Thursday, November 14, 2013

Day Four: Algiers

We started the morning with a visit to the U.S. Embassy and ended the evening at the Maqam Echahid (Monument des Martyrs) commemorating Algerian independence.

The embassy visit went extremely well. As we ere leaving, we asked for recommendations on a place for lunch and one of the embassy staff provided some suggestions. He recommended we go to Sidi Yahia and said it was five minutes by taxi. Looking to see the city, we asked if it was possible to walk. Sure, it would take about 20 minutes on foot, just take the embassy road down to the fork and take a right over the bridge. The directions seemed to taper off after that, but I figured we could ask someone on the other side of the bridge.

We headed out, walking the white line on a road that butted directly up against a high, cement wall. Walking behind my boss, I comforted her by saying that if we were hit, she would have some advance warning, as I would get hit first.

Once we were on the other side of the bridge, there was no clear indication on where to go. I stopped a woman passing by and showed her the name of the road we were looking for to get directions. She had no English and we had no French, but she pointed us in the direction we were heading and we were happy to head off again. However, she seemed concerned for us. She indicated she wanted to get us a taxi, but with no Algerian dinars on us and an interest in exploring, we wanted to walk. It was this point that the helpful passer-by became our guide/hostage. With our guide leading the way, it appears we were heading for Sidi Yahia. Repeated attempts to communicate only confirmed that my boss's French is a bajillion times better than mine, and still not enough to convey ideas. We wanted to communicate that we were ok and that we just wanted to walk and that she was free to leave us. But repeatedly saying "nous c'est bon" was not solving the problem.

As we were walking, we spotted a bank. As we needed dinar anyway, we decided to stop there, thinking that this would free our guide/hostage from her self-imposed duties. Instead, she joined us and, as far as I could tell, helped us cut the line. During our time in the bank, she communicated through a bank employee with limited English skills that we shouldn't go to Sidi Yahia, that there were much nicer places to go. However, when we tried to communicate that she was free to go on her way, she stayed. So it looks like we both ignored each other.

With dinar in hand, we headed out again, our guide/hostage leading the way. As it turns out, there was no way we would have found this street on our own. She led us on a long, windy route that included what appeared to be some alleys, but eventually, we arrived. She was reluctant to leave us. She wanted us to not talk to men, to hold on to our bags, and I clearly understood "death," which she said in English. Though not entirely comforting, I was not too worried, as the U.S. Embassy had recommended the spot and it looked like a perfectly normal shopping district.

Speaking of shopping districts. Why is it when you are visiting another country and are looking to see the local sights or some culture or eat some authentic food, everyone wants to send you to the mall? The Jordanians took us to their new mall (thanks guys, but I have seen an H&M before) and the U.S. Embassy had also sent us to a Western shopping area. Once again, every restaurant we passed seemed to serve pizza.

When it was time to head back to the hotel to meet with the students, the boss and I headed out to the street to hail a taxi. I tried to hail the first car I saw with a sign on the roof. However, on closer inspection it was not a taxi at all, but a student driver. Oops.

More on our time with the students and the Monument des Martyrs when I return. We are heading to the airport now. It's time for yet another country.

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