Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hijab in Algeria

It's quite a change being in Algeria after Saudi Arabia as regards the hijab and abaya. Wherever you see a lot of women in Saudi, it is a sea of black. The abaya shops are just a variation of black in different designs but I have noticed that black, particularly head to toe black, is really uncommon in Algeria. If a woman wears a black abaya she will usually wear a colourful head scarf. Abayas (long flowing coat-like garment) come in all colours here and are usually completed with a contrasting head scarf.

Whilst it is still not common, I have noticed over the past 7 years that more and more ladies are wearing the Algerian Djelbab which is similar to the Saudi head abaya or Iranian chador. Unlike the Saudi and Iranian counterparts they are generally not black but brown, navy or green and almost always with a white scarf underneath - sometimes with niqab, most often without. The lady on the right of the photograph below is wearing the Algerian Djelbab in sage green with a white scarf underneath.

Eating fruits in season

One of the great things about Algeria is the fruit & veg and the fact that everything is eaten only when in season. There are no big supermarkets bringing in lorryloads of produce imported from faraway countries. No pale, half ripe tomatoes or hard tasteless peaches; everything is eaten in season and bursting with juiciness and flavour.

We went to the market this week and were tempted by so many of the wonderful fruits available at this time of year. There are all varieties of plums including Victoria plums, yellow plums, Greengages; figs, prickly pears, peaches, grapes and pears.

Among the vegetables particularly popular at this time of year are big beefsteak tomatoes, plum tomatoes, green peppers and olives of different varieties. They make simple but delicious salads: Just slice the tomatoes, scatter over a few olives and then a sprinkling of salt. The peppers are chargrilled, peeled and sliced and then eaten simply drizzled with olive oil and scooped up with bread or made into Chakchouka with the addition of chopped grilled tomatoes and crushed garlic.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mechanics in Algeria

Gotta give it to the car mechanics here in Algeria...they must be good judging by the age of some of the cars you see on the road with the engine actually running and propelling the car forwards!

The Renault 4 in the pic below was a 1967 model (older than me, LOL) and I snapped the pic just before it drove off. It was obviously a very successful model of car as I have seen older on the roads, I also saw an 1959 model I think.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oh, the beautiful countryside!

So this is the dream: a little country house in the countryside somewhere outside of Algiers or in Carmarthenshire, Wales.

If that little country house happened to be in Algeria then add a couple of sheep, a few chickens, some fruit trees like fig, apricot, lemon etc, maybe some vines and I'd be a very happy bunny; I really am a country gal at heart. :)

We went for a late afternoon drive at the weekend, that beautiful part of the day when the sky is a rich blue and the sunlight falls on the trees and fields in such a way as to intensify the greenness.

We drove past green valleys, apricot groves, fields of grape vines...

Fields of tomatoes:

Beautiful scenery:

Prickly pears that just seem to grow wild at the road side:

They are just coming into season; they need to take on an orangey tinge on their skin before they are ready. The ones in the photo are still too green:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Housing problem in Algiers

Just when I was thanking Allah for the rizq He has bestowed upon us and the fact that I am blessed with a house for just my husband, our children and myself, I realised that life could be far more difficult than it is for my husband’s family.

His family lives in a small town about half an hour from Algiers, the capital of Algeria. There are his mum, eldest sister and teenage son; two brothers both married with small children and another brother newly married with no children. One brother is waiting to move into his own appartment when the building work is complete. His moving should make a big difference but even now, whilst it might not seem ideal in my eyes, everyone has their own space and some degree of privacy. They cook and eat together but they have somewhere to escape to in the evening if they want to watch tv together or get the children off to sleep.

There are 4 rooms occupied plus the kitchen, bathroom/toilet, hamam (Turkish style toilet) 2 spare rooms and a hall-come-lounge and of course the blessing of living in the countryside: the small courtyard/veranda for the children to play.

For many people however, the reality is totally different. Pictured above are some of the housing tower blocks commonly seen in Algiers and the surrounding area. The housing generally comprises of 2 bedrooms, a salon, kitchen and bathroom. I found it cramped staying in one of these appartments with my husband and 5 children... imagine however if it were 3 or 4 families or more living in an appartment such as this. Maybe an aged mother and father with a couple of unmarried daughters at home as well as 3 or 4 married sons with their wives and children living at home... all somehow, unbelievably squeezed into a 2 bedroom appartment.

It is no wonder there are so many men who take to sitting out in the streets for the best part of the day and evening chatting or sitting in the coffee houses.

I love the value that is given to the family in Arabic and Asian countries but it seems that there are real housing and social problems that need to be urgently addressed by the government. Government housing is being built around Algiers including in this small town where I am currently staying but not at the rate that is required and not fast enough.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tipaza - Roman remains

Tipaza is about an hour and a half's drive from Algiers or 70km and the drive along the coastal road is a pleasant one with tree covered hills to the left and the Mediterranean to the right.

Tipaza was originally founded by the Phoenicians and later the emperor Claudius made it into a Roman military colony and thereafter a Municipium. There are remains of an amphitheatre, churches and temples and graveyards among other things.

