Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ramadan Day 11: Cooking up cucumber salad and Billy Holiday

Here's what I am cooking as the calls for prayer issue out from hundreds of mosques all over up and down and above the hilly streets of Oran:
Cucumber salad and Billy Holiday, onions red and so juicy I tear and tear, garlic still red mud caked to it, dried in violet-tinged sleeves. 8 zucchini, must be almost a kilo/

Leg of lamb I marinate and cook this way: cut slits into its side. ignore that there might still be a hoof on the leg. push slivers of garlic into slits. rub all over with local olive oil, ras el-hanout spice mix, sqeeze lemons bought from algerian farmer all over. made a bed of grated onion and more garlic, always more garlic, in the pan that can go on the stovetop first then in over with the light i can press on and off after.
into the bed i put cilantro with flowers blooming on it's tips set gently over (i do not slice the flowers, it might bring about my ruin if i do), i put a few stalks of mint. I find two fresh figs that have been smashed in the sky blue bag that my husband brings everything home from the market in. i set the lamb into the bed of onions and so on. i cut just 3 slivers of butter that still has the tinge of buttermilk that came from the 'lait cooperative algerien.' this goes on top of the meat then dribbles of honey stolen from starbucks to give to my brother-in-law who loves that honey the best and then taken back from him for cooking. then the figs that have been smashed go on top. then thin slices of lemon. just the ghosty bits of tomato i have parted from the whole.
cover with tin foil. cook first stovetop then oven that i love love because it gives back to me meat that falls off the bone in easy cuts until we finish it all.

It's the aloneness.

He moves away from me in this month. I am still in his life but here, though he is with us more than in NY where he is always working always and every day, but here he moves closer into the community of Muslims of which I am not part. It's not just ALgeria. We are all here. It's that he is in a rhythm that I don't take part in; more so than in NY, more than here in other, normal days of summer in years before when Ramadan fell outside the summer.

He stays up all night with his brother, his nephews- those who are fasting and leaves me alone.

We lose intimacy.
We lose connection.
It makes me cry.

How do I explain this, right?

Ramadan is so much in the sharing: sharing in the ache for food, the longing for cool icy water they go to the mountail spring to bring home to me to cook with. The meal I eat with them. But I have been eating bits and pieces all day. Leftover harira soup, fresh coffee, apples and white peaches, perfect in their crisp sugar. So, when I eat with him, I am not having the same meal.

It cannot be the same meal that he eats, when he has had nothing in his stomach all day, nothing in his throat to clear away the heat and dust that Algeria drives down your throat each day.

Of course, it's my choice not to fast. I tried, years ago. A panic set in and I broke it mid-day. For a woman who is almost never without a spare apple and water bottle in her purse, for a woman who seldom goes without food for more than 2 hours, it scared me. Primally scared. In my bones I wondered if that was it, if I'd never eat again, no matter if my head told me different. If I had gotten through one day, I might have been able to do it. But, no.

L doesn't encourage me to fast. God won't love you more if you do, he tells me.
In other words, convert first. Fasting is a requirement for Muslims and since I am not, why bother. It does not earn me grace and baraka. I would still be outside the flock even if I fasted.

But it takes him away from me. Not just because he sleeps late while I wake early. Not just that he goes to the mosque each night as they work through the Quran, bit by bit each night, and I am home with the dishes. He is more tired, focused on getting through the day without killing himself fasting, not on chatting with me about what I have on my mind.

And then it's sunset and we eat, all together with his brother who is always with us, like L's shadow. Then off the mosque and I set to washing the piles of dishes and the kids leave with their older cousin to do the insane bumper cars that spark and snap above ther kids heads' and set a deep panic in me every time I see them. They pay 20 cents a ride and stay for hours with their older cousin who has come to stay with us from Sig, crashing into each other and jarring their car off the metal net it is hooked to above their heads. A man always with a cigarette hanging from his lips jumps into the ring to set the hook back up into the mesh above and they are back on again. I prefer not to see this and have stopped going with. I can only have so many jumps of my heart before I am ready to dive in amongst the cars and pull my kids bodily out. Like I have said before, I am trying to let my children have space to live a life full of childhood, not just a mother's protection but joy and spitting fun, as well.

