Sunday, 6 March 2016

My wonderful Mother-in-law (RA)

My mother-in-law left this world and a huge void in the lives of those she loved and who in turn loved her, at 09.15 on Saturday 2 January, 2016.  The previous year her life had been slowly winding down but she kept us guessing anyway.  She had several periods where she seemed so poorly that it looked as if she was on her way out and then, several days later she was sitting up commenting and making remarks that made the family laugh and feeling relieved that she was going to be around for a while longer.

She didn’t have an easy life, far from it.  She never learnt to read or write, lost one eye when she was very young, her parents divorced around the same time and she never saw her mother again as she died not that long after, she buried two husbands, several children, lived through the Second World War, the War of Independence, the years of terrorism here in Algeria, several frightening earthquakes and the big flood and landslide that roared near her home and decimated so much of her area.  She also brought up 5 step-children and was cheated out of two inheritances, one from her father and one from her first husband.  And for the 29 years I knew her, she was calm, contented with her lot, never lost her sense of humour, loved her own home and was the center of every family gathering.

When I met and married my husband I had absolutely no idea of how things were done in Algeria, and how much the women, especially the mother and the sisters, are involved in the choice of wives for their sons and brothers.  I cannot imagine how she must have felt when my husband returned to tell her that he was getting married…not only to a complete stranger…..but a foreign, non-Muslim  one at that.  I might as well have been French for all she knew! When I first met her two years later on my first visit to Algeria, not for even one minute did she give me any inkling that I was not whom she would have chosen for a daughter-in-law, but instead she and the family welcomed me and made me feel at home and tried to accommodate me as much as they could.  Many years later after we had moved here, at an engagement party, the women were talking about how they had chosen their daughters-in-law and she commented on how well she had chosen hers, when my daughter piped up and reminded her that she hadn’t chosen me.  She replied, that it was true….that she thought she had lost her son, my husband, but….that I had brought him back. Being a mother now and especially having a son of 23 years old which is about the age her youngest left to travel to England for the first time, I cannot imagine the number of sleepless nights she must have had.  When my son wanted to travel to Bejajia which is about 3 hours drive away to stay with friends, a few years ago,  he was instructed to ring me when he got there, every day he was away and before he left to drive back!

I could not communicate in any meaningful way with my mother-in-law except with the help of a third person (despite the fact that she proudly would tell everyone that we could communicate fine!  So I must have obviously been nodding the right nods in the right places!), but I didn’t need to understand Algerian derja to feel the love she had for me, and which was reciprocated.  Many times when we visited I would get the children to ask her questions about her past, and they were so enthralled at the stories of her life and a time long gone.  Once one of my husband’s nieces asked him how she lost her eye, he told her to ask me……because I was the one who got all the information out of her!

Soon after we moved to Algeria, my husband and his brother and wife and niece visited my mother-in-law and sister-in-law one Friday.  When my husband returned he was laughing at something she had said - ‘I feel sorry for Evelyn’.  When my husband asked her why on earth she felt sorry for me, she answered ‘because she doesn’t know how to rule you’.  After living here a while I had some inkling of what she meant.   Algerian women may seem docile and unquestionably obedient to outsiders, but everyone knows they really rule the roost….by all means necessary at their disposal!   My mother-in-law never saw me getting angry with my husband, losing my temper, and so just assumed I was a doormat, one for whom she felt very sorry!  She did try her best to urge me to be a bit more assertive, but I’m afraid these efforts went right over my head, not necessarily because I’m thick (there are those unkind enough who might dare to differ!), but because I didn’t need to learn ‘to control’ him….we had learnt to rub along together fine over the years, and neither of us was one for airing our dirty laundry in public.  I remember one time when my husband and I were visiting and the adhan for the dhuhr prayer called out.  She turned to me and said ‘you’re going to lose him to Younes again’.  Younes was the Imam in the mosque across the road, with whom my husband had many a long chat after the prayers were finished.    It never bothered me as often these chats were based around the religion of Islam and made my husband happy, unlike other conversations that brought him down.  My husband and sister-in-law started laughing together and then my husband explained to me that my mother-in-law was trying to get me to do what she normally did – shout at him and tell him to not delay after the prayer chatting  and to come straight back!  I think after a time she realised I had a backbone and could manage fine on my own, but it was always nice to know that she ‘had been looking out for me’!