The entrance fee is 20DA (15p) for adults and 10DA for children. You can stroll around the remains, some of which are well shaded by trees including olive trees and even sit looking out at the Mediterranean since the ruins extend down to the rocky sea front and along the coast.

Map of the area (click on image to enlarge):

The forum:

Some of the original mosaic tiling we found covered by sand. This tiling was in the ruins of one of the temples:

More tiling in one of the basilicas:

Allee that extends down towards the seafront:

View from within towards the bay:

Judicial court:

Friday, July 18, 2008


Narrated Salman-Al-Farsi:

The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said, "Whoever takes a bath on Friday, purifies himself as much as he can, then uses his (hair) oil or perfumes himself with the scent of his house, then proceeds (for the Jumua prayer) and does not separate two persons sitting together (in the mosque), then prays as much as (Allah has) written for him and then remains silent while the Imam is delivering the Khutba, his sins in-between the present and the last Friday would be forgiven." [Bukhari, vol 2, bk 13]

I love summer Jumu'ahs in Algeria; it's the outdoorsie life, hearing the adhan and Qur'an from the masjid, the rush of people taking their showers according to the sunnah before going along to the masjid for prayer which gives a nice feeling.

The morning was relaxed; we drank our coffee outside on the veranda as usual and as midday approached we could the melodious sound of Qur'an wafting from the loudspeakers of the mosque. That's something I remember from my trip to Jerusalem a short while before I accepted Islam. I remember sitting in a little Arab cafe, sipping on strong Turkish coffee and wondering what the beautiful sound was that I could hear. The cafe owner sat down with us and explained that it was Friday, a special day in Islam and that the imam was reciting surah Maryam from the Qur'an.

So today, my husband dressed into a white gandoura (thobe like dress) and set off for the mosque to listen to the khutbah and pray and now as I sit here typing I hear sound of the asr adhan ringing out from the masjid and calling the faithful to prayer for a third time today. :-)

A blessed Yawm al-Jumu'ah to each one of you.

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) talked about Friday and said, "There is an hour (opportune time) on Friday and if a Muslim gets it while praying and asks something from Allah, then Allah will definitely meet his demand." And he (the Prophet) pointed out the shortness of that time with his hands" [Bukhari, vol 2, bk 13]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

An Algerian Wedding, part 2

On the morning of the wedding, Thursday 10th, everyone was up bright and early. There were borek: Algerian style spring rolls, to be fried as well as Mhancha (North African sweet which is filo-type pastry filled with almond and formed into a spiral) to be cooked.

Everyone had to get along to the salon to have their hair styled and if they wished, their make up applied. After seeing some of the wild make-up and scary eyes in the salon, I decided against it and applied my own when I got home! There was quite a wait in the salon since several ladies from the village invited to the wedding were also there getting a style and blow-dry.

My girls had their put up into pretty chignons and then hair glitter and lots of lacquer were applied, my own hair was trimmed and blow dried. When we finally arrived home it was time to get out the make-up and our party outfits and get ready to leave the house.

The wedding cortege - van with the duff and pipe players followed by cars filled with family members - left the village at 2pm for the drive into Algiers to collect the bride.

En route there was plenty car horn blowing and duff and pipe playing. As the cortege turned into the road where the bride and her family lived all the horns were blasting and the duff and pipes were in full swing. The cars parked and some of the men from the bride's family were distributing much needed bottles of gazeuse (fizzy pop) and wrapped plates of petits fours made by the family. My sisters-in-law entered the house to give salaams (greetings of peace traditionally given by Muslims) and help the bride down to the wedding car.

My 4 year old son was over-awed when he saw a 'princess' getting int0 the car next to us! She was wearing a traditional Western white wedding dress and looked every bit the fairy tale princess.

The wedding cortege set off once again to the salle des fetes (party hall) and whe we arrived there was plenty of yoi-yoi-yoi-yoi-yoi'ing (shrill celebratory cry) from the ladies as the bride entered the hall and went to the front to sit on the 'stage'. After a short while the bride disappeared to the changing room to change out of her white dress into another evening dress.

According to the tradition of Algeria, the bride changed seven times into different dresses, some of them evening dresses and some of them more traditional including one heavily emboidered Kabylie dress. In between changes and yoi-yoi-yoi'ing the guests were served cold drinks, borek, coffee, Mhancha and petits fours.

When the bride had finally changed back into her white dress the groom and some other men came into the wedding hall - completely without warning I might add. Fortunately I was well away from the door and had enought time to grab my khimar and put it on.

Rings were exchanged, photographs taken, kisses from grandmothers and then some dancing before people began to disperse.

The bride and groom came back to the village the next day and it was several days before the last of our house guests had left.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

An Algerian wedding, part 1

We arrived in Algeria when the preparations for my youngest brother-in-law's wedding were well underway and the big day was almost upon us.

All the petits fours to give out to guests had already been prepared and placed onto little plates and inside decorated plastic bags. Necessary arrangements for the parties had been made and invitations dispatched.

