Bonjour and marhaba from Algiers, our city of residence for the next two years. We arrived a little more than three weeks ago and, as in times past, I feel the urge to put off a post on our new city until my impressions are more fully formed. But that could take ages.
This is not like our arrival to Sana’a. Back then I was so young and naive that all the things that 2019 Emily would think were a pain seemed fun and novel, and, frankly, like material for a novel. This is not like Madrid, which I loved immediately. This is not like Jerusalem, which I disliked almost right away (I later changed my mind). This is not like Rabat, which seemed easy and chill right when we landed. Still, in each and every one of those places, I was ultimately surprised to realize that settling in and establishing a routine is hard. I swore I’d remember that this time. And now, walking around my empty house, feeling rather useless, sampling all Netflix has to offer, and requiring a full week to get the will to walk in the 95 degree heat to the closest grocery store: Well, this is no one’s favorite Emily, least of all mine.
But alas, that’s what I signed up for and I really do like this lifestyle most of the time. Anyways, here’s how I’ve found Algiers so far:
On the positive end of the spectrum, our house is bomb. It’s a stand-alone house, not an apartment, and I haven’t lived in an actual house since five other girls and I lived in Kalamazoo’s “student ghetto” in our sophomore year of college. So it’s been a minute. Our two-story house is built on a hill, making for a somewhat odd layout. For instance, our living room is on the first level, but the dining room is up one level, and our small yard (yes, we have a yard!) is up a flight of stairs from the dining room and patio level.
The house has three bedrooms, 2.5 baths (well, more than that if you count a creepy outdoor bathroom that contains a shower and a bunk bed) marble floors, bright white walls, crown moldings, vaulted and beamed ceilings in the kitchen and dining rooms, beautiful doors and windows, and one arched doorway in the hall that I’m in love with. We always get sent crime-scene-level-bad photos of our future apartments, which usually ends up being a good thing because we’re often pleasantly surprised when we see our place IRL.
I’m really digging the outdoor space, which is kind of a pun because I have planted vegetable seeds, herbs, and I’m even composting. There’s a fairly large patio, which mercifully has these great sun shades, and it’s is going to look boho beautiful once I add our custom Moroccan zellige tile table and rattan furniture set. I already have a little cactus corner going and I suspect it’ll reproduce at a rapid rate.
My paradise, Oulja Artisan Village in Morocco, sells loads of giant brightly colors outdoor pots and I wish I’d brought a ton to set against the stark white walls for a happy Mediterranean vibe.
The only reason I didn’t stock up because I was worried about being over our allotted weight, but somehow, inexplicably, we were a good deal under. I priced out some large pots at the garden store here in Algiers and they’re basically a million dollars. It’s looking like we’ll actually go back to Rabat to retrieve our car (ferry to Spain and then ferry to Algiers) and methinks the car will arrive to Algiers full of bright blue pottery, cheese, wine, and our favorite Spanish gin. We’re already picturing outdoor parties under twinkling lights and tables of cheesy apps and herbal gin and tonics accentuated with sprigs of rosemary from the garden.
Up above the patio is the yard, in which the following things are growing: Drippy grape vines, rosemary bushes, a pear tree, a lemon tree, two fig trees, an olive tree, and an as yet unidentified tree with sticky brown fruit that splat over the patio. It’s been very hot and humid, but in better weather, you’ll find me sitting in the chaise under trees sipping rosé, which is the only type of Algerian wine I’ve tried that I would deem “not bad.”
Other positives: The embassy community here is small and tight-knit. Having a built-in group of people, recommendations, and planned activities right when you arrive to a new place, well that is a special thing and I’m grateful for it. I’ve already met a few folks who I can see myself being good friends with. Also, Algiers itself is very pretty. It’s built on hills that rise out of a bay on the Mediterranean Sea, which makes for dramatic views. (We can’t see these views from our place, however). The downtown is actually jaw-droppingly beautiful with French architecture and boulevards.
The Kasbah, the hilly, packed, and sprawling old city of Algiers, is off-limits for us without advance approval from the Algerian government, which is doable, but we haven’t yet got around to making that happen.
Also, a positive for Adam: He loves his culture-focused job, and it’s probably going to keep us plugged in to going-ons about the city. Just last night we went to a concert in the new opera house and were delighted when it turned into more of a dance party that a concert.
The cons: It’s hard to get around. Getting places on foot is not really a thing here. It’s awfully hilly, we live nowhere near downtown, and it’s hot and sticky outside. Also, haven’t seen too much that we’d call a sidewalk. I’m calling on embassy vehicles to take me all over, which is fine and I’m glad they offer this service, but in the past few weeks, I’ve found myself bumping around in the back of vans for much longer than I’d like. Being carsick in a van brings on flashbacks of driving in armored vehicles in Yemen and makes me feel I don’t have as much freedom as I’d like. Having a car will be better. And now that I’m a more seasoned driver I’m hardly even worried about doing battle with the narrow, steep, and seemingly lawless (although very polite) Algerian streets. Bring it.
Also not great: The food. This is no surprise. I was no fan of Moroccan food and was told (by Moroccans) the food next door in Algeria was worse. (There’s a strange beef between Moroccans and Algerians, so I take what either says about the other with a grain of salt). But yeah, Algerian food, well you have the couscous. And what else? Bread. Meat. That sort of thing. I’m doing my best to find where to get decent groceries because two trips to large grocery stores that reminded me of when on The Americans, they flashed to poor Martha shopping at a Soviet Moscow grocery store, sadly considering a tin of sardines off a barren shelf. I mean, I don’t want to say it was that bad, but it wasn’t good, especially in comparison to the fabulous grocery stores in Rabat. There are superettes (or party stores as we call them in Michigan) and also produce stands all over, and one very large farmer’s market in a warehouse, and those aren’t bad. What they are, however, is expensive, as most things are here. Yesterday I bought a package of fresh mushrooms for $9. And imported goods are far worse: I had to say no to the single avocado for $13 because madness. I’ve heard of Americans spending $25 on a pint of Ben and Jerrys out of desperation. I do believe that I can find most things here if I search hard enough and what I can’t find will come over in a suitcase on one of my many trips to France, Spain, and Italy. (I’m looking at you cheese, butter, good wine, sweet potatoes, and avocados).
Okay, off to wander the empty halls and envision home improvement projects. On the docket: Painting a room deep hunter green and turning it into the darkly handsome study of my dreams; affixing those handy stick-on tiles to the backsplash in the kitchen; and possibly applying a lush jungly removable wallpaper to an area in our living room that will be our Jungalow-inspired bar/hangout nook.