 Before we bought our home here in Algeria, we bought a car first in order to get around, and when my husband drove it to show his Mum, she admired it and then said ‘but Evelyn won’t be happy until she’s in her own home’.  The first time I ever drove here in Algeria was when my husband had to go to England for 3 months, and I can still remember how nervous I was about driving the children all the way into to visit their grandmother and aunt for the first time ever.  I was amazed at the reaction of my mother-in-law  - she just kept on kissing me and saying ‘you don’t need him (my husband) now, he can stay over there, as you can manage fine without him’!!!!   Another time I climbed the 156 or so steps up from one part of Bab El Oued to the area in which she lived, and when I came in the door I was red faced, breathless and had the shakes for a glass of water.  My two sisters-in-law were laughing at me but my mother-in-law told them off saying that I wasn’t used to those steps…….nothing at all about her two daughters who not only came up those stairs on a regular basis and who were older than me but often carried kilos of semolina!

Another time she and my two sisters-in-law and my husband’s sister-in-law came earlier than expected for coffee so I made a quick impromptu lunch which included pasta salad.  One sister-in-law was not too keen on cold pasta while the other was ok as she had had it in England but as neither of them were great pasta eaters anyway, they only had a little and ate the rest of the food instead.  My mother-in-law, though was another story – she told me that she would eat pasta hot or cold, with sauce or without sauce….any way it came!  And then she went into raptures later over my doughnuts, she just made me feel such a success!

She never received anything from her rightful inheritance from her first husband and her stepmother ensured that she received nothing of what was rightfully hers from her father’s estate.  She remained in contact with her half-sister and half- brother, and her step daughters from her first marriage, and she treated her step sons as her own sons throughout her life.  Once her half-brother said that he remembered that time when she came with her little girl looking for somewhere to stay and how helpless he felt when his mother sent her away as he, himself, was still young.  He also commented on how part of the land he owned belonged to her.  For her part, the past was gone, she had what she needed and she was content with it and she didn’t want anything from anyone, but just good relations with everyone.

I brought my two sons and my daughter to see her and she was now too weak to sit up so she just lay on the divan which they call a ‘canopy’ here – she lay with her back to us so I thought she was sleeping and left her alone until I was leaving when I leaned over her and told her who I was and that I was going, she picked up her head and turned to give me a kiss and I knew she was aware that it was me.  That was the last time I saw her as she passed away 6 days later.  I thank Allah for blessing me with such a wonderful, kind and supportive mother-in-law who, in so many ways, has been an inspiration to me.

It is a testament to her that her grandchildren from her step sons (her step sons had since all passed away) and her step daughters (only one of whom is alive and is very unwell) as well as her own grandchildren and great grandchildren all attended her funeral along with her children, her daughters and son in law, her sister, her nieces and nephews and neighbours, past and present.

As my daughter, Sarah, summed her up so beautifully and so aptly ‘And how few of us on our deathbed can be as certain as she was that everyone loved her and would pray for her, because she never wronged anyone, and she always forgave those who wronged her.’

May Allah have mercy on the beautiful soul of ‘Mani’, forgive her all her sins, make her grave wide and spacious and grant her Firdous.  Ameen.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Eid Al Adha 2015

Cakes left over from a wedding and gifted to us - LOVE the tajine dish!
Every Eid we have had since we moved to Algeria has been different, and what has made each one unique is the variation of people with whom we have celebrated - different in-laws each time, but this year Eid Al Adha was markedly different in that we celebrated it as a family on our own.  This wasn’t what we had planned, but then man plans and Allah is the Best of Planners.

