The International Writers Magazine: Comment
Fred C Wilson 111
Algeria is a huge hunk of land on top of Africa. Its cities are quaint, exotic, mysterious and hot. Their many mosques, French architecture leftovers from colonial times, the cashahs, tiny picturesque streets with alleys that zigzag, open air markets, the exotic sounds of Muezzin calling Muslim faithful for prayer, are unique to Algeria’s teeming cities.
If you’ve seen movie classic ‘Casablanca’ you’ll get an idea of the unique quality of Algeria’s urban centers. Just the cities alone justify a trip to that North African country.
Algeria’s official name the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria is a turn off. I don’t know anybody eager to travel to a People’s Democratic Republic of anything let alone one known historically as the pirate capitol of the Mediterranean and a present day haven for terror factions. Algiers became the national capitol during Roman times. The world’s 10th largest country became the largest on the continent after Sudan split up. It shares borders with Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Europe across the Mediterranean Sea to its north. The coastline was once a haven for the infamous Barbary Pirates who used to raid Europe’s sea coasts, capture Christians, and then auction them off as slaves if they weren’t ransomed. The pirates were feared for their audacious raids along the Atlantic coasts. It took four U.S. presidents to deal the death blow to those roving sea thugs. After five centuries of maritime terrorism Western countries who were victimized haven’t forgotten nor forgiven Algeria’s historical misdeeds.
||There’s not much you can say about the geographical layout of Algeria; its 80-90% sand. The Sahara desert comprises most of the country. To some riding camelback through hill high sand dunes conjures up images of 1920’s film idol Rudolph Valentino, Lawrence of Arabia and other romantic figures galloping through the dunes. If this works for you; fine; go for it. I personally don’t like deserts; they’re miserably hot during days, cold as hell at night.
I and my ex-brother-in-law almost died in a desert; Christoffelpark Curacao. It was Noon and very hot. We were trying to exit the park but got lost. After hours of wandering through this mini-desert with no water and the hot sun beating down on our heads our bodies dripped rivulets of sweat as we baked in the scorching desert sun. Our clothes were ring and wet with sweat. Our thirst became unbearable. Our plight was out of an old war movie about soldiers frying under the desert sun after getting lost from their units in the heat of some battle. We felt we were slowly dying from dehydration. Bones of dead animals lay bleaching in the sun. Vultures and other large birds circled above waiting for us to drop. We managed to get out alive minutes before park security were to organize a search party. Once outside we quenched our thirsts with bottles of icy cold Amstel beer. That desert was small in comparison to the mighty Sahara but still large enough to kill unwary hikers.
My idea of fun doesn’t include deserts. For me after a nice morning swim, an all-you-can-eat breakfast, lounging around the pool drink in hand looking out over the blue Mediterranean, an afternoon nap in my air conditioned room knowing that I have an option of touring the town in the cool of the Algerian evening sure beats trekking across some hot ass desert.
Algeria is governed under the Constitution of 1976. Similar to U.S. presidents, President Abdelaziz Boutefika is Algeria’s head of state, chief executive, and Commander-in-chief of Algeria’s armed forces all rolled in to one. Unlike his American counterpart he serves for five years and his term can be renewed indefinitely. Algeria’s bicameral parliament consists of a 362 seat National People’s Assembly. Algeria’s Parliamentarians serve five year terms. They are elected by popular vote.
||The 144 member Council of Nations serve six year terms. One third of the Council is appointed by the president the rest are elected by indirect vote. The country is divided up into 48 administrative districts. Algiers is the national capitol, the Algerian Dinar the national currency, and the traditional Islamic star and crescent emblazons their flag.
|People are the same wherever you go. Most are pretty decent some aren’t. Before my legs went bad I’ve visited quite a few countries, 40 American states and most Canadian provinces. I discovered if you give respect you get respect. If you boogie in like the ‘Ugly American’ bad things will happen. If you’re contemplating a vacation to a living page out of the ‘Arabian Knights’ or want to meet the Algerian people log in to http://www.algeria.com/ and speak person-to-person with folks who have similar interests.
This comprehensive website list ticket prices, lodgings, a pricing scale, guided tours, hosts a chat line, Algerian current events and other things of interest.
