It’s not the desert here!

It’s not the desert here!
Senda and Lydia are two beautiful 17-year-old secondary school students, dressed in the latest European fashion and speak very good French. They belong to the Algerian bourgeoisie; their parents are university professors. They both live in big houses situated in the rich areas of the capital called El Mouradia and the Sacré-Coeur. Both of them have an only sister. They don’t want their surnames to appear because their parents are well known. They attend private lessons, necessary to succeed one’s studies in Algeria. Behind an apparent thoughtlessness, they know that their freedom space is limited and that they have to negotiate with taboos and the rules of society.

How do you see your future?
Senda: I will first finish my higher education, specialising in environment and then, later on, I will get married and have two children. But before that, I would like to make the best out of life. I want to have fun and travel.
Lydia: I will become a doctor, a surgeon like my dad. Then I’ll get married and I’ll have children.

Is marriage important to you?
Lydia: Yes, but on condition that my husband will above all be my friend. I want a very modern husband. I want to be free to say what I want and go wherever I want. He has to speak perfectly in French too.
Senda: It’s not absolutely an obligation. First of all, marriage is for me a love story and a modern couple’s life. But for the ceremony, I would like a traditional wedding like the one my mum had with henna and all.

You are what we call the jeunesse dorée of Algiers.
Senda and Lydia: Not at all! We have no driver who waits for us when we come out from school; our parents don’t buy us all that we want and they don’t give us as much money as some of our friends have. But we are aware that we’re part of a minority.

Do you think you’d leave someday?
Senda: the visa, going abroad and all this, I don’t feel concerned. I travel once or twice a year and that’s enough.
Lydia: I know that all youngsters want to leave to go to Italy, England and lesser to France nowadays. I feel good here. I travel once or twice a year. Last year, I went to Barcelona and skiing to Chamonix (France) in winter.

What about politics, what the newspapers talk about?
Lydia and Senda: I’m not interested in politics. Bouteflika (President of the Republic of Algeria) is there for another mandate and that’s all. Newspapers…not really. Apart a look at the sports pages, the rest is always the same.

How do you spend your free time?
Senda: Beach in summer, Facebook and MSN, like the rest of young people the rest of time. We go to the restaurant with our friends but without a car you cannot do anything here.
Lydia : You’re exaggerating! We also go to concerts. It’s not the desert here after all! We even go to the disco with other girls. I read many books that I borrow from my grandmother’s library.
Senda : Yes we go to concerts in summer but only those that cost less than 2000 DA and we never go to the cinema! When we go out at night we’re three girls with fifteen boys since cool parents are quite rare here.

So what does being young in Algeria mean exactly?

Lydia :It’s cool to be young, except this pressure to be in the mould. In my secondary school sleeveless and short clothes are prohibited. The apron is compulsory. There are a lot of taboos and a lot of intolerance. Especially, if you speak in French and if you don’t pray. I also know that drugs circulate quite a lot and not only among boys.
Senda : Even alcohol circulates. And it’s true, it’s very easy to obtain drugs.
Having said that, we’re not free but we’re not oppressed neither. In my secondary school, at Descartes (old French secondary school, only establishment having a francophone section for children of diplomats and the nomenklatura) we can wear whatever we want.

Do you hang around with young foreigners?
Senda : Yes, I have friends whose parents are diplomats of an African country but I don’t remember which one. The other friends make fun of them sometimes but they’re not racist. It’s like the Chinese, we mock them.
Lydia: It’s sweet, it’s not cruel, it’s not racist.

Ghania Khelifi
Translated to English by Elizabeth Grech
February 2010

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