Sola* walks us through his three-day visit to Algeria, sharing the culture shocks he experienced along the way.

As told to Boluwatife

Image designed by Freepik

I’ve never been much of an adventurous foodie or traveller. I’d only been outside of Nigeria once when I visited Cotonou in 2018, and I had access to the Nigerian food I was familiar with. I think that’s why I still haven’t recovered from the culture shock I experienced during my December 2023 trip to Algeria.

I didn’t just decide to visit Algeria on a whim. I’m a journalist, and the opportunity to visit the country came when the Algerian government invited my team to cover a conference. 

My first shock was the visa and travel processes. I knew it was a police state and expected restrictions, especially for journalists, but I assumed it’d be straightforward since we were invited. It wasn’t.

For one week, we navigated a long back-and-forth process with the Algerian embassy in Abuja, filling out forms in English and Arabic. The embassy in Nigeria initially couldn’t get visa clearance for us from Algeria, and we had to fill out another form specifically for journalists. My team and I finally got our visas two days into the conference and had to rush to catch a flight and meet up.

After a 14-hour fight, including a stop in Doha, Qatar, we eventually got to Algiers, the capital city. We thought it’d be smooth sailing from this point on, but then we were delayed at the airport for an additional two hours. During this time, we were searched and questioned because of the media equipment we travelled with. We were the only black people in the airport, and I noticed we were gradually getting surrounded by security personnel as we were being questioned. 

The increased security presence was strategic in a we-take-our-security-serious way, but it reminded me of Nigeria. We wouldn’t have had that ordeal if they had a proper line of communication. It was like one arm of the government invited us, and the other arm had no idea.

With the visa and travel wahala finally behind us, we were free to do our work and explore Algiers. But the next culture shock was waiting: The food. I mentioned earlier that I’m not an adventurous foodie. I don’t do pass myself. My stomach is somewhat sensitive, so even when I briefly consider switching up my diet, it typically ends at just that — a consideration.

Algerians eat olive oil with everything. Maybe it’s the hotel we stayed in, but people could be drinking tea and have olive oil by their side. I was so confused. And the bread? It was hard as rocks. Coming from Nigeria, where soft bread is the standard, I was definitely unprepared. 

A plate of plain bread, crepe and chocolate bread.

The official languages of Algeria are Arabic and Berber, but they also speak French because France colonised them. The food in the hotel was labelled in French, and I had to use an online translator before ordering. That wasn’t necessarily an issue, but the food itself was mostly always cold and quite bland. No salt or pepper, and there was olive oil and onions in everything. There was also a heavy water shortage. There were different types of drinks, but when it came to water, we’d only get one bottle of water for five people. It was strange.

A side of purple cabbage and cream to accompany a rice and pasta dish.

But it wasn’t all bad. On one of the nights, we went to a lounge where a colleague ordered a medium-rare steak. It was the largest steak portion I’ve ever seen in my life. It took my colleague a whole hour to finish it. So, I guess portion-wise, they held nothing back. I had chicken myself, and it wasn’t bad.

The roads are also amazing. I didn’t see one pot-hole. One night, when we returned to the hotel, we noticed something was wrong with one side of the road. By the next morning, we saw machines fixing it. 

Did I mention Algeria is a rich country? Almost everyone wore designer outfits – even the security officers wore Rolex watches. Almost everyone smokes too, which I chalked down due to the cold weather. They have a four-day week system, so their weekends start on Thursday. I definitely wasn’t mad at that.

The Martyrs’ Memorial monument serves as a reminder of the lives lost during Algeria’s fight for Independence.

I spent three days in Algeria, it’s a really beautiful, well-put-together country. It would have been a 10/10 experience if there wasn’t the food debacle and other culture shocks. Now that I know what to expect regarding the cuisine, I won’t mind visiting again. Maybe by then, I’d have properly researched where to get food I can tolerate.

*Name was changed for the sake of anonymity.

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