Thursday, December 20, 2007

Marrakech Here I Come

Tomorrow is the first day of the Eid holidays in Morocco. I will be visiting Marrakesh for a weekend getaway with Deepsixed. Woohoo.....!

On this day, muslims commemorate Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ibrahim to show his devotion to Allah. Instead of sons, muslim households will each sacrifice a sheep on this day. It is also a day for charity as 2/3 of the sheep will be given away to the poor so the meat doesn't go to waste.

About a month or so before this event in Algeria and Morocco, you can see a lot of sheep being traded by people just about anywhere you go. In Morocco, a sheep cost about USD300.

I heard that in Morocco, 1 million sheeps will be sacrificed tomorrow. Geez, that's like 1/3 of Singapore's population!

Sacrificial Lambs in Algiers: taken from a passing Corolla. Where's Little Bo Peep?

December 11 & Security Concerns

While we were busily moving houses on that day, Al Queda struck again for the 2nd time this year in Algiers. Read about it here.

The explosions happened nearby our office, about a couple of minutes drive away. According to Algerian coworkers, the earth shook violently when the bombs went off and a few seconds later, a big bellow of smoke was visible some kilometers away.

The attacked had taken a big toll. 62 were killed including a number of university students riding in a bus at the wrong place, wrong time. The students were from the university behind my office. I probably had seen them before on the way to lunch.

More than a week has elapsed since the terrorist attack so this is already old news. The international media has moved on to other news but the security concerns remain very real.

Despite the constant assurances of local management that Algeria is a very safe country, it takes a little logic and a bit of observation skills to know that it isn't true.

Obviously, the definition of safety is relative. For a group of people who had witness a bloody civil war and the atrocities people had done to other people, one or two bombings a year is nothing. For a Singaporean who has just ventured out of his tortise shell in these couple of years, a sudden tire screech could be interpreted as a terrorist attack.

The reason why I don't feel that Algeria is safe enough is because the Algerians do not place enough emphasis on security awareness and standards.

For example, I used to check in to Sheraton Club des Pins. Although being a 5 star hotel and probably the best hotel in Algeria, it doesn't have a good security check at the front gate where I was being driven in. Like many places, the security guard here just walk around the vehicle and do a cursory glance before passing it as safe. I used to quip that the Algerian security guards are X-men, because they have mutant powers to know from afar if there is a threat or not.

After the first Al Queda attack on the PM office earlier this year, Sheraton hotel improved their security checks somewhat. The security guards now attempts to open the bonnet and the trunk of the vehicle for inspection. However, they still stop short of physical checks or check under the vehicle.

The government security standards were not much better. Any traveller who passes through the Algerian airport is subjected to the cumbersome security checks. For the outgoing traveller, there are a total of 6 security checks excluding check-in and boarding! In conversations, some Algerian acquaintances proclaimed proudly that they are taking security so seriously.

If a traveller approaches the airport in a vehicle, there is a checkpoint just before alighting. Before entering the airport building, he/she has to go through the second checkpoint with a scanner. After check-in, there is a third check to validate one's passport and ticket. Upon clearing immigration, a fourth security checkpoint with scanner looms. If he/she clears this one, there is a customs check (the fifth). The officer will ask you to declare if you are bring local money out. After boarding, there is a sixth and final body and luggage check right outside the plane. Nobody could board the plane without feeling a little harassed after so many checks.

The question is, with so many security checks, are they all doing their jobs? On several occasions, I had observed the security personnel sitting behind the scanner monitor happily sms-ing away. The airport is a classic case of having quantity does not equate to quality.

I was scheduled to leave Algiers for Morocco on the 16th. As it was just after the December 11th incident, security airport was running at its peak. Traffic was jammed up along the road to the airport caused by the more stringent checks (however, still no physical checks) just outside the airport.

Sitting in the car, I realized that heighten state of security in Algeria is only a temporary measure. When you have tighter security, the normality breaks down. In this particular case, traffic gets into a bottleneck at the erected checkpoints. In a weeks or two, in order to expedite traffic and resume operational normacy, airport security breaks down again.*

It will take many years of transition before Algerian security becomes a norm, that is, when functioning, does not break down the routine.

*In pretty much all of Algiers, when there is a police checkpoing, traffic jam occurs or people starts to clusterfuck, becoming a non-moving crowd.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Haven't been blogging for a while because of a busy schedule after the Singapore holidays.

