For Sale: "Algeria 2019" Wall Calendars

Saturday, December 8, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria

The New Year is just around the corner, and if my latest article didn't already inspire you to buy Algeria-themed gifts for everyone you know, now is your chance!

For the fourth consecutive year, I have selected 12 of my favorite film photos representing different regions, themes, and perspectives from across Algeria, and published them as a wall calendar. Printed on high-quality semi-gloss paper, "Algeria 2019" calendars are now for sale:

In Algiers:
In Algeria:
  • Order via PayPal here [International orders are now sold out.]

Souvenirs from Algeria: The Best Algerian Gifts & Where To Buy Them

Friday, December 7, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria

Just a few of the trinkets we've accumulated here in Algeria over the years (photo: Nina)
Update (2021): Know someone who wants to discover contemporary Algeria, or who already loves it but wants to understand it better? Give the gift of knowledge through my newly published book, The Algerian Dream: Youth and the Quest for Dignity, now available from booksellers worldwide! Learn more and purchase here.

Surely the largest country in Africa—at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and the Arab world, with its own homegrown Berber traditions—has some souvenirs worth taking home? But of course! It just takes a little searching... or a savvy guide.

While neighboring Morocco has made a name for itself selling exotic trinkets to visitors, with Tunisia not far behind, Algeria's arts and handicraft scenes are much less developed. In part, that's because far fewer tourists visit the country, leaving Algerian artists and artisans with a limited market. But throughout the country, a brave handful have kept many traditional crafts alive, while today a new generation of enterprising creators are experimenting with modern updates and fusing local styles with international ones to great effect.

In nearly six years of living here in Algiers and crisscrossing the country, I've scouted out every potential souvenir I can find. I also recently solicited ideas from my Facebook followers and received some great recommendations! I've reviewed them all and come up with my own (admittedly Algiers-centric) list of favorites.

While many of my selections come down to personal taste, Algeria's artistic scene is diverse enough that there's something for nearly everyone here—including the Algeria-phile on your holiday gift list.

Happy shopping!

All Books Are Sacred: Kamel Daoud in Translation

Friday, November 30, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria

Kamel Daoud in Oran (Source:
Of course, it’s not about absolving the West to please them: I don’t live there and I’m no fan of moral compromises nor of denials. Colonisation was a crime, but so too are our present failures. The elites of the "South" must accept it and stop denying it by accusing those who don’t think like them of being traitors.
Literature is the only nearly universal dialogue of which we are capable and that gives us the unique privilege of making conversation with strangers, with the distant and the dead, with those who are not yet born and those who dislike one another. To read is to soothe, and not just to travel.
These disparate passages both come from Algerian author and journalist Kamel Daoud's latest piece, which I translated for publication yesterday at regional news-and-commentary site Middle East Eye. Daoud originally delivered the text as a public lecture earlier this month in Lausanne, Switzerland. Middle East Eye published it in the original French under the title "Tous les livres sont sacrés" ("All books are sacred"), but selected a more pointed headline for my (uncredited) English translation: "Blaming the West is not enough: We too are responsible for this calamity".

Daoud is best known internationally for his novel Meursault, Contre-Enquête, published in Algeria in 2013, in France in 2014 (where it won the prestigious Prix Goncourt for a début novel), and in English translation in the US in 2016 as The Meursault Investigation. The novel, written as a modern, postcolonial counterpoint to Albert Camus' famous The Stranger, earned Daoud critical acclaim and

Photographs at M Suite Hotel

Monday, October 29, 2018 | Dar El Beïda, Algiers, Algeria

A series of my film photos now grace the walls at the M Suite Hotel, a chic property that opened this month in Dar El Beïda, on the eastern outskirts of Algiers.

To stand apart from the depressingly sterile hotels sprouting up across the capital's suburbs, the M Suite owner chose to highlight Algeria's diverse beauty as the hotel's core concept, selecting different cities and regions as themes for the hotel's 52 rooms. It's a concept I was—no surprise here—eager to contribute to.

