Métro Porte Dorée, Paris, 30 June, 2009

From Paris to Algiers

After returning to Paris and working there for a few days, it’s time to catch my flight to Algiers for the next stage of my journey. This being the beginning of summer – and so of a particularly busy period for many people shuttling back and forth between France and Algeria to visit family – I found myself temporarily accompanying some of these diasporic groups as they queued for the same flight as me. This proved an eye-opener. It seemed I was the sole passenger there not of Algerian origin, and many of the people queuing were families travelling together. This explained some of the very large cases that were stacked on the many, many trolleys jostling for position in the long line snaking ahead and behind me – but not all. It became clear that many were taking additional luggage for friends and family with them. One couple in front struggled to zip back up bags of brand new children’s clothes as they discussed how to make their hold baggage lighter. This proved to be a common plight, as it soon dawned on me that the major reason why there was such a delay was because the check-in staff were rigorously applying baggage limit rules – and nearly every party had significantly exceeded the limit. A rather diminutive woman travelling alone in front of me somehow managed to steer her towering trolley piled high with cases and bags to the desk only to be told that her luggage weighed 17 kilos over the limit. Despite ten minutes of pleading and negotiating she was still issued with a bill for several hundred euros as a penalty. She was far from the only one compelled to pay additional charges that morning. Air Algérie musn’t have any trouble breaking even in the summer months, I muttered to myself.

Standing in that queue for check-in for ninety minutes also made me realise that it wasn’t just clothes and chocolates that travellers were bringing with them. At one stage a well-dressed and polite man approached the family in front of me and after a brief conversation and some persuasion they eventually agreed to do him the favour he had clearly come especially to the airport for: to deliver medication bought in France to his relatives in Algeria. I lend him my pen and he scribbles down his family’s address on a scrap of paper and gratefully hands them two small white labelled boxes with a smile. I wonder how many times this must happen on flights between the two countries, and begin to daydream about the wide variety of objects and belongings that must continually be circulating between them across the Mediterranean. And if you have any doubts about the profound imbrications between the two countries as the fiftieth year of Algerian independence approaches, I invite you to take such a flight in summertime: the sight of so many children with families or being led around in groups with the mandatory neon `Unaccompanied Minor’ bibs around their necks will immediately dispel any uncertainties. How many children in France are of Algerian origin now, or have links to the former colony through their family? I don’t think I’d ever been on a flight with quite so many children onboard before: it was really quite a privilege to witness a small part of this phase of diasporic migration in action.

While I finally get to Algiers I’m too busy with work to keep a regular diary of my thoughts, so instead decide to let my camera do the talking. The case feels very distant from me now but still remains at the back of my mind. So I document my trip through photos rather than words, and will offer these to John on CD when we meet for the final interview again.

Original Image & Text © Joseph McGonagle, 2009
Processing & Image Interpretation © John Perivolaris, 2009

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