WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY Zinah Al Ahdal
Mother nature consecrated Algeria with sky high palm trees, tiffany turquoise oceans and acres of golden mountains, though beneath the surface lays a troubled world. Algiers and Oran are chief tourist destinations for Algerian citizens whilst international tourism is plagued with restrictions.
While many are unaware of this, some claim it protects Algerians from foreign influence shielding its 99% Islamic population. The streets are polluted – garbage fills the sidewalks, folks throw refuse bags from cars whilst driving and buildings from colonial periods are left to deteriorate as a form of rebellion. Though French private and government owned constructions are refurbished for sight-seeing.
Homelessness, sex workers and alcohol abuse are largely ignored though the number of ‘casual’ sex workers in Oran is gargantuan, despite it being illegal. Unwedded couples are forbidden from sharing hotel rooms, wedded couples must present a marriage certificate to verify nuptials.
In most Muslim countries, drinking alcohol in public is illegal resulting in a fine or imprisonment though this does not seem to apply in Algeria. The beaches at Ain-Al Turk are littered with alcohol, bottles and cans.
Alcohol is casually consumed in public during the day leaving one to ponder why it is widely available.
As for the homeless, they’re on their own. I witnessed a middle-aged man collapse due to what looked like alcohol poisoning on a mid-autumn day across from Hotel Amel. With no one in sight, the logical solution was to seek help from the hotel. Though this turned out to be a bad idea.
In Oran, empathy towards others is infrequent, particularly empathy towards black migrants. It is often limited to display understanding and share mutual feelings to one another, though often unhelpful.
People in Algeria can be sympathetic, but it will not save lives. After much time attempting to explain what could happen to the man, using a forceful, threatening manner seemed the only viable option to persuade the hotel manager to aid him.
This resulted in him making unnecessary remarks about the unconscious man, as he claimed if he alerted emergency services, he will be held responsible for what may happen to the stranger.
In other words, people are better left dying on the streets, for fear of being held accountable for what may happen to them afterwards. What are the consequences? Worst-case scenario, jail time for a complete stranger’s death.
Selfishness is a means of survival in Algeria. There was no hope in aiding the man that afternoon. The irony was, the hotel’s name ‘Amel’, means ‘hope’ in Arabic. Algeria is full of contradictions, its independence from the French empire was both a liberation and limitation. There is pleasure and pain, pride and indignity in everything its citizens say and do.