Saturday, October 1, 2016

ALGERIA




READ


I was predisposed to like Anouar Benmalek's novel, The Lovers of  Algeria, as soon as I opened the book and saw that he'd dedicated it to, among others, his grandmother, who was born in the Vaud canton in Switzerland.  My grandmother was also born in the Vaud canton of Switzerland, although the similarities between the lives of Benmalek's grandmother and mine end there. As it turns out, one of the main characters in the novel is also a woman from Switzerland, Anna, who is torn from her Algerian husband, Nassreddine, and their children during Algeria's fight for independence from France. Anna returns to her native Switzerland, marries and has a son, then goes back to Algeria as a widow many years later.


When I was an English major in college, I learned that a popular theme in literature is man's inhumanity to man, and that is certainly the case in this novel. As is true in many parts of the world, most of the characters in The Lovers of Algeria are just regular people who want to go about the normal business of their daily lives. This is nearly impossible, though, since they are always caught between warring political factions. 


During the early part of Anna and Nassreddine's relationship, they were caught between the French colonizers and those who were fighting for independence from France. Later, the fight was between the Algerian government and the jihadists. Squeezed between opposing forces who are either demanding their loyalty or accusing them of being spies for the other side, all of the choices available to Anna and Nassreddine are fraught with peril. As Nassreddine comments at one point, "I've been against violence all my life, Anna. To live, that was all I asked... And it was probably too much to ask... We dreamed the wrong dreams, we took the wrong turnings. But were we entirely to blame?"


No, they were not entirely to blame, and I found myself rooting for them throughout the book. Life was never easy for them, but things were always better whenever they were together.

COOK

There were a few dishes mentioned in The Lovers of Algeria that I might have cooked for this blog, but after reading this passage, I chose calentita.


"At this moment, soaked to the skin, Nassreddine dreams of having a big slice of calentita. His mouth waters at the thought of the floury chick-pea flan with its somewhat sickly warmth."


Since flan is usually made of mostly eggs and milk, I wasn't sure I'd be able to find a vegan recipe.  I was in luck, though -- a blog called "The Teal Tadjine" provided me with all the information I needed. I used almond milk in place of regular milk, and a combination of flaxmeal and water in place of the egg.


Calentita can be served just as it is, although I liked it better spread on a slice of bread.  Also, I added extra olives slices before I ate it.




GIVE

I had a harder time finding a nonprofit organization providing services in Algeria than I thought I would. I finally found Handicap International, which has projects “to enhance and broaden the access of children with disabilities to the education system in Algeria,” to facilitate “the collaboration of health professionals and people from Algerian organizations on the case-management of people with neuromuscular diseases,” and to assist in “delivering care for children with learning difficulties and mental health problems.” More information about Handicap International’s work in Algeria can be found at http://www.handicap-international.us/algeria.



NEXT STOP: ANDORRA

        




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