This pounding in my head and the lazy but steadish pound of the construction of the new market across the street (just spitting distance, the street is too narrow for two cars) wakes me up. It is Day 2 of Ramadan in Algeria.
S woke up ready to fast, excited it makes him so grown-up like his dad and his cousins, especially Omar, the one he looks up to the most.
(I am sitting in the only air conditioned room in the house, my head pounding. Maybe last night a dust storm is to blame. The storm banged its way in from the Sahara through the hills of Sig, through the busted-up 'howsh' (the second floor porch that lies within the building but open to the sky, not facing out to the street, as the exterior, narrow balconies do). Still they sat on the porch, husband and wife of the house, watching TV in grimy, white plastic chairs, sheilding their coffee laced with sugar and basic from the dust and sand the storm carried with it all those miles.
Here they come.
Last night the food was not so much flavor but done. But when L complained about the harira being too bloody hot to eat and his other brothers chiming in, poor Fatima sat there with her hands in her lap shredding bread looking like an old, fat baby with a front tooth missing; looking heart-broken and it was then I noticed all the weight she had gained in the past year.
It was almost too much for me. More real than imaginary, her pschological angst and I get swept into the storm of other's emotions at the simple sight of a clean, white pillow sitting empty on a wheelchair beside the thin woman it belongs to. But that is another story.
The meat was some unknown part of lamb, shoulder maybe. Not legs, not neck, not feet, not ribs. That narrows it a bit.
It was stewed in broth of onion and garlic and mushrooms from the can and crushed carroway seeds and colorant, colorant sits in a jar the same size as salt and stains the counter and the stove with its red/orange bite. All afternoon heating up the kitchen's tiled walls and adding steamy, electric static to the yellowish window panes. But the meat comes out tough and stringy bespite all the hours of cooking and the mushrooms look shriveled and lost in all the broth.
The harira, which can be a glorious, healthful affair of carrot and zucchini, potato, tomato bubbled up in a soupy brew with mint, cilantro, parsely and spices to flavor, blended (she used to do it with a hand-tool, but now she does it with a cheery white and lemon yeloow blender) then wheat bulgar to thicken and give it a heartieness. But this soup tasted yellow with colorant and not enough salt and (with each word, though what I write is true, I hate myself for it. I cannot stand to critisize, be critisized.
There is no water this morning coming from the tap. This might not be a problem for those fasting in the house (OK, everyone eles, but for me). They won't be brushing their teeth and putting in their contacts, trying to wash off the oily sheen that I call my complection. But I desperately am going to do these things and so I have to go to the fridge (the kitchen is blessedly empty for the minute, Ousia gone down to the second floor to pull some frozen fish out of the deep freeze to cook for dinned) and I grab a bottle of water and off I scurry to the bathroom, travel toothbrush pre-loaded with Sensodyne, sample size face wash and contacts case all in the pocket of my oversized shorts stolen from L for bedtime wear. Because even though maybe they know I am brushing my teeth in here and doing other elicit things, like washing my face with foamy green cleanser, I still feel this need to hide it. So I bring all small versions of toiletries with me, stuffed away to the bathroom.
Back in the AC Room I call home while I am here, I'm pretty refreshed. And now bored with my own account of things.
It is the heat that blinds, that bitchifies me. I leave Sig to go pick up some clean clothes from our apt and swing through emotions as the heat and filth of Sig wears off of me. We have left the kids to play with their cousins. The drive is hot and we have suitcases from Spain to bring home. We bring along L's brother, huge nephew of 16, and a man who always seems to be around helping, Beludjama (spelling is always approximate, I am afraid. Sorry) in case the elevator is out in our building again, as it sometimes is when the neighbors fight with each other and one turns it off and waits for the other to appologize. Like most things in Algeria, it is almost impossible for me to understand how and why these things are allowed to happen and find them even more impossibley fantastic, too much to explain.
But before I take you Oran and show you the waves, can I say it shortly without publicly but maybe I might race through it to be done with it so pay close attension, please, please:
(Can I say that the toilet was full of shit this morning and my child refused to pee in it and I couldn't blame him and so I devised a plan for him to pee in a small, blue bowl that is used to scoop water onto your butt in the bathroom or over your head if its the hamam you're at. But this plan fails when he has peed all down his dirty khakis and watermellon underwear that have always before this moment appeared to me to be very cute and bring me joy. Right now,though,they only add to the farse of it.
