Village Life in Western Algeria
09.02.1965 - 13.02.1965
We began hitchhiking today in a gale force wind and rain storm. When it abated we walked about a mile out of town and got three lifts no real distance, but we were well out of Algiers and on the main road to Oran, our destination. We got a good lift to Affreville and finally, about 3.00 pm, had an excellent stroke of luck. Two Germans, living in Algeria, picked us up, and were going to Tlemcen. This was our intended destination for the following day, so we were going to save a day. There was a little engine trouble, but we got to Tlemcen at about 9.00 pm. We had travelled about 600 K’s from Algiers, which was amazing. There was quite a story in these two Germans. The driver had been in the Foreign Legion, had married an Arab wife, and with his family was now living in Tlemcen. There was something about his fearing to go back to Germany after the war for some reason. The other German was working with the volunteer organization Service Civil International (SCI) in a village outside Tlemcen, and was aiding the villagers in community development. He was quite interesting, though with the brusque German manner. He bought us coffee and cheese and invited us to spend some time, perhaps a week, at his base in the mountains. It seemed like a good opportunity to see at first hand some real Algerian village life and how the SCI aid program operates, so we accepted. It was decided that we should stay in the home of the driver overnight, eat there and then go up to the village in the morning. The two Germans had done the trip to Algiers and back in one day. They had gone because one of the driver’s children had contracted polio and they wanted to send her to a German hospital. They had gone to their Embassy and had brought back vaccine for the other children, but had been told it was not possible to send the sick child to Germany. I did not enjoy my stay overnight in their house. I felt uncomfortable with the German driver and his Arabic speaking family. We had a scant meal and I was glad to lie down on my inflatable mattress and find the seclusion of sleep. However, a profitable day, with much promise, plenty of rain and a fair smattering of other things.
Wednesday 10-2-65 to Saturday 13-2-65
We set off early for the village of Matmora, but first visited the SCI area office in Tlemcen, gaining a little background info on this particular movement from some of its members. When we finally made it to the village we found our host’s house beside the school to be almost a pigsty. It was filthy and squalid. We were given a tiny room which was the worst in the place. We spent the afternoon fixing it up as best we could and managed to get it looking half decent, though it was still somewhat depressing. We also cleaned up the kitchen a little, and scrubbed all the dirty cups and plates. The house is freezing, except for one room, heated by a stove - his room. I froze on the earth floor of our miserable box that night.
We were up early on the Thursday morning to go back down to HQ in Tlemcen, and I for one was bored stiff the whole day. I wished I had remained at Matmora where there were things to do. They came in from all the village bases and had some sort of strategy meeting in the afternoon while we amused ourselves. Later they all stood around acting as if they had just decided the fate of the world. They seemed a very serious lot. I froze again Thursday night.
Friday we went with Mahomet, a local village helper about our age, on the milk distribution round to outlying villages, leaving Matmora at 6 am.
We had breakfast where it was even colder, and then continued right on to the furthest out village, skirting the Moroccan border for many miles, a border lined with barbed wire. We were looking down into a valley at one point at a small Moroccan town. We saw much evidence of the Algerian French war - a smashed tank, barbed wire entanglements, guard posts and mine fields.
At lunchtime we were with another SCI group at a former French fort, at El Khars. It was quite a set-up. We returned to Matmora at 2.00 pm and in what was left of the afternoon set about fixing up a roof, and another chook-house for ourselves. It was bigger and slightly better, and we had more to work with, including a pile of blankets with which we draped the walls. We were to be paid a roll of film. I slept a little better that night.
Saturday morning I worked some more for the roll of film, and then after lunch, now, I am trying to catch a bit of sun, but I can feel the cold is coming again. This has been an interesting few days, and despite the cold and the primitive conditions I am glad we made the decision to come up here. We have helped out as best we could, made some unexpected friends, and seen how important the work of SCI is in improving life for these villagers who have suffered so much in recent times. But tomorrow we must move on.