I was really looking forward to a lovely relaxing Eid al Adha (or as they call it here in Algeria – Eid Al Kabeer, the Big Eid).  We didn’t have enough money to buy a sheep so we didn’t have all that work to prepare for, and instead I was looking forward to spending a nice relaxing morning with the boys doing the rounds of the neighbours to help out if necessary, with me sitting drinking coffee and reading, and then a trip into my mother-in-law for a dinner not cooked by me (what a treat!), and then back home for a lovely relaxing evening with the family.  What could go wrong????

Two days before Eid my husband received a call from a friend who, when he found out in the course of conversation that we were not having a sheep this year, told my husband to go to a particular place and get a sheep for which payment was already made.   My husband didn’t understand what exactly he was talking about but decided to go and find out anyway.  And….what was my reaction to this unexpected gift???  Gratitude? Amazement at another’s kindness?  Praise to Allah for His mercy on us????  Erm…….no….not a bit of it.  Yours Truly’s reaction was to feel sick to the pit of my stomach as I watched my vision of the Perfect Eid slowly fade away, and instead be replaced by one of work, blood, gore, poo (the sheep’s that is I hasten to add!)and lots and lots of water and cleaning. ‘What’s the point – it’s not going to be ‘our’ sheep anyway as we didn’t buy it so why bother with all the work when we won’t get the blessing of it’ and on and on I went….as only I can do.  My husband, to give him his due, didn’t argue, just sympathised with me but  nevertheless went on his merry way to seek out this sheep, the downfall of my Perfect Eid. 

We had a very special guest (happy to say a two legged one)that day who we took, along with her children, to the beach for afternoon chocolate cake and doughnuts in the beautiful autumnal sunshine.  We returned to find the sheep happily ensconced in our front courtyard munching away…….on my fledgling olive tree and making short work of it and my other plants.  I so wanted to slaughter it there and then…..and my husband along with it, but refrained and instead made do with getting them to tie it up away from what was left of my plants.

This sheep was a quiet, placid, well behaved one as sheep go – it didn’t strain at its restraints or bleat all night long, but just happily accepted its fate, sitting in straw in the corner under a window and munched away – the noise is very evocative of children munching on crunchy breakfast cereal....chomp, chomp, chomp.

Love this drive into my in-laws.  Often I can't believe I actually LIVE here!
Eid day came and, after the prayer, once the children had fortified themselves with homemade chocolate cake and biscuits it was all hands on deck.  My husband, following the Sunnah didn’t want anything to eat or drink until he had slaughtered the sheep, which he did with his customary care and kindness – stroking it and calming it and not letting it see the knife, not even for a second and, once he had done the deed everyone had their part to play.  One kept the knives sharp with our electric knife sharpener, another poked a hole under the skin and started to blow it up so that it could be removed easily, another was cleaning up the blood from the slaughter, and then it was a group effort to remove the skin with everyone joining in….everyone except me.

First I cleaned up the front courtyard where the sheep had been sleeping and then hosed it down and left it to dry.  As I did so I could hear all the arguing, exclaiming and bursts of laughter from the central courtyard and I felt so grateful for this blessing, because even though it didn’t feel like a celebration of the kind to which I was accustomed in my childhood….you know, the kind with presents, lovely new clothes, decorations, etc. it felt like it in a new, different way, where everyone pulled together to get the job done and had fun in doing so.  Some families play board or card games…we…..slaughter and cut up a sheep.  In the end the same result…..quality family time together and at least we get to eat the results Alhamdulilah. 

