I’m in the midst of a much-needed “follow my bliss” day at home in Algiers. I, somewhat remarkably, slept for 12 hours. I did a Marine-led workout at the embassy this morning (really not as hard as you’d imagine); made a Norwegian omelette lunch for Adam and myself before saying goodbye to him as he’s in Batna for the weekend, where I expect he won’t be subject to a newspaper article on his bathroom usage. Then, I took a bath; started a book about a Moroccan member of the royal court who was imprisoned for two decades; had tea; and set down to write an overdue blog about a spectacular trip I recently took to the Sahara desert area of Djanet. And I do want to share that awesome experience, but as I started to write down all my experiences from the past month, I felt compelled to keep going with that. So, in today’s theme of doing whatever I feel like (#ihavenokids), here’s some highlights from November.
November was a month of near-constant rain in Algiers and near-constant work at the embassy. I oversee a handful of American cultural centers in Algeria and we’d been planning to bring people who work and volunteer at these centers to Algiers for a big training, and to also bring a colleague who oversees all of these centers in the region in from Cairo. It was a good training, but also it was a big lift. It was capped off with a trip to nearby Tipaza, and the sky really opened up on our group so we were a soggy bunch tucking into an extravagant fish lunch at Le Dauphin, aka the restaurant where I ate fish for the first time in more than two decades. We also hosted a series of spelling bees in Algeria, and that was quite fun and surprising that so many Algerians would show up to spell English words. Surprising in part because it would be hard to do a spelling bee in Arabic as you don’t write vowels, but rather you put various accent marks on the letters to indicate which vowel sound is in between. But also, spelling bees are just so American, so I figured it would be too foreign of a concept. Wrong! There was great turnout. It also brought back the embarrassment I felt when I lost on the word “fruit” in my third-grade spelling bee, which is a reminder that you can be a good writing but bad at spelling (and in possession of a innate grasp of, but no interest or formal understanding of grammar rules). My American accent proved hard for some Algerians to understand and indeed the reason a few went out of the contest. I had to stop at one point and explain that Americans pronounce double-Ts as a D, so button sounds like “buddin.” I found myself trying to think “How would a Brit say this word?” and providing an “alternate pronunciation” for words like “trauma” and “vitamin.”
But I’ll be honest: The grind is kind of getting me down. I like my job, and I adore my colleagues, but I am remembering fondly that long stretch where I worked from home in my pjs, and had lots more free time – to cook, to read, to write, to decorate, to help others decorate their places. Lately it’s felt like an inordinate time spent in the office, occasionally topped off with work-related events at night. I’m grateful for my job at the U.S. embassy, but I’m missing my me time. And as I’m not the diplomat – Adam is – I find myself questioning why exactly I committed myself to a 40+ hour a week diplomatic job. Money, duh. Also: professional fulfillment, getting to interact in a much more meaningful way with this beautiful country and its people, having a showcase for my office wardrobe. I’m sure I’ll just bitch about not having a purpose next year, but I must say I’m looking forward to a a year of living in Princeton, New Jersey and spending my days however I decide.
What else? I hosted a fun YouTube live for work about Thanksgiving traditions in America, and had a catered Thanksgiving celebration with all of our American colleagues, and while it satisfied my desire to be around a bunch of people in a cozy setting, my veggie Thanksgiving plate left me longing for my labor-intensive and rich Thanksgiving favorites so I’m very pleased our friends are hosting a Thanksgivingkuh celebration tomorrow to which I will bring Smitten Kitchen’s green bean casserole, or GBC as I like to call it, which I know will pair nicely with some crisp latkes.
Early in the month, I had a lot of fun being interviewed by Andrea Holm, an American English teacher living in Spain about the ups and downs of living a life abroad. It was nice to think and talk about how living in a new place is wonderfully inspiring, but also a frequent source of embarrassment, or how I don’t feel like myself for about three months when I move somewhere new. She asked if it’s true diplomats go to a lot of parties and I had to be honest: Our life in Algiers actually is lot of parties. And the day after the interview, I went to the Marine Ball which every U.S. Embassy in the world hosts each November in honor of the birthday of the Marine Corps. The Marine Ball is usually held in a fancy hotel and attendees wear gowns. This year’s celebration was going to be outdoor at the Ambassador’s residence — a lovely tiled space overlooking the city, and beyond that, the Mediterranean Sea — but that cold November rain moved the party inside to the lobby of the embassy. Dancing 25 feet from my desk in a cleavage-y dress was uncomfortable at first, but after a few gin and tonics, I kicked off my heels (because two years without ’em has made me soft) and danced the cha-cha slide on a sticky tiled floor with my colleagues. It was actually pretty fun, and sort of reminiscent of my first-ever Marine Ball in Yemen, which was held in the lobby of the Sheraton hotel in which we all lived. (Adam hadn’t told me my new life involved balls and I did not pack a gown. I actually had my wedding dress with me though, as we were essentially honeymooning in Yemen, but decided against wearing that).
Speaking of parties: Even though it seems inevitable that new Omicron COVID variant will come to Algeria any day now, there still were a number of fun parties in November. While most Algerians don’t seem interested in being vaccinated, all us foreign diplomats are. A blind wine tasting party was great fun. The constraint was that we all had to bring a bottle of red wine that cost more than $26 that could be procured on the local market, whether through the wine-delivery service the diplomats all use, or through our embassy commissary. (There were a few local, downlow liquor stores before COVID but I haven’t seen any of them reopen). Out of 13 bottles, the winning one was pricy Saint-Emilion Grand Cru from France and the losing bottle was a turpentine-meets-socks lone Algerian bottle, a result that was kind of troubling in light of the history of Algeria but didn’t dwell on it because it was just a fun party.
Also: There was some beautiful historic villas in Algiers, many of which are either Algerian government buildings, foreign embassies, or the homes of ambassadors, and it’s one of my favorite Algiers activities to see these villas. The other week, we were at a small reception in the home of the Spanish ambassador, standing out on the stunning balcony (again, a tiled number overlooking the Med) when someone pointed out a photo of Eisenhower, Churchill, Anthony Eden, and others having a meeting in the exact same spot on which I was standing!
And I haven’t even touched on the most remarkable part of November – our three-night camping trip in the Sahara. That’ll be next!
To cold November rain but still having a good time despite it,