I can't ever love Ramadan. Not unless I become Muslim, I guess. But is love enough a reason to convert? To be closer to your love, to further join his rhythm, to weave your life closer within his?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ramadan Day 10: Back where I am in charge of my own FUCKING KITCHEN

Home again,home again, jiggety jig.

Back in Oran in my very own apt., with my very own clean underwear and toilet that flushes every time you push the button, where I can spray away any odor my child dislikes with a fancy, all-natural orange oil spray that lights up my life. Where I am in charge of the fucking kitchen and no one else.

When I spend the afternoon by myself I forget it's Ramadan. L. takes the kids for an adventure (egg chocolates and the beach, where L will wade in with little Z but not go under water, head and all). I am left with my ipod playing fionna apple and laundry in my washing machine that sings a pretty song when it is finished working for me. Would it be that all things in life could be such.

Organizing toys we sent over in a container a friend of L's sent to algeria via ship last year. Stashing toys in our cabinets, drinking Mouzia bubbly water, brewing another pot of coffee YES! And I forget that outside the city is quietly biding it's time, using energy sparely, staying mostly inside out of the sun, drawing the blinds and waiting for the sun to go down, when the party will begin.

I forget Ramadan and turn to other things.

My biggest fear as a mother is this: my regrets will outweigh what made me proud of the way I was with them: my two brown-eyed boys, is what I give you, will give you enough? What I did and still will do to damage them, will that be what they remember?

And it's true, I am most patient with babies. Their potensial, the secrets they hold that will unfurl. When he gets older, and his bad habits rub on me and I nag and nag and feel myself looming bitter and creeky over him.

When did I become a woman who would rather order than the chaos that tug a war brings? Lord help me, I am she.

Will you PLEASE stop snatching from your brother? Will you please flush the toilet after you do kaka? It is nasty, S, nasty and I am sick of doing it for you!

I am never afriand, in writing, to reveal my pale and hideous underbelly; and this is it. I lose patience. I loose my mind. I become a nagging, old bitch who only craves calm and quiet and order, not fun and sponteniety and rough-housing and craze that makes up the best moments of a child's life.

Am I destroying their lives? Alright, dramatic, I know. But I sometimes feel I need a big house so that they can go off to another room farther from my hearing and live out the life that they should have. That with me in our small NYC apt, they get no relief from my monitoring gaze. At least, here, in Oran their father takes them away from me and let's them run wild along the beach, drag their skinny butts up the mountain's edge through the dust without holding their hands. He lets them be where I overlook and push in too quickly. This is going to make me cry, facing this possibility.

Maybe this is why I feel my older son's love slip a bit and fall over to his father. Not that there isn't enough for us both, but I have become the toothbrush nag, the cencor of food, the cautious mother holding him back and his father is one mad adventure after another and he come home more in love with his father each time.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ramadan Day 9: Sit on the beach in my pink bikini, read Salinger and SIGH.

Look now, listen:

The ahdan is calling for prayer/ Wow, he sounds old, this guy. I always wonder who these guys are and if they drop in just at the time of prayer to call out, or if they spend the day there and have a little alarm clock that warns them to turn on the PA and let it ring out over the rooftops.

My son, S told me where L's mosque is today.

Can you believe I have been coming here, to this small town for 8 years and L goes once or twice daily to the mosque that I have yet to see?

There is a separation between my world when I am in this house and what he sees and does outside it.

I can't tell you the first thing about his mosque. It is at the center of his visits here, especially when we drive here from our apt. so he can go to the Friday 'Jumuah' prayer. Muslim men are required, except when traveling to attend Friday noontime prayer which is followed by a sermon by the Imam of the mosque.

