Saturday, July 16, 2016

So Your Character is From Algeria ... Featuring Ahmina Dahman + Kawther @ The Villain Library

It's time for this month's So Your Character is From Another Country! This is a monthly or bimonthly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's So Your Character is From Liberia ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

Algeria is another country I haven't given much though to until this post, but Amina and Kawther have really widened my understanding of this part of Africa!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

My name’s Amina Dahman, I was born in 29th June 1997 in Blida, Algeria where I still live. I’m currently a student and enjoy studying makeup and hairstyling. I have a Youtube channel where I enjoy sharing my tips, tutorials, DIYs, lifehacks, and other things with people. I love writing books, but I’m still a beginner at it.

My name is Kawther, or- “River in heaven” according to the meaning in the Islamic culture,

I’m a 19 years old girl from Tipaza, a small state in Algeria, I’m a physics student with a deep love for words and imagination, which is why I’m a reader before a reviewer, with dreams of becoming a good writer someday or a crazy physicist villain who rules the world, whichever comes first.

What do you feel is unique to your country?Landmarks? Celebrations?

Amina: Here are the top 10 facts make me feel that Algeria’s special:

1. Algeria is the largest country by area in Africa. Before 2011, when South Sudan became independent, Sudan was the largest. 

2. The Sahara Desert covers 80 per cent of Algeria.

3. Over a million Algerians were killed in the fight for independence from France in 1962.
4. Algeria has competed in every summer Olympics since 1964, winning five gold medals.

5. They twice won each of the men’s and women’s 1500 metres. The other one was for boxing.

6. The only people born in Algeria to have won Nobel Prizes were Albert Camus (Literature 1957) and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji (Physics, 1997).

7. Camus played as a goalkeeper in the football team for the University of Algiers, which may therefore be the world’s only university to have had a Nobel Prize-winning goalkeeper in its team.

8. In 2007, a court in Algeria had to rule on the ownership of a donkey which had eaten the money brought by a purchaser for its sale.

9. Then highest temperature ever recorded in Algeria was 51C (123.8F) in August 2011.

10. St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was the most famous Algerian of all. Hippo is now Annaba.

Here are some of the important landmarks:

The Botanical Garden of Hamma, The Ketchaoua Mosque, The Maqam Echahid, Bardo National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography, Notre Dame d'Afrique, The Basilique Saint Augustin, National Museum of Fine Arts of Algiers, Tassili n'Ajjer, Beni Hammad Fort, The M'zab, The national park of El Kala, The Atlas mountains, Gouraya National Park, The Museum of Antiquities, The Ahmed Zabana National Museum, Great Mosque Of Algiers, Great Mosque Of Tlemcen, Ben Aknoun Zoo.

And here are some important celebrations for us: Celebrations: 

New Year’s Day, Mawlid, Labor Day, Independence Day, Eid Ul-fitr, Eid Ul-Adha, Anniversary of the Revolution, Islamic New Year, Ashura.

Sahara Desert

Notre Dame d'Afrique

Eid Ul-fitr Sweets
Kawther: I would say that Algeria is a highly underrated tourist destination even though it has so much to offer culturally and historically, starting from our desert that has one of the most important groupings of prehistoric cave art in the world, In an area called Tassili n'Ajjer Located in a strange lunar landscape of great geological interest, and it was inducted into UNESCO's World Heritage Site list in 1982.

Algeria has also been colonized by Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Ottmans, (Spanish from the west) and the French through time, which left incredible historical monuments everywhere you look In the north of Algeria, Roman Algeria is an archaeologist’s paradise, with many states full of the remains of ghost towns from the old empire.

Monuments vary from ones from the previous occupants to ones from our own natives. For example, the royal Mauretania Mausoleum in Algeria, which is an Amazigh tomb built by the Amazigh king Juba for his wife Cleopatre Selene.

Algeria is a Muslim Arab country, so most of our celebrations are religious; my favorite ones are Eid el Fitr, which is the Muslim celebration of the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. The day is considered a day of forgiving and forgetting the past wrongs of others.

On that day we usually start by praying together, then all families get together and you visit your neighbors and exchange all sort of sweets and cakes, which became in important part in this celebration, all families make sure they have many different sweets ready a few days beforehand, which end up being given to neighbors and family.

Children are given money, sweets, toys and new clothes, and you tend to find them everywhere in the streets running with their balloons that day.

