Sunday, July 21, 2024

one and a half years in Algiers

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one and a half years in Algiers

January 1, 2017, every Sunday. The day was a public holiday in Algeria, being the English New Year. Weekends are like us on Fridays and Saturdays. I had been listening since the previous evening, waiting for the celebration of the Algerians welcoming the English New Year with the sound of fireworks and bursting crackers. But no, the dreary Algerians were busy with other things today, dashing all my hopes. It is not clear exactly how they welcome the English New Year, but the observance of a public holiday on January 1 suggests that they hold the day very seriously, or it is possible that they are still clinging to the traditions left by their colonial masters.

I remember December 31, 2011. Just 15 days ago I arrived there to join the Bangladesh Embassy in Manila. The sound of firecrackers and firecrackers start ringing in the evening in Sera. As the night progressed, the test of the ear’s ability to receive and retain sound became more intense. At one minute to 12 o’clock in the night, the test of my auditory perception reached its climax – the sound of crackers of various kinds took on such an intensity that it seemed as if “heavy shelling on the border of two hostile countries” had begun.

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However, the Algerians had a good night’s sleep as they did not have to rehearse any such war games. The first thing after breakfast the next day was to find a salon to trim the unkempt hair. Remembering that I haven’t smelled a salon anywhere in the last two and a half months, I went down the road with the preparation to go somewhere far away to get my hair cut. After walking around for about 45 minutes, asking various people with gestures, I appeared in front of a salon. The shopkeeper has just opened his shop and is sweeping. Pushing the sliding glass door, I entered Duru Duru chest. I was wondering how much they charge for their work. Meanwhile, there is no way without cutting hair. However, thinking that Barazor would not take more than 200 or 250 dinars (150 rupees), he gestured to her to cut her hair and showed her the seat. After cutting my hair, I took out a handful of coins from my pocket and held them in front of him. He counted them and took 500 dinars, which was the highest payment I have ever paid for this in my expatriate life.

It was a holiday so there was no rush to work. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to get to know some parts of the city on foot. The second main task of the day has begun. Walked for about two and a half hours at 7-10 degrees Celsius. No fatigue could touch me because of the cold. As far as I went, the surrounding houses, trees, and shops were watching me deeply, maybe I had never seen such a green colored foreigner before. The day before, when I went to eat at a fast food shop, the shopkeeper called out ‘Shahrukh Khan, Shahrukh Khan’. I immediately replied no, no, Bangladesh. He smiles realizing his mistake and extends his hand for a handshake with the comment – Bangladesh is a Muslim country.

The next day is January 2nd. The winter temperature in Algiers has been in the low 10s for a long time and has not seen it drop below. But when I wake up early today and turn on the mobile phone, the number that appears on the screen is 3; Means the night temperature has dropped to 3 degrees Celsius. I was a little worried, wondering if I would be able to catch Fajr Jamaat. Alhamdulillah, Shaytaan finally succumbed to my determination.

But the remarkable thing that was done today is that after burning a lot of wood, the government house was finally rented for me within the specified amount. As most of the flats have only one bath and toilet and other limitations, it was a little late to choose a flat. Only the modernized buildings have multiple bathrooms. Later I learned that the more members there are in the house, this strange rule of ‘one-toilet’ culture was adopted by Algerians from their colonial masters, France. However, they are gradually coming out of that ‘one-toilet’ culture due to increased contact with the outside world after independence and the urge to accommodate and accommodate foreigners.

In this country, the rental agreement must be notarized by a notary public for a hefty fee. I clearly remember that the day the agent took me to the notary public’s office, he had to take an interpreter with him. Because, the swaggering female notary public herself does not know English. The notary public read the clauses of the contract to me one by one and the interpreter translated them into English for me. If there is any objection anywhere in the contract, it is fixed through discussion at that time. Our accountant’s house was also rented around the same time. Within a week, the Accounts Assistant and I moved into our rented government residence. The distance between our two flats was roughly two kilometers. A plus point for me was that Rajiv Bhai’s house of Ericsson company was five minutes away from my house. That means being close to each other’s needs in a completely new environment abroad was a source of relief for both of us.

However, we had to burn a lot more wood to rent the main two buildings of the embassy (the embassy and the ambassador’s residence). Finding those two buildings within the ceiling set by the government was like throwing stones in the dark. On the other hand, whenever we choose a building in Bar Ghat, then we had to sit for days after sending notes to the foreign ministry of the host country for its approval. As those two buildings are representational, the government does not approve the contract without being fully assured about the safety of these two buildings. I remember after about a month or more of getting approval for one such building (ambassador’s residence) we were informed that it could not be rented because of security issues in that building. We were told to send our proposal for another building again. Meanwhile, the owner of the house, after we had made him wait so long with hope, backed out and said that he would not take it again, although we had no hand in it.

And we had to suffer a lot with a very beautiful and pleasant building. The landlord fixed the rent of the building in two ways. If his rent is in dinars, if he pays in dollars, the rent is reduced by about 30 percent. But even in dollars, the rent was slightly above the ceiling set for an ambassador. We were determined to take the building anyway, as such a majestic building is not often available at such a low rent. If we can take it, it will be a matter of honor for us in diplomatic circles. But he needed the head office’s approval to raise the ceiling a bit. The Ambassador sent several letters/messages to the Ministry with this proposal. But it is our misfortune that the approval of the Ministry did not come in the end. Later it came to know that the building was rented to another embassy for almost double the rent that its owner wanted to pay us.

It should be noted that the Honorable Ambassador has already presented his credentials to the Algerian Foreign Minister; The elderly president of that country hardly came to the public due to illness, so the foreign minister accepted the identity card on his behalf. This important formality was completed in mid-November. At about the same time we opened embassy accounts on terms set by their central bank.

As per the proposal sent by us from the head office, our temporary hired driver Mr. Jamal’s Volkswagen Passat car was also hired on a monthly basis. Although in name it was the ambassador’s car (flag car), in fact it was used for all kinds of embassy work. Since the new car (Mercedes Benz) has to be ordered from Germany, the approval of Dhaka, the hurdles of various import policies of the host country and lastly, after placing the order of the car in Germany, it is remanufactured and sent to the buyer. The car takes at least 6/7 to reach the embassy. Months of time will be required.

To fulfill the office receptionist and translator needs, we employ a newly-graduated local lady named Miss Fatema. A fair lady of five feet or less was referred to the ambassador by her British counterpart. The ambassador appointed him as the embassy’s first receptionist-cum-interpreter after asking some pertinent and formal questions. The girl had the look of a good person, her head was always covered with a scarf and she closed the door during prayer and prayed. But later the embassy had to suffer a lot with him. Because, on the pretext that his residence was a long distance from the embassy, he used to show up a couple of hours late every day. Also, he often missed the schedule even though he was aware of any urgent meetings that required his attendance. I know he was replaced after my return.

As the child of a diplomat, my daughter was granted tuition-free education at the host country’s central public university. However, an application had to be submitted in the morning to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for permission to participate in the educational program. According to the rules of the Algerian authorities, he also had to start a one-year elementary course in French. In this way, a simple solution to my immediate problem was solved. However, as luck would have it, Kulayani later had to shift his education to Malaysia due to my retirement.

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