This is another of my misleading titles but I had to use it to keep some coherence with a previous post. I only crossed this neighbouring country from Tunis westwards and I am going to write about this journey I made to Algeria through Tunisia.
The story itself doesn’t deserve to be shared, but thinking of it makes me recall the situation of my country at that time, and this is what I want to share. And in case you still find this long text not worth publishing, consider it as a way to keep the blog alive until I finish the few drafts I started.
It was in the 90s, a few months after I had left Algeria for the first time. Algeria back then suffered from terrorism and almost everybody feared for their lives. In case you wonder, I didn’t flee the country but only left to continue my studies.
So it was summer and I wanted to spend it at home. Air France’s plane hijacking convinced the remaining foreign airline companies to leave the country, and we were left with Air Algerie which couldn’t serve everyone. I decided therefore to go to Tunisia through France and then from there to Algiers.
At Tunis airport, the policeman looked at my passport and asked why I was there. I told him it was to go to Algeria, which he understood because many of my nationals did the same. His second question was “do you have a Qur’an with you?” My positive answer triggered an additional 15 minutes of questions about my relationship with FIS, prayer, terrorism. You name it.
The next plane to Algiers was one or two days later, I cannot recall, so I decided to head to Tunis where I was told some Algerian taxis could be found. The Tunisian taxi from the airport to the town didn’t cost me much as I asked a policeman to help me negotiate the price. I remember the fear displayed on the taxi driver’s face; it reminded me of the 80s in Algeria.
I looked for Algerian taxis in Habib Bourguiba Avenue and couldn’t find any. I had a heavy bag and didn’t know what to do. Then I heard an Algerois accent. It was a man in his 30s who came from Libya and who “yekhdem el cabas” as we say in Algeria. He had a bag full of illegally imported garments which he was taking to his boss in Algiers.
We went together to a cheap hotel he knew where we left our luggage till we could find a taxi to take us to Algeria.
Somewhere we saw a big car with an Algerian plate, and naïve as we were, we asked the guy if he could take us to Annaba. His answer was rude, he was a tourist (Algerian tourists in Tunisia were rare back then) and didn’t like the fact we thought he was a clandestin. Luckily, a real clandestin wasn’t far and he told us we could join his other three clients in his big Peugeot 504. We got our bags back from the hotel and drove to Annaba.
I knew close to nothing about Tunisian cities, and I still don’t know much, so all I can remember in Tunisia is the border post. There the driver told us to give him 5 Tunisian Dinars each as it was a sort of illegal tax the Tunisian policemen extorted from Algerian travellers. We did as he said and things went without major issues. Only the guy from Libya, I should call him my friend, had to give a little more money for them to let go of his merchandise.
The driver told us the post was under heavy stress because of a recent incident, of which the Algerian press spoke a lot, with a Tunisian policeman who put an Algerian passport on the ground in order to protect his knee while checking below a car. The story says the Algerian’s nif pushed him to kick the policeman in the face. The Algerian was then jailed but only until an Algerian police patrol, informed by other Algerian passengers, went to the Tunisian post and forced them to release him.
Once we left the Algerian post, which we crossed without any issue thanks to my being a student according to my trip companions, we drove non-stop to Annaba. We reached the city by the end of the day. I checked the train station but the train to Algiers had already left so, together with my friend, we hired another clandestin.
The clandestin interrogated us before accepting, first to know whether we could pay but also to make sure we were neither terrorists nor policemen/military. He said he didn’t want problems. We drove during the night with butterflies in the stomach. Fake checkpoints were fashionable back then and one wouldn’t know what to do when they face one. But thanks to God, we made it safely to Setif. There the driver insisted on us sleeping there because the road was even more dangerous and he didn’t want to take any risk.
We parked the car not too far from a police office and thought we could finally close our eyes. One or two hours later, several policemen woke us up and searched the car. They wanted to make sure we were not suicide bombers. Later on and for many years many roads next to police and army offices have been closed to cars.
It was early in the morning, we went to the train station where my friend took the train to Algiers. I waited there till a relative came and took me home.