getting ready for our trip to algeria every year is like preparing for the end of days. i go prepared for life without: tampons, zip lock bags, contact solution, packets of miso paste, my favorite pilot precise fine rolling pens in black.
today i went to target and bought calamine for the mosquito bites. i got 24 crayons for the plane. i got a ridiculous microphone for us to yodel into at the beach house.
the kids and i get nasty big misquito bruisey bumps at night in our apt. our apt is way, way up high on the last street before the crashing cliff down, down to sea and port. we have the 11th floor with no one above us and and look far out into the med. sea and the ancient port- russian ships docking and spanish ferries leaving, their lights trailing behind in the ending smoke of sunset.
our balcony is huge, an extra room, really. our apt is the only one with this. the apts below us have another bedroom in its stead, but i'll take this space a million times, yes! it's floor is smooth red tiles you might see in an oven. there is a faucet and every morning while the kids and larbi sleep i wake and fill bucket and then bucket and crash it over the tiles. i pull the long-handled squeegee to sloose the water down the drain. i sit and watch the sky and the silence that is long in oran, algeria, where the work day schedule is flexible, when it gets done at all. i wait til the tiles' lighten and dry off then i go to boil the coffee and spiral cookies on a plate, sniff last night's left-over mergez sausage and wilted peppers.
but the mosquito's. i wanted to tell you about the mosquitoes. the water supply is kinked up by the government. stops and starts without warning. sometimes, two, three days the faucets pant hot air before they gush again. so everyone keeps these huge barrels of water. and small pots and out on their balconies (and there are so many balconies in this city that is like a broken, crumbling paris in its architecture). so mosquitoes breed and breed and there are no screens on the huge windows that open out or up or both in tricky ways that only a few old men even understand how to repair anymore.
so, yes. mosquitoes wait and hide during the day and when the lights go out they feast. yes, really, they hide. before we go to bed larbi and sofiane will hunt them. they open up the closets, and, balled up t-shirt in hand, aim and fire. sofiane loves this and larbi really kills a lot of them. 'kelba,' (bitch) he says after every kill. why is it always she, i ask? seriously!
we have to bring plenty of deep-woods OFF. the other kind that is supposed to be family friendly or some shit DOES NOT WORK. the algerian mosquito's use that stuff for deodorant. it bothers them not in the least. every night i spray down the kids on the balcony with a sinking heart, trying to ignore the threat of cancer and whatever else that crap can lead to.
so, lots of OFF is always on my shopping list. i am going to Costco for that tomorrow.
larbi is kind of a one-man santa show in his family and every year he insists he isn't bringing much, but that is always FAR from the truth. he packs the presents he brings for his eight brothers and sisters and all their kids and all their grand kids in between my striped dresses and pink swim suit, between my hair conditioner and flip-flops. yes, he is the only one in his family living in the USA and, yes, he is looked up to by all the siblings as the peace maker, as the successful one who made it, but the mountains of stuff he feels he has to bring, or that he just wants to bring, i don't know, each year drives me crazy.
maybe i'm jealous that his generosity goes beyond me, maybe i want all that attention for myself and when we're there, his sisters, especially his sisters swallow up most of it. here in new york i get him all to myself but over there i am not at the center of the family any more. we cross the atlantic and the earth has tilted and the family structure is shifted.
i am not one for searching anthropology to better understand my life with larbi. my life is not an experiment and it is not a chance to rub shoulders with 'the other.' and anthropology separates too much what is a contiguous fabric. But. An anthro. professor of mine at columbia once told me that in algeria, the family unit is the patrilineal line, not the nuclear family.
so when we are here - larbi, sofiane, zakeria and i - we are a family but when we go to algeria, it is HIS family that is central. i feel it and it makes me so pissed. it is not our apt., it is the house of his sisters' brother, his house. i am tagged on as an afterthought. a baby machine. not that i feel my husband thinks of me in this way. it is just the climate of his family that i only come to understand in bites and fits, starts and screaching halts.
thank goodness you have a boy, my professor told me. at least his family can't harp on that. and it gives you status.
how did i get into all this? i started out writing about my lists of essentials to pack and end up no where i wanted to be, opening up parts of my life that take too much out of me to explain except in sweeping strokes and i give up feeling that i've entirely misled you.