One year ago today — on July 1, 2019 — we landed in Algiers to start our three-year tour. Back then, we thought we’d be here for two years, but we quickly extended for an additional year. I’m glad we did, because otherwise we’d be trying to figure out where to go next right now, and who wants to make those kinds of big decisions in the face of so much uncertainty?
Being in a place for a year and having two years left is a nice place to be. (Unlike our 10–month tour in Rabat, or the less than two years we lived in Madrid). I’ve been in Algiers long enough that I can tell you where to go to get a painting framed, how to make a left turn through six lanes of traffic at a free-wheeling intersection, and which local crème fraîche is an apt stand-in for sour cream. But we still have lots of time to discover other parts of this massive country, of which I’ve seen so little other than a trip to nearby Tipaza and that epic party in the desert.
But what a weird time to be looking back on this past year, still in the midst of a pandemic that has already changed the shape of our time in Algeria. It’s hard to not let the past three-and-a-half months cast an outsized shadow on our first year here. It’s been nearly four months since we turned around en route to the airport for what was supposed to have been a trip to Valencia, Spain. I had just started my job at the embassy when we were given orders to work from home. So, for the past three months, it’s been getting to know my job duties mostly on my own. Getting to know every nook and cranny of our house, no restaurants, no takeout (our beloved Indian place, Taj Mahal, just reopened for delivery a few weeks ago, and we’ve re-cemented ourselves as their top-spending customers). No cultural activities like concerts. No trips to other parts of Algeria. No trips to other countries. No chance of going to the U.S. this summer. In many ways, these quarantimes feel like lost, or wasted time, although I’m sure years from now I’ll look back with a certain fondness at how cozy we were in our Algiers house, how good I was about working out every day, how much my tennis game improved, and how I made some delicious meals (until I got sick of cooking).
So, aside from these past strange months – or maybe even accounting for them – I think I like living here more than I expected. I’m trying to suss out how much of that is just that I love our house so much. It’s spacious, and I have had so much fun decorating. (Check out some room reveal posts I’ve done, including Beachy Textured Master Bedroom, The Handsome Dark Green Study, Coral and Navy Guest Bedroom, a Jungle-Inspired Bar Nook, and An Algerian Kitchen Makeover.) It feels decadent and self-congratulatory to share this, but I often walk around the rooms, sit in them, and admire them. I slept in the guest bedroom the other night just because it looked so cool and welcoming. (Exciting times these are!) The outside space is also cool (I’ll do a photoshoot out there soon, quick before I kill all the plants, and share in a blog post) with all the Majorelle blue Moroccan pots, the cactus corner, and fruit-tree filled little upstairs yard. It’s not a big space, but I just discovered a cherry tree up there.
Also, our neighborhood is really cute. Our street is so narrow, we’re basically on top of our across-the-street neighbors, but I’ve really come to enjoy opening the window in the morning and hearing all the life on the street – the sloshing water from the buckets of the cleaning woman at the huge houses across the street (at least I think they’re huge? It’s hard to tell where one house ends and the next begins), the barking German Shepherd from the apartment building next door, even our car-obsessed neighbor’s incessant engine-revving, the cooing of the pigeons, the squawking of the seagulls, the chirping the other yet-to-be-identified-by-me birds. There’s a little epicerie nearby where I buy eggs, milk, and yogurt and the shopkeeper and I do a little routine each time about him not understanding how many eggs I’m asking for.
I felt welcome in Algeria right away because Algerians are so darn nice and welcoming. That’s been such a difference from everywhere else we’ve lived, places where I mostly gave up on having local friends. Here we do have local friends, as well as embassy friends, and diplomat friends from other counties who are also posted in Algeria. I can’t wait to be social again and have them over for a big party or a small dinner party. Just a party! Dying for a party.
As a city, well, Algiers still confounds me. There’s the historic kasbah, which is the setting of the Battle of Algiers, both the real life battle and the movie made about it. I’ve only been in there a few times because we need to inform police when we’re going in and that seems like a lot. I’d like to know more about the history of the kasbah and I’m sure I’ll visit many more times before we leave, but for now the kashah strikes me as rundown, unwelcoming, and not the bustling medina I imagined it to be (I blame Morocco for giving me my prototypical medina image).
But there are shops worth visiting elsewhere in the city- a handful of design and home decor places – and I’ve slowly been trying to visit those. There are some good restaurants – especially the Indian restaurant and the Chinese restaurant. There are some mediocre restaurants. I’d take any of them right about now.
Also kind of confusing about Algiers: It’s a city on a bay, but every time I catch a glimpse of the water, I’m surprised to see it. Like, oh yes, this is a seaside city! While the view of the white buildings and homes of Algiers rising up from the bay is a pretty one, I’ve found few ways of interacting with the Mediterranean Sea, which is right there! Too few places in Algiers have a sea view; I haven’t found a nice running path along the water (although there is a promenade you can walk on); there are no nice seaside restaurants that I know of; the city beach is not a place I’d hang out at as a woman since I only see guys there; and really much of the bay is spotted with factories and shipping containers and smokestacks.
But, there are nice beaches here, especially on the east side of the city at a beach area called Ain Taya. It’s about a 45 minute drive at least, but it’s nice sand and water. I’m not really one to enjoy a day sweating my buttcheeks off atop a pile of sand for hours on end, but I think we’ll go there at least a few times this summer. For now, the city has closed all the beaches.
It’s been a long discovery to find the cool and beautiful things in the city, and I’m still no expert. Certainly not an expert in the country as a whole, which makes me less enthusiastic than I’ve ever been about having visitors. It seems like it would be really difficult to plan trips for visitors (the difficulty getting a tourists visa to come here is a whole other issue), so I might be more inclined to suggest friends and family meet us elsewhere. Greece anyone? It’s a shame because the country is vast and beautiful, but there’s a lack of good travel information and accommodations and also there’s the pesky issue about needing Algerian government approval before leaving the city of Algiers.
One of the major selling points Adam used to convinced me to agree to stay in Algiers for an additional year: The abundance of cheap and quick flights to other places. Indeed, since we arrived last July, I’ve been to Spain, and Morocco, and several times to France. But with the Algiers airport shuttered, and with no indication of when it will reopen, I’m feeling a little trapped and longing to wear a chic outfit and sip wine in a Parisian cafe, or sidle up to an old bar in Madrid and wash down olives and potato chips with a glass of vermouth. I might just miss bars and restaurants even more than I miss traveling.
Honestly, I’m writing this blog post a few days after a kind of traumatic incident in deserted park, and so perhaps I’m not feeling as charitable about picking out all the good things about living in Algiers. But I suppose I can still mention that it took a lot of work to find some decent hiking/running/walking trails but that they do indeed exist. Should I go to them by myself? Probably not.
But there are plenty of nice things about Algiers: The perfect weather, the nice people, our lovely house in a lovely neighborhood, our jobs. We can easily be happy here for another two years.
To two more years,