Ibn Ibn Battuta's 2016 in Review

Saturday, December 31, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria

Cranking some film on vacation in Sardinia, 2016. (Photo by Nina.)
In my personal life as in the wider world, 2016 was a year that demanded reflection and reevaluation of many once-firm truths. The third of a trio of year-end posts:

(Read the first here: "Who Am I? Confessions of a Global Citizen" and the second here: "The Year of Throwing Bricks: A Globalist's View of 2016, and the Way Forward")

It would be hard to classify the wider world's 2016 as anything other than an annus horribilis, but this blog—and my creative projects in general—certainly enjoyed many bright moments during the past year.

More than anything, this was the year I gained new appreciation for video as a medium for story-telling. It all started with a friend's suggestion to submit a few photos to Khalf Essoura (meaning "Behind the Image" in Arabic). This program's short clips feature local photographers describing their favorite images; one clip airs each night on Algeria's state-run ENTV, just before the prime-time national newscast. Back in the spring, at a cramped studio in downtown Algiers I recorded descriptions of four of my favorite Rolleicord shots from Algeria. Two of these were broadcast in the following months:

The Year of Throwing Bricks: A Globalist's View of 2016, and the Way Forward

Friday, December 30, 2016

Mark Abramson's double exposures from the campaign trail epitomized 2016's dystopian spirit.   (Source: Wired)
In my personal life as in the wider world, 2016 was a year that demanded reflection and reevaluation of many once-firm truths. The second of a trio of year-end posts:

(Read the first here: "Who Am I? Confessions of a Global Citizen")

Many people are born at the wrong time. Picture a woman with the mind of a brilliant particle physicist, forced to labor as a peasant in the Middle Ages, or a man as strong as Rome's greatest gladiators, slouched behind a guard's desk at a modern-day office park.

In contrast, I consider myself among the lucky few in history to be born in an era when I can flourish. Coming of age at the cusp of the 21st century, the great age of globalization, I am tech savvy, multi-lingual, curious about other peoples and cultures, and eager to travel. I have constructed my globalist identity just as humanity has rapidly grown more interconnected than ever before.

Consequently, as I have emerged as a cosmopolitan "citizen of the world," I have enjoyed the feeling that I am swimming with the current—that I have the right skillset and mindset to thrive in precisely this historical moment. I also continually see more globalists emerging all around me; whether by push or pull, globalization seems to swell our numbers more with each passing year. Sure, I told myself, there's still plenty of people who aren't so interested in embracing the fast-arriving globalized future—and even some who are downright hostile to it—but overall our side is winning.

Then came 2016.

Who Am I? Confessions of a Global Citizen

Thursday, December 29, 2016

In my personal life as in the wider world, 2016 was a year that demanded reflection and reevaluation of many once-firm truths. The first of a trio of year-end posts:

Over the years, as I have matured, enjoyed successes and overcome setbacks, encountered moments of self-doubt and self-discovery, read and traveled widely, reflected and questioned my values and beliefs, an identity has emerged and begun to solidify.

I couldn't yet explain it while I was building it. Not back in my childhood in Baltimore, when I listened, rapt, to my uncles' and grandparents' stories of travels in Albania, Japan, Saudi Arabia. Not in high school, when I spent hours scouring the internet for obscure Algerian raï hits (long before I ever dreamed of actually moving to Algeria). And not yet even at Georgetown, when I plunged into studying Arabic, Portuguese, and Swahili and became travel-obsessed.

It took me until 2016, année de merde, to finally find the words:

Everyone's identity is an amalgam of different layers and characteristics, many of them hinging on gender, race, religion, nationality, political affiliation, class, income, place of origin, sexual orientation, education, etc. But the personal identity that has come into focus for me has not coalesced primarily around any of these traditional categories.

Interview on Algerian TV: El-Merikani Comes to Echourouk Morning

Saturday, December 24, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria

Shortly after last week's live interview on French TV, an Algerian friend and TV host, Younes Sabeur Chérif, invited me to appear on his morning show—Algeria's most popular one—Echourouk Morning. My primary concern as I weighed his offer was the language: this one would be in Arabic.