L comes back to Sig so much just to go to this Friday prayter. It is the community he grew up into. The old men of the mosque all stop and talk to him. He had sat with them as a kid in the mosque and listened to their stories about how things were done in their day. He sees his classmates from gradeschool. His neighbors who have lived across the way all their lives.

I have slowly through the years pieced together this picture in my mind. But I have no place to go with it. No location. I just know it is close by and is one of the mosques whose ahdan i hear five times a day.

Today S told me how to get there. Not that I could take a stroll over. HA. Here in this place, in this family, that is not an option. And really, even if we were at our apt in Oran, I couldn't stroll into the mosque there, either.
First, I would have to something over my clothes that is loose and drops to my feet and to my wrists. Then I would cover my hair and cover my neck with a scarf.

I did that once.
Did I tell you? When we were married at the mosque in Astoria.

Oh. Back to swimming in Algeria. IF I swim in Ramadan I am declaring to every one around me that
1. I am on my period and not fasting (this being the best option for what they might think when they see me diving into the cool, blue waves.)
OR 2. I donùt fast and should be socially scorned, openly, perhaps.

Get past that part of the maze of social norms and you hit the following wall:
My bathing suit is out of the question. Just forget about that lovely pink Juicy Couture pink nubbly number. there will be none of that!
There should be long pants or a dress that goes well past the knees involved, here; maybe both. And it can't be too light a color, say white, that would melt or disapear against my curves as the water pushes against me still; though I have pulled back away out of it.
Maybe my morrocan jilaba with short, slit sleeves: light cotton fabric I bought it in tangerine with bright heavy threads patterning the chest of it. It drops to my knees and lets in the breeze.
With pants underneath, yes. A pair of yoga pants underneath would do.
So, with all these questions to answer and prepare for, what to wear, what people will say and think in a place that it matters what people say and think (i long for my first days in NYC when i tore thru the streets annonymous not giving a flying fuck what anyone thought or said to me about my underwear as outerwear, how high i wore my platform boots. i was immune and had nasty comments for anyone who might approach to bother and question me. that life is worlds and lifetimes ago. maybe i am a little sad about that but life morphs and you aren't that girl anymore and you are more concerned, more aware of action/reaction.
So I just don't go to the beach. I stay at the house that isn't my own and take another 2 hour nap that I probably don't need and in another time and place I might chalk up to depression.

I am full, I tell my brother-in-law, of the beach. I had my fill of the beach in Spain where I can sit on the beach in my pink bikini, read Salinger and sigh. Out loud a sigh and a stretch I can do with zero self-awareness and turn onto my stomach and maybe untie my top to better tan my back and no one gawks, no one says a word. No one cares because there are a hundred others doing just the same right next to me and all up and down Costa Blanca I so, so love.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ramadan Day 8

I got that tricky bitch, the AC working again so i can take a deep breath and begin writing again.

I'm in Sig, again.

Even though I came out of the fasting closet (non-fasting closet?eating closet? closet for those who eat and drink in the sunlit hours?) in the following way: nephew whom I love the best, Omar, was talking about how Z doesn't fast yet, because he's too young. Well, I just came out and said, I don't either. I was standing in the kitchen with his mom and older brother right there. They both turned and stared but said nothing. And that was it. This is not to say I started munching sandwitches and icy fruits and guzzling water in front of them. Really, that is just not polite. But it was a great relief and I repeatedly wedged it into conversation as many times and ways i could figure out throughout the day, just to drive it home and make it stick.

Sig is not much less uncomfortable for it, though. When we eat altogether as the sun pulls behind the scortched hills beyond Sig and the breeze that only comes at night slowly draws in and out of the open windows, the food is still all wrong. Too greasy, too heavy on spices where a dash would have added flavor to the meat, the ras el hanout mix seems a hopeless attempt to disguise the toughness of the boilded meat scalding my mouth. I all but gave up after a few sips of harira soup and picked at the lettuce leaves and used the soft bread to scoop up some filflah roasted pepper dish, as is done here. Oily and chewy and everything so damn red from the blucky colorant: I dream of tender roasted chicken with rosemary, of long celery stalks with a mild sweet to crunch on, oven roasted beets with olive oil: foods from home.

