Almost everyone who's been in my apartment has asked me about that striking ethnic-looking woman who hangs prominently on a wall in my living room.
That woman is Adjia, my mother's mother. That photo was taken in the early 60s in Kabylia, the north countryside of Algeria. It was towards the end of the Algerian Independence war, when the French army was losing Algeria to the independence movement and knew it... It was pretty much over and that's when they got really mean. At that point, the French army would regularly raid small villages and round up the population. People would be shoved into vans and taken god knows where... "This is all too reminiscent of the Auschwitz showers" my mother would tell me -- "are you going to get gas or water?"... When the van arrived at its destination, would Adjia be pushed against a wall and shot in the head on suspicion of feeding war resistants or would she simply have her mugshot taken as part of a census?... Well, no wonder she looks a bit apprehensive in this photo.
I was born and raised in France; every summer, my parents would take me to Algeria to stay with Adjia. She and I could not communicate -- she could only speak Berber and I could only speak French. Because we couldn't really talk, she'd laugh instead, as a way to express how fond she was of me. I'd pout, grunt and try to ignore her most of the time. Not being able to communicate with her bored me to death. Algeria bored me to death. But then her hand would plunge into her cleavage to dig up a handful of candy and I'd start paying attention. I never said no to the candy but I was still a rude brat. Adjia was gracious and wise about whole thing, my own mother on the other hand was really hurt by my dismissive behaviour, 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 10 years, until I scanned it, enlarged it and put it up on a wall. The scan also lived on 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. And now here. I'm not sure what I'm trying to achieve by showing her off everywhere online... A bit of atonement maybe? I was such an asshole to my grandmother when I was a kid and she was such a formidable woman: she fought for the independence (she did 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.