Blida, My City: The Gateway to My Homeland

Blida, Argelian city of Andalusian origin

Waseem was not going to have it easy finding the cradle of his story by getting to where his grandparents had been born. Overall, he possessed rather little knowledge about the place. However, the moment he met Sameer, he felt a lot more optimistic about his expedition. Waseem was about twenty years old while Sameer was already in his thirties.

In the old days, the city of Blida had been notorious for its abundance of roses. Therefore, all Sameer had to do was advise Waseem to ask perfumers about the origin of their best roses. His journey started in the streets of Paris. He devoted himself to inquiring about the origin of those roses and flowers from which the best perfumes were extracted until he knocked on the door of a perfumer who offered him a deal: if Waseem would work for the perfumer nonstop over the course of a whole month, then at the end of the month, the perfumer would, in return, take Waseem to the city he was so bent on reaching. He agreed and spent the whole subsequent month dragging his feet, shambling around from dusk till dawn. After the month was over, he expected the perfumer to live up to his promise; however, the performer refused to honor his end of the deal by helping Waseem. Unsurprisingly, in response, Waseem raged at the perfumer with such a loud voice that everyone in the city got word of his story and his longing to visit the town where his grandparents had grown old. He went on recounting his story to anyone who would listen until he stumbled upon a sheikh who told him that the description of the city he was looking for matched one that had fallen centuries ago—it had been called Al-Andalus. Waseem believed it had to be the same city he sought for Al-Andalus had been famous for its flowers, its gardens, and all the fragrances it released as well. It had been built by Muslims in the past and the number of different flowers within its walls had increased by the day back then.

Waseem set out to find the city, following the trail of scents redolent of his grandparents. However, once he arrived at site of Al-Andalus, the city that was supposed to be the one he was questing for, he felt he did not belong there. He chalked his unease up to the fact that his ancestors had been forced to leave the city they had founded. He realized that a city that had been abandoned by its pioneers could not be the one he was trying to track down and hence quickly left the city he had just arrived in.

Waseem ran into Sameer once again, apprised him of what had happened since the last time they had been together, and bewailed his misfortune along with all that he’d suffered in order to discover his family history. Luckily, Sameer brought Waseem fresh hope of finding his grandparents’ town when he told him about a small city lying right in the middle of Argelia. It went by the name, “the City of Roses”, and had been founded by their Andalusian kin over 479 years ago.

Waseem asked, “Does it have seven doors?”

“Yes, that is what I have heard,” Sameer replied. “Although it seems like they disappeared somewhere down the line and it is only their names that continue to be used.”

“And what about its roses?”

“The humble households still care about them but the rest have forsaken the flower beds and irrigation system the honorable sheikh once cared for. Yet their traces are tangible in all the town’s precincts and alleys, as well as in its architecture, music, and cuisine.”

Waseem was clearly dejected to learn this news, but Sameer then revealed that, according to what he had found out, the powerful Ottomans from the capital used to send their offspring to Blida to study and mingle with the natives so that they would benefit from their elegance, culture, and discernment. While listening to Sameer, Waseem’s spirits lifted and he again felt the urge to visit this amazing city. He then decided to persevere, travel, and pursue his roots in order to one day restore the city’s doors. Waseem wished to dust the city off and cover it with roses and jasmine flowers once again, as his grandparents had done with their small Al-Andalus located in the city of Blida.

The Author:

Leila Birane is an Argelian novelist and scriptwriter who also writes short-stories, children’s literature, articles and interviews for several Arabic newspapers and websites.

Choose your own adventure

They met in Granada in May—on the grounds of the Festival of the Crosses, to be precise. After midnight, they were wending their way across the city, headed

a) to his place.

b) to her place.