But if you think I might be losing weight here, though, you'd be wrong. My face is puffing out from all the bread I steal and gorge on during the day and all the other food tucked away and hidden in my room L brings me via little messenger nephews and neices, or snatched while the kitchen sits empty during siesta time.

Watch this: When she turns back to the stove to throw slices of salty potato into the boiling oil, I take 1\2 a loaf of stale bread grainy with black seed and quickly duck out, return to the AC room and eat it all very fast with my back turned from the door, just in case.

I have dreams about losing control. Running with out movement and I wake up with a swollen brain fever.
This is shit.

The AC is low, low today. It has got to be 110 degrees and everyone in Sig is running ACs and blenders and TVs and the power dips and dives down and sluggy pulls up but mostly lies flat on its back and gasps. I am right there with it, irritated and foul.

I came here to Sig because I thought I could type up my writing from the past days and post it, but the phone and internet is out. When they went out and when they might be back on are questions that everyone seems to have a different answer to. Trying to puzzle out these things gives me a headache.

It's like when you ask someone how so-and-so is doing. She's sick, I am told.
What's wrong with her? I ask.
Menarifsh. I don't know.
But she's in the hospital, right?
And you went and saw her, right?
OK. But you don't know what is wrong with her?
No. Menarifsh.

And so the conversations go. It drives me bonkers.

What I know about someone close to my heart when they are sick gets into details and I try to puzzle it out. That somehow brings me closer to him. To get a handle on the how, the what, the when what will happen with him helps me exhibit a sense of control, however false.
There doesn't seem to be that need here. I can't tell you why.

Sig. My head aches with the dry heat that has opened its mouth and swallowed August whole. They call this time of year 'smime' and it oddly fits. Say it out loud and you will hear all the possiblities of uncomfortableness.

The kids are at the beach. I couldn't bear to go with. Swimming and not both have complications and awkwardnesses I haven't the energy to face today. I will write about them another time when perhaps the air is cool on my face and my head hurts less.

So I have left the bed today just to pee and filtch food. I have left the bed just in dreams. But I woke from my dream of struggling up steps, running from a couple with a baby whose cereal I had stolen by the handfull/
We see you, they called after me as they got closer and closer.
We're on to you. Here we come.
And I dropped the cereal clattering down the steps, golden balls falling behind me.

It doesn't exactly take a genius to figure that one out. Yeesh.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ramadan Day 6: Root Canal

Rooot canal.

You may wonder what a dental office in Oran, Algeria looks like. Well, I went to perhaps the best, most expensive dentist in Oran. Usually there is a 4 month wait for an appt, but I have a friend so...I got seen my first week in Algeria without an appointment. After holidays in Spain, I am here again for my root canal.

Where I went doesn't speak to the general experience of a typical Algerian but, whatever. To be a journalist is not my goal here.

Beautiful. Filled with light. Compeletely brand-new, state of the art équipement.

The chairs, the teenie tiny drills, the cup of water that fills automatically for my rinsing pleasure: all as good as if not better than my dentist in NYC. Clean, clean, clean.

After the root canal I had in NYC, done by a fancy gentleman whose only love in life is to perform root canals, I was assured, who came highly recommended, I had pain so bad the 4th day following it that I called the dental office in earnest tears, desperate for the strongest pain killers short of heroin.

And in Algeria? (Where my dentist warned me I would 'get what I paid for,' which was another way of saying, WTF are you thinking?) In Algeria, believe you me, the only pain I felt was from the needle injecting the novicaine. And the soreness that comes from holding one's mouth open like a snake ready to swallow a chicken for 2 hours. Not the day after or after or ever. NO PAIN. They are that good there.