Then  I was busy preparing food in the form of chicken roasting in the oven, chips, salad, to go with the liver, heart and other innards which would be fried up and served on a bed of fried onions along with lovely crusty French baguettes.  The children commented on each organ as it was removed and, as I felt them, still warm, in my hands I felt a deep gratitude to Allah, first for this wonderful food, and then to the sheep who had been sacrificed in the most humane way possible, so that we could have this wonderful meal Alhamdulilah.  I also said a lot of ‘astaghfirAllah’s for my initial reaction to Allah’s risq and blessing to us.

Once my boys and my husband had finished with our sheep they went across the road to help the neighbour with his one.  He had a new son-in-law who was willing to do the job, but our neighbour insisted that it wasn’t Eid if my husband and boys were not involved so they waited until they were free.  So sweet especially considering that, 11 y ears ago, they didn’t know we existed.  Just goes to show you don’t have to live a lifetime on the same street to become good neighbours Alhamdulilah.

And perhaps the one thing that cast a special glow over the whole day was the simple but moving reason we received a ‘free’ sheep in the first place - A man gave away 20 sheep in memory of his father who had passed away.  We don’t know this man, or who his father was but, in an age where everywhere you look, newspaper and TV news headlines, Facebook updates etc.  there is so much negativity, Allah with this one simple act, blessed us with the knowledge and hope that there is always more good than bad in this world.  Alhamdulilah.

On our way into my in-laws the 2nd day of Eid.  The rectangular building is the El Aurassi Hotel

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Algerian Residency

Alhamdulialh I finally got my 10 year Algerian Residency after 2 years, 7 months and a few weeks….but who’s counting.  I signed and paw marked in triplicate and now it’s ALL MINE!!!!  The policemen (yes….men…they were a jovial crowd) laughed and said they’d all be retired next time I came in.  I’ll miss them…I’ve seen them every 3 months for the past 2 and half years, more often than my own family in Ireland.  I am so excited at ALL the things I can do with it – I can leave the country, and then come back…..and …then…leave again…..and then…come back again. Admittedly I could do this before with the temporary residency paper, the récépissé , but usually received funny looks and a few ‘wait here a minute while I check’s as they gingerly held the ancient artefact with the countless  renewal date stamps and numerous folding creases that looked like it was going to disintegrate at any moment.  And maybe once in a while the school might allow me to sign something for one of the children, so that I can feel like I am of some use after all. 

I had heard that they were stopping the 10 year Residency and I know one sister who has lived here longer than me, who received a 2 year one instead of a 10 year one, and she was told that she should hang on to her récépissé to prove that she had applied for it before the beginning of this year, as they were stopping the 10 year residency altogether.  Then my husband told me that a policeman friend had told him the same thing.  But when my husband asked the very nice policeman today he said that the 10 year residency is still in place and that anyone applying has to be married to an Algerian and living here for 3 years ( I had heard at one time it was 5 and another it was 7).  So it must be true….because the man in the station says it’s so, at least today anyway.  Tomorrow a different policeman, a different station…..a different story.

So now….what am I going to do with myself??? I know!!!  I think it’s just the right time to start applying for the next one.

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Life of 'Umar bin Al-Khattab (ra) - TV Series 2012 [English Subtitles]

This past Ramadan, just as we did last Ramadan, every night after Taraweeh prayers we settled down as a family and, while digging into various edible treats we watched the series of the life story of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (RA), the Companion of the Prophet Mohammed (SAWS), and the second Caliph after his death. It comes in 30 episodes and mercifully, the version my son downloaded has English subtitles. From the very first episode it dives into life in Mecca in the 7th century, and, for reverts like me, the Arabic names and the ignorance of knowing who is related to who can make it very confusing.  It didn’t help that, last year, we didn’t know how to adjust the light for the first few episodes so I couldn’t see anyone’s face clearly enough and could only identify them by their clothes…..when they changed  their clothes I was totally stuffed.  Alhamdulilah we managed to adjust the picture and all their faces came into focus, and then it was a challenge trying to remember who was the son or brother of whom.  The man who acts as Omar is an unknown actor…..for good reason….he can’t act for nuts, but that’s okay because so much of what he says are Omar’s own words (not all though – there are times when it’s obvious that a point is deliberately being made, a good point maybe but nevertheless not something that Omar himself said) and, he was such an interesting person with a unique view on life that he grabs your attention almost from the beginning.  Admittedly there are a lot of minutes spent on him as an old man sitting on a horse looking back, reminiscing on his life, or travelling very s….l….o….w…..l….y on a camel, at which point my husband irately would ask to ‘fast forward’, and this in addition to me asking ‘who is that again?’ meant that the 40 minute episode usually lasted a lot longer……with the kids patience proportionately decreased. 