The pee dribbling onto his "BIG TOES!!!" and he screams and screams and the smell of shit in the toilet that cannot be flushed because, as I have said, there is no water this morning and I cannot take off his shoes to wash his feet because I would have to set him back onto the floo which is dirty with the trackings of dust that all pairs of shoes -cheap flip-flops mostly but any pari and all pairs track into every Algerian house (dust and inky thin, sky blue bags that blow across the fields of and get snagged in olive trees and honeydew patches seem to be the main crops of Algeria) and this dust spatters the floors so every day the floors are washed again but still there is grime there on the bathroom floor and the water in the well that supplies this house with six children, ages 7 to 20, and three adults and now me and my husband and two kids; the well has dried because it's summer and because we all shit and the floors have been washed yesterday and all the dishes from the Ramadan meal and all the mini-meals and tea and coffee that come afer for all the persons listed about plus one ver tiny old woman who comes each Ramadan here to this house, each day or the holy month and never wavers in her routine of eating her food with bony fingers she brings the nubs of fried fish to her mouth and the tattoo down her forehead makes me ache for the other old woman,now dead, I knew who had one tattoo much the same but down her chin, whose parents also tatttoed her in The Time Of The French to keep their daughters from being desired and taken by French men, soldiers or otherwise.
Sooo, standing in the bathroom with Z wailing, covered in pee, I am desperate and filled with Rage (it is not too cliched to say?) at L for bringing me here to this place and keeping me here (but, is that true, the keeping part or just an ugly, easy way to say it to barter for sympathy from you?) anyway, brought me here and then is largely gone, absent from here (the inside part of the house where I am to stay and not to go out walking, not even in the evening when the breeze is cool off the hills and the sky filled with stars and the streets quieted but for sputtering motor bikes) as he waits in the cool underside of the building, the first floor everyone calls the Store but actually nothing is sold from here, sits there and holds court with his brothers as the afternoon ticks by and waits for the sunset prayer to be called and then he is by my side as he hurries in to eat the meal - always harira soup, potato pancakes-type patties, meat, stewed prunes on the side, cold water and soda, bread and bread and bread. Bagettes of cheap flour and black seed clinging to their crusts.
Then he moves to the other table where he drinks coffee and eats shameah, a semolina dessert thtat is wet with honey (or fake, reversed-sugar honey, most likely) studded with almonds or crushed peanuts. While he drinks coffee and I drink coffee and the others drink coffee, spiked with cardamim or not, 2 sugars or 1, outside the Imamas are reciting Quran over the loudspeakers of their mosques but there are so many mosques and they are not even slightly in sync so the gaggle cacklephony of voices distracts me from the new soap opera made just for Ramadan we are watching on TV. This year the soap opera is from Jordon, last year it was from Syria, but right now, Syria isn't exporting those kind of dramas, what with the real life drama of blood and divisions tearing apart the country, there is no need for fiction from there right now. It is enough to puzzle through what is real and not in the news from there.
It is a day after what I just described. All that sound and I am still dizzy from the heat that has sucked at my brain and washed up my head all day, still that heat lingers and brings me ill. I am still bit by it.
(Watch now: The Bats Get Gone just as the prayer is called.)
So today. Spending the day in Oran, in my apartment that is always cool with sea breezes I sit looking into its stormy, stony grey waters of today, I unwind these feelings and find myself overwhelmed again with them and unable to really mend myself.
I might need a good cry about now. But L is on his way back now to pick me up again with three big men in the back seat, two of whom I can speak to freely, but the third, not being family and being of Sig I have to communicate with indirectly if at all. So, I have to hurry up and finish my coffee and wash away the grinds and put away my cup and be done with this and back to where my children are, racing cars and chasing hide and seek games through the August hot house in Sig.
Oh! My search for coffee went like this: there was none to be had in the morning, as Ouiza was already in the kitchen before I got up, so no scrounging and snuffling into bags of coffee grounds could take place.
But here in Oran, after L and his three companions left me to recoup and went off to persue their wandering (wandering and TV seem to be ther main occupations of men who are of random or little employement OR on vacation, as L is), I quickly made coffee.
(Ouiza told me a story that in the old days, if the scent of brewing coffee was caught on a breeze by passers-by below in the early part of the Ramadan day when everyone SHOULD be fasting and not sippin coffee as I am now, the culpret would be hunted down and thoroughly punished.
I do not think this story was told for anything other than instructional purposes, ie, these days should still exist and please do not ask me for any food because I will not choose to understand you. Nor will I offer you food, as this also would look as though I approave of you in general and your breaking the fast particularly.)
But I did have time to sit, alone in the apt I love the best of all and seep up caffine and the sight of the waves, wind always the cool wind off the water and warm black, sweet coffee in a white porcelin cup with a silver edge, you might say, lining to it.