Thursday, August 19, 2010

and the day in sig passes slowly in the heat
they pressure cookers have a sharp ping to them like the buzz of a tv and they are furiously boiling the evening meal
the meal is a process that takes the whole day
she paces herself
first the soup and the main dish: small balls of koofta meat set into the heads of artichokes and boiled in broth with chick peas
later if it is cool she will knead bread maybe white and maybe whole grain too just barley flour and yeast and salt and water set to rise and then shaped and thrown onto hot black pan to cook and its best when it is just a bit burned by the heat and the grains inside are soft and full

but if there is no bread or if there is bread she will take a nap in the heat sleeping on the long couches that line the living room whose fabric changes with the seasons

because the afternoon is long even if you have 6 of your own kids plus 2 not your own plus a husband and his brother and the man who watches the building going up night and day and night again so the steel beams don't get stolen but whose only company is the many stray cats who crawl under the high metal fence for a quiet place to eat the sardine they stole from the dust where it fell

what have i gone with this§


what i am saying is my sister in law has so so many people to cook for she jokes she has a restaurant and its true that she has the oven from one where she roasts three chickens for dinner and then bathes them in their own fat and dusty spices she hums as she looks for in the wooden cabinet falling off the wall

one of the people who comes every ramadan meal is an old woman who dresses in the traditional white cloth when outside
she wraps it around her waist it falls behind and tucks it into the waist band of her skirt
the fabric is not a white though but a cream that has passed thru summers dusty with the wind from the sahara and fought off the winter that brings only icy rain but no snow
women have worn this cloth this way
after they have wrapped it around themselves the old women the women who learned from their mothers while the french where still here these women bite the last fabric in their teeth so that their faces are sort of shielded though not hidden all the way
this is the algerian way
the way in sig
but so few women do this anymore

this woman lives in an apt without windows she tells me
her face is so leathered and wrinkly and she is skinny and talks with phlem behind her voice so that i barely understand her and try to nod and add in generic phrases that fit into almost any conversation here
phrases that always almost contain some sentiment about the power of god the goodness of god or thanking god

on her forehead are old black tattoo stripes going down to just between her brows

L tells me that parents did this to their daughters in the time of the french so the french wouldn't find them beautiful and lust after them or ask for them or i am not sure what life under a colonial power would be like when france thought of algeria as france except with these natives that wont quite be trained the way they would like

can she really live in an apt without windows
no no
it is just that the window is only in the front of her apt and that is the kitchen and the window is large and opens very wide but all the way in the back of the house when the air is still in the afternoon before the fresh breeze from the back hills of sig returns
and she rests there but gets no relief until she comes to this house just before the adan calls for sunset prayer and the air is rushing thru the hallway where she sits on the prayer rug and waits for it: prayer and the glasses of ice water that will follow one after another

so the day finishes sitting next to this woman pouring her glass after glass of icy water she lifts with fingers of old knuckles buckled and swollen up

the day finishes with her putting the leftovers in her margarine tubs she brings with her so she can eat later before she sleeps because she will not eat from the time you can see a thread in the dawns light until the call of the sunset prayer and it is august and the day is so very long

the day ends with her drinking her coffee with four sugars and again wrapping her cloth around her and taking the stairs carefully down again because she is already 84 and is sick in the way every woman in algeria past the age of 65 is sick and can take up the whole room with her health complaints that are both vague and seemingly life threatening

the day finishes with S and Z going with their cousins for lemon sorbet

the day finishes and i have had enough and long for my own bed and my terrace and my own coffee pot that i wash and fill as i wish


but the next morning after i had been in sig three days i woke and decided enough was enough and even if i had to be alone in the apt at least our apt in oran was blessedly blessedly cool and a view of the sea and my very own coffee pot i am free to use whenever i choose
but it is awkward here to be alone at home
there are dangers that wouldn't emerge at my door of b4 in astoria
but those i will have to tell about another time

i woke up and decided that once again i needed my own space and that the raging fury in my head of heat needed to be soothed

so here is what i had to do to get home:

send S downstairs to tell benouda that i wanted to go home this morning

S comes back to tell me that we should stay until night time when he can go to the mosque for the evening ramadan prayers and then race off to eat fresh lemon ice cream with his cousins and then play ball
basically Benouda tried to convince S to stay in hopes that he would convince me

i send him back down again and he comes up with another reason for us to stay and i send him back down with this: if they do not drive me i will walk back along the highway with my kids in the dust until i can hitch a ride with a trucker

so they bring me back home again

and in the morning i wake with all the heat rubbed out of my head and i throw water over my terrace floor and i put my feet up and i sink into the view of the sea and sky and the whole city around rising up behind me

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