If doing a live TV interview in French had been invigorating (well, also a little nerve-wracking) then the thought of doing one in Arabic was positively terrifying. But with Younes's reassurance that I could always slip into French when needed, I accepted. Luckily, a decade of studying classical Arabic and various dialects, a few years of bantering with friends and colleagues here in Algeria, and some last-minute prep with my friend Karima all paid off. Though nervous, I managed to get through 9 minutes in a passable Algerian Arabic, describing how I came to Algeria, discussing my photography and calendars, and dodging Younes's questions about the negative aspects of local life. See the full video above or on YouTube. (Sorry, English-speakers, no subtitles are available on this one.)

Thank you to all my Arabic teachers—both official and unofficial ones. My thanks also to all the Algerians who have written to share praise and gratitude.

"The Most Algerian of All Americans": An Interview on France's TV5 Monde

Saturday, December 17, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria

Last month I spent Election Night at the US Embassy here in Algiers, giving live interviews on several Algerian TV stations in which I confidently predicted that common sense would prevail and deliver a Clinton victory.

And this week I gave a live interview on France's TV5 Monde about a far less ambitious subject: my photography and my experience living here in Algeria.

Thankfully only one of these appearances has made its way into the online zeitgeist and lucky for me—given my lousy punditry skills—it was the second.

My interview opened the latest episode of TV5 Monde's "Maghreb-Orient Express," which is the international channel's flagship culture program aimed at audiences from and in the Arab world. The show's producers had contacted me earlier in the fall after seeing my Allaqta profile video to ask if I would like to take part. I only learned a few hours before the interview that it would be broadcast live worldwide—the ultimate French test!

Luckily the presenter, Mohamed Kaci, was kind enough to just ask a few softball questions before closing with a generous plug for my 2017 calendars. Have a look and let me know what you think! (English translation available below.) Enjoy:

For Sale: "Algeria 2017" Wall Calendars

Thursday, December 8, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria

Ibn Ibn Battuta’s “ALGERIA 2017” wall calendars are now on sale! Just like last year, the calendars feature 12 high-quality photos shot on film with my Rolleicord during my travels across Algeria. It includes a wide diversity of regions and shows a mix of Algeria's natural and man-made beauty and daily life scenes.

Buy today to bring some color to your home or office, or to share an Algeria-themed end-of-year gift with friends and family! Supplies are limited, so pick yours up soon at one of these fine establishments.
In Algiers:
If you are interested in place a large order, please contact me directly at ibnibnbattuta@gmail.com.

As always, thank you for your interest and your support.

Who is Andrew? A Second Allaqta Video Profile Gives Answers

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria

"Who is Andrew? The one who loves Algeria" (photo: Allaqta)
After the success of their first video profile on me back in August (which has since racked up over 1.2 million views between Facebook and YouTube) the Allaqta crew was getting a lot of questions. Where did you find this guy? Is he really American? What is he doing in Algeria? Does he really like this country? In short, who is Andrew?

To capitalize on the surprisingly strong reactions to the initial video, they decided to splice together some leftover footage from our interview to create a second video that would tell my personal story in greater detail, and hopefully answer some viewers' questions about my background. This second video dropped last week:

El Watan Profile: "I Photograph Algeria with a Camera Dating from the '50s"

Friday, September 16, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria

This weekend's edition of El Watan, Algeria's most widely read French-language newspaper, includes an interview and profile of me, covering everything from my first visits to Algeria, to my interest in other cultures and languages, to my photography.

My thanks go to the El Watan Week-End team, in particular reporter Faten Hayed, who conducted the interview and then adapted my rambling musings into a concise snapshot—and in much more elegant French than I ever could have managed on my own.

Below is an approximate English translation of the contents, with some links to further info:

"An American in Love with Algeria": The Story Behind the Allaqta Video Profile

Monday, August 29, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria

"Hello Andrew, I hope you are well, are you available for an interview in Algiers? an interview about your work as a blogger and photographer."

That was the message I received on May 29 that started it all. It came from Tarik, one of three young co-founders from the Algerian production company Allaqta (the name means "the shot", as in a TV shot, in Arabic). Three friends who grew up together in Algiers, Tarik, Mohamed, and Ibrahim, had launched Allaqta in 2015 in their spare time, alongside their day jobs in the TV business. By concentrating on producing high-quality, positive content about Algeria's natural beauty, historical sites, and popular culture, in just a year they had managed to quickly build up a massive following—half a million young followers on Facebook (the only measure that counts here in Algeria in 2016).