Algeria has its fair share of illuminati. World class writer-philosopher Nobel Laureate Albert Camus comes to mind. Born in 1913 a year before the out break of World War I Camus grew up poor; his body of work reflect his humble beginnings.
|| He rose from poverty to study at the University of Algiers in 1930. Not the nerdy type he was a hands on intellectual and goal keeper for his university’s soccer team. Bad luck dogged him. The brilliant young man contacted tuberculosis and killed his athletic career. After a lifetime of penning earth shaking literary masterpieces, The Plague, The Stranger etc, getting kicked out of the Communist Party, serving with the French Resistance during World War II, and involved in a series of disastrous love affairs Camus died in a car accident at the young age of 46.
Algerian feminist-writer-activist-youth worker Samira Bellil and Camus had similar childhoods; hard. If you read her life story you should feel both sad and angry at the abuse this poor woman took. Born to Algerian parents during the troubles between Algeria and France Samira’s family immigrated to Paris. They settled in Val-d’Oise a Parisian suburb. Caught between two conflicting cultures one Muslim, the other European, young Samira rebelled. She wanted to live the ordinary life of a modern French woman sans cultural restrictions. Young Samira paid dearly for her freedom.
When 14 she was raped and beaten by a gang of men from her neighborhood. They savaged the girl all night. Her crime; she wanted to be a free woman. About a month later while on a train, the same gang dragged her off the train, raped and beat her again! Witnessing the commotion the other passengers ignored her screams and looked the other way. Samira knew her rapists but did nothing. She feared swift retaliation from her immigrant community. Eventually girl friends told her of similar incidents happening to them. Samira had her attackers arrested, tried, and convicted. Each rapist received an eight year prison sentence. Radicalized from her inhuman treatment and victorious trial, Samira became a zealous defender of human rights. Years of psychotherapy due to her impoverished childhood and subsequent brutalization took its toll. Samira died from stomach cancer at 31. Her book ‘To hell and back’ is an international best seller. Samira’s story inspired a national debate over women and immigrants rights in her adopted country.
|The art of Algeria is Algeria. This ancient land is a living art gallery. The many galleries, antiquities from the distant past, ruins of bygone civilizations that dot the cities and countryside, the National Gallery of Fine Arts all play with the imaginations of native Algerians and visitors alike. Local artists Racim, Temman, Yelles, the Bardo National Museum and priceless artifacts unearthed from Algeria’s sandy soil with astonishing regularity enrich Algeria’s culture.
The National Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions emphasize Algeria’s culture past and present. Any trip to an outdoor market is a memorable adventure. The above mentioned art centers are tips on the artistic iceberg. For a complete listing of Algeria’s art centers go on line and type Algerian Art and you’ll be amazed by the generous number of galleries and archeological sites.
If you like to cook and eat as much as I do you’ll just love Algerian cuisine. Algeria is a Muslim nation so pork products are a no-no but lamb, homemade flat breads, pastries, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish fresh from the sea, strong hair curling Turkish coffee and a wide assortment of delicious Mediterranean delicacies that tempt the palate are in. You won’t starve that’s for sure! Here’s an easy recipe I’m personally gonna’ try.
‘Algerian Kefta’ (Algerian meatballs).
1 pound of lean ground beef
4 cloves of minced/divided garlic
¼ cup of finely chopped/divided onion
Add salt and pepper to taste
3 Roma plum tomatoes (any tomatoes will do) diced
1 teaspoon dried parsley
½ teaspoon of Algerian ‘ras el hanout’ (optional)
½ cup of water
· Use your hands and mix your ground beef, half of the minced garlic, and a teaspoon of chopped onions together.
· Shape meat mixture into 12-14 1 ½ inch oblong meatball patties.
· Heat frying pan at medium-heat, brown patties in batches until they’re crispy and brown on both sides until pink centers are gone for about 10 minutes. Remove when done, set your meatballs aside and place in serving dish. They should look like brown flatten footballs.
· Now the sauce! Reduce heat to medium, stir in the remaining chopped onions with salt and pepper. Cook these ingredients in meat drippings; stir constantly until onion mixture is soft for about 5 minutes.
· Stir the remaining half of the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, dried parsley, ras el hanout and water.
