I spent days learning how to hold her, learning where my hands fit perfectly on the smooth inside of her crevices, learning how to penetrate her rough exterior and grab a hold of her. I spent countless hours laying with her underneath the golden rays of the hazy Algerian sun, still feeling her warmth against my skin as the sun descended behind the mountains.
She was known to the people of my grandmother’s ancestral Algerian village as Thavlat al Milh, the Salty Rock, from which the wild beach gained its namesake. She had been shaped by the waves of the Mediterranean on their path to the shores of the secluded wild beach that my family had frequented for generations.
Learning how to climb Thavlat al Milh was not just a rite of passage but a way of life for the children from my grandmother’s village — a way of life that would have been mine if my parents had not emigrated 22 years ago. I was only able to appreciate this life after I learned to decolonize my perspective toward my motherland.
Although 6,600 miles away from home in San Diego, Algeria never felt distant when I was little. El Djazair, Algeria, was present at iftar dinners, Eid brunches and Fourth of July barbecues — with merguez and baguettes on the grill. El Djazair was alive in the couscous, baklawa, qalb el-louz and tamina my mother made and in the Berber music my father blasted during family drives. El Djazair was remembered in memories of summers spent swimming in the Mediterranean with my cousins and in bedtime stories of my family members’ experiences in the Algerian War of Independence.
As I grew into adolescence, the distance between me and my family in Algeria grew as well.
As I lost my innocence and learned the truth, the unblemished image of Algeria I had constructed in my mind began to show cracks. My grandpa was no longer the old man who bought me ice cream, but instead the old man whose youth was spent as a French prisoner of war. I learned that family members missing from family reunions didn’t die of “natural deaths” but were instead tortured to death and killed by the French.
My family in Algeria always referred to my sisters and me as “the Americans.” To them, we were not “real” Algerians, because we did not share the experience of growing up in Algeria; they categorized me as foreign.
In San Diego, when people asked me where I was “really” from, I would respond, “I am American, but my parents and family are from Algeria.”
“Oh, so you’re Algerian then?” they would correct me; they, too, immediately categorized me as foreign.
As I felt increasingly otherized by my family for being American and otherized by Americans for being Algerian, I began to project these feelings of otherization on Algeria in an attempt to be recognized as “truly” American. I developed a colonized perspective of Algeria, and when I visited, I viewed myself as different, American, superior — finally manifesting the distance that my family previously perceived between them and me.
This distance was soul-crushing, and, over time, I realized that to be accepted as “truly” Algerian by my family, I needed to first recognize myself as Algerian.
Learning how to decolonize my mind was a lot like learning how to climb Thavlat al Milh. I learned how to hold my memories from Algeria with the same weight as my memories from the United States. I learned how to find each crevice, each gap of missing history about my people not taught in American history classes. I learned how to penetrate colonized versions of my people’s history, narrated from the French perspective, to grasp the real truth.
Learning both of these skills were journeys I needed to undertake for myself, but I wasn’t alone. I was guided by a sense of familiarity rooted in my generic memory of my grandparents and their ancestors walking the shores of the same beach and climbing Thavlat al Milh.
During summer vacations at my grandmother’s ancestral village, I allowed the waves of the Mediterranean to shape me. I allowed my experiences there to carve away at the distance I felt between my family and myself. Lying at the top of Thavlat al Milh, I feel overwhelmed by a sense of connection with the rock and my people’s radical history: a feeling of timelessness in continuing their ways of life, in experiencing their same sun and in treading in their same footsteps. The distance is nonexistent.
Sonia Adjroud is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Navigating Intersections appears online every other Monday.