Photograph

Algiers Series | Timimoun Connections |

A young boy orders some snacks from the tea hotspot in central Algiers.

Customers are plenty at this favourite snack hut in the heart of the capital.

Friendly chat is exchanged as people wait for their orders of fresh mint tea.

The tea shop resembles a hole in the wall but one that is not easily missed.

In a box-like store in the wall, a window allows passersby to peer in from the sidewalk and order their midday pick-me-up. It comes in the form of fresh mint-leaved tea – a hot desert infusion, and roasted peanut. Additional options include sunflower seeds, almonds and golden walnuts, equally slow cooked to the crisp. The vendor has come all the way from the south central district of Timimoun (the red oasis) in the Adrar Province to set up shop. Business is booming because everybody in and beyond the capital knows that nobody does a mint tea like the sand-dwellers (a nickname for the Black, Berber and Arab tribe that inhabit the region, roaming the dunes in comfortable navigation). He asks me if I’d like a spoonful of honey in my mint concoction and I happily oblige. The memory is mine in photographic form but also in taste and smell. I show my father these moments to describe the feeling because, ironically, as I am taking a break from writing this, on a cold winter’s day in London he advises I make a mint tea. At the first look and mention of Timimoun tea and the vendor that serves it so effortlessly, it triggers a sentimental and connective recollection in my father, who reminds me that his sister Khadija is a Timimounian and her family mint tea recipe is truly exceptional. My father’s mother had breast fed Khadija and her brother as babies and their mother returned the favour for dad. Which in Islam, made them not only neighbourly play mates but spiritual siblings for their rest of their times. Women in Algiers and across the Islamic world have engaged in this cultural tradition and religious custom for a while, stepping in for the child in need when the biological mother was away and they were on babysitting duties. It is a symbol of sisterly support but also that of love, respect and devotion to nurturing children of the community with the means that were possible at the time when breast milk extracting equipment was not yet founded or accessible. I think about how a variety of tribes and backgrounds that live together in the capital or across Algeria spread knowledge about the wonderful cultures, food and drinks of their native towns, and all it takes is a migration, community and love. I am thankful for this desert tasting and hopeful for more when I visit again – be it at this Algiers haunt, the Sahara or in a catch-up with my Timimoun aunt.

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