· Cook until mixture is soft for about 5 minutes. When done pour mixture over the meat balls and serve with rice, crispy bread, baked potatoes or a favorite side dish.
Algeria is 99% Muslim. It was Christian for centuries until the Muslim conquests of all Christian lands in North African and the Middle East. Only a handful of Christians (50,000) and Jews (1,000) remain; most live in Bejaia a port city on the Mediterranean. The French colonialists reintroduced Roman Catholic Christianity when they controlled the country. All that remains now are some pretty impressive churches with very few congregants.
Algeria has no viable tourist industry. A mere 1% of their GDP is attributable to tourism. Considering Algeria’s turbulent history no wonder so few tourists; some reason why pay exorbitant airline prices and extravagant hotel rates just to get blown up, kidnapped, and mistreated by terror factions? The country receives about 200,000 visitors annually. A drop in the bucket by global tourism standards; however things are looking up. Algeria’s government had adopted the ‘Horizon 2025’ plan to boost tourism. This bold plan was designed to address the problems of affordable hotel accommodations, modernize visa requirements, and curb the ever present threat of violence. Currently most visitors hail from Tunisia or are French-Algerians coming home to visit relatives. Luxury hotels are being built to help boost tourism.
Ever ride a camel? Here’s your chance. Algeria hosts an assortment of desert tours ranging from the cheap to the stuff you’ve read about or seen in those old 1930’s films of English and East Coast sophisticates living it up high on hog during the middle of the Great Depression. Though Algeria is mostly a desert there’s always something to do. The country abounds in ancient ruins of several civilizations. With so much to offer the world Algeria is working closely with the World Tourism Organization. Hopefully soon that county will become a world class tourist destination.
| Currently the bulk of Algeria’s tourist trade comes from France and neighboring countries. Still there is plenty to see and do in Algeria especially if you’re the Indiana Jones type. Algeria is a haven for archeology buffs as well as the occasional real Mc Coy. There’s Cirta the capitol city of the ancient Kingdom of Numidia and Al Qal’s Beni Hammad first capital of the Hammadid Empire.
One word of caution, go with an approved guide. Don’t try to go it alone in the Sahara. The desert’s majesty is wondrous to behold but try walking it unassisted, loose your way or get dehydrated you’ve had it.
Algeria hosts a number of world heritage sites listed with UNESCO. The Al Qal’a of Beni Hammad (1980), Djemila, the M’Zab Valley, Timgad, Tipasa and the Kasbah of Algiers all became world heritage sites in 1982. Avoid the Kasbah; it’s a potential haven for terrorists and other criminals. The place is overcrowded and in a sad state of disrepair. It’ll great to photograph but dangerous. If you must go there hire a reputable guide. Go online to fine the many other interesting lest formidable adventures that await you in that fascinating country.
You probably guessed it Algeria can be a dangerous place. Terrorist attacks aimed at Americans, car and suicide bombings, fake roadblocks, kidnappings, ambushes, beatings, rapes and assassinations are a daily stable of Algerian life according to the State Department’s travel advisory. It’s ‘Dodge City’ over there. Hanging out at the U.S. Embassy’s not a good idea either if life is something you hold dear. Friend if you visit Algeria maintain a very low profile. The government advices that all U.S. citizens living or working in Algeria register with the American Embassy in Algiers or via their website (https://travelregistration.state.gov) so if something happens to you they what to know where to ship the body (oops!) I mean contact your next of kin in case your vacation becomes permanent.
When I was a kid growing on the South Side of Chicago a buddy from my block was recruited by Algerian revolutionaries and was murdered by parties unknown during the 1954-1962 War for Independence. Reader if you have travel plans to Algeria or any other foreign country please obtain the latest information on security conditions on that country by calling 1-888-407-4747 in the United States and Canada. If you live outside the U.S. use their regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
Decent hotels can be pricy. ‘Flea bags’ can be dangerous.
Here’s some choice picks for you to consider. Anything over $200.00 per night is a bit much. Me I like to travel on the cheap. For affordable flights with hotel packages go on line to www.travelzoo.com/Algeria. Happy trip!
© Fred C. Wilson III August 2013
Albania - Nation in Transition
Fred C Wilson 111
Albania borders Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece. It's coastline is as long as the country.