It’s officially the holiday season here in Algiers. Our Christmas tree is up, our house is aglow in twinkle lights, we are going to lots of parties and eating our weights in decadent foods. We are preparing to host our Fourth Annual Holiday Spirit Cocktail Contest Party in just a few short days and I’m cooking like crazy for it. My hands are cracked with sugar icing from the hundred Christmas cookies I just made. There will be a band. We had extra high-top tables brought in. Flowers and crates of wine are ordered. It’ll be our biggest party ever.
And at the risk of perpetuating the myth that the life of a diplomat (and diplomat’s spouse) is all parties, lemme tell you about a recent party we went to. I knew this party would be special when our new Algerian friend Rafik sent an invitation out for his 40th requesting the presence of his friends in the Sahara Desert city of Taghit, located nearly 700 miles from Algiers. (Algeria is a very, very large country, ya’ll). To attend his party, we’d simply need to book ourselves two tickets on an Air Algerie flight leaving Thursday evening. Once there, he’d take care of everything. And oh my, he sure did.
After our very full flight landed in the city of Bechar, the 20 or so party people boarded a bus for the hour-long ride to Taghit. Much singing and banging of drums ensued and it was like being on a party bus going to a bachelor party, only with all the songs in Arabic and no booze. We arrive to our hotel, checked in to our room, opened our gift bags (!) and went to sleep.
The next morning, the group explored the small town of Taghit. We walked through a 700-year-old fort, into a small house inside the fort, and we took in the gentle rolling sand dunes, camels, and the sight of lots of 4x4s zooming up the dunes.
We also had a nice lunch near the pool at our hotel. Birthday toasts and whatnot. Me feeling inadequate because I could just sort of follow the mostly French conversation but realizing I’m still months and months (and so many more glasses of wine) away from being able to jump into a conversation in French in a social setting. Had we stopped right here, it would have been very impressive weekend trip. But there was more. So much more.
Several Jeeps came to collect our group and take us deeper into the desert in time for sunset. The Jeep ride was a trip! Flying up and down the dunes was a little harrowing, but mostly quite fun. It was significantly less nauseating than when Adam and I went on a “Desert Safari” in Abu Dhabi in huge SUVs and a German woman in our SUV barfed and then everyone else dry heaved in sympathy.
We stopped halfway to the desert part stop for some snaps atop sand dunes. The sand was velvety soft, like what you’d want to lay in at a beach.
When we stepped out of the car at the site of the birthday party, the scene before me so surpassed anything I expected. Out there in the wilderness of the sable desert beneath a setting sun, there were tuxedoed barkeeps at a well-stocked bar, high-topped tables atop an array of colorful Algerian rugs, and a tiki-torched lined slope led to the most breathtakingly perfectly set dinner table.
Perhaps the most jaw-dropping part: There was a Tuareg (Berber people who live in the Sahara desert) group performing a traditional chanting/dancing/shooting number.
That is my uproarious cackle after the gunshots in the video above. The whole night was basically an uproarious cackle. And me looking around and thinking “Wow, if someone had shown me a slideshow of what my life would be like living abroad with Adam, surely this experience would be at the top of the deck.” I welled up several times, just at the beauty of such a gathering under the setting Sahara sun; these new friends whom we’re getting to know and the spontaneity with which they break into song; this Algerian chapter of our lives, a chapter that came, as they always do, so quickly before I’d even had time to process that Moroccan chapter. It all felt very exciting yet peaceful. I loved every minute of the night.
We drank a lot of very good wine. We ate a beautiful and artful three-course meal. Then we danced in the tent to the desert beats of another band. Drums and wailing and chanting and ululing (a high-pitched trilling call Algerian women make at a celebration, it’s sort of awesome and you should look it up). I didn’t understand any words, but I drank my wine and danced all the same until late into the night.
The next morning Adam and I nursed our well-earned hangovers by eating greasy bourek and drinking coffee. We boarded a plane back to Algiers (well, after a four hour delay in a tiny airport).
Happiest of birthdays to Rafik, our dashing, generous, and thoughtful new friend.
To a desert party,
*Note: For people traveling to the Sahara who want to create this magic, well, it would be difficult since much of it was brought in from Algiers. But you could still have your own unforgettable desert adventure. Contact Abdellah Hidjazi, who lives in Taghit, to help with the local logistics. (firstname.lastname@example.org; +213 554 33 62 19).