I would imagine my great uncle had mixed feelings over leaving Algeria for Tunisia to the east, in an ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ sort of a way, even if his last recorded whereabouts in the country was in a small town called Duvivier (modern-day Bouchegouf) just 100 miles or so from the border. He took no photos of the place. If you ever go there you’ll know why.
A move east meant the front line had moved east, all the while needing supplies often best delivered by rail. The line still exists but doesn’t cross national boundaries any longer.
I too had mixed feeling to leaving Algeria. It seems a shame to be moving on so soon. My great uncle was in the country for five months; I was leaving after just a fortnight. Such is the way with a journey like this one.
It feels I have only just scratched the surface layer of this vast country, the largest in Africa, many times larger than the UK. It doesn’t as yet feel as though I’ve worked out what makes it tick, although I do know that Algiers is a very different place to the rest of the country; more boisterous, more sure of its self, and retaining more French culture. It resembles a little bit of Mediterranean Metropolitan France welded on to the coast of Africa.
Using Algiers as a basis for understanding Algeria as a whole is akin to thinking you’re knowledgeable about the moon for having studied it through a telescope. Yet, for all this Algiers is also where I have felt closest to my uncle so far. I can envisage him being as equally calmly befuddled by the language and the cultural etiquette as I have been at times. He had the advantage of undergoing a mandatory army lesson on North African cultural norms. I had the benefit of modern sensibilities and world travel already under my belt.
Through the postcards he collected in the capital – he seems to have been similarly shy with his camera as I am and didn’t get it out until much later – I was able to search out (successfully for the most part) the very views he would have looked upon and recognised.
And if the train ride from Algiers is anything to go by, I could not just have followed his tracks behind the lines, but ridden on the very tracks he was helping to renovate too.