The blog formerly called "Algeria-London Photoblog"

Hi y'all.

This is my view of my trip to Algeria and London through the lens & keyboard of my iPhone. Enjoy! Hope you learn something new.

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Intercultural marriage

This morning I stumbled on an interesting blog conversation (here and here) going on about intercultural marriage, more precisely the American wives in intercultural marriages adopting the culture of their husbands. Here’s my 20 dinars on the subject.

My approach is to adapt only as much as I need to survive while there, but hardly ever bring it back home. Of course the language is a must (I need to improve my French, relearn Standard Arabic, learn Dardja), learning to cook the dishes is a good (and delicious) thing, dress conservatively, faire la bise in greeting (trust me this is hard for a mostly German like me to do). This is what I call cultural sensitivity.  But once I’m back home, I don’t have to pretend I’m someone I’m not, or is it expected of me.

Though I know people here who are married to Arab men, I don’t feel like I have to join in the “I’m more Arab than you” games that can sometimes be played. In fact, I don’t think it can be played. It assumes that there is one monolith Arab culture, which is completely false. That is why I cringe at Pan-Arabism that is being promoted by certain groups. It is one group of Arabs (mostly Gulf Arabs) dictating what is truly Arab culture while putting down others (especially those in Morocco, Algeria, & Tunisia). But I digress.

I certainly don’t feel the need to join in the games. I’m not sure 100% why these games are played but I think it’s in part the lack of appreciating one own’s identity and culture. There is a phenomenon in linguistics that the farther away you go from your home, the stronger & more pronounced the dialect of the language becomes. You think you don’t have an accent, but the Southerners, New Englanders, etc. do, which is not the case. Everyone has an accent, even us Midwesterners have an accent, though we don’t perceive it ourselves (it’s become normalized). The same can be said about culture. We don’t think we have a culture because it’s normalized, but everyone does have a culture. So what if it’s a meat & potatoes culture, it’s still a culture, it’s what we were raised in, why not be proud of that? Why do we necessarily need a hummus & falafel culture, or a channah masala culture, or a couscous & tagine culture? Yes, they may be delicious, and it’s ok to have it occasionally, but why totally drop one culture for another? This is echoed by Lucky Fatima in her post:

With white people in particular, many of us believe that we have no culture. We are ‘normal’ and other people are ‘cultural.’ Well, live abroad or get married to a foreign man and we learn really quickly that of course we have a culture when we have something to compare it to. Anyway, this whiteness as a cultural blank-slate phenomenon is an aspect of our culture that pushes some people to mistakenly see other human beings from foreign cultures as exotic and spicy and we see imitating them as a way to spice up our white bread with mayonnaise lives. That is objectifying and ultimately racist. (LuckyFatima)

So are some of us getting involved in intercultural relationships for the person we are apparently in love with, or are we in love with the culture?

Clearly, there is no one way to be in an in intercultural relationship, but as someone who strains against being defined by my husband’s ethnicity, I find it troubling that someone would choose to be so, well, devoured by it. When people do that, it makes me wonder if they dated and married their husbands for the men they are, or if they were infatuated with an idea of the culture. (The Big, Bad, Blonde Bahu Blog)

I think she made a great point, sometimes I wonder about that myself.

For me, it’s not expected I have to act Algerian or Arab. In fact, I think DH would slap sense into me if I tried. I can be culturally sensitive without losing my identity and culture in the process.

And while I’m on the subject, and it may seem I’m digressing again, but I’m not. I consider it the same thing: in as much as I don’t like to act Arab/Algerian because I’m married to one, I also don’t like to act like I’m so Algerian enough that I can speak freely on the politics of the country. As you may or may not know there have been some protests going on and off due to the economic situation in the country the past month (check out here and here). Some married-to-Algerians have expressed their hopes that what happened to Tunisia would happen in Algeria. I’m sorry, but I strongly believe that the political future of the country should solely be decided by the actual citizens of the country. Just because I’m married to an Algerian does not give me the right in expressing opinions on the political situation there, especially with my in-laws lives & livelihood on the line. I certainly don’t want to wish chaos & instability on anyone, especially family.  Anyways, for me to do so would reinforce the idea that Americans/Westerners interfere with another country’s politics, which I want to avoid at all costs.

