Ibn Battuta, one of the greatest travelers from North Africa, once said: “Travelling—it leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller.” Such a quote can be related to my last trip to Algeria in 2007, after six years without setting foot in the country. The journey went via Spain, Italy to, on the third day, finally land in Algiers. Before heading to the refugee camps, where my family lives in the southern part of Algeria, we decided to remain in Algiers for a few days.
One particular day stood out for me and I continue to remember it. It was a sunny and warm morning, when my father and I decided it was time to tour the city, stepping out of our hotel into the crowded streets we were greeted with the sounds of Daredja, the Algerian dialect of Arabic mixed with French, and the fresh smell of spices and baked goods.
"As I sipped the mint tea, the taste was out of this world"
As we were walking down the streets trying to make our way through the traffic jam, my wise father looked at me and asked, “Agaila, do you know how to find your way into the heart of Algiers?” He continued, “You do so by following the elders; they somehow know where the right path is.” My father was right. We began to follow an elderly woman until a Rai song (Algerian folk music) caught our attention and led us into a café.
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Entering the café we were greeted by the stares of many men, I was the only female. However, the waiter welcomed us with a smile and a chirpy bonjour. We sat in the corner of the café, and as we were trying to make ourselves at home, I began to look around at the many faces: men shouting, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Absorbing everything my eyes wandered to the ceiling, the walls and the classical paintings, Arab with French influence. The details of the decorations took me back to the scenes of the movie Aladdin, where Aladdin arrives on a flying magical carpet and convinces Jasmine to go with him on ride into a new world. I felt, at that exact moment, that I was discovering a new world.
My wondering mind was interrupted by the waiter’s question about my order. I decided to try Algerian mint tea for the first time, and my father ordered a coffee. As I sipped the mint tea, the taste was out of this world. The tea and the mint, balanced with a little sugar, created the most amazing aroma, revealed a mysterious world that I had not yet discovered, a world filled with great exquisite flavors and culture.
It was on that particular day, at that particular time, that I realized Algiers was a city filled with so much mystery and history, and it was yet not discovered or known to the outside world. Most importantly, I realized that Algeria’s legacy goes far beyond the bloodshed and violent history that the city of Algiers had been known for. It was a city that was once destroyed, but rebuilt a thousand times. Its people had shed so many tears, yet the children’s laughter still filled the air.
Algiers is a city where anger boiled, yet it was still filled with hope. Where the French’s colonialism took place, but the Algerian people rose and freed themselves. It is a city where the elders are the guides because they, and only they, know where the city’s treasures are. Algiers is noisy by day and magical by night. It is a city that not only teaches one about ancient history, but also allows one to be closer to its people, closer to the Algerian people’s heats. Looking back on that day, long gone now, Algiers surely gave me a story to tell.
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