In the photograph above you can seen some of the bagged up petits fours, ready to be given out and below you can see a selection of the petits fours, all made with ground almonds as is typical for weddings and celebrations. From the top, clockwise there is Qnidlat which is ground almond inside a delicate, fluted pastry case; Fanid which is two rings of almond dough gently baked and decorated with sugar roses; a modern marzipan creation decorated with sugar and marzipan roses; and figues which is a marzipan fig filled with lightly roasted, ground almond.

Everything culminated in a party mainly for the ladies on Thursday 10th although there was also a meal for the men at the in-laws' house on the Monday just before that. Around four hundred men were expected so there was plenty of work to be done.

On Sunday, two brothers-in-law and my sister-in-law's teenage son went off quite early to slaughter six sheep so there would be enough meat for the couscous the next day. When they arrived home, they brought the sheep's heads, stomachs etc which had to be cleaned immediately. The stomach, or as it is called here Dwara, is completely not to my taste but is considered a delicacy by many here and is prepared in a tomato based sauce with chickpeas. So the Dwara was cleaned, par-boiled and saved for the day after the men's party.

Several kilos of chickpeas also needed to be soaked overnight so they would be ready for cooking the next day.

A few friends of my sister-in-law arrived in the late afternoon to assist with the mammoth cooking task the next day - ladies who were evidently experts in mass cooking operations!

Everyone was up bright and early on Monday and there was a feeling of excitement in the air. There were around 20 kilos of turnips to be peeled and sliced, bags of onions to cry over as we peeled them and prepared them to go in the food processor to be chopped, the ready chopped meat had to be strung together to make it easier to get in and out of the pots before the cooking could commence.

The stew was cooked in enormous couscousieres and the couscous was steamed until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile downstairs the men were arranging the tables and chairs and the guests started to arrive at around 7pm.

Given the limited space and the fact that there were only 50 chairs I was wondering what the arrangement was; if the men had been given different times to arrive for example. As it turned out, the men would come in in groups of fifty, eat fairly fast and then leave with their gift of a small plate of the petits fours then there would be a quick clean up and then the next group would enter.

The men made a party for themselves out in the street while they waited and after they had eaten. There were two men with the duff (traditional Arabic drums) and one playing a traditional Algerian pipe and they played a jaunty, albeit repetitive tune to which some of the men danced while others clapped along.

The next morning, a huge clean up operation was in full swing before preparations for the ladies' party could begin and that would be the highlight of the wedding...

Breakfast, Algerian style

Since it's summer in Algeria now and there's not much chance of rain, breakfast can be enjoyed al fresco or rather as the Algerians would say, barra.

There is not a bowl of Cheerios or cornflakes in sight but rather there is baguette fresh from the boulangerie, homemade apricot jam, homemade biscuits and of course freshly brewed coffee and hot milk.

Despite the fact that the French rule ended in the early 1960's, there is still quite a mix of east and west in Algeria and a French influence remains. Although Algeria has it's own fair share of delicious breads made with either semolina or flour or both, the French baguette is ever-present at the meal table. It is enjoyed with jam, dipped in coffee, used to mop up soups and stews or simply filled with cheese.

The biscuits in the photograph below are maqrout al-assal, a variation of the well known Arab-wide maqrout. They are made with course semolina, smen (clarified butter), orange flower water and are filled with softened date then deep fried and soaked in honey.

Monday, July 14, 2008

So, here we are

So, we finally arrived in Algeria midday on the 3rd July; the journey was smooth enough, the children were well behaved and it was a relief finally to touch down on Algerian soil.

Unfortunately that's when things became more difficult. Nothing major but it wasn't easy waiting well over an hour in the queue for passport control with five children, my 7 year old was getting ill (turned out to be chicken pox), my 4 year was miserable from not having had enough sleep and my 1.5 year old was just hot and wanted me to breastfeed her.

We eventually got through passport control and had a long wait for our luggage so it was a true relief when we got through customs and found my sister-in-law and two brothers-in-law waiting for us.

We arrived when preparations for the wedding of my youngest brother-in-law were full steam ahead but now the last of the guests have left and the house is slowly getting back to some kind of normality.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Algeria here we come!

So far, most of my blog posts have been about Saudi Arabia and more specifically, Riyadh.

However, from next week if all goes well with my internet connection I shall blogging from Algeria! I will be visiting my husband's home country for an extended stay; it will be my longest stay yet which I am very excited about yet at the same time quite nervous.

So, from today it will be goodbye Saudi Arabia and I look forward to blogging about my experiences in Algeria and sharing some photographs.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Panini (with focaccia bread)

Something else to do with that wonderful focaccia bread: paninis.

Make the dough and then divide in half and roll out to fit two baking trays. Cover and leave to rise for about 1/2 hour and bake at 350 F until cooked.

Cut each flat loaf into about 6 squares and split each piece in half. Fill with your preferred filling. In those pictured below I spread Philadelphia on one half and mayonnaise on the other half, added a scattering of drained, tinned tuna, chopped olives, chopped tomatoes and a little grated Gouda cheese.

Sandwich together and place in the heated sandwich maker with griddle irons for a couple of minutes until the filling is warmed and the bread is slightly toasted, as in the photo. Yummmm!