Magnificent edifices, French imports, neo classical and white, set-off with stately palms, surround the harbour. Aren’t we supposed to be landing in Africa on the edge of the Sahara Desert?
Yes, we are indeed. And it’s exciting. But we are also witness to colonialism with its vestiges of elegance, and like in so many parts of the world, to the erasing of local cultures in many respects. Any evidence of the city’s Berber and Muslim origins are tucked away behind all this grandeur. So, let’s at least get a taste of that. Come with me to the Casbah, in Algiers.
I perspire and nearly expire walking up and down potholed alleys in century plus heat and humidity in the Berber Casbah of Algiers. Uniformed and plain clothed police in number ‘walk shotgun’ and to Fr trail us to ensure sure our safe passage and security. I’m not too happy with the rather portly man in the green shirt whom I observe videoing every single one of us on his iPhone.
The cobbled steps up and down the alleys of the Casbah, between very ancient and dilapidated buildings of Berber and Moorish origins are steep, pot-holed and uneven. The step rises are of varying heights, angled, and often slippery. They are acutely hazardous.
With my eyes cast downward for fear of a fall, my opportunity to take-in the many architectural features, doorways and take snaps is limited.
Adding to the distraction and disorientation, not to mention the heat, are the seemingly endless stories of the local guide about the pre-French era and the ‘amazing’ Berber architecture that continue without stop through the voice pod in my ear. To heck with what anybody may think. I’m going back to my walking stick for the next time I’m in these situations of unpredictable surfaces. I’m very pro-life; my own!
There’s an Algerian welcome for us in the central courtyard of a combined family dwelling in the casbah. The family members serve sweet tea or scented coffee with local sweet treats and dates. What a relief to be out of the blazing sun and the hundred-degree heat. Out of the alleys, there’s scarce shade and nowhere to catch my breath.
The local people treat we presumed ‘Americans’ with curiosity. None really try to engage with us, but many are very happy to be addressed in that non-verbal language of a friendly smile and nod of the head.
Sadly, the police and security services appear to have unfettered power. This would extend to any one with authority, similar to many parts of the world.
Such inequality renders most of the population simply digits – without hope. The ‘rule of power’ rather than the ‘rule of law’. Human rights . . . ?
I lay the dilemma at the feet of the Good Lord. How can He have allowed this to be, seemingly forever?
My ever-practical get-the-job-done friend from Florida sees only one solution.
“Relocate the population of Algiers and bring the French back to restore the infrastructure”.￼ He dismisses my concerns about the displacement of people in the meantime as Jesuitical and without any progress.￼￼
Only yesterday while in Kazakhstan, Pope Francis insisted, “A greater distribution of power” is a “meritorious and demanding process. Every country in the world needs to implement measures to combat corruption”.
Edmundo Perez-de Cobos Paul OD