Published: September 10th 2006
November 2nd 1983
I THINK I HAVE SOLVED THE PROBLEM WITH THE ENTRIES NOT PREVIOUSLY BEING IN ORDER: sorry for any prior confusion!
A short introduction:
I am an Australian who has travelled a lot and had some unique experiences. I thought I would transfer one of my diaries onto a travel blog.
In April 1983, I began work in Switzerland, where I met Habib, who was from Algeria. To cut a long story short, a romance began between us and we used to exchange many discussions about our different cultures, traditions and religions. During our annual holidays at the end of the year, he took me on a trip to Algeria that I will never forget. We spent a month there. Here is the story, which begins as we flew into Oran from France ....
One and a half hours later, the plane started to descend and the coastline of Algeria could be seen. After landing and going through customs, which seemed so chaotic to me, we caught a taxi into the city of Oran. I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and pretty it all was. A warm gentle breeze was blowing when we alighted from the taxi at Habib's friend's apartment. His name was Mohamad, and he went out of his way to be hospitable. When he called us for dinner, I found myself sitting at a separate table facing the wall, while Habib and Mohamad sat at another table apart from me. I said; "Um ... why am I sitting here?" Habib started laughing. There was some discussion in arabic; confusion on Mohamad's side and reassurance from Habib, and then I was moved to their table. The confusion was because Habib had told him I was a vegetarian, so Mohamad didn't want to offend me by having me sit at their table and see them eating meat.
That evening, the three of us went out for a walk and saw some of the sights, then spent the night at Mohamad's apartment.
The next morning, we were given breakfast (all at the same table!). Then we met up with one of Habib's cousins and we all had lunch in a restaurant. The cousin arranged transport for us to go to Habib's village in the south. First we were going to Mascara.
It was a scenic drive by taxi through mountains, and a few hours later we drove into Mascara, which, to my eye, looked like a bomb had hit it. The houses were all ramshackle and they were painted such awful clashing colours. But, boy, were the people friendly, as I was about to find out!
The taxi dropped us at the base on a little dirt road that wound round these strange houses, and I followed Habib as we walked up a slight hill with all our backpacks. Every door of every house opened and people came out from everywhere to watch us walk past with looks of complete amazement.
When we arrived at Habib's brother's house - which is just one room attached to others, but totally spotlessly clean -, we had already accumulated a crowd of people. We were greeted by a little girl. Next came out the rest of the family and a few of the neighbours hapened to appear all at that same moment. We all sat on the floor on cushions and while Habib's sister in law, Halima, prepared some tea, there were three little girls staring from my right, and I could see many eyes blinking from behind the door through the cracks. When I looked over at the three little girls they all giggled in unison and looked away.
Later we had dinner and the little girls continued to stare and giggle. Habib told me that most people here had never seen a European in their lives. Halima gave me a dress and put a scarf on my head, Algerian style, and we were all laughing.
Halima told me to follow her and she showed me how to wash for the prayers, making sure to clean between fingers, and then shake off the water (since there were no towels). She then proceeded to do the prayers. Habib told me later she never usually does them; it was to impress me.
When it was bed time, Halima unravelled and spead out about 4 mattresses next to each other. She took great pride in making up the beds, which were all alongside each other, with clean sheets and blankets. Then we all - Halima, Habib's brother, Me, Habib and the three little girls, only one of which was their own - all got into the beds and slept together like that.