 That scenery and joy is also the same reason I enjoy the celebration of Mawlid al-Nabi al-Sharif the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, it’s a quiet but a beautiful celebration where we read about his journey and message while setting candles everywhere and going out with a “fanous” in hand ( lantern) at night.

Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?

Amina: In Algeria, there’s not too much noise or people outside. It’s a calm environment and let me say that there’s not so much you can do comparing to activities that we find in developed countries.

Some of my favorite places here are mosques, Museums and Gardens.

Botanical Garden of Hamma
Kawther: The great thing about my country is the diversity of it, when it comes to the culture or the environment, our land contains so many different sceneries and weathers. We have a vast Sahara desert that takes around 80% of the land, it’s one of the few tourist attractions here and it’s easy to know why from the previous things I mentioned.

But my favorite place here is definitely our beaches, I love swimming too much and just looking at the sea brings me joy, the fact that we have great beaches is definitely a reason for developing this love.

Thanks to our Mediterranean coastline I can’t choose just one area because all our beaches are beautiful, the most famous beaches are in: Tipaza, Mostaganem, Bejaia, Annaba, Skikda, Jijel, Tizi Ouzzou, Boumerdes, Tlemcen 

I also love visiting the Botanical Garden “Hamma” which I’ve been to many times and it’s just as stunning each time, it was created by the French occupants in 1837  to provide trees to Europe, now There are currently an estimated 1,200 different species of plant in the garden.

Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?

Amina: Algeria is famous of it’s delicious and tasty food and well known of her traditional dishes like Couscous, Rishta, Shakshuka and others. And my favorite dishes are the traditional dishes.

Kawther: Let me tell you one thing, our food is DELICIOUS. Couscous is a national meal here, it’s mostly cooked every Friday. It’s often served with lamb, chicken or cooked vegetables, it’s called Taam here, which simply translates as 'food’ … that’s how often we eat it.

We also have Mhadjeb, which is every Algerian's favorite meal, It’s usually made with tomato sauce inside and sweet peppers.

My personal favorite meal is Bourak, which is mostly cooked during the month of Ramadan, they’re rolls that are stuffed with b├ęchamel and any other ingredient of your choice, such as tuna, shrimps, meat, eggs, spinach. .. You can put anything inside it and it will taste like heaven.

Oh right, Ramadan is the ultimate time of food, people go all in and extra during that month, making sure to make as many good foods as possible, here’s how a typical Ramadan table looks like. It’s safe to say we need an hour break after eating, Algerians give great importance to food.

Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?

Amina: There are different slangs and idioms in Algeria and here’s some examples:

chabikhkem of hamlakhkem - I love you 
ckhamimakh felam - I think about you 
srajikhkem - I wait for you 
targourkame- I dream of you 
alwakte a drouhad - when are you coming?
arwah - come 
eni jaya! - I am coming! 
azel - quickly 
ouliye - heart  

Kawther: In Algeria, our official languages are literary Arabic and Tamazight (Berber), and we have a semi-official language and it’s French, which is used to teach in university and used in many workplaces and institutions, our native language is Tamazight which is different from one region to another.

In most places, if not all, we use a mixture of Arabic and French that only the Algerian people can understand, I find it pretty cool, as if it’s our secret speaking code that no outsider can understand.

Algeria Capital, Algiers
Describe briefly a regular day in your country. 

Amina: I wake up early if I have school or work. Get clothed, have my breakfast which breakfast is most of the times coffee (kahwa) and cake (halwa). 12 p.m. is lunch time. Lunch is prepared in the morning at about 09am by my mother. Afternoon at about 04 p.m. or 05 p.m. there’s coffee and cake again. After coffee I sometimes like to go out and have fun (visit friends, family or to garden…). In the night from 09 p.m. it’s dinner time. I go to bed at midnight after checking my social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others.

Algerian Coffee Store
Kawther: I think it’s pretty much the same thing as in every other country; we wake up and go to school or work, hang out with friends and so on. Except we have Friday as a special day, people go pray in the mosque and the family gathers to eat a traditional meal, which is usually Couscous or Rechta.

How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?