For nearly a year, I've been working closely with the hotel's artistic team (from Al Marhoon Gallery) to select and prepare works, ultimately printing and framing several dozen that now hang in rooms celebrating the architectural, natural, and cultural splendor of places like Biskra, Taghit, Algiers, Oran, Constantine, Adrar, and more.

Best of all, my photos stand alongside works from great homegrown photographers, as well as pieces by eminent modern Algerian artists like Mohamed Belaid, Rachid Koraichi, Hamza Bounoua, El Moustache, and others. These works complement built-in architectural accents—from a multi-story moucharabieh screen to each room's unique combination of vivid tiles and and elegant wall inlays—that give the hotel's modern aesthetic an unmistakably local flair.

Featured in "Veiled, Unveiled!" Exhibit

Thursday, October 18, 2018 | Vienna, Austria

Verhüllt, enthüllt! Das Kopftuch @ Weltmuseum Wien
A photo I took early in my Algeria days is featured in an exhibit opening today at the Weltmuseum Wien, the ethnographic museum in Vienna, Austria.

The exhibition, entitled "Veiled, Unveiled!" (such enthusiasm!) features works on the female headscarf ("just a piece of cloth but laden with countless facets of meaning") from its earliest origins to Jewish and Christian traditions to Islam and its association with recent waves of immigration to Austria and the wider EU.

My contribution, a print from one of my early Rolleicord film photos, dates back to a March 2014 cultural event organized by Algerian artist Souad Douibi's Belaredj collective. There, at Souad's direction, young women donned the traditional Algerian haïk—a relic of their grandmothers' era that has nearly disappeared from the streets of Algiers today—and reenacted Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" before parading through downtown. (I'm honored that my photo will appear in the exhibit alongside one by the talented Francis Sistiague, who invited me to that first Belaredj event.)

To see my photo and all the other works, visit the Weltmuseum! The exhibit runs from today through February 26, 2019. Location, hours, and other information are available here.

Marrying the Platypus

Saturday, September 29, 2018 | Kassel, Germany

Nina & Andrew, September 8, 2018 (photo credit: D. Michelmann)
"If you were an animal, which would you be? Which one fits your character best?"

It was August 2016, and Nina and I were lounging with our friend Tania on the grass beside a hotel pool in Algiers, chatting idly as the shadows stretched longer in the late afternoon sun. Over two years had already passed since I had met Nina one evening at the spectacularly unromantic British Embassy pub here. We had taken our first trip together (to Croatia) just weeks later, moved in together the following spring, accepted new contracts so we could stay on in Algiers, and acquired our first dog soon after.

That afternoon, Tania answered her question first—"a tortoise"—and justified her choice (entirely needlessly, since it fit her so perfectly) in her syrupy, melodious Portuguese accent. Next, I vacillated before eventually mumbling something moronic about golden retrievers and raccoons. But when Nina's turn came, she answered decisively: "A platypus."

Chorba Meets Bourek: The Family Grows

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria

Ever since the fateful night, three long years ago, when Nina and I adopted and eventually named Bourek (see "Bourek Meets World"), we've half-joked about getting him a little sister and naming her "Chorba." Doing so—as anyone who's visited Algeria can tell you—would complete the traditional Algerian Ramadan meal of bourek (local spring rolls) and chorba, the tomato-based soup that accompanies them. In Algeria, the pair are as inseparable as spaghetti and meatballs, burgers and fries, or sushi and soy sauce.

Nina, who developed a penchant for rescuing lost animals during her enchanted childhood in Egypt and India, claimed (dubiously) that acquiring a second dog couldn't possibly double the amount of work it takes us to care for a single one.

Unswayed by that math, for several years I resisted her steady pressure campaign, which was fed by a steady stream of images of forlorn street dogs shared online by a local humane society called "El Rifk" (Arabic for "kindness"). Then two weeks ago, Nina's birthday arrived, and my resistance waned.

The family was about to get a little bigger.

"Algeria Viewed By An American"

Friday, August 3, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria

Andrew in Tassili National Park, southeast Algeria, March 2018.
Hard though it is for me to believe, this spring I passed the 5-year mark in Algeria. Time flies when you're having fun.

After all these years living here and exploring the country, I have collected plenty of insights about the place—and about how it looks from an outsider's eyes. Visas & Voyages Algérie (a new web portal offering information for foreigners seeking to visit Algeria and for Algerians traveling abroad) recently interviewed me and published an article ("Tourisme : l'Algérie vue par un Américain") on my view of the country and its potential as a tourist destination.

My English translation is below. Bonne lecture!

Our Less Than Perfect Union

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

On this day, we commemorate the American colonies’ Declaration of Independence, proclaimed in 1776 out of the ambitious belief that, in this New World, it would be possible to build a nation out of the best elements of the Old World, while eschewing its worst excesses and injustices.

It was a declaration written by racists and slaveholders, by settler colonists who believed themselves superior to the native Americans they slaughtered and displaced, by men who believed women had no place in decisions of public affairs.

Fortunately, they grounded their declaration—and the democratic republic they went on to establish—in nobler values than those they themselves lived by: equality, universal human rights, and government by the governed to uphold those rights. These are ideals that we have continued to strive toward, and that have, at many points, made our country a beacon for others in the world.

Our beacon has flickered and waned considerably this year. But our country’s founding principles remain worth celebrating—and striving toward—this day and every day of the year.

Ibn Ibn Battuta's Instagram Favorites: Film Edition

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Film Edition: Featured photos from @psychedelic_blues_film, @thefilmcommunity, @ioegreer, @meganshootsfilm, @miki_rolleilife, @istillshootfilm_official, @photo.filmy, and @shoot_film_. By @ibnibnbattuta.
This is the fourth and final post in my "Instagram Favorites" series. See the previous post here: "Global Edition" and "Middle East & North Africa Edition". For information on my selection criteria, see "Intro".

Film is not dead. Grain is good. Buy film, not megapixels. Stay broke, shoot film.

In our digital age, analog photographers are a haughty bunch, fond of slinging around snobby slogans like these to distinguish ourselves from the unwashed camera-phone-wielding masses. (But hey, give us a break, we invest a lot in making our images, and we cherish them dearly, in a way that digital snappers never can!)

Perhaps it seems ironic that genuine film photographers would find a new communal space on Instagram—a digital platform designed to mimic the look of film while sparing users from all its inconveniences. But in fact, as I wrote recently (see "Nostalgia, Inc.: Photography and Analog Defiance in the Age of Instagram"), it has become a surprisingly enjoyable hub for sharing inspiration, insights, and resources among social-media-literate film photographers.

After all, even if we're not a dying breed, we're certainly still a rare one, and widely dispersed. (Not quite unicorns, but maybe snow leopards.)

Based on my observations, film photographers tend to cluster in places that meet three criteria: a thriving creative class (using film is an art), film labs (no point maintaining costly equipment and chemicals without a critical mass of clients), and fatigue with modern technologies (I've observed this backlash against the cold, hard world of digital most often in high-income countries, but it's spreading). Today's analog resistance flourishes in particular pockets worldwide: Japan and Hong Kong in Asia, Paris and Berlin in Europe, New York City and San Francisco in the US. And of course—though it ain't easy—there are thousands of photographers like myself outside these hubs.

This list highlights my favorite film photography accounts on Instagram, selected according to my initial criteria. Enjoy:

Ibn Ibn Battuta's Instagram Favorites: Algeria Edition

Thursday, June 21, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria

Algeria Edition: Featured photos from @vintagealgeria, @amine_ounas, @shadxxws, @toumache, @rananouille, @med_ab_dz, @amar_mehaya, @hosni_hannoun, and @nomads_of_algeria. By @ibnibnbattuta.
This is the third post in my "Instagram Favorites" series. See the previous posts here: "Global Edition" and "Middle East & North Africa Edition". For information on my selection criteria, see "Intro".

Algeria, North Africa's sleeping giant, is home to some incredibly talented—and unknown—young photographers. While styles vary, there is an emerging class of contemporary artists that, far from shying away from Algeria's ever-present grittiness, embrace it and place it at the very center of their work. The peeling paint, trash-filled alleys, and graffiti-clad ruins that form the backdrop for an ever-growing majority of daily scenes in Algeria's cities and towns become the focus as much as those scenes themselves. Black and white is the favored medium and post-processing is heavy, with contrast jacked way up to highlight gritty textures. (The talented members of the Collective 220 are at the forefront of this movement.)

But in Algeria, as elsewhere, the most talented photographers aren't necessarily the ones behind the best Instagram accounts.

Today's best Algerian photographers overlap with a second group, composed of hardcore enthusiasts. These Instagrammers trend young and are still experimenting, mimicking their peers and idols, and donning and shedding new styles from week to week. They tend to be far too enamored with Adobe LightRoom, favoring an unnatural HDR-heavy aesthetic that isn't my favorite. But they are undeniably expanding the platform, driving usage up in a country where internet penetration is low (even by the standards of the region) but growing fast, where Facebook still dominates the social media landscape, and where photography itself is an exercise fraught with social obstacles.

Algeria's presence on Instagram is still evolving, and hasn't yet matured to the standard of many other countries in the region. Few accounts here can yet compete with the rigorous curation, professional style, or consistent quality of those I shared in my Middle East & North Africa or Global lists, but I expect that will come in time. Here are some of my current favorites, which are certainly well worth following for an inside glimpse into this relatively unknown country. Enjoy:

Ibn Ibn Battuta's Instagram Favorites: Middle East & North Africa Edition

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Middle East & North Africa category: Featured photos from @hafid.marouane, @thekarimphoto, @tasneemalsultan, @arabictypography, @layasmeen, @yasmineharzallah, @strollingplaces, @zamaaan, and @yoriyas.
This is the second post in my "Instagram Favorites" series. See the first post here: "Global Edition". For information on my selection criteria, see "Intro".

In this day and age, anyone who wants to properly understand the greater Middle East & North Africa must first move there, then spend a great deal of time unlearning all that he or she learned back home in order to start again with a fresh perspective and develop a vision more grounded in the region's singular cultural realities. Elsewhere, so much misleading, unfounded, and downright wacky BS is written and shared about this region that it's best to simply experience it for oneself in order to distinguish fact from fiction.

But for those unable to experience it firsthand, the next best thing is to tap media that give a more accurate picture. Instagram is no exception to all this. Whether you're in the region or far away, my recommendation is to follow accounts that present the region (at least somewhat) as its citizens experience it. The accounts in this list can certainly help. Don't expect to see a lot of camels in the desert—expect better.

One way I gain a new, deeper perspective on the region is by following women photographers. In a region with more gender segregation than my own country, it can be especially insightful to follow women, who gain access to a different set of places and moments than I can.

Even if many countries in the region are enduring difficult periods, real life need not always be ugly. As these accounts show, there are many beautiful moments across the Middle East & North Africa every day, sometimes even where you would least expect it.

Moroccans and Tunisians show some strong game, and thus are overrepresented in this list, but it also includes Egyptian, Bahraini, Lebanese, Saudi, Emirati, and Iranian artists and more. (Algerians get their own entry all to themselves, so aren't included here.) Enjoy:

Ibn Ibn Battuta's Instagram Favorites: Global Edition

Friday, June 15, 2018

Global category: Featured photos from @arnaudmontagard, @theadventurehandbook, @toby.harvard, @lucylaucht, @rjisely, @romdilon, @boy.hill, @cedricroux, and @lifeof_riley. By @ibnbnbattuta.
This is the first post in my "Instagram Favorites" series. To understand how I chose them, see "Intro".

Confession: I did a terrible job whittling this list down. This first installment of my "Instagram Favorites" series was certainly the hardest to keep brief, given all the amazing photographers out there.

