By Rashid T
I write this in painful memory of my father, Amar Tirit, father of eight children, arrested at and taken away from his store in Bainem to the casino, the infamous interrogation facility. He disappeared from there to never be heard off again.
I was born on a hill called La Casbah in 1931. My family came from Tifrit Eben Malik and Bajaia. At home, my family spoke Kabilian and the Algerian dialect.
We attended French schools because that was all that was available to us, though there was an Arabic school nearby, a sort of high school college combination for the elite. It seemed like a foreign and exclusive domain of the French colony. My only experience with Arabic School was a store front classroom where we sat on the floor with a small wooden slate, a small bamboo stick, and brownish ink to write with. That experience lasted only 15 minutes. I got elfalaka (beaten with a stick on the soles of the feet). To this day, I don't know what caused that beating. Perhaps to get my attention? I split like a wild banshee, even left my shoes behind. Harect ville d'Alger, on the run to Marseille out of fear of further disciplinary punishment at home! (harect el babour, stowaway on a ship). I arrived back home on the same ship. Did not have the guts to disembark with the others.
In spite of that, I resisted the White Fathers' teachings though it seemed secular. The mission of Baba l'Abyad (White Fathers) was made very clear to us: some loyalty has to be shifted from Islam. Some of the White Fathers were Kabilians themselves, orphans raised by the priests, many of them illegitimate, and therefore, knew us quite well. The French language of trade was superimposed by colonialism and manipulated with the very well trained Christian mission organization. It was excellent public relations work in the Amazigh language and an imbalance of French for trade.
The White Fathers never mentioned the great literary works, which were burnt by Cardinal Jiménez in Spain, of the very same religion as the White Fathers. These were great works left by the Muslims of Spain. They included historical works of the Moors. 600,000 volumes of Arabic books, covering all aspects of science and theology were burnt, but none of this was ever mentioned. This destruction was the eradication of the language that enlightened Europe and brought it out of the Dark Ages.
The Kabilian language of my time was taught mostly by mothers. The (real) Kabilian fathers of my time had to scrape and hassle a living off the Italian and French colonist farms all over Algeria, and many ended up in France as cheap labor for the factories. If a Kabilian was seen on the road all along the coast of Bainem, Bain Romains, Pointe Pescade by the guard champettre, he was accosted and his identity checked. His callused hands were his identification mark, his sign of being a laborer.
Absentee real fathers lost their place to the overwhelming presence of White Fathers. They made sure there was always indebtedness. My revelation and national awakening motivated me to join my neighborhood wataniya, as directed by the prevalent PPA (Party populair Algerienne, that evolved into the National Liberation Front [FLN]).
As kids, we intermingled with the Christians of the area and used the swimming hole together in Bainem. Our cove consisted of 5 cabanons, dominated by Dr. Gerin's big villa. A cathochism was held there for some of the neighborhood kids. I waited by the gate for my swimming buddies to come out. The teacher was with them, and they all politely gave him the customary hand shake. When I stuck my had out, he yelled at me and told me to go and wash my dirty hands. I looked at my hands. They were clean and rippled from having been in the water swimming. This was a form of psychological terrorism. It hurt me deeply, and embarrassed me. It affected my self-esteem and my self worth.
Another time, as I attempted to venture beyond Bab Azoun, the so called "civilized" French neighborhood, I was walking under the arcades when I suddenly got kicked right on my tailbone. It landed me on the ground. As I looked up in agony, I saw the pointed, handmade, custom shoe that kicked me, and as my eyes moved upward, I noticed the beautiful, shiny gold cross around the neck of my attacker. By all appearance, he was a colon. This is what I heard him say when I asked, "pourquois monsieur, jais rien fait!" ("Why, Mister, I didn't do anything"): "Bouge petit biquot tu ma fait ralentir" ("Move you little goat. You slowed me down."). Young Algerians were often referred to as "biquot" by the colons.
Another time, on my way to see a movie, I got stopped by the local police on their rounds near Zoudj Ahyoun (the two fountains at the foot of the Casbah). They asked for my proof of identity, but I never had one, as we were considered "Francais Musulman" (French Muslims, an identity imprinted on our cards, which we were obliged to carry). The two policemen were accompanied by four Senegalies, holding a long, heavy chain that had Algerians handcuffed to it. I,too, got handcuffed, and along with the others, was taken to La Rue Bruce commisaria and locked up in a dark cell.
Lucky for me, Rachid l'Eblidi, a homeboy who later on served with me afficher les tracks*, saw me and ran for my father so he could come down and release me. When I was released from the cell, the commisaire interogated me and slapped my face in front of my father, who was ready to strike back, but he restrained himself because he knew they had the upper hand in force and power. It was the utmost in humiliation and degradation. It was a big awakening for me. I knew they had to get out of Algeria, by any means possible. There is more to my story, but this was enough for me to join those who sought arms to defend ourselves.
*This refers to when we
distributed flyers and posted them on walls. The glue we used was made
out of flour, provided by the local bakery. One person would spread the
glue on the walls while the other did the posting. A third would watch
out for the cops.