Amina: If Algeria were your home instead of The United States you would...
  • Be 3.5 times more likely to die in infancy
  • Be 41.1% more likely to be unemployed
  • Make 85.8% less money
  • Spend 96.87% less money on health care
  • Use 92.88 % less electricity
  • Consume 86.13% less oil
  • Die 3.17 years sooner
  • Be 76.79% less likely to be in prison
  • Be 65.79% less likely to be murdered
  • Experience 21.65% less of a class divide
  • Be 83.33% less likely to have HIV/AIDS
  • Have 78.76% more babies
Algerian Oil Plant
Kawther: Algeria is a conservative country but you can still have your freedom because most of the limitations are caused by society and tradition and not the country’s own law.
But some people tend to be very uptight when it comes to religion, any disagreement against it will be taken very personally by others.

Since Algeria had many cultural influences caused by the previous occupants from different civilizations, memories of those cultures were left through our architecture.

La Grande Poste, Algiers
Notre Dame D’afrique, Algiers
Casbah, Algiers
Beni Mzab, Ghardaia
L’Oasis Rouge of Timimoun
Also, each area in Algeria has its own traditional clothes, so that gives us a great diversity when it comes to celebrations as well because that’s usually the time when most people dress up in their traditional attires. Here are few pictures from some areas:

Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
Kawther: The Algerian War, also known as the Algerian War of Independence was a war between France and the Algerian National Liberation Front from November 1st, 1954 to 1962, which led to Algeria gaining its independence from France. On each anniversary of this day 21 canon shots are fired at midnight. 

The Algerian independence which was in 5th of July 1962 after a long war that left 1.5 million deaths and a colonization that lasted 132 years, Algeria was finally free.

The Algerian Civil War was an armed conflict between the Algerian Government and various Islamic rebel groups which began in 1991 following a coup negating an Islamist electoral victory. The war began slowly as it first appeared the government had successfully crushed the Islamist movement, but armed groups emerged to fight jihad and by 1994, violence had reached such a level that it appeared the government might not be able to withstand it.

What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?

Amina: I think my country is so bad at making movies. There’s no stereotypes that irk me.

Kawther: I don’t recall ever seeing Algeria being represented or mentioned in a movie or a book, it’s an unknown country to most people, whenever I mention the name “Algeria” most people answer with “Is that somewhere in Africa?” and that’s all they know.

but I would say the stereotypes come from the religion aspect, since Algeria is a Muslim Arab country people assume we’re a bunch of terrorists who ride camels, which isn’t the case, we do get to wear whatever we want here, we date and go out and have fun like anyone else, we have places to hang out in just like in any other country with very few restrictions that mostly come from society and the conservative traditions,

We have our rights and our freedom, on top of that we have free education and health care so that’s always a plus! 

I’m not saying everything is great here, not at all, this country needs so much more work to even be considered good but it’s not as bad as people would think.

Algerian Film
What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?

Amina: Good at T.V. shows.

Kawther: I haven’t seen my country being represented on TV, so until that day I can’t answer this question.

Who are your top three favorite characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?

Amina: 1.) Moufdi Zakaria;, was an Algerian poet and writer. He wrote "Kassaman", the Algerian national anthem while in prison in 1955.

2.) Zinedine Yazid Zidane, nicknamed "Zizou", is a retired French footballer and current manager of Real Madrid. He played as an attacking midfielder for the France national team, Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus and Real Madrid.

3.) Fatma Zohra Chouib, Miss Algeria 2014

Fatma Zohra Chouib, Miss Algeria 2014
Kawther: Meursault from “the Stranger” by Albert Camus is the only Algerian character I know that I liked, I relate to him and his thought a lot, I would recommend that book to people, it won’t help you get to know Algeria well but it’s a pretty good book, well it also shows Algeria as a normal country and not some poor war zone, so that’s helpful
Albert is originally from Algeria so it’s not surprising.

Thank you, Amina, for this very informative post! I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. Come back next month for So Your Character is From Thailand ... featuring Melissa Grav!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Slots for Australia, Canada, England, Scotland, New Zealand, the Philippines, Liberia, and Algeria have been filled, but if you are from any other country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com.

Do you have any Algerian characters? Did this inspire you to write an Algerian character or set a book in Algeria? Are from this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Amina? Be sure to thank her!

If you liked this post, come back every other Tuesday for book reviews; Friday for tags, character interviews, and link-ups; Saturdays for writing advice and life updates; and Sundays for the Writerly Bundle which includes a new soundtrack piece, vocabulary word, and tea review!

You may also like:
So Your Character is From Liberia ... Featuring Lucy Buller

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