And now they wanted to make a short video about this curious American living in Algiers. Or as Tarik put it in his next message, when I inquired about their motivations: "... We would like to produce a short or a mini documentary about you,

Uncommon Alger

Sunday, August 21, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria

« Son passé est surchargé des confrontations de l’histoire. Elle est la grande métropole de la rive sud de la Méditerranée. Ni Barcelone, ni Marseille, ni Naples, dans la lumière bleue, Alger la Blanche! »

French-speaking readers, there is your mysterious, enticing introduction. English-speaking readers, let me fill you in: This week I'm proud to announce that the newly published French-language Uncommon Alger is available for sale here in Algiers. I've just picked up my copy today and it is beautiful!

Based in London, Uncommon Guidebooks publish just that—unusual guides to cities around the world that are as much travel guides as unique cultural artifacts in and of themselves. Filled with vivid photos, unique essays, artwork, comics, historical documents, and more, the books capture and convey the atmosphere of a place.

To this new volume on Algiers, I contributed a photo (of women wearing the

Algiers: (Re)navigating the Invisible City

Friday, January 29, 2016 | Algiers, Algeria

The Martyrs' Monument, Algiers' most visible landmark, viewed from the Balcon St. Raphael in El Biar.
A travel magazine that I enjoy held a writing contest just before the holidays. Short on time and inspiration, I refined and combined several of my favorite pieces from this blog about discovering Algiers, based on my experiences exploring the Algerian capital since moving here three years ago. My submission didn't pass muster with the judges, but I find it to be a good overview of the city's unique geography, and so worth sharing here. Enjoy:

Back in my mom's basement in Baltimore, somewhere in a crate full of foreign coins, postcards, and other odd trinkets accumulated from Middle Eastern souqs and African in my travels, sits a magazine article, its left edge ragged where I tore it from an issue of Smithsonian back in 2007. Titled “Save the Casbah”, the article is an ode to the famed Casbah of Algiers, and to the community activists, historians, preservationists, and local residents trying to keep the iconic hillside settlement from crumbling into the sea below.

Out of fascination with this part of the world, I saved the article years ago, long before I ever visited the Algerian capital. Then, in 2012, I made my first visit on an extended work trip, and quickly fell in love. Within a year, I had successfully pushed for reassignment, leaving behind a comfortable life in the US to come explore Algiers' many twists and turns—both physical and unseen.

Timonium to Timimoun: A Very Algerian Christmas Vacation

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 | Timimoun, Algeria

Maggie, tour guide Bachir, and Mom atop a sand dune, watching the sunset outside Timimoun.
My mother could be living a tranquil, delightfully simple life in suburban America if it wasn't for the disturbances that her dear beloved son sometimes foists upon her.

Mom lives in Timonium, a suburb several miles north of the rather rougher Baltimore City neighborhood where she raised me and my sister Maggie. She works at a nearby Catholic girls' school. She goes to book club every week, the gym every day. Her street is quaint and suburban, the lawns all perfectly manicured. The only pedestrians are joggers, dog-walkers, and hop-scotching, jump-roping, bike-riding, unsupervised kids. Every second car that drives by is either an ice cream truck or a fire engine going to extract a kitty cat from a tree.

At Christmas, every window in Timonium is trimmed in festive lights. But rather than enjoy the holiday peacefully at home like her neighbors, Mom accepted my invitation to visit me in Algeria. Maggie joined from Boston. And so several days before Christmas we found ourselves squished into the back seat of a 4x4, careening across rough desert roads and jolting over sand dunes deep in the Sahara.

My Favorite Global Reads of 2015

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Another great 2015 find: French photographer Julien Mauve's "Greetings from Mars" series, an alternately lighthearted and melancholy imagining of what space tourism may one day resemble.
There's never enough time to read them all. But every week, I try to gobble up an enormous quantity and variety of articles, analyses, reflections, memoirs, op-eds, and thought pieces from a range of online and offline sources. In recent years, I have been cataloging my favorite bits each week on sfarjal.com. (If you don't follow it, believe me: you are missing out.)

From among those, here are some of my most favorite pieces from 2015. Some might qualify as "travel writing", while others hew more broadly to this blog's global perspective and mission to inspire greater curiosity about the wider world. Some even go beyond this world. Enjoy: