INTO THE WORLD

Algeria, Algiers, Alger, Algérie

in Algeria/Mid East

It was inevitable in a way, given the geography and shared history of the North African countries, to begin contrasting and comparing. When arriving in Algeria, it was my last place in the region to visit: immediately, I started thinking: Ah, the bread here, it’s as important as in Morocco, but not the same. Different kinds, other varieties. It’s not like the bread in Libya either: yes, they also bake with barley, but in a different way. And the architecture. It’s bright white just like in Tunisia, but of a very different kind. Algeria seems more socio-economically coherent than Morocco (almost no show-off-y cars, few posh establishments, definitely fewer brands and stores – actually, it’s not even possible to pay with a credit card in Algeria). Its medinas (should be in singular probably, since Algiers’ casbah is about the only old urban space that survived mostly intact) are not restored and touristified like those in Morocco, and the casbah is definitely more crumbling than the medina in Tripoli, and that in Tunis as well. Food – less tuna than in Tunisia (maybe my experiences are not representative, but I managed to come across tuna in each and every single kind of dish in Tunisia), definitely more baguettes than in any of the other nearby countries (maybe more than in any other country over all?) but the same kind of cheap and very tasty beans and lentils, amazing fruit just like the entire Mediterranean in spring and early summer. Dates, of course. I remember the Libyan ones being particularly good,…

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A new Mashallah News

in World
Mashallah News

It was more than 5 years ago that we first clicked “post” and published the first article on Mashallah News – we were four back then – well, four plus three actually, because the graphic design team AMI were with us from day one, and very involved in the first period – Isabelle, Clément, Micha and me. We had worked for almost six months with preparing and setting things up: the idea was born I think before summer some time (this was 2010, the revolutions had not started yet and our conversations were filled with other things – among them the fact that no or very few Middle Eastern alternatives to mainstream media existed) but starting a project always means organising a lot behind the scenes, so that’s what we spent summer and early autumn doing. Then, in November, we had gathered enough ideas and material – and AMI had worked hard to design the black-white-yellow design we immediately came to love – to be able to launch.  It’s been a lot of hard work but we are still around! And we did – with stories about a green-your-city initiative in Beirut, the intricate rules for dining out in Saudi Arabia, a literary walk through Istanbul, a lovely grandmother in Teheran who starts painting and changes her life and a pidgin language evolving between domestic workers and their employers in Lebanon. Looking back now, many of these very first stories are still great reads – some of the very early ones are less impressive maybe,…

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Head elsewhere

in World
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As usual under this headline, I’m sharing interesting links from the past few weeks. First, a read that I got from Habib Battah, a Lebanese journalist who currently is over in Oxford for his PhD but continues to write about political and urban change over at his blog/site Beirut Report. It’s about the issue of sectarianism in Lebanon and how it continues to live on despite the horrors it has produced in the past. Ussama Makdisi, writing for the academic journal MERIP, says that sectarianism, contrary to conventional wisdom, is not inherent to Lebanon – it is a political construct that has thrived since the era of European rule over the region. He describes how conflicts caused by oppression and political misrule became “religious divisions” and “communal tensions” when seen through a colonial perspective, and how religion, when deployed as “a metaphor for the boundaries between modern civilization and pre-modern barbarism”, came to legitimise “European interference in the affairs of a ‘backward’ Muslim and Asiatic region”. Then, something we published on Mashallah and originally was brought to our attention by the lovely Azita Houshiar of Fig and Quince, a blog about Iranian food and culture. She put me in touch with Ehsan Mirhoseyni, a researcher from the south of Iran, who just came out with a book about the fascinating burqe, a traditional face mask worn in the Hormozgan region. The book is in Persian so hard to access for those who don’t speak it, but we asked Ehsan to share a bit about his work which he was kind enough…

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New Mid East media

in Mid East
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A few weeks ago, I stepped out of a plane into a dark and windy evening. It was in Amman, where a winter storm had left the city covered in a wet moist. Typical for January in this corner of the Mediterranean region: nights are cold, evenings dark, and storms – when they arrive – leave people freezing and trying to salvage themselves with layers of whatever thick and knitted clothes they have. Still, all of us who came to meet in Amman were happy: the place we spent our time was unexpectedly warm inside and had the best little coffee bar next door, with teas from Morocco, Yemen and Iran (and a happy cat, lots of regulars plus seating in the sun – when it finally, after two days or so, arrived). We were a bunch of people, all of us representing different independent media platforms, who had traveled to the Jordanian capital. Most had met before: we have been part of the same project for over one year now. Ebticar, which means “invention” in Arabic, is an attempt to support independent digital media in the Middle East, and Mashallah, which I’m one of the co-founders and editors of, are among the lucky recepients. This Amman get-together was to check in how everyone was doing, because we’ve arrived at the end of the grant period. For me it was great, because I hadn’t had a chance to meet most of the participants before, and it was an occasion to spend time with…

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Around Mongla

in Bangladesh
Mongla

Today I went around long, neverending it seems, roads made from mud and brick, making their way through a landscape of rivers and canals and small houses and paddy. I met so many people along the way: Dip, maybe three, who lost both his parents and now lives with his smiling grandparents in their little wooden shop by the side of the road; three sisters who walked with their clothes reflected in the surface of the water; a man with thin legs and an amazing face, who has a wooden bow for shooting bits of mud on the backs of his cows; four generations of women who have built new homes, just a few meters inland, each time the eroding river has eaten their previous ones (climate change); someone on the way to the mosque, someone else outside a church or an overgrown tempel; and then a man, Bachu, who talked about the life of him and his family – the days they go without food and the water that is now turning to salty for them to drink (also climate change; of course they have not contributed to it at all). He said something, standing on the riverbank which was slippery and soft under the soles of the feet. “The world is not divided, we are all connected by this water. If we want to divide ourselves we must move away from this planet.”

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Oh Calcutta!

in India
Calcutta

That’s the name of a restaurant serving funked-up traditional Bengali food – but also an expression can signify most of one’s feelings towards this city. Calcutta is a place for those who like to travel in time (any city is of course, but some more than others): it began its journey as a small village, got rapidly occupied and made into the first proper city in the British colonial empire in India, then lived through years of struggle and development and then handed over the role of Indian capital to Delhi a little more than 100 years ago. Today, after having seen both the proud Indian independence and several tragic partitions and population movements in the Bengal, Calcutta rests assured on the banks of the Hoogly, stretching its limbs in all directions. It’s not the centre of power anymore (that’s Delhi), and not the place to do business (Bombay, of course), but it remains a place with deep, nostalgic roots. It’s been talked about, of course, in derogatory terms – they have called the city sad and smelly, doomed its existence and wished to never return. Seen it as a home for slumdogs, forever having lost its once majestical air. But those people cannot have seen the thousandfold shades of pastel on its house facades. Cannot have tasted its food on the streets; its pieces of papaya served on coarse banana leaves. They must’ve missed to stop at its teastalls, sat down on its benches of softened wood. Talked to its residents, listened to their stories.…

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