MATHEWS KABAMBA, Algieria
AS A former student of history, one who enjoyed it, I always have an urge to visit at least one historical site whenever I travel to a new place.
It is exactly what I did when I recently travelled to Algiers, Algeria.
I had not travelled as a tourist there, but on assignment to cover a CAF Confederation Cup first round first leg match between Nkana and CR Belouizdad of Algiers.
But more on that, and indeed its’ disappointing outcome.
During my stay in Algiers, I had befriended a shopkeeper by the name of Malik Osman.
It is Malik who told me that there are so many wonderful places to visit in Algiers.
“There are some monuments here in Algiers and some nice restaurants offering traditional food. All the buildings here are French standard, we have our own Eiffel Tower here, it is called the Maqam Echahid,” Malik told me.
I said to myself, I may never have an opportunity to travel to Paris and see the real Eiffel Tower, so why not seize the chance to see the ‘Algeria version’ of the epic French tower?
So, four days after my stay in Algiers, I decided to visit the Maqam Echahid in the company of Nkana Football Club vice-president Patrick Njovu.
I was eager to have a view of this historical place, and what a beautiful sight it turned out to be.
The tower is an astonishing concrete monument with two beautiful museums, gift shops among others. The place details the history of Algerian independence.
Relatively quiet, it is a place to see when you visit Algeria as it gives a good view of Algiers.
The tower is a magnificent structure, comprising of three stylised flippers that join at mid-height. Built by Canadian company Lavalin, Maqam Echahid reaches a height of 92 metres.
Above the three supporting flippers at 14 metres from the ground, is an Islamic styled mini tower with a diameter of 10 metres and a height of 7.6 metres.
As if that is not spectacular enough, the mini tower is topped by a six metre high roof with the National Museum of El Mujahid underground to add to the slender.
Its’ name means “the place where the martyr rests”. It is also referred to as the “symbol of the unknown soldier”, and is dedicated to the fallen heroes of the war for independence.
My tour guide Hassam Mohamed explained that the Algerian government built the structure in 1982 after the country gained its independence from their French colonial masters.
“This is the sign of our independence; it was only built after we got our freedom. It is the monuments of the Martyrs – those who fought for Algeria,” Mohamed explained.
A visit to this place was undoubtedly the happiest moment during my stay In Algeria while the saddest moment was when Nkana lost 3 – 0 to CR Belouizdad.
Having never travelled to Africa’s largest country before, my imagination was in overdrive trying to envision the scenery of the country and city I was going to stay in for the next seven days.
After spending countless hours airborne trying to picture my final destination, I had arrived at the Houari Boumedine International Airport (HBIA) in the capital Algiers at around 12:30 hours local time.
The airport was named after Algerian president Houari Boumedine, who ruled the country between 1965 and 1975.
An airport in the capital of any country usually gives a traveller an impression of how developed that city is, and arriving at HBIA, I began to get a clear picture of Algiers.
Upon arrival, there were club officials from the opposing team on hand to help the Nkana entourage with pre-entry clearance procedures, and thus, we did not have any difficulties at the airport.
A shuttle was already organised to ferry us to our hotel located in Kouba, about 30 to 45 minutes’ drive from the airport. However, we took longer than that because of the mad traffic in the city.
While driving from the airport to the city centre in Kouba, you are greeted with a number of spectacular buildings, beautiful driveways and ring roads that are associated with most Arab countries.
We set base at AZ Hotels.
From my hotel room window, I could see a number of landmarks in the city among them the shores of the Mediterranean Sea popularly known as the port of Algiers.
Algiers is such a wonderful city. A glance of the capital city in 3D, I wondered to myself, could this be the place Jesus Christ referred to when he said “a city built on a hill cannot be hidden?”
Located north of Algeria, I would describe Algiers as two cities in one. Architecture has always remained a tradition of Arabic countries and this usually sets them apart from the rest.
Algiers is a symbol of new and old Algeria in that there is the modern part of the city that is built on level ground on the seashore while the ancient side of the town is on the steep hill right behind the modern side.
Looking at the buildings in the city, I thought to myself, could this be the reason this place is referred to as Alger la Blanche, which is loosely translated to as ‘Algiers the Whites’ owing to its enormous white buildings.
It took me little time to settle in the city.
Back at the hotel basking the rear Algerian sunshine in the street adjacent to the hotel gate, a ‘black man’ approached me with probably the brightest smile I have ever seen.
He identified himself as Moses Jacobs, an illegal immigrant who was seeking to return home to Liberia after a failed mission to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy.
This was an emotional encounter, with his eyes becoming a little teary. Jacob narrated how much he wants to return home as life had become unbearable for him in Algeria.
“I have been here for three weeks now, my friends managed to reach Italy through Libya, I did not manage, there are a lot of challenges along the way,” Jacob says.
Last September, Italy raised the alarm over a surge in migrants setting off from Algeria, raising fears that the north African country is on course to replace Libya as the starting point of a new Mediterranean route for Europe.
My trip to Algeria had nothing to do with covering the migration crisis over the past months, however, I came to appreciate how desperate the situation is for those seeking to migrate when I came face to face with an immigrant desperate to return.
Spending seven days in the largest country in Africa by area was such a captivating experience, there was so much to see and do in so little a time.
If by any chance you plan to travel to Algeria, please tag me along.