After the younger, handsome dentist (Zoom Whitened teeth and close-cropped curly hai) was finished, the head dentist (grey hair and jovial 'Marhaban Bik' laugh and a million and one questions about me and my ability to speak arabic with him) X-rayed my tooth with his digital X-ray machine and I could see white death filed clean away down to the pretty nerve tips.

The waiting room? Women in new, French street fashion, or slimming, glossimar hijab sat leafing through Elle Magazine circa 2009 and watching National Geographic from Dubai or checking Facebook on their iPhones: These women have none of the squat, giving up their looks after 4 kids look about them that so many Algerian women get. Those wear their hair cropped and bad bleach jobs from the strong hydrogen peroxide they buy from the pharmacy, with a fullah not around her neck neat and crisp; but tied at the nape of her neck sloppy as a do-rag does.

These women I sit pretty openly staring at, have money. They travel to Spain, France. They live facing the water Front De La Mer or else in the old neighborhood with the best old villas from the time of the French. Here it's breeziest and quietest and not far from the water, old, old gardens grow up against their terra cotta walls, hanging over pomegrante and lemon trees, vines that flower and cool a flushed face.
These homes go for a million dollars and private yachts wait to moter them to Alicante, Spain to shop and back in the same day.

I fit in here at the dentist by virtue of the fact that I am not from this place and that somehow puts me at the top rung of society here, I have not let myself go completely, and my clothes cost more than 20 bucks.

Go, me.

It is easy and I am quick to want to smile, to relax and feel myself become another woman who understands leisure, whose money and passport can fix any problems that might arise. I want to be this woman and maybe I become her here.

Who do I become when I travel here? For I am not really myself if I shy away from leaving the apt on my own, if I refuse to look men in the face though they try to slip my love letter words in hushed whispers as I pass by. Who am I that I am suddenly brought up above the lower rungs of where I am just by my blue eyes and Irish skin?
I become someone that I wrestle with. Alternately, I am happy staying home writing in my small orange notebook and re-reading The Poisonwood Bible, The Life of a Cell, or whatever else I have brought and left here, then I am despondent and crushed by how lonely I am here. I just cannot gossip and joke with my husband the way I can with a friend over so -and-so's up tos. I have only my two kids, my husband and his less than chatty brother to see, day in and day out.
When I go out, walk the boulevard take the kids to the park across from our apt, there are going to be situations I just don't know how to handle.
What to do when little boys of 10 and 12 crowd the bench I sit on, watching my kids dig in the filthy sand box while night carries on and my husband finishes his prayers in the mosque? I can't exactly parse out how the words they are using don't match the expressions of dirty talk on their faces.
There's a hidden code in the way men talk here and I sense these boys are copying what they've seen their older brothers in slicked back hair and saggy pants call out to girls they pass on the street. But what am I to do with this?
Who I become here is a spectacle. Less so now that my hair is dark but still, without sunglasses on, when I sit still I am the only one not from here, I am maybe the only American they've ever seen and they are not willing to pass it up.
All this doesn't sound bad, but it flusters me.
Who I am by what I see them see.
And I can't ignore it because another two teenage boys are joining us on the bench now and how to ignore it when, after they don't get a response from me, they stand just before me and wave their hands infront of my face to get my attension.
I give them the finger but this only seems to say to them, BRING IT.
And they do.

So, I ask you, do I sit and home or go out and face this?

In the dental office I struggle with a different level of discomfort with who I am here, but I do not like it any less. But I am grateful that what it allows me: a painless root canal in an office of comfort and light.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ramadan Day 5: Cooking through the Afternoon Through to the Evening

Kitchen loaded with vegetables: tiny radishes, celery flops about with huge leaves, bags of garlic dusty with earth, flowering cilantro.

