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lundi 29 septembre 2014


On the early days of this New Year 5775, I stared into the tranquil Atlantic Ocean as the sun was setting. Boats were gently bobbing, solitary without their owners; a gentle breeze with no memory of the cold winter to come embraced all of us on the shore.
I thought to myself:

With no anchor
Sad is the person
Who has only the wind?

An anthropologist is always interested in the OTHER, and as Claude Levi-Strauss had said: The modern world lends itself to anthropological observation.
Through the lenses of an anthropologist, nothing is trivialized but every sentence and word assumes its own importance.
One such example happened soon after the above observation.
An older taxi driver, morose and not courteous, took me from Gare du Lyon to Gare du Nord.
A soft rhythm was playing on his radio.
What music are you listening to? I asked him.
Algerian, he replied.
Do you know Chaabi Music?
A smile, however restrained, broke on his unfriendly face.
Where are you from? He returned my question.
I am from Australia.
His frown returned.
You are a Zionist, like the American. He didn't hide his preferences, I support Palestine, he continued.
I was not in the mood for an inflammatory discourse in French with a morose Algerian who has declared his love of Arabs, but at the same time, my anthropological curiosity, spurred me on.
Are you an Arab or a Kabyle (the original inhabitants of Algeria before the Arabs came and conquered them and have ruled over them ever since)?
I am a Kabyle.
(A Kabyle Woman)(Amazegh)
I put my hands out and said to him, Nice to meet you; sorry the Arabs came and took over your country. Kabyles lived in peace with the Jews, even before the time of the Arabs
Tariq Ibn Ziyad, the Moslem General who conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century was a BERBER, a kabyle just like you.
His frown deepened
I did not want to increase his confusion to tell him that Gibraltar; the current rock colony of Britain at the tip of Spain is named after the famous General, Jibal Tariq, and the mountain of Tariq!
Are you Algerian or French?
I am Algerian, was the reply from this “French” taxi driver.
This short interaction made me realize how much difficulty people have to make meaning out of their lives. I am certain that his grandfather had a nice little farm in the mountains and had led a contented life, being a Kabyle in Kabyle Land, speaking Amazegh language, despite his country being over run by Arab speaking invaders from the East!
Europe, American and Australia, Canada, New Zealand does not give the same sense of cultural security anymore. As a student I had been lucky enough to be in Australia, New Zealand, UK and USA… how the cultural landscape has changed in such a short period of time!
(the flag of the Amazegh people, also referred as Berber)
I got out of the taxi in front of the Gare du Nord, thought I had descended into some metropolis in the developing world! Was this Conakry, as I eyed women in beautiful braids with colourful long dresses and hair ornaments pass me by? Drunks and Prostitutes greet you with ease, there are Bangladeshis selling burnt corn, suspicious looking black Muslims (you can tell because of the mark on their foreheads, made by hitting the ground too hard while praying!), others from indistinct parts of the world, with appearing distinctly threatening looking, created this human canvas. Indian Tamils much like their Malabar ancestors brought over to Reunion as labourers, slithered through the crowd, having acquired their European disdain.
This particular scene is repeated all over the European continent. Veiled women carpet the cities from Oslo to Barcelona to Berlin to London.
Here I am, an OTHER like just all the OTHERS, but I have a NAME!
Perhaps La Habana, in the island close to my heart spares one of this confusion. Perhaps because in La Habana, we know who the people are, why they are here, each person carries with him or her, an imprint of the greater society, each person making up the fibre of the whole society.
No wonder I miss La Habana so much!
I am beginning to long for simple, less confusing societies.
The communities of American Indians are one such good example.
Many of the new world countries where there are no major conflict with indigenous people or do not have indigenous people, are also less confusing and polemic. (Many of the islands in the Caribbean or in the old world, many of the islands of the Pacific, have you been to Funafuti?)
Dragging my luggage, I felt, I do not belong to Europe. I am here, like I have been in many other places, an OTHER from somewhere else. I like that ambiguous status, I do not hanker for the mundane uniformity or the cantankerous diversity of Europe or USA. I have never migrated, just travelled to many places, and in some stayed for a while.
Australia, which I have always identified as “my country” began to look strange and the friendships and affections began to wash away slowly. Asia has a genealogical history for me, but the history I have lived through, especially after the adolescent mind had become cultured, has been the history of my people, the history of Jews.
This is my anchor.
This connection has been immensely soothing. Through this connection, everything appears to have a meaning, even this martyr of an Algerian with a morose mind driving taxis in Paris at a time when he should be listening to the waves or the rustling of leaves in his native Algeria!
(this is the earth the morose taxi driver should seek, a kabyle village in Algeria)

As Pablo Neruda had written:
Asi es de injusta el alma sin raices:
Rechaza la belleza que le ofrecen:
Busca su desdichado territorio
Y solo alli el martirio or el sosiego

A soul without roots is an Injustice /
It is unjust that the soul has no roots
It rejects the beauty it is offered
It searches for its wretched territory
It searches for its wretched earth  (paying homage to Franz Fanon)
And only there finds its martyrdom or Tranquility

(the translation is mine)

How true, How true, Pablo!