“Algerianfied” Cottage Pie

On my other blog, I posted up a recipe for a Food Blog Carnival for an “Algerianfied” Cottage Pie I made back on Thanksgiving. I didn’t post it here necessarily because it is not a real Algerian recipe, but I figured I put a link here for you to check it out, at your pleasure. Enjoy.

Souad Massi

There’s an interesting story of Algerian musician Souad Massi in the Financial Times. I actually have a few of her albums, and she is totally different then most Algerian musicians. She plays guitar, but the style is more classical Spanish. You can categorize her more world music (like Rachid Taha) than traditional or typically Algerian categories like rai and others.

Funny story, I once mistaken a song by Carla Bruni for a song by Souad Massi in my French class. I don’t know why, but this was before I’ve ever heard of Carla Bruni (and honestly I wished it would have stayed that way). Oh, and the French teacher, from France, was scandalized about my mistake.

Below is a video of her performing live one of my favorite songs, because it’s just a fun-sounding song, “Yawlidi”:

Indigènes

With apologies to those on Facebook who had to endure me encouraging them to see this film on Thursday at the local library. You have to tolerate this one more time.

Also, if you want to watch it but haven’t, and if you are the kind who can’t watch something when the ending is given away, don’t watch the videos below. Count this as your warning.

Indigènes, or marketed in the States as Days of Glory, is a film by the French-Algerian director Rachid and staring Jamel Debbouze (of Amelie fame), Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem & Sami Bouajila. It tells the story of four North African men who enlisted into the French Army in WW2 in order liberate France from the Nazis. It also tells the story of the discrimination they and other African soldiers from French territories faced from within the ranks. It was pretty much like, or perhaps worse, the discrimination faced by African American soldiers during the same time. They are often the first to go in, the first to be killed, but always the to be recognized officially for their bravery. This isn’t really a film that glorifies war, but a film that highlights a little known, forgotten, or perhaps hidden part of history.

Again, the caveat: the videos are from the end of the movie so watch it at your own risk.

Tolerance

I’ve always considered myself a tolerant person in respect to race, nationality, culture and religion. Even though I was atheist, my high school friends were church-going Christians. Even though I was in the academic track, another friend was on the remedial track. In college I don’t remember ever having a Caucasian American friend (except for one high school friend who came to study for a semester but ran out of money and moved away): they were Indian, Pakistani, Turkish, Indonesian, African American, Chinese, Mexican. They were Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Wiccan. I took a variety of languages: in high school, German, French, and a semester of Spanish, while in college Arabic, and then later French again. In high school I went to Germany. Toward the end of college I met, and eventually married, an Algerian. Even my college degree in anthropology reflected my love of learning other cultures and belief system. I get super excited when I read ethnographies. Even as a kid I would read about different countries in my parents encyclopedia set from the 1960s (ok not entirely up to date in the turbulent 80’s and early 90’s I know).

So, yes, for the most part I considered myself a tolerant person. Well, except for one thing. That is women who wore niqab (the full facial veil).

Interlude: It is sometimes mistakenly called the burqa. The burqa is a very specific, culturally defined style of niqab used mostly in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. All burqas are niqab but not all niqabs are burqas.

Maybe it was the perceived unfriendly vibe I got from the few women in town who wore it. I just didn’t like it and to me represents almost an arrogance in religion: a “we are better & more pious than you because we wear the niqab.” (incidentally my disdain never came from the idea that they may have been forced to wear it or other western feminist notions of the veil. For the vast majority, I believe, they did make that personal choice. It’s the “holier than thou” feeling I get from it.)

So anyways, it wasn’t till I met in person my BIL’s wife that I had any real experience with a niqabi (a person wearing the niqab). I knew she wore niqab out of the house. I saw photos of her in it. I’ve Skyped with her. So why was did I still have this disdain? Well, needless to say I learned that not all niqabis act so “holier than thou.” She was extremely nice and welcoming, but also straightforward, which I like. She also works (a teacher at a preschool), which goes against all ideas western feminists have towards Muslim women in general, niqabis in particular.

She made me realize that not all niqabis had an “holier than thou” attitude. And that I wasn’t as tolerant as I wanted to be. I should strive more towards being truly tolerant.

Interesting cultural note: This is the traditional style of niqab of the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) called the haik. I also saw a few of these while in Algeria, but it’s becoming less popular and seen as old fashion. Modern niqabis opt for the more Gulf Arab style like what you see in Saudi Arabia.

Foggy Mediterranean Morning (w/Digital Camera)

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Out and About in London (w/Digital Camera)

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