rapacious spread.

It was here that my Egypt experience began. Wisely, Nina had suggested that we spend three days in Amr's care before heading into central Cairo, where she would attend a conference while I explored. Those days in "the village" gave me a chance to get my cultural bearings before the onslaught of downtown.

It was here too that Nina's own Egypt experience had begun, several decades earlier. Back in the late 1980s, her family had settled here, just down the street