Friday, November 15, 2013

Day Four: Algiers Pt. 2

In the afternoon on Wednesday, we met up with a group of the 2013 students who took us to a show at the exhibition halls right by our hotel. It was a collection of mostly Algerian craftsmen (and women), as well as other African countries (and Pakistan for some reason). We had the opportunity to see a variety of different artists' wares, a majority of whom make traditional clothes, jewelry, pottery, etc. It was all very cool, but a little out of my price range.

The students were quite excited to share some local foods with us that were for sale at the exhibition. The big draw was the noga (this is how the students said it was spelled, but I am 100 percent sure we are talking about nougat), which was like marshmallows meet taffy. We also had a similar item the students said was Hlwa tork from Turkey. I am pretty sure it was this.

We also had two types of bread. One I am told is spelled "brag," but is not pronounced the way you think. I cannot find this one on the internet. It appeared to be made from cornmeal with a date paste in the middle, but I have no idea. The other is kasra and can be found on the internet.

Following the exhibition, we were joined by even more alumni, including one from the first year (2012) for dinner in the hotel. Before heading out on this trip, my boss had asked the students to arrange a dinner. Since we would be covering the bill, the location needed to accept MasterCard. As it turns out, that is more complicated than you might think. Visa seems to be more widely accepted in this part of the world, and Algeria in particular has a rather troubled banking system (more on that later). According to the students, the only restaurant that accepted MasterCard was in our hotel.

The students did an amazing job of arranging the meal and we were treated with an amazing selection of traditional foods. I was unable to get the names on all of these, but there was a kebab dish and two different couscous dishes. There were also two noodle dishes. In one the noodles were much like spaghetti. However, the second was made from pastry thin layers of dough and some sort of tomato-based sauce. It was pretty delicious. Breads, soups, salads. I thought I might explode. While we ate the students reminisced about their time in Bloomington. In particular they discussed the things they had missed doing that they wished they had time for. One in particular? The Cheesecake Factory.

After dinner, the students surprised us with dessert. We were given a pastry box that contained somewhere between six and 10 different Algerian pastries (though one was a baklava and they all insisted that one didn't count since it was Turkish). Either way, the boss and I had a bite of each one and pronounced our favorites. We were each gifted a pair of earrings. The students also had a special surprise for my boss. During culture night over the summer, she had told the students how much she had loved their Berber outfits. And so, on this evening they gifted her with a beautiful pink dress.

Visiting with the students on their home turf has been an amazing experience. First because they are all so happy to see us. But, more importantly, it is incredibly gratifying to see the students in their own environments where they feel confident and comfortable. It is also a pleasure to see how much they enjoy the opportunity to show us (my boss in particular, as she runs the program and got to know the students quite well) their homes. They enjoy taking a turn at being host, since they were guests while we knew them in the States.

Next we were off to see the harbor. The boss and I split off, her in one car of students and me in another. The student in the front seat turned a song up on the radio. "Do you recognize this?" At first I was confused, but then the lyrics started and we blasted "This is Indiana" on our way into town. Along the way, we passed the U.S. Embassy, where we had been earlier that day. One of the students in the car with me pointed out the embassy, "I remember that place. All my happiest moments were here."

After the harbor, we want to see Maqam Echahid (Monument des Martyrs) commemorating Algerian independence 61 years ago. It is an amazing structure.

I headed over to get a photograph of the amazing view of the city and the harbor and received a reprimand from the students. Though there is no sign, apparently you are not allowed on that part of the monument. "How do you know?" I asked. Apparently one of the many security guards at the monument had told them. "But why? The view is so lovely." Apparently, they are keeping people from throwing themselves over the edge. It was a great a example of Sara being an oblivious tourist. I thought the students were telling me not to go down there because I had accidentally stepped onto the grass and landscaping around the monument, rather than on the stairs. However, they were telling me not to go down there because the man with the gun would prefer that I didn't.

And then it was back to the hotel to get some sleep before heading to Morocco in the morning.

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