Algeria – A travelogue part IV
A stranger’s a stranger only in a strange land (Karl Valentin)
We’ve already shot most of the films and pictures we need. Tomorrow’s agenda is impressions of “the country and its people”. Before we go to the hotel, there’s time for a brief stop in a supermarket: pictures of the point-of-sale. An intensive day, experientially rich, enhanced by endearingly attentive hospitality complete with traditional delicacies and as a contrast cola-based mixed drinks for the sugar intake inbetween. Today, too, darkness falls swiftly. And even when the final rays of sunshine have vanished behind the luminescent mountains the heat remains. It’s eight o’clock, and still 35 degrees.
An oasis and a singing fisherman
The next day. We set out at seven o’clock. We’re driving north-east towards MChounech, to an oasis. We’ve got a good hour of travel in front of us. The temperature today is forecast to far exceed 40 degrees. Mouloud Hamdi likes listening to pop music, which he’s doing now, and suddenly we say: “Ah, that’s German!” We listen carefully: it’s the thunder song from the film “Ted”. A bit vulgar, with lines like “Lick my b….”. We ignore it with a grin. You don’t have to translate everything.
Then it appears in front of us. An oasis that looks as if it’s stepped straight out of an oriental picture-book. And things become even more magical: a solitary fisherman, who plays a song on a flute for us and shortly afterwards starts to sing. I don’t understand the words, but I can feel the meaning, and it gives me goose-pimples. This scenery could not have been better arranged … is this chance, an accident, providence or even destiny? We don’t know, but we’re moved and grateful. And there’s more to come.
The shift-shimmering colours of infinity
Our journey continues via Qued-el-Hatar towards Arris. Meanwhile we’re listening to a local radio station. To the voice of Cheb Mami, an Algerian singer. The landscape unfolds outside the window. The shift-shimmering colours of mountainous sandy-strewn infinity. Ochre, caramel, chocolate, beige, cream, brick-red, brass, copper and for all the rest I find no words – sometimes the mountains resemble overdimensioned termite hills. We halt at a viewing point. Below us is a four-kilometre-long canyon. Known as the “Balconies of Ghoufi”. One of Algeria’s natural wonders, one of UNESCO’s Natural Heritage Sites. At the bottom of the canyon is a riverbed. The mountain river called Aboid, which repeatedly dries up. Palm trees grow all around. Small dwellings. All of it enclosed by massive 200-metre-high cliffs. A fertile, sheltering place. People of Berber origins lived here into the 1970s. I am speechless. It’s so beautiful.
Embrace and assent
We drive back to Biskra. We have 55 kilometres to go, and there are cacti growing at the roadside. Their fruit: the date fig. Firm flesh, and the taste reminds me of a banana. And a word of warning here: always wear gloves to touch it and cut it open. The small, black nests of needles are razor-sharp, and will penetrate painfully deep into your skin – or so I was told. Once again, my eyes drink in the landscape. Embrace, assent and enjoy the different and yet so familiar strangeness. Accept, and dissolve all barriers.
And this time the evening came far too fast: the final shared meal. Gratitude sits at the table with us: the talk was not of parting, but of reunion. And the hope that body language, smiles, glances and handshakes have felt like a warm-hearted embrace among friends. Because this is what it was for me – this was my experience of Guedila and Algeria. I felt at home. After all: “A stranger’s a stranger only in a strange land.” (Karl Valentin)