Finding Alegria in Algeria
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do at 18. I just knew I wanted to do what made me happy and brought me joy. That is where I started. I embedded my core with happiness, and worked outwards like the rays of the sun. Alegria is one of the most iconic Cirque du Soleil shows of all time. The casts and performers in both the original and remake of the show are phenomenal and the absolute cream of the crop.
At 18, I just impulsively and rebelliously etched that luscious flowy font “Alegria” into my ribs one random hazy college day because I had a little inkling to do it. For years I couldn’t explain why I marked myself with it. At the time I didn’t know. Sometimes I felt like a phony, and it was a mistake because often people thought I was a part of the show. That was not my intention. Years later, the day I finally did make it into Cirque du Soleil, I had to send a photo of all my tattoos/piercings to casting. Right off the bat I panicked and started googling tattoo removal/laser places. I was so nervous they would judge me for having an Alegria tattoo as a fresh meat rookie. Then, when I was training at the headquarters and relaxing my sore muscles in the hot tub, I would try my best to conceal the tattoo, so the other veteran performers wouldn’t sneer at me.
At 18, I dreamt of traveling the globe and being in Cirque du Soleil, and I had no idea how I would get there. I was a very lost but receptive soul at the time. I have been a dancer since I was six, and that was what I was currently studying, but I knew I didn’t want to dance in one of their shows. I wanted to fly above like a bird and expand my rubber band ribs like the Mongolian contortionists.
But I got that tattoo because one I loved the show Alegria, two the font used for the logo was so alluring, and lastly I loved that the actual word translates to happiness or joy. And at 18 that was the only five, ten, fifteen year plan I had set ahead of me…
It was to follow the path that brought me the most joy, no matter what the rest of the world around me had written down on their paper. I never wanted to forget that everything should be fueled by happiness, even if it was the more arduous path.
People often judge others for thier tattoos. People often judge others depending on their five year plans… but we are all so personally unique and often when we act and follow our trusty gut, we can’t mold into words and explain it… we just embark on that momentum train and go along for the magical ride of life. When we cut off oxygen to our ego and allow ourselves to be passengers, that is the only time we can actually take in the view.
We have to know that we cannot always have control and that is okay… When people ask me what’s next? What is your five-year plan? They say it like I should have absolute control of my internal GPS. I practically foam at the mouth and spew a jungle juice of mismatched word vomit into the atmosphere. I have visions dancing in my mind, but I can’t quite formulate them yet, they are too tiny of a fetus to be observed. And sometimes the truth is… I have no f**king idea WHAT’S NEXT! And that is the best damn part. I am on my tippy toes, adrenaline surging, NO clue of what is to come in sight, and let me tell you, the view from up here is mighty fine.
Because I granted my self permission to have a malleable path, I was able to travel to Algiers in Algeria this past June. Morocco/Egypt… now those are popular North African tourist destinations… but Algeria, not so much. People have spent hundreds to process their visa applications, thousands on the flight, arrived, and immediately were turned away, because THEY DON’T HAVE TOURISTS. It is one of the most difficult and expensive countries to get a visa for. I went there with a small group of circus artists, we performed for the president of Algeria, and worked with the US embassy for Algeria as cultural ambassadors. We were guests of the embassy, which was our ticket in. But barely, they questioned the legitimacy of my vaccine card incessantly before boarding the plane, and then interrogated us several times once landing in the tobacco filled airport.
But in order for us to get into the country, it required a detailed lengthy dossier, and hefty processing fee. My friends, family, and boyfriend were petrified when I told them I was travelling all the way there.
The government required my bank information, my family’s information, my tax return, my passport to be held captive for a few weeks, and a lot of very personal information. The security there was the tightest I’ve ever seen. Metal detectors every couple of feet everywhere, you go. They check the underneath of every single vehicle entering a building/parking lot. But if you are caught with even a pocket knife, it is straight to prison. It was a cash only country. No business was done via credit card, which made it quite difficult to exchange money/get money out. No infrastructure for tourism of any kind.
It sounded scary and foreign, but I don’t travel to learn. I travel to unlearn ... the pre-perceived perceptions of others that have been seared into my noggin. The things I have been taught to fear.
Algerians learned about American circus, music, and arts. And we learned about the nomadic Tamanghasset tribe from the Saharra in Southern Algeria. They travel 17 days on a camel to literal Timbuktu to trade salt. For fun, they sip tea, and jam out in brightly woven transportable huts deep in the scorching sun. They live on the very edge of human survival everyday.
But, they were some of the most joyful people I have ever met. Movement and melody are a universal language. They danced and echoed foreign yet trascendant tunes into our ear drums. The thamanghasset welcomed us into their home to shade us from the blistering sun.
As a primarily male-centric country, (with the rare exception of a matriarchal society in the southern part of the country) … I met some of the strongest women in Algiers. One amazingly kind and sweet female that guided us around the city, was so rad. Strong, independent, classic, respectful, confident, yet bubbling with pure joy. She was the definition of joy. Her smile was so pure and contagious, but knew how to respectfully shun away cat callers. She wasn’t a radical raging feminist. She was the juxtaposition of joy. She wore her neatly manicured hijab and cruised on her motorcycle through the dusty streets to intimidate men.
When we sat down to talk to locals, they were kind, admired us, full of joy and curiosity. Back home in the Western world, we might view areas like this as terrifying, sexist, unsafe, riddled with terrorism. The whole time, I was there I felt very safe. The locals did mention that they feel very safe in their home country because of all the security, and ironically when some of them traveled to US cities, they realized they would be terrified to send their kids to schools in the states because of gun violence, that would never happen in Algeria. Also, the lack of universal healthcare terrifies them of residing in the states. Things we have grown accustomed to, are unimaginable in other places we often associate as “dangerous”!
When I look back, the most joyful times of my life thus far, weren’t the standard times. They were the ones that were unexpected, the ones filled with twists and turns, the things that I could not have dreamt of in my already vastly wild imagination. Never did I think I would perform contortion foot archery for the president of Algeria. Nor set foot in Tipiza, some of the most beautiful untouched Roman ruins (probably because there aren’t any tourists to wither and whether it away) … So I say demolish the template, and dare to be messy.
Don’t look to your friends, family, or social media for directions to places that they have never been.
Our bodies are 70 percent water, and we often neglect that. We forget how to go with the flow and ride the waves even though we are the waves, and it is our very nature. We have been socially conditioned to be rigid which burns us out to a charred crisp. When you go with the flow, and focus solely on the feeling, it yields the most unimaginably blissful outcome.
Please don’t ask me about my five year plan, don’t ask me what’s next?! In my eyes, it is the same as asking me my weight or my salary. Our deepest life desires can be as personal as our bank account or our pin number. If I trust you, I will tell you, if not, please don’t go fishing.
Instead ask what makes me happy.
When we go ahead and unblinkingly solidify our rigid five-ten year plan, we become hardened. We lose our flexibility and breath and replace it with anxiety. Stay on the path, is drilled into our joints. We are under the illusion that “we have it all together” but in reality we never do… nothing is ever certain, all we can do is breathe in and out. Our lives aren’t composed of concrete and super glue. We are water. We are duct tape, Velcro, and buttons. Humans are designed to be re-sculpted, and reincarnated. We are constantly shifting even if we can’t see it, just like the tectonic plates beneath our feet.
Flexibility phisycally and or mentally, is one of the greatest joys in life; it gives you more than two eyes, more than your third eye. It gives you an infinite amount of irises to engulf the countless wonders of the world.
When people are trying to read my tattoo, they often think it actually says Algeria.