And long as it is, this list isn't even complete. Missing from it are my favorite film photographers' accounts, my favorite accounts from the Middle East and North Africa, and with them my favorites from Algeria. Stay tuned—I'll be highlighting those categories in special posts in the coming days.

This list includes my favorite aggregator and individual accounts from the "general" category. While individual accounts are self-explanatory, aggregator accounts (my term, since I couldn't find a better one elsewhere) are those that combine works from many artists, providing a wider range of perspectives, styles, and inspiration. As a content creator myself, I only follow those that give proper attribution. Beyond that requirement, I simply try to follow aggregators that balance diversity of perspectives with consistently high quality.

The accounts below don't necessarily belong to the world's best photographers, nor are they the ones with the greatest audiences. (Some have just a few hundred followers!) But to the last, they conform to the criteria I outlined in the introduction to this series, and they're just really damn stimulating. Enjoy:

Ibn Ibn Battuta's Instagram Favorites: Intro

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

In my last post ("Nostalgia, Inc: Photography and Analog Defiance in the Age of Instagram"), I delved deep into my generation's peculiar nostalgic urges, and meditated on what is perhaps our favorite outlet for filtering our present world through the lens of the past—Instagram.

But to be fair, not all users see the platform as a vehicle for plunging into that sepia-tinted retroscape. Aesthetic preferences on Instagram vary as widely as the personalities behind the accounts.

While writing that last post and pondering the platform a little more deeply, I started wondering: As both a creator and consumer of photography, what kinds of images do I love?

One thing led to another, and soon I found myself scrutinizing every account I follow, shedding nearly all of them and whittling my bloated list down to just the best of the best, which I've decided to share with you here. In the next few days, I'll be presenting my absolute favorites in hopes that you might enjoy them as much as I do. Stay tuned!

But first, a quick note on how I chose them—based on how I use Instagram and what I seek as inspiration for my own creative pursuits:

Nostalgia, Inc: Photography and Analog Defiance in the Age of Instagram

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Old technology in a new century: An antique film camera is not a mere tool for creating photographs, but an object unto itself, worthy of preservation and marvel. And yes, it takes gorgeous photos.
Oddly enough, as the turn of the last century fades into memory and we sink our teeth fully into the meat of this mad new era, my generation sometimes seems to be looking only backward.

Consider the hipster, that enduring (if not endearing) Brooklyn- or Beirut- or Bangkok-dwelling icon of us older Millennials. Globally, there are many variations. The most stereotypical one—the American male version—patronizes classic barber shops, sports a (faux-)vintage wardrobe heavy on flannel, rides a fixie, listens to vinyl, subsists on artisanal lattés and craft cocktails and organic produce, and meticulously grooms his lumberjack beard. And of course, if he owns a camera other than his treasured iPhone, it's sure to be an antique film camera.

Our cohort's animating ethos, if one could boil it down, seems simple: The good old days have never looked better.

People and Stories: "Foreigners Who Love Algeria" Edition

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria

Watch the full "Foreigners Who Love Algeria" episode on YouTube.
Last night, Algerian television channel El Djazairia One aired a 90-minute edition of its regular Arabic-language talk show "People and Stories" ("Ness w Hyakat - ناس وحكايات") on the theme of "Foreigners Who Love Algeria" ("أجانب يحبون الجزائر").

I joined Magdoulina from Russia, Jérôme from France, Georges the pied noir of Maltese origin, Hirofumi from Japan, and a local sociologist as guests on the show, which we taped several days earlier in a studio outside Algiers. Interspersed throughout the dialogue were short video profiles the producers had previously recorded at our homes, complete with interviews of our friends. (Thank you to my dear friend Mohamed for his kind words about me!)

While the episode's theme might sound innocuous to outsiders, in this peculiar country it proved provocative—just as the show's producers knew it would. How so? Because the suggestion that foreigners could love Algeria, simply and without reserve, conflicts with the traumatized affection that quite a few Algerians feel for their country, which they love out of genuine patriotism but nonetheless seek to flee, propelled by frustration and lack of opportunity. Allow me to explain:

In Tindouf Refugee Camps, Resignation and Frustration Do Battle

Thursday, February 8, 2018 | Tindouf, Algeria

Who could possibly take offense at a McDonald's Happy Meal?

