2019: The Year in Review

Tuesday, December 31, 2019 | Algiers, Algeria

2019 Best Nine: My most popular shots from the year on Instagram (@ibnibnbattuta)
Viewed from above, we exit the 2010s while spinning out of control, the old established order now a shambles. Viewed from below, we close the decade with reclaimed agency, every "me" an island speaking "my truth".

In the struggle between institutions and individuals, institutions lost this round badly. New technologies overwhelmed human societies' traditional guardrails in the 2010s, giving individuals the means to run amok, the freedom to write their own rules, but few scaffolds on which to build common projects. From Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring, Brexit to Hong Kong, the results have leaned heavily toward destruction. (Of course, whether one sees such destruction as positive or negative depends on which institution is in the crosshairs.)

Nina and I began 2019 by watching, bemused, as news of our wedding unexpectedly went viral in the Algerian media. But these days, there are no more untouched backwaters, not even Algeria, so wider trends arrived at last. In February, Algerians rose up in a popular movement, or hirak, calling for sweeping leadership change. Breaking points long predicted had finally arrived.

I followed events intently, but have tried to keep a respectful distance. We spent our year learning, striving, and exploring as always, including here in Algeria and through trips to Austria, Germany, Morocco, Tunisia, the UK, and the US. Unlike in years past, I traveled relatively little within Algeria, but took time to film an Algerian reality TV show (forthcoming in 2020).

Before we embark on a new year and new decade, here are a few highlights from 2019:

Ibn Ibn Battuta

Here on the blog, I first caught up on earlier trips to Egypt (culminating in one of my most important posts, "A Second Chance for Egypt, A Third Way for the Arab World"), followed by a few within Algeria: Tassili National Park, Tamanrasset, and Tlemcen.

I reminisced about the 1969 Panaf Festival of Algiers, announced the forthcoming "Andi Hulm"/"I Have A Dream" reality show, and catalogued this year's travels to Bou Saada, Morocco, Tunisia. I also finally visited California, and pondered the dizzying contrasts of San Francisco.

In the weeks ahead, stay tuned for articles on a few other trips from 2019. (Update: Don't miss new articles published on our 2019 trips to Austria, London, Montreal, and Colorado.)

Media & Influences

Outside Algeria, 2019 delivered a steady stream of horrors and disappointments across the wider world; some "best year ever" that was. There were rare points of light—think the Women's World Cup of soccer, a certain impeachment, and Baby Yoda. Throughout 2019, I found escape or insights from a variety of sources; along the way I continuously shared the best ones on Sfarjal and Twitter, but recommend these most highly:

On television (if we still call it that), Black Mirror remained best in show. Bureau des L├ęgendes, The Expanse, and Stranger Things continued to provide great entertainment. Maniac was surreal and fascinating, The Handmaid's Tale gripping and eerie, and The Mandalorian just good fun. I watched Game of Thrones from start to finish, then pondered what, if anything, it meant. (Zeynep Tufekci had perhaps the best take on that question this year.) Dark remained excellent, going deeper down the rabbit hole in exploring the nature of time.

Although movies paled yet again in comparison to the intricate long-form storytelling on the small screen, I did enjoy Star Wars: Episode IX.

I read too few books, continuing to get bogged down in Books I Should Read rather than enjoying Books That Are Actually Fun To Read.

But I devoured articles in search of explanations of our confounding new world, this alternate dimension we seem to have entered a few years back and still struggle to understand and navigate. A few stood out this year:
Other favorites this year ranged from the fascinating...
... to the thought-provoking...
... to the downright bizarre:
Podcasts again provided me a great torrent of insights and inspiration this year, with Tyler Cowen's Conversations with Tyler, Monocle's The Foreign Desk, NPR's How I Built This, and Kerning Cultures standing out as favorites. Best episodes included Richard Baldwin on globalization and robotics, Margaret Atwood on writing, Peter Hessler on the nature of revolution in China and Egypt, Ted Gioia on culture and cool, Anand Giridharadas on elite philanthropy, Matt Stoller on the dangers of monopoly, and street-level perspectives from the Hong Kong protests.

Looking Ahead

With Algerians focused on larger questions and life moving fast, I decided (albeit with mixed feelings) not to produce a 2020 Algeria photo calendar.

There will be many more changes in the year ahead as well—including our anticipated departure from Algeria, already known as Bourexit. Much more to follow soon.

Thank you all for reading. Be well, and safe travels!

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