I spent the early afternoon listening to the boys making Lego robots (what is more satisfying than that plastic clatter that Lego is?) while I cooked filfa and sihlk, crepe batter blended, cheesha with raw butter, the peppers red and green I seeded and chopped. Then four cloves of purple garlic smashed under a heavy knife and minced.
Tomato was so heavy and ripe - men in movies always compare breasts to melons and grapefruits, but the full red tomato soft in the hand so you want to be carefulnot to break, this is a better analogie in my mind.

But I shredded it, pressing it into the grater.

One red onion that is marbled with violet. And the seeds and flowers, small splayed leaves of coriander I am shredding. And the olive oil from Tlemsan (a place that is clean, a tribe that is pale, light eyed. They were selected by the French under occupation to be the special group, the one they would call civilized to show who was not (everyone darker, everyone else Arab). The french moved them into clean neighborhoods and called clean and still their city is. Who were given education and called gifted, who were given power they still have today. Tlemsanis were the ones the French live side by side with then while the other, darker tribes were left in the ghettos, the Casbah.)

The oil heats and just almost smoking when the light from over the mountain I see from my kitchen window gets bright in my eyes and the oil starts to smoke but I can't reach for the garlic.

I'm held still by the gulls cutting through the sunlight, the acrid smell of olive oil so new, so green it's a medicine, it's a cure.

This place in time heals something in me and I reach for the garlic and it dashes that smell perfect oil and just new garlic and onion follows it and herbs and I am back again into this space of cooking the afternoon through to the evening.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ramadan Day 3: Her hair is covered. Her face is open to the world.

For all my bitching on about the things that drive me mad about Algeria, its beauty even its crazy wrongness takes me into a blace in my head that I hear no breath, spins me into a stillness that focuses me into it.

Turning into countryside that ripples up red and then sweet soft flowers blue and on itno mountains and there are crisp apples to buy on the roadside and around to the curved beach and it is the sea. that blue beauty that I call my own each summer.

Algeria means sitting outside our beachhouse late nights, kids in bed, just a cliffs dive steps down to the water crashing out and over our own rocky port inhabited by hermit crabs and purpleblack sea urchins, the sky is loaded with stars and we sip fresh mint tea, mint I,ve never smelled in the the US, grown in volcanic soil, watered from the cold springs that break out of the mountian so sweet and fresh I drink it straight away.

The mint has that cool to it. it has the sweetness of minerals that sparkly in the shodowless mediteranean sky. I drink it slow and sugary and take in the stars dizzy constellations.

Watch this:
A woman is wrapped in thick wool, but colors pink and green I still see. She is carrying a jug on her head. In the middle of the road she walks. Her hair is covered. Her face is open to the world.

Watch this:
It is just an afternoon prayer on a sunny July day but after it is finished men pour from the mosque in waves after waves. These are not the disused Catholic tombs of Europe.
Watch this:
The mosque's steps stretch up tall and white. I wait across the street just beside the shadows of bushes that burst pink and bees all year and climb and climb the old garden walls.

Watch this:
White strips of fat from the Eid sheep hang on the end of the clothes line for months to dry in the sun until a baby is born into the family or a little boy is circumsized or just because you have a craving ofr heavy bercousus globes of pasta set in thick spicy broth with chickpeas and meatballs and flavored with this dried fat.
God, how I craved it after my second baby was born.

Watch this:
In the evenings, in ORan a port city that sits above the water and port that hosted the first pirates of the world, families and singles on the prowl and groups of girls linking arms walk Front Mer BLvd to catch the breeze and show off and eat ice cream.
This only happens in summer and only at night, but it goes on all night and every night. The small parks with playgrounds that are new to Oran, there having never been not for years and years playgrounds in the city, have a schedual reverse of the playgrounds my kids go to in NYC. People dont go there until the sun goes down and through the summer all summer long I hear the squeaky swings and kids' screams at 1,2 AM.
It's too hot in the sun with no shade to speak of. Sitting in hijab scarf just doesn't seem all that fun around about 12 noon dead heat. I get it.