I cannot recommend this series highly enough. Right from the beginning it grabs your interest as it shows the huge dilemma that the Prophet (SAWS) and the Message posed to the elite in Mecca – their agonising discussions on what to do with him, their plots and plans which usually backfired, and the fear of those first Muslims in disclosing their faith in this ‘new’ religion to their families.  For me it was so refreshing to see these Companions of the Prophet in their true light – they were……well…….like the rest of us.  When we read about the lives of the people on whom the Prophet (SAWS) could count on as his companions we can often be misled into thinking that they were so perfect that we could only hope to emulate them, when in fact they were as human as the rest of us and also, refreshingly, as diverse.  They each had their strengths and weaknesses, and they did not change miraculously overnight into perfect people once they accepted Islam.    Their strengths before Islam were their strengths after Islam, but so were their weaknesses and these they had to work on just like the rest of us.

Of course they had the huge blessing of the Prophet (SAWS) among them to guide them and inspire them to be better human beings.  Although we also have his guidance and, of course, the Message from Allah, the Qur’an, we don’t have this blessing, but then, we don’t have the huge tests that those first Muslims had to endure either.  I cannot imagine what it must have been like to have to go out in battle and see your own family – father, brother, son, uncle, cousin, nephew, former close friend – as your enemy and have to fight them for the sake of Allah.  And we’re not talking about cowardly suicide bombers, or those cowards who plant a bomb and then run and hide while it goes off and kills scores of innocent people, or snipers who hide behind their guns at great distances – never mind those who sit in comfort while firing off long range missiles that decimate whole villages and towns.  No…..we’re talking about hand-to-hand combat for sheer survival with those whom they loved….and probably still did as you cannot turn love off like a tap. 

The series shows how the Message of the Qur’an blew like a wind through Mecca changing its inhabitants forever. How it travelled from land to land through people who were willing to make huge sacrifices, and through its core Message which attracted people from all walks of life.
The surprising thing for me were the moments when I actually felt what the first Muslims were going through – that feeling of realisation that THIS is it…..this Message makes sense and gives meaning to everything….even the most meaningless event in life.  At the same time how do you turn around to those you love, who have cared for you and always looked out for your best interests, and tell them that you no long believe in what they believe and in what they have inculcated in you all your life.  Not only that… do you tell them that you are afraid for them and their souls?  I have to admit that, at times, I sat quietly in tears, while the rest of my family watched because it brought back a lot of memories for me and…..a lot of regrets.

But it’s not all doom and gloom….in fact the series is more about how Islam changed Omar (RA) from the person he was, into an Islamic version of himself, and the same with the rest of the Companions.  There is one father, and his two sons who made us laugh every time they had a scene together.  You can so well understand the father’s frustration when first one son becomes Muslim and then the other.  One son is a lot more vocal while the other is more conciliatory but the dialogue between the three is really amusing, and also quite touching. 

The series filled in a lot of the blanks in my knowledge of Islamic history, provided a timeline of events and the story lines on various personalities filled them out as real people rather than the cardboard cut-outs that they sometimes come across in books.

For me, watching this series developed a real connection between me, in the here and now, and those who lived then, a sense of continuance, a sense of familiarity, and a sense of love and appreciation for all they did so that I could live the life I do today.

