I found myself in the in the middle of an AIESEC reunion, right in the heart of Alger, when this tall Algerian man approaches me in Portuguese. I was not expecting that at all, as the spoken language at this meeting was either English, French or Arabic. A week had passed since I left Portugal to do volunteering in Algeria for one and a half months, and I must say, I really felt nostalgic when I heard a random “Olá” and “Obrigado”. It was the perfect way to break the ice, we started chatting and this man shared about his time in Portugal (with AIESEC as well) and about his visits to Lisboa, Porto and Sesimbra.
His name was Rabah, he gave me his contact and proposed a trip to the Kabylie area - at the time I was in the Arabic region of Algeria.
Some weeks had passed and I had not seen Rabah in a while, my volunteer experience was coming to an end soon, so I figured I should either join another project or perhaps travel. While thinking about my future weeks in Algeria, Rabah came to mind and I texted him. For my surprise he kindly replied saying that he was going to Tizi Ouzo – a Kabylie area in the middle of the mountains - and proposed once again for me to join. I gladly accepted his invitation and not even a week after finishing my volunteer work, I was on my way to Kabylie.
Rabah and a friend picked me up in a two-seat van, so I took this journey in the back of the van, with no windows. Luckily, the van had a side door I could open, so my five-hour journey was spent legs hanging outside the van just contemplating the view on my way to the mountains.
When we reached the Kabylie region, all women wore colourful and flowy beautiful dresses. Rabah tells me that his village and the others nearby, are located in a zone called Portugal. Being told such a coincidence while I was taking in all the magic of this place, I felt stuck in a moment of immense joy.
Rabah introduced me to his cousins and then more cousins and even more cousins after that, and then we finally headed to his house. It was a house with no electricity and no water, with a fountain just half a mile away. It was summer, so none of it mattered. That night we went to see some friends that turned out to be great musicians; they also lived in the mountains and they even had their own tobacco farm. We spent a really pleasant night drinking wine, smoking homemade shisha and listening to great music (even bossa-nova ), all while under a sky full of stars so clear it felt unreal - not easy to find nowadays.
Another night had passed and I moved back to Alger, spent some days exploring there and moved to Bejaia, also in the Kabylie area, for a week. Bejaia is a port city by the mediterranean sea. I spent four incredible days there, mastering the art of preparing shisha, so much so that by the end of it, I couldn´t even stand the smell of it anymore.
At this point, Rabah called me for one last trip to the Kabylie mountains, a weeding he said. It seemed to me as an experience that I couldn´t say no to. I found myself again in Portugal away from Portugal (meaning that Kabylie area), where the people dress with colourful, flowy, dancing clothes. On this day there seemed to be more people than before, an explosion of colour. We were near this shop where I bought some “Cheema”, which is pure tobacco powder that you put right in your gums and wait until you feel this hit of nicotine rushing through you.
Rabah had left to greet some of his cousins, so I found a quiet staircase near the shop and tried some more “Cheema”. More and more of these colourful dressed woman seemed to keep gathering, and the more they appear, the more I felt the nicotine rushing. The colours, the smells, the nicotine and adrenaline rush, it all seemed like one beautiful Pollock’s paint right in front of me.
Less than 10 minutes had passed, Rabah returns and we go for the greatest couscous meal I’ve ever had – I have been trying to copy this same kind of couscous but I am light years away of achieving it! During the meal, I had the opportunity to meet more of Rabah’s cousins, communicating using my very limited French and improvised sign language. It is impressive how much we can learn from others even when we don’t speak the same language!
At night time, after the wedding, there was this big dance competition. The woman, dressed with colourful yet barely-there clothing, were now singing and dancing in a very seductive way, while the man were sitting, chatting and very much enjoying each performance.
While I was as well, Rabah invited me for some “Haraam” (which is the Arabic word for breaking the Islamic rules). Cousins and drinks appeared out of nowhere, and we drank in a hidden place while hearing the women singing and clapping their hands. I don’t actually remember what happened after that, but Rabad tells me I spoke about mathematics with a cousin that could only speak Arabic and Kabyle. Somehow we understood each other at that time and this was definitely one of the best experiences I have ever had!
The following day I moved back to Alger, two days after that I moved back to Portugal (this time my country), and now, almost four years later, I can still feel the intensity of those magical, soul-filling, colourful mountains painted by women, by simplicity and a few drops of Kabylie madness.
Do you have great stories you would like to share about your experience volunteering, taking a placement or while on Erasmus abroad? Send them our way!