Watch this:
Kids' filthy flip_flops scaling others' garden walls to forage for figs. But fig trees grow everywhere here and in summer they burst purple spit and flies full out if they aren't picked on time. Don't doubt me. I have seen it so.

(I blame internet cafe's crazy keyboard on any and all errors, punctuation or otherwise contained above.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ramadan: Day 2

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.

Day 2

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.

Day 2

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.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ramadan Day 1

The first day of Ramadan goes like this: I am not up more than 10 minutes and already I've broken the fast. Not that I had intended something other than that but somehow each year I think I will do if, I will fast this year. and each year I don't. Not one day in all 12 years I have been with L.
I broke it not by eating but by brushing my teeth- water or any liquid cannot enter your eyes, ears, nose or mouth from the time the sunrise is bright enough to allow you to see a thin thread clearly until the sunset prayer is called . We were in Spain this morning, so when I went down stairs to the hotel lobby fOr a coffee, the clerk kePt asking if I only wanted one coffee, one coffee?
And I drank it on the stairs going up to the room slowly.
It's not that I can't drink it in front of L, but it just isn't kind. It is his one addiction and perhaps first love: coffee. How can I I tease him like that? So I mostly finish it and then sneak the dregs into the bathroom where I sip the last drips while giving Z a shower and emerge with guilt and a clean little boy.

The day in Spain moves slowly toward our flight time. We sit in the park where S and Z defend their tower against all real and imagined foes, possibly named Boogybill or Grumpy Guy. We buy the kids crepes with Nutella from the sullen woman with heavy braids. L makes a last minute trip to the toy store. We shop for treats to take back to Algeria and dream of bringing back some of the pink, hyper-fresh skate we see in the market. All that and it three hours haven't passed.

But time does pass and we pass through the tunnel into the mostrocity that is the upside down world of Algeria this way: at the ticket counter the women insists that Air Algerie must see my return ticket to the US before it will allow me to fly back into Algeria. We explain to them that we have ETickets, that most airlines ONLY do ETickets, that even our tickets with them are ETickets. But we need to see your paper ticket for your return flight before we issue you a boarding pass.
Because what?? You are afraid I secretly plan to stay in Algeria and never return to The United States of America? Are you out of your mind, I ask the woman?
L quietly tells me to go sit down while he handles it.
I do, but it has ruined my day. I imagine that there is a customer service department in Air Algerie. I imagine that I might actually be able to speak to someone who understands how ludicrous this is and who would offer me a sincere apology and perhaps some frequent l
Flier miles. I am snickering as I read this. There is no such dept, no such apologies ever to come and definitely not frequent flyer miles from the only fucking company in the country. See? Ruined! My day was ruined.
But on we go.
L jumps through their hoops while I sit in the sidelines and scowl and off we go.

Which brings me to where I am now. Sig. The small town L was born, where the two brOthers he is closest to still live.
We came straight here from the airport, much to my dismay and the kids joy. They love it here. Where they run wild wth their cousins, doing Kung Fu moves with Omar, , watching Tom and Jerry cartoons with Fatima.
It's good for them to be here. At least I try to consol myself this way.

S is learning how to live as a Muslim from his older cousins. How to wash his mouth and ears, his nose, each three times with Omar gently correcting him. He eats with the kids in the kitchen at meals and I like this. Separate from me he's less likely to balk at foods that don't smell right to him or aren't cooked to blissful perfection. Instead, he'll race to finish his soup before Haleila, or eat more meat than any of the other kids.
In Sig, in this Ramadan that comes in the summer when sunset isn't until 8:19, the ice cream place won't open until after the last prayer and so it's 11:45 before my kids, Yeees, the 4 yr old, too! set off to buy La Creme.

I am left behind, of course. To shield my beauty from the world and protect the honor of the family.
But more on that another time.

Tomorrow I want to write about the food. Please pray I can so show sneak coffee in the morning. I have not ruled out sneaking in the kitten before anyone is up and snarfing the ground coffee dry. I would stoop that low, I'm afraid.