The sea tells tales

The flight in over Algeria treats you to a view of green-clad mountains meeting the sea. Settlements of the city of Algiers, and its suburbs, will then enter your view. Finished buildings in white mix with unfinished clay-coloured brick outlines as the city comes into clearer focus. You will land at an airport running generally in slow-motion with a flight, as Algerians say merra fi gherda, now and then, who knows.

Fear not, however, for there are exceptions.

The baggage belt, for example, runs in ultra-slow motion.

(we spent 3 hours waiting).

Now now, let us not be unfair. For the fact of the matter is that Algeria works. It works, ish. Your impression with it will depend only with what you want to compare it with. You see you are indeed landing at an airport, there is indeed a slow functioning airport. But you are greeted at the arrival gate by the smell of smoke absent from most of the worlds airports.

The airport experience can be seen as emblematic for the nation.

Perhaps one ought to be careful not to fall into a cliche where things are described in black and white, this way or that way, right or left. Most matters are variable and not neatly divisible. But in this case, it may be of illustrative value to do so anyways.

You see as you drive out of the airport there is a highway. But the highway is one-bumpy-road, ups and downs, far from the carpet like comfort of a German Autobahn. Algeria for the most part has running water, but only on certain days. Algeria has a waste disposal system, and yet every street, field, citycorner is littered beyond what I have seen in most other countries.

Algiers has a unique character, the center most parts are an eclectic mix of Hausmann European, Classical Arab-Algerois Casbah, and a bit of an Ottoman mark. Though still rather short, the metro is fresh, clean, and shiny. Standing in its interior, I find no difference to metros of other cities, in fact it is superior to many. Quick look at the Casbah however, may disappoint you. 373 buildings have collapsed, of 1816 remaining 40% are ruined or in critical state, 10% are boarded up. Look beyond the centermost areas of Algiers and quickly you will see, over-crowded half-finished buildings, holed up roads, and shanty-towns painted white and granted official recognition in an attempt to paper over the city’s cracks.

As my visit drew to a close I ventured north across the sea, I flew northwards to Paris, to continue my onward journey. The sheer scale and cosmopolitanism of CDG, and also of Istanbul and Doha airports from which I departed to Algeria, is directly palpable.

To summarize this illustrative dichotomy, Algeria is a bit halfway. Halfway-developed, half-way underdeveloped. Algeria is comparatively poor, yet Algerian traffic-jams will eat up your day. Algeria has political stability, and yet Algeria is on the brink of revolution.

It is, in an adaptation from Charles Dickens’ famous line, the best of times, and the worst of times. It is the age of wisdom, and the age of foolishness, it is the epoch of belief, and it is the epoch of incredulity. It is the season of light, and the season of darkness, the spring of hope and the winter of despair.

Upon these sun and sea battered coast of ours, on this land to which I’m chained by blood, willingly, through family and ancestry, the story of Algeria continues.

Algeria has nothing before it, and Algeria has everything before it.



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