Back in December 2008—a few months into my year-and-a-half stay in Morocco—the country's government was livid when it discovered what toys McDonald's was distributing to kids across the North African kingdom. McDonald's, it turned out, had innocently decided to serve up their local Happy Meals with small plastic maps of Morocco. Just one problem: in Morocco, the map doesn't look like it does anywhere else. Instead, it includes Western Sahara: a vast, sparsely populated expanse of sand and minerals that Morocco vehemently insists constitutes its own "southern provinces"—even if no other country officially recognizes that claim.

The dispute stretches back to—you'll never guess!—the colonial era, when Western Sahara was a Spanish colony. When domestic and international pressures obliged Spain to relinquish the territory in the mid-1970s, Western Sahara fell prey to regional rivalries. Neighboring Morocco and Mauritania swept in, asserting dubious historical claims over the territory. While Mauritania wasn't able to maintain its possession, Morocco made annexation of the Western Sahara its national mission. In 1976, King Hassan II launched the Green March, in which

Americans in Algeria Speaking Arabic

Saturday, January 27, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria

Interviewing July Blalack at Allaqta's studio in Algiers.
One of the perks and peculiarities of being one of just a handful of Americans here in Algeria is that I get a lot of interesting cold calls from the few American tourists who pass through. Given how little is written on Algeria in English, it makes sense; many English speakers who Google the country land here at my blog sooner or later.

Last summer there were Jeff and Steve, a pair of adventurous guys from Minnesota who had stumbled upon ultra-cheap roundtrip Minneapolis-Algiers tickets and bought them before doing any research. (After they reached out to ask, more or less, "Did we just make a crazy mistake?" I reassured them that they hadn't, and helped them map out an exhilarating 10-day itinerary. We met for lunch on their last day in Algiers. It was great fun all around.)

Not long after, Daniel, an LA-based friend-of-a-friend, got in touch about visiting the Sahraoui refugee camps in Tindouf. I gave him some contacts and advice on logistics, and he ended up taking me with him on his trip! (More on that to come very soon. Update: Read now: "In Tindouf Refugee Camps, Resignation and Frustration Do Battle")

For Sale: "Algeria 2018" Wall Calendars

Thursday, January 18, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria

With all my travels and projects in 2017 (ahem, not to mention my day job), free time was at a premium last year. Among other things, it was a challenge to piece together enough hours to prepare my annual Algeria photo calendar. Hoping to gain a little time, I called on a friend's communication agency here in Algiers to help with production... and let's just say it didn't pan out as planned.

But the show must go on! So I have printed an extremely limited run of Algeria 2018 calendars, complete with 12 of my film photos taken across the country and brief accompanying texts. They will be on sale starting from this Saturday, January 20, at two locations in Algiers:
International sales will unfortunately not be available this year. However, I will be holding a free global giveaway via Instagram in the coming days. Follow me at @ibnibnbattuta to participate!

Looking Back on 2017, and Ahead to 2018

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Well, 2017 sure flew by.

Between all my work here in Algiers and travels near and far, it was a blur of a year.

Early in the year, Nina and I partied with friends in Beirut, celebrated a friend's wedding in Rome, hiked Cinque Terre, and explored Paris. Within Algeria, I visited Biskra and El Oued for the first time and returned several times to Oran, among other destinations.

Over the summer, I finally made my first visit to Egypt—and enjoyed it so much that I convinced Nina to return for the year-end holidays. (Now that I've developed my film, expect many photos and stories to follow shortly!)

I also made several trips to the US, including (most exciting of all) the East Coast book tour with Algerian independence hero Zohra Drif and the Just World Books team to promote Inside the Battle of Algiers, my English translation of Mme Drif's memoir, released worldwide in September. While my translation didn't make the