Anyway, we arrived back in Beirut first to apply for our visa to Algeria. On 9th December, we got back to Algiers on a night flight. On 11th, we were busy moving to a new guest house. After that, I prepared a presentation for the year end meeting on 14th December. Soon after, deepsixed and me departed for Morocco to apply for yet another 3 month Algerian visa. After getting the visa, we intend to fly to Beirut to celebrate the new year and spend January to do 2008 planning.

Life can be this complicated sometimes.

Bye Bye Cheraga

December 11 was moving day. Our group of young? expats (below 40) were transferred from the present guesthouse in Cheraga to another guesthouse in Palm Beach. After living in Cheraga for almost a year, it was a pity to have to move.

Relocating to Palm Beach could take a little of getting used to. In Algiers, it is already challenging to find a supermarket with a wide range of products to cater to the expats. To date, only three supermarkets in Algiers fit this bill: Opera, Galaxy and Carrefour. Even these are still below par compared to our neighbourhood NTUC or Cold Storage. So after moving, we would have to travel a longer distance to be able to visit the same familiar supermarket and grocer. With a Corolla issued to us, we could probably cope by planning weekly purchase trips.

Most of my stuff are in two categories: books and clothes

The second inconvenience has not presented itself yet. It is winter now but comes summer the entire route to the office will be crowded with traffic to and fro Palm Beach. The entire Palm Beach will be crowded with visitors during summer. Supposedly now, we are able to enjoy some seaside tranquility after moving here. Save for the fact that it is very cold and breezy out there now.

Algiers Palm Beach is similar to the resort-like Palm Beach in Florida only in namesake only. Palm Beach Algiers is made up of: a cluster of seaside motels, which are vacated during most of the year except during summer. Our new guesthouse is one of these motels; a few rows of seaside bungalows belonging to the Algerian high society members; small superettes (mini-marts) and restaurants measuring little larger than 5 meters square; and a kilometer stretch of undeveloped beach.

Because of Algeria's violent past, building are usually surrounded by high protective walls topped with concentina wires to ward off the unwarranted visitors. Palm Beach was no exception but it makes this little resort town look like a cluster of mini prisons amidst meter tall unkempt wild grass patches and a small beach (Read: escape is neigh impossible).

Takes a lot of imagination to picture this relatively unscenic place as the much touted place to be during Algerian summer.

Moving in: first glimpse of my new apartment

When I first arrived to my new apartment, I didn't like it at all. What was management thinking? The place resembles a cheap seaside motel. Wait, it IS a cheap seaside motel with very basic facilities as the company is going for cost-cutting. A big downgrade from our brand new Cheraga guesthouse, this place looks so used. Further more, Palm Beach is further from the office than Cheraga, and in summer the jams are a killer.

Unfortunately, we have no choice in where the company places us so we have to try to make do. The only plus point I could think of at present is that it has a view to the mediterranean sea. But now in winter, being near the seas can be so cold and the two small heaters in the apartment are hardly warm enough.

After the professional movers came with the furniture from the previous guesthouse, the apartment looks a little more furnished and homely. I would love to update you with more pictures of how the apartment looks like now but I got busy with work presentations and packing for my Moroccan business trip, so I have to postpone.

Currently, the guesthouse has 5 residents. Deepsixed and I occupies the two apartments in the fourth storey. The two latino guys occupies the third floor. Our Turkish coworker lives on the second floor. The remaining apartments on the second floor, one third floor apartment and the large penthouse are awaiting the 15 inter-company transfers (ICTs) from China, Syria, Japan, Egypt and Sudan to arrive in Feburary '08. When full, the guesthouse will become a bigger expatriate community. Hopefully then, everyone can get along with everyone.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Diesel Fumes Health Hazard To Asthmatics

According to this news article, exposure to everyday pollution from diesel-powered vehicles can be a health hazard for people with asthma impairing their lung function in just a few hours, a new study showed.

It's a wonder that my asthma hasn't relapsed after spending so much time in traffic jams in Algiers with the car windows down. Can someone explain to me why Algerian drivers have such an aversion to air-conditioning?

These Algerians like to feel the diesel fumes in their hair.... Ah~

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Lucus, Lucien & Angus