Young Yann and his sister in Algerian outfits

Childhood Memories from Algeria by Yann Bourdeau

Apr 27, 2023

I lived in Algeria and Spain from 1979 to 1981. I was seven to eight years old. I continued my first grade in Algeria after starting it in Canada. I went to a French private school. After a couple of months in the school, my parents decided to remove me from it. The school had physical punishments. I often had my fingers hit with a wooden ruler. My mom, my sister, and I moved to Majorca, Spain to allow me to attend a French private school on the island without physical punishments. My dad still lived in Algeria and came to visit us on the weekends, usually every week or two.

We lived in Zéralda, a suburb of Algiers. We had a bungalow where the courtyard ended on the beach. The beach is on the Mediterranean Sea. Now, I would kill to live in a bungalow like this on the beach. It had a closed courtyard. Each room opened up to the closed courtyard. There was a fence that we could open, allowing passage to the external courtyard. Beyond the external courtyard was on the beach.
The bungalow was in a gated community for foreigners. It was watched over by guards with machine guns.

I remember when there was a storm, sand accumulated inside near the door. There was enough space under the door for the sand to infiltrate the room. There were stairs to go on the roof which could be used as a big patio.

I made snail soup as I played. I used my toy pot filled with water and put snails in it. I mixed the water and the snails with my toy spade. Not the kindest thing to do.

It was the first time I saw a turtle. One morning, I went to the external courtyard and there was a turtle. I told my mom: “There’s a walking rock.” I was kinda dumb.

Usually, I was playing with my toy cars in the internal courtyard, and I was leaving them in the courtyard at night. From time to time, there was another kid, early in the morning, who climbed the fence to steal my toys. I was not happy about this situation. So, one morning I decided the wake up early to watch my toys. I spotted the other kid and started to run after them. After running after him for ten minutes I was outside my community, and I arrived at a place where there were many locals. I was the only foreigner, and everybody was watching me, the foreigner kid without parents. I felt out of place and turned back to my bungalow. There was no danger, but as a kid it felt uncomfortable. It is one of the experiences that I remember the most. After this chase, I learned to store my toys inside locked rooms.

From time to time, we went out to eat at restaurants. One of my favorite meals was the Algerian Chorba, a soup with lamb. I remember it to be spicy which I liked a lot. My parents took the family to a restaurant called Alibaba so we could eat it. I don’t remember the other meals. There was another restaurant called Le Restaurant Familial in a garden where we often went. At this place, the specialty was the merguez. It was cooked on a stick in a wood oven. I remember it fondly as I found the merguez delicious. It was a very nice place with tables scattered outside between palm trees, plant, and flowers.

I ate a lot date paste. I very much liked it. My parents bought it from a store. There were no chips in bags (crisps for those in the U.K.) as available in the country like in Canada. However, there was a guy near our community with a frying unit on wheels that made them fresh and put them in a paper cone. It was delicious.

There was another outside restaurant in our community that we went to called Chez Chats et Souris (At Cats and Mice). It was a fast food restaurant. There was a big round counter in the center where we sat to eat. The cook and the waitress were inside the counter. Usually while we were eating, we saw mice running on the other side of the counter and there were cats chasing them.

Yann’s sister on top of the Renault 4 and his mom inside.

One summer we went for vacation in the Sahara Desert. I remember it vividly. I think it’s the part I remember the most of living in Algeria.

Here is the Renault 4 (an old car even then) my father rented to do the trip. Each door had its own key. I remember being in the car and looking at all the abandoned vehicles on the side of the road. I never found out why people were leaving them there. We stayed in hotels in the cities on our road trip.

It was my first and only time riding a camel with my sister.

Young Yann and his sister riding a camel.

I’d like to have been older to appreciate more this nice country. I don’t remember everything because I was too young. I didn’t fully realize the unique chance we had living in a bungalow on the beach.

I know this hasn’t been an overtly punk column up until now, but my conclusion is I think traveling abroad opens our minds about the difference in the world. My parents were not racist and always treated everyone equally. At the age I was back in those days, it was the period that, as a child, we are very influenced by our parents. They are formative years. I know there’s a difference of being a privileged white kid versus an Algerian kid. The Algerian kids did not get much, and we had everything. There was no specific speech made by my parents to be anti-racist. It was more showing a good example to follow. Seeing different races and ethnicities made me forget the difference and accept them. I come from a white family and did not have much interaction with people of other races or ethnicities before living abroad. Being the minority, even if it is much more privileged than the majority, made me realize at an early age that the world is not solely populated by white people all around the world. Humans raise children, have families, run countries. Just because we were different doesn’t mean any of us were lesser humans. As I grew up, I made my own mind on many subjects and did appreciate these values that were ingrained in me by my parents.

When I was a punk teenager influenced by Crass, there were two older white power skinheads trying to influence the younger punks to join their movement. I was one of the few who never flirted with their idea. We didn’t talk much and occasionally we were both at the same party. I did not invite them to my parties, and they did not invite me to theirs. They did influence a lot of my friends who I lost after their conversion. I never understood why the white should be superior. We’re all human beings.

To show how stupid they were. Once, they and I were invited to the same party. There was an older Black guy. The racist skinheads were smoking hash and drinking beers with him. They were saying he was different and not like all the other Black people. To me, he was a normal guy like every other guy. I don’t know how this guy supported all their bullshit. It didn’t make sense at all. I did not intervene and say it was all bullshit. I was afraid of being beaten up because I was only sixteen and the skinheads were nineteen or twenty. Yes, they liked Skrewdriver, which I only know by name. I think one of them even had a patch on his bomber jacket. It was one  of my strangest teenage memories: two white power skinheads and a Black guy partying together.

I can thank my parents who made me travel. It opened my mind and made me open to the difference of the world.

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