Settling in to Life in Algiers

Hello readers! August was a slow blogging month but a fairly busy IRL month. I went home to the States for a nine-day visit with the family in Michigan, and then to Washington DC for a few days for good friend’s wedding. Adam stayed in Algiers for most of that, although he did fly to DC for three nights for the wedding as he’s a glutton for weddings, and apparently also for jetlag.

So he was in Algiers by himself when all of our worldly possessions arrived to our Algiers house. I was a little nervous about Adam getting our shipment on his own, because there’s this Foreign Service Facebook group I’m in and people have shared stories of getting mistakenly sent another family’s household goods. I know Adam has lived with all our things for years, but what if a bunch of overstuffed black leather furniture and glass everything arrived (my nightmare aesthetic) and he didn’t realize it wasn’t ours until too late? Luckily, it was our stuff that arrived – the Moroccan rugs, the most beautiful sofa in the world, lamps, art, our new Moroccan zellige patio table, and more! I’ve been a hermit since I’ve been back in Algiers, unpacking box after never ending box, but as I type out this blog, I’m taking a break from unpacking the very last one. Victory! Of all the beautiful things with which I was so happy to be reunited, one box in particular really made my heart leap with if not joy, at least relief.

Why would opening the box containing these dumb wooden pegs with screws make me happy? To understand, let’s go back to Morocco. When we arrived to Rabat, we had a house full of unstylish, overstuffed, over-curved, Drexel furniture. Drexel is a fine American company which that had the great fortune of winning a U.S. Government contract to furnish all overseas U.S. Embassy residences. Drexel actually offers some stylish and contemporary styles but most U.S. embassies around the world have historically gravitated toward a line I call “Bavarian Grandmother’s Trousseau.” Dark and high-gloss with unnecessary curves, bulges, and spindles. Adam and I always request that it’s all removed from our embassy housing and usually the management section complies, although I’m sure they grouse about how high maintenance we are. But in Morocco, they refused to take anything back and store it in their warehouse and so we piled everything into one room in our apartment, like a great big over-varnished game of Jenga. In order to fit three couches in a small bedroom the movers unscrewed the wooden legs from the couches. Moving day came and went, and when the embassy maintenance guys helped us move the couches back into our then-empty Morocco living room, they sat a bit low. “Where are the legs?” they asked. It dawned on Adam that he had seen some weird wooden cylinders during the move and he was 80% sure he packed them in our shipment going to Algiers. We had to fess up that we’d be leaving behind very low couches and hoped to send the legs back to the Embassy in Rabat when they arrived to us in Algiers. But because the couches are useless, or at least, ridiculous, without the legs, we also had to leave behind a check for $1,000, that would be cashed if the legs failed to appear. So, the appearance of those wooden legs just saved us $1,000!

The most time consuming task of this week’s unpacking was setting up the kitchen. The kitchen in our Algiers home has vaulted ceilings with wooden beams, and pretty windows and a French door. But it is quite small square-footage wise and has only a few cabinets and drawers.

I found inspiration from the Pineapple Collaborative’s Pine for Pantry series which features female chefs in their kitchens and shows how they organize everything.

Carla Hall’s pot tower in her D.C. kitchen. Photo from Pineapple Collaborative.

If famous chef Carla Hall makes it work in her small DC kitchen, then I can certainly make it work in my little Algiers kitchen. It took about three days to unpack and set up the kitchen, hours of which was spent putting up Bleucoin removable wallpaper tile. It immediately cozied up the place.

Now, being in this organized little space makes me happy, although I’ve yet to cook much of anything beyond omelettes and quesadillas. Which leads me to my unhappiest unpacking find: Our scale. Oof. Too many carbs and not enough workout sessions. Where even is the gym and what should my new workout routine be? These are always the questions. Also nobody walks in Algiers and so my daily step count is depressingly low. I also went fairly hard on the sweet corn and Buddy’s Pizza in Michigan and harder still on the Mexican and Thai in DC. Now that I’m on the road to being more settled, I need to get back to working out and actually plan some meals that don’t involve defrosting my contraband cheese and wrapping it up in one of the many tortillas I brought over in my suitcase from Rabat.

A few nights after we returned to Algiers, a new friend (who happens to also be from Michigan) had us over for French boxed rosé and a truly awesome spread, much of it brought back from a recent trip to France, and it included an impressive approximation of Buddy’s pizza that she’d made. This friend had me cracking up with her stories of running into a grocery store in France a half hour before it closed, buying a suitcase, and then loading to the brim with wine, cheese, milk, butter, ham and ice cream (!), all with her two young children in tow. I feel I’ve met a soul sister and needless to say I’m very excited because I’m on the constant search for a bestie although my husband would like me to please stop telling everyone.

We’ve also met a good number of other people with whom we just vibe with right of the bat. As aforementioned Michigan/cheese-loving friend said, “dive bar” posts like Algiers attract the best people. In fancy European posts, like Madrid, often there isn’t much of a community among embassy folks and those posts tend to be staffed with higher-ranking people. Whereas hardship posts, such as Yemen, have the reputation of sometimes being a dumping ground for people who couldn’t get a “better” job. I personally found the crew in Yemen to be a real mixed bag, ranging from some of the best officers we’ve ever seen to people phoning it in in order to collect a big paycheck before retirement. I liked my friend’s characterization of Algiers as a dive bar. A dive bar is a place that is not shiny and trendy but certainly has its charms, which is why it’s often where people prefer to end up at the end of the night. They know they’ll go there and find their people.

And the Algerians, let me tell you, they are the nicest, most laid back, legit friendly and hospitable people I’ve met. We’ve had lunch with a neighbor (who is a cardiologist and has performed piano at Carnegie Hall, nbd) and he and his wife drove us to and accompanied us on an hour-long bureaucratic errand afterwards; we spent a lovely beach day with Adam’s colleague and her sons and she insisted on paying for the whole day because in Algeria, that’s what you do when you invite someone to something; and when we introduced ourselves to our across-the-street neighbor, he invited us in for a full tour, offered us use of his family’s villa in the South of France, and sent over some delicious caramelized onion and tomato stuffed flatbread an hour later. Which was great because we had no food in the house.

I just wanted to fire off a quick post over here to say our household possessions have arrived, we’re meeting some great people, the Diplocats are doing swell. Parts are still difficult: The driving, and just getting around in general, finding the good groceries, waiting to hear on a job at the embassy, getting over the transition fog I always experience. But I’m getting there and optimistic that we can make a nice life here.

To settling in,

Emily

2 Comments

  1. Emily,
    What a lovely, intimate and entertaining description of settling in. Setting up with kitchen with inspiration from afar and removable tile patterned paper, the various anxieties and joys of furniture delivery topped off by the relief of the ugly couch legs. Truly wonderful. Thanks for sharing.
    Laura

  2. This had everything I love in a Next Dinner Party post. Setting up a new home! Making fun of Drexel furniture! Ruminations on the social challenges of life at a new post! Mild jibes about Adam! That is, except for a dinner party, which I assume will be coming soon.

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