Thursday, March 31, 2011


to be in algeria in the summer, driving through heat with the windows whipping more at you. this defies what i love about the place. but this happens when we drive south to sig. the water is sucked from the air, though, so are the mosquitoes, and replaced by more of africa than i can bear.

we drove out to our farm, where, by late august, the sky and the earth are bony and blue, respectively, togetherly, and yet, and yet, the hallowed halls of snails cling to dead grass. where can they possibly come from? they stick like burs to the ends of the grass blades and i try to pick some off to take home with me as a reminder, as a way to keep a memory of this place, but they always end up lost in the filthy floorboards of our car.

the farm close to ours is owned by a neighbor who lives next to my husband's family in town. so, he is familiar to us. we have eaten dinner at his house while visiting the sea. he, being, the grand papa of the house. Ahbess, his name is.

there, on a farm close to ours, i climbed out of the car to chase my kids down and make sure no scorpions were black and poisonous and close to them. far off into the distance of empty land there are people visiting the farm, where no one lives, unless you count the saint.

driving through algeria, high into hills, you often see small white buildings domed with aqua blue. these house local saints, which is either a custom that is reviled and mostly ignored, by people like my husband, or very carefully attended too, much as the pomegrate and olive trees that often share the land where the saints rest.

but since my husband falls into the anti camp, i have never been up close to a saint's toom.

the kids are chasing what look like dung beetles back and forth across cracks and crannies in the sandy-colored earth.

it is ramadan and no one here will be eating for a couple of hours yet. that is partly why we are here. killing time while the women in the house finish up their Syrian soap operas and put the final touches on the sunset meal. the first meal of the day.

all around us are fig trees in full ripening glory. not just the fruit gives a sweet, thick smell in this dry air, but the leaves glorify the end of the afternoon. this is a fruit blessed by god, eaten by the Prophet. it gives grace and cures. and now, my husband walks toward me with a handful of its sweet fruit and gives them to me.

to be in ramadan, in a country where everyone all around me is fasting when i am decidedly not, is to exist in an unease. i don't know how to handle it. how to be polite to people who have not drank water ALL day in the blazing heat, who have not had one drop of coffee, when, by this time, two meals devoted solely to coffee have usually been observed. that is the word i am looking for. i do not know how to observe this time, when i am not Muslim, when i do not wish to fast, but i also do not wish to stick out like a sore thumb. and i do not wish to piss anybody off. and i do not wish to be viewed as more of an outsider.

my problem in life has always been this: i want to be accepted completely and yet viewed as apart from, distinct from. it is impossible and i am miserable for it.

but this is not just respecting another's religion. the whole country is living this experience and not me. yes, of course, some people must not fast. but i have yet to meet one of those individuals. and they are not visible on the street, drinking a coke or whatnot.

so do i turn from my husband, after taking the figs, and quickly stuff my mouth? do i hold them in my hand until we reach back home and i wash them and set them on a plate next to the sweet tray? do i try to ply them off on my kids, who both don't eat figs?

in this situation i do what my need strangles me to do: i turn from him and the eyes of the others and gorge on the sweet, seeded fruits.