Bin Laden Ali Baba

This morning I found out why my contacts in Annaba have avoided taking me into the dozen or so streets that go to make up the Vieille Ville overlooking the port. Slipping my minders, I had decided to explore this area in the coolness of the early hours. Seeing me take out my iPhone, two young men incongruously holding birdcages with goldfinches immediately approached me. Illustrating their franco-Arabic pidgin with graphic gestures they explained my predicament. I had wandered into an Islamist controlled neighbourhood where, in their words, the law of ‘Bin Laden – Ali Baba’, would shortly ensure that, first, the hand in which I held my iPhone would be cut off. Following this, my throat would be slit before, finally, I would be relieved of my camera bag and left in the street as the life drained from my body. They pointed out the wall graffiti that marked out the boundaries of the fiefdom into which I had trespassed before they led me to safety, one on either side of me, to the accompaniment of caged birdsong.

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2 comments so far

  1. Djihed on

    Ahh the place is called “la place d’armes”. It’s a weird place that mixes all sorts of odd behaviour such as drugs, alcohol, fundamentalism, faux tough image masculinity, hooliganism (for USMA), knife crime and the odd suicide off the infamous bridge of air (guentera lahwa). I wouldn’t strictly call it a fundamentalist controlled region, some people there just enjoy (!) harassing whoever they think is a stranger for any reason. It used to be a lot worse but people are slowly occupying themselves with useful stuff.

    But the place has a lot of good stuff under the surface. Some of the craftsmen there are famous throughout the whole region: electricians, painters, builders, fishermen, traders, etc… Annabis know where to go when they need that rare piece of equipment or skill. It’s quite a rich place if you know someone on the inside!

  2. John Perivolaris on

    Aha! So for whom do I ask, my Annabi friend? I can see that without your insider’s guidance I am falling prey to all the traps and misconceptions of the idiot tourist. I am sure that a large part of the Islamism being painted so graphically for me was showing off. But, it is hard to know where the boundaries are when you are an outsider without the necessary language skills. This is, after all, a confusing place, not least of all in terms of the cultural icons and symbols on display: graffitied swastikas, the occasional photographs of Adolf Hitler displayed proudly on vendors’ stalls, alongside the more frequent framed photographs of Saddam Hussein. Out of my depth.


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