Almost everyone who’s been in my apartment has asked me about that striking ethnic-looking woman hanging on the wall.
That woman is Adjia, my mother’s mother. That photo was taken in the early 60s in Kabylia, northern Algeria. It was towards the end of the Independence war, when the French army was losing Algeria to the independence movement… It was pretty much over, the French army knew it all too well and that’s when they got really mean. At one point, they raided my mother’s village and rounded up the villagers. People would be shoved into vans and taken god knows where… Then the van stopped, people would get thrown out… “A bit like the Auschwitz showers” my mother would tell me… “Were you going to get gas or water?”… When Adjia was taken out of the van, she wasn’t pushed against a wall and shot in the head for having hidden and fed war resistants. Instead, she just got mugshot taken as part of a census… Still, it’s no wonder she looks apprehensive in that photo.
I was born and raised in France but every summer my parents would take me to Algeria to stay with Adjia. She could only speak Berber and I could only speak French. Because we couldn’t really communicate, she’d fill the silences by laughing a lot. As a way to express her fondness, I guess. In return, I’d sulk. Not being able to communicate with her bored me. Algeria bored me. But every so often her hand would plunge into her cleavage and retrieve a handful of sweets. A trick that never failed to win me over... Temporarily though, for I would invariably returned to my sulking bratty self. Adjia was rather amused by the whole thing, my own mother on the other hand was pretty embarrassed and hurt, I could tell.
Adjia died in 1995 at the age of 75. I asked my mother for her “Auschwitz” photo and kept it in my wallet for more than a decade, until I scanned it, enlarged it and put it up on a wall. The scan also lived in my laptop for a while. Then I introduced it online as my facebook profile photo, took it to tumblr and twitter, transferred it to my iphone. I’m not sure what I’m trying to achieve by showing her off everywhere online… Two things that made her rather formidable in my mind: she fought for the independence (she did hide and feed Algerian rebels during the war, by the way) and she kept copious amounts of candy in the depths of her cleavage, just for me.