Thursday, October 09, 2014

Algiers Life: The People in my Neigborhood

Who needs a gym when you can climb this?
It's hard to believe I've now been in Algiers for two weeks.  Apart from catching the embassy shopping center shuttle a couple times and going to the botanical gardens (that's for another post), we've pretty much haven't left our new neighborhood.  The dog walks gives a nice excuse/motivation to explore our surroundings.

So what is my neighborhood like?  Well, as I mentioned previously, it is hilly.  This fact has not escaped the notice of our toddler, who comments on the embassy car going up and down as it drives her to preschool. The Hydra neighborhood (anyone who knows Algiers can easily guess what neighborhood I'm in) is home to several embassies and is relatively affluent.  That said, we're talking high-density-lack-of-parking-vertical-apartments-with-junk-sitting-on-people's-balconies affluent.  I'm not sure where the uber-rich live, but I doubt it is here.    

We are living on one floor of a building we share with other embassy families.  We don't have a 'yard,'  but we do have a reasonably nice shared tiled terrace with plant boxes and some mosaics on the wall. There are worst views to have from one's living room.  From the kitchen windows, I can even observe the activities on the streets below us.

There are many businesses in our neighborhood--especially on the main plaza, which is nearby.  Bakeries (fresh baguettes, croissants, pastries, etc), florists, produce vendors, gelato shops, pizzarias, fancy salons, shawarma shops, small corner grocery stores, fancy dress shops displaying gowns that defy what I've been told about Algerian modesty norms, travel agencies, school supply shops, tablecloth restaurants, etc.

not a sea view, but not too shabby
Everyone I've met has been very friendly--including the police officers/traffic cops, who seem to be on every corner.  I've even been surprised at the number of shop keepers who have invited me inside even when I had the dog with me (this is common in Paris, but definitely not in the USA).  Despite what I had been warned, I don't think I'm at any risk of feeling trapped inside my house at this post.

My neighborhood is full of life.  In the public spaces one finds boys gathered around foosball tables and groups of old men sitting on paint cans passionately involved in a game of dominos.  School children in their uniforms walk by our house in large numbers multiple times per day (half-day system or long lunches at home?).  Most want to pet our dog when they see him.

There don't appear to be many other dogs in our neighborhood, but there is an abundance of feral cats.  I'm told these are welcome because they keep the rodent population at bay. The levels of litter drive me nuts (especially when the youth hanging out by the convenience store toss trash on our street), but the government pays cleanups crews who occasionally come through and tidy up.    

One thing that has surprised me, though, is how many Algerians in my neighborhood don't speak French. Guess I'd better add Arabic to my growing languages-to-learn list!

In case it wasn't obvious, this is the soundtrack that was playing in my head as I typed this:

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Life in Algiers: Preschool

First day of preschool
Sunday (Fri-Sat weekends here), we took our daughter to preschool for the very first time.  We weren't sure how she would react to being left with strangers--let alone a polylingual (French, Arabic and English) school, so we'd been talking with her for weeks in advance about going to school.  Her Mimi and Papi even bought her a Dora backpack that she's been looking forward to taking to school.

When the day finally arrived, Evelyn acted like she was already a pro at this school thing.  Nonchalantly gave me a kiss on the cheek when I told her I was leaving and excitedly chatted to me about playing horses when I came back in the afternoon.  We're now one week in and she still loves going to school. Whew. 

 I don't actually know too much about what goes on in her school other than she likes her teachers, is making friends, and brings home refrigerator art most days. The French system apparently discourages parents from observing the school in session. That, and this school is located on a relatively busy street without a parking lot.  Pick-up and drop-off times are full of honking horns and stopped traffic.  Parents are supposed to promptly make the exchange and drive off.  This makes things particularly tricky because it is impossible to predict how long it will take to drive from my apartment to the school with traffic congestion the way it is.  Arrive too early and you have to circle the 'block' (or, if you're lucky to have a driver, you huddle with other parents in front of the gate waiting for it to open).  Arrive even a few minutes late in the morning and you'll find the security gate locked and you now without childcare that day.   

The first few days a new friend of mine was able to give us a lift to the school and even introduced me to a yummy nearby restaurant. Now I'm doing the embassy motorpool thing, which means gate huddle time (good for making new friends for myself).  So far at the gate I've befriended someone from Djibouti and a high-ranking person at another embassy.  That reminds me of a topic I should write more about soon--- the reason we are getting danger pay here.  As much as I want to share with my friends back home all about my surreal life, I do want to be especially careful about walking that fine line between "not letting the terrorists win by forcing me into a scared silence" and making it easier for them to plan attacks.  So, as to the name of the school (including photos/details of what it looks like) and who else sends their kids there, I think I'll error of the side of silence.  As to showing the world what my family looks like, well, that bridge was crossed a long time ago. 

Wishing you a peaceful weekend, and to my Muslim friends, Eid Mubarak! 

Evelyn's little lamb is saying "Eid Mubarak!"

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Our first weekend in Algiers

Bab Ezzouar shopping center (image pulled from mall's website)

Having flown into Algiers Thursday evening, we got up Friday morning (weekends are Fri-Sat here) to catch the embassy's grocery shopping shuttle van.

Our destination was further away than I realized--a bit of a drive-- to the Bab Ezzouar shopping center (the shuttle doesn't always go to this one; sometimes it goes to Ardis instead). What surprised me most about the mall was that I recognized the names of several of the stores inside (and I don't mean like the "7-Eleven" in Lusaka, the "Big Boy" in Djibouti or the "KFC" in Lubumbashi).  They have an honest-to-goodness Hush Puppies store! They also have Timberland, Samsonite, Benneton, Lacoste, Nike, Swatch, etc. and a bowling alley on the second floor.

About the only things we couldn't find that we wanted in the large Uno grocery store was English tea (lot of herbals and coffees, though) and American-style milk.  We discovered the hard way that the stuff they sell in the refrigerated section in bottles that has a label that translates as "100% cow milk" is more like buttermilk or thick liquid yogurt.  Anybody got ideas on how to use 5 bottles of it? Pouring it on cereal has already been tried and rejected as an option.

The rest of the day was spent nesting in our new apartment and dealing with jetlag.

Saturday morning after a bit of a sleep-in we were picked-up by our social sponsors and taken to the heated swimming pool on the ambassador's compound so that our daughter could have a playdate with a few of the other embassy toddlers.  ---I want to pause a moment and say what great social sponsors we've had.  Not only did they have their preschooler daughter make a giant welcome sign for our daughter, they did generous things like loan us a soft set of bed sheets so we don't have to sleep on the cheap welcome kit ones while waiting several weeks for ours to arrive. ---

The community pool at the ambassador's is nestled inside the residence's extensive botanical gardens. My jaw hit the ground when I stepped through the security gates and saw the lush winding paths and palatial home.  There is even a small playground near the pool for the embassy children. I'd love to show you pictures of the gardens, but given local security concerns, you can understand why people are touchy about photography around government buildings here. Luckily, there is this photo of her house on the embassy's public website. You'll just have to try to imagine what the rest of the property looks like.  I'll give you a hint, though: fountains, a tennis court and rose and decorative herb gardens are involved.

Amb's house, Algiers (image pulled from USA embassy website)