"The History, with a big 'H', is of course that of nations, of eras and big movements of the humanity. With a small 'h', it becomes this history of human beings, of small groups, of families, etc." Ameziane Ferhani, in the Editorial of the supplementary #4 of El Watan newspaper that was published the last month on the 50th anniversary of the Algerian independence from France.
The Centre Culturel Francais, Baghdad 1999
I approached him:
- You are Algerian?
- Yes. He answered with surprise.
- Then give me a kiss.
- Ha ha haa...
Just few minutes with him was enough to know that he is sensitive to the tiniest alluring to any special relation, what so ever, between Algeria and France. Days after our first meeting we were walking in Al-Mansoor district of Baghdad when he said with marked bitterness: "I hate the racists". I stayed silent. I didn't notice the sign of racism that he thought he noticed in the face of that French young man. He murmured with a bitter husky voice that looked like a whisper: "Dirty.... Rats".
He sensed my neutrality (neurtality?) so he took a deep breath and told me this story as an evidence of how easily a European can be turned, in a blink of an eye, to a racist. He said:
"Once I saw two Europeans in Algeria. They saw a shoe-shiner-boy. One of them put his foot on the box of the boy who started to shine his shoe for him and the other took photo for the scene. How sarcastic their smiles were!"
My Algerian friend had left Iraq after months later and we didn't met nor contacted each other since then. Of course shoe shining is not a shameful job, according to my attitudes, and there are many shoe-shiners in almost every big district in Iraq, but since 1999, I could not feel at ease while seeing them.
An article in El Watan about the shoe-shiners in Algeria in the colonial era. The writer, Amezian Ferhani narrates his memories with the shoe-shiner-boys in Alger, the capital. His father used to take him to drink sore gaseous juice of pomegranate and to ride a donkey sometimes. Amezian Farhani was a child who was attending school. He saw that those shoe-shiners are not very clean and that the clients let the coin fell down in the tiny hand of the shoe-shiner without touching it. Amezian Ferhani, the child, noticed that they disappeared from Alger after the independence. His father explained: "They set fire in their wooden boxes and joined the school". Amezian Ferhani felt so happy.
Ben Bella was attending the show. Ben Bella had walked up to stand next to the actors, at the end of the play, and declared the end of the phenomenon of the shoe-shiner-boys in Algeria.
Amezian Ferhani also mentions that song by Maurice Chevalier which is talking about those shoe-shiner-boys. It has some ridicule in it. (Some racism?). (Did he said BANANAS in the lyrics?). Anyway.
6th August 2012
I am guarding my fasting. I mean I am practicing my fasting with my family. I am relaxing most of the time. El Watan is such a wonderful journal. I used to keep articles that appealed to me. I searched my archive of 2011 and found other articles by Ferhani. I will try to spend the time remaining for my fasting reading his articulate elegant narration.