Katia Dahmani, '18, stands in front of the door to her father's childhood home in Algiers.

Q&A: Alumna visits parents’ homeland for first time, encounters patriarchal culture in Algeria (slideshow included)

Photo used by permission of Dahmani
Katia Dahmani, ’18, stands in front of the door to her father’s childhood home in Algiers.

As a reward for graduating from Country Day, Katia Dahmani, ’18, went on a four-week trip throughout Europe with her father, Dahmane. The only condition was that she would spend two weeks in Algeria, where both her parents were from.

Except things didn’t go exactly to plan.

After spending a night in Dubai, the two weeks in Algeria and a few days in France, Dahmani’s trip was ended short as she flew back to Sacramento on June 28.


Q: What inspired you to go Europe?

A: (Annya Dahmani, ’18,) and I have thought for the past year about how cool it would be if we traveled around Europe together, but when we really thought about it, we realized we’re not really experienced enough to do that.

So one day, I talked about it with my dad, and he offered to take us. Annya ended up not going, so it was just my dad and I. (According to Annya, she stayed in Sacramento so she could find an opportunity to work over the summer.)

His one condition was that if he were to take me to Europe, I had to go to Algeria to visit family and see where I came from.


Q: What countries did you visit?

A: I ended up going to the United Arab Emirates for a night, then Algeria for two weeks and then Paris for four days.

I was also supposed to go to several cities in Italy and Spain.


Q: Why didn’t you go to Italy or Spain?

A: My dad said he had an emergency to deal with, so we had to come home.


Q: Were you disappointed that you couldn’t visit them?

A: Yeah, I was. I was really looking for to visiting Florence and Rome and seeing all the places we talked about in AP (European History).


Q: Had you ever been to any of those countries before?

A: No, the only time I had ever left the U.S. was to go to Mexico, which almost doesn’t even count.


Q: What did you do when you were in Dubai?

A: We were only there for a night, but we stayed in a really nice hotel. Since it was Ramadan, most countries that are predominantly Muslim keep their stores open really late since people are fasting during the day, so I went to the mall and ended up staying there till 1 a.m.

I also went and visited the Burj Khalifa. I have some family in Dubai too, so I met with them.


Q: Were you nervous about going to Algeria for the first time?

A: It’s definitely very different from here. Before even going I knew that there were certain things I couldn’t wear. A lot of my clothes – specifically my shorts – were gonna be too short, so I ended up wearing pants the entire trip, which f—ing sucked because it was so f—ing hot.

Along with basically having a dress code, Algerian society is definitely a male patriarchy in that men are in charge. At night when we would drive around, I would see only men outside, and all the women were at home.

I was also kind of nervous about the food because I’m not very big on eating couscous. I was going in during Ramadan, where most people fast, so even when you go outside, all the restaurants are closed. Even drinking a bottle of water outside could get you in trouble.

Also, when I was at the house during lunch time, no one could serve me because that’s against their (fasting) rules, so I had to find all the food in my aunt’s house myself.


Q: How would you describe Algeria?

A: It’s just a really weird place. I don’t know how else to describe it. The people there are pretty mean; they get mad when I speak English, and it’s so rare to find anyone that does speak English.

They all wear traditional Pakistani clothes, where the men wear robes.

The driving there is crazy, and the traffic is so bad, even when there is no one on the streets. Police men stand on the roads trying to “help” traffic, and sometimes I heard they just pull you over and threaten to take your license if you don’t pay them off.

The tap water isn’t safe to drink, so I had to be armed with 20 bottles of water at a time.


Q: Were there any things you liked about visiting Algeria?

It was really nice to meet my family because I hadn’t met most of them. They were really really nice and accommodating.

My parents grew up in villages outside of Algiers, in the Algerian countryside. I ended up visiting my mom’s village, my dad’s village and the houses they grew up in.

It’s definitely not like America or France, but there are definitely some pretty things like the “pecherie” (fishery) and Staoueli (a municipality in Algiers, Algeria’s capital).

It’s nice to see where you come from. I’ve always felt really detached from my culture, but visiting was definitely needed. It was a way to see where I came from and how different my upbringing could’ve been if my parents stayed in Algeria.


Q: Where did you stay in Paris? What did you visit?

A: In Paris, we rented an apartment a few blocks away from the Eiffel Tower, which was really sick. I have family in Paris too, so I went and met with some of them.

It was pretty dope because I ended up taking the metro to a lot of places on my own. I was pretty proud because you don’t really have chances like that – to feel independent in a really big city – when living in Sacramento.

I also just did typical tourist things like visiting the Louvre, Versailles, the Eiffel Tower and La Défense.

I did a little bit of shopping, but it was weird because all the stores close so early (as per French culture).

It was also pretty cool to use French to get around. I spoke in French the whole time except once when I went to a Japanese restaurant; I lapsed into English because I had no idea what was going on, and I didn’t understand that what I was ordering was takeout only.

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(Photos by Dahmani or used by permission of Dahmani)

Q: Do you think you’ll ever finish the rest of the trip?

A: There was a possibility of me doing the trip by myself, but I knew I couldn’t handle going to Italy and Spain by myself.

But at this point, having gone to France has really solidified my prior thoughts of studying abroad. I was previously choosing between Italy and France, but now I know I want to study in France my sophomore or junior year (in college).

(Nico Burns, ’18,) and I have been talking about maybe going to Europe next summer too.

—By Mehdi Lacombe

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