Of course it helps a lot when you have someone who understands Arabic and has some knowledge of Islamic history beside you when you are watching it as they can fill in some very interesting details: there was the time when Omar (RA) was emigrating to Madina, and the people of Mecca were imprisoning people to stop them from going.  He stood in the main public area and announced that he was emigrating and that anyone who wanted to leave a bereaved parent, wife or child could try to prevent him!  What it didn’t say was that he brought something like 20 others with him, people who were in a much weaker position and who would never have been able to emigrate without his protection.  When it showed Hind’s fear of facing the Prophet after having his uncle killed in battle, one of my daughters told me the story of when she made her pledge to the Prophet (SAWS) along with all the other women in Mecca, she was so embarrassed that she covered her face so he wouldn’t recognise her, but, of course he did.  When he (SAWS) asked them if they had any questions she asked so many and was so impertinent that she made Omar laugh!  The series itself kicked off many interesting discussions between us as a family, from which I, myself, learnt a lot…..not least that somehow…..despite me….my children know quite a lot about their deen Alhamdulilah!

Abu Bakr (RA) and Omar (RA) were the two closest friends of the prophet (SAWS), and they became the 1st and 2nd Caliphs respectively.  They also could not have been more different in temperament and personality – completely chalk and cheese.   They might not even have become good friends if it wasn’t for Islam, and yet they loved each other so much and had so much respect for each other.  It reminds me of all the friends I’ve been blessed to meet since I became Muslim, from all over the world and all walks of life, and how we too became good friends through a common goal – growing in faith in Islam.

It was very refreshing and also somewhat comforting to see how these people did not change into wonderful people overnight, and most of them still retained their own personalities and all of them had to work on their own weaknesses – a great comfort to those of us who despair sometimes of ever being as good as we should be.

I love the fact that 1400 years later we still wear the same clothes, fulfil the same Islamic obligations in the same manner and try to practise Islam in the same manner just as they did.  There is a sense of continuity and kinship down through the years, a real feeling of being part of the Ummah Alhamdulilah.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The kindness and goodness of strangers

It started as a day like any other.  My eldest, Sarah left home at 8.00 am to travel into Algiers with her brother.  He duly dropped her off at Tefora bus station in Algiers and continued on to his hospital appointment.  When he returned home alone just before 1.00 pm I was not overly worried.   Sarah had gone to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rouisseau, a place infamous for being somewhere people disappeared for inordinately long periods of time.

When the doorbell went at around 1.30 pm I just assumed it was my youngest son’s friend…the one who is around at our house so often we’ve been tempted to put him in our Family Book. Instead it was one of Sarah’s students to tell us that someone had found her phone and had rung them to let them know, seeing as their number was the last one she rang.   ‘How kind’ I thought…of her student and of the person who had found her phone.  My son rang her phone and arranged to go and pick it up.  Meanwhile I had visions of Sarah frantically looking everywhere for her phone, retracing her steps all to no avail…..and with no way of telling her she was wasting her time.

2.30 pm came and went and I wasn’t really worried….she may have decided to give up and go get her paperwork anyway.   3.00 pm had arrived, and no sign of her and, at this time I was supposed to be at a friend’s house for coffee, so I texted her to let her know I would be late.  By 3.15 I was becoming annoyed….why couldn’t she pop into a taxi-phone and call us?  When we first moved to Algeria 12 years ago (yup…it’s been THAT long!) there was one on every corner where you could go in make a phone call in a small phone booth and then pay when you had finished.  Now, with a mobile pressed up to every ear I’m hard pressed to remember the last time I saw one. Of course there is also the fact that mobile phones have made us practically number illiterate with few of us knowing any phone numbers by heart.  But I knew she would remember our home phone number….she had to repeat it to Algerie Telecom enough times to have it burnt into her brain.   But…there are cyber-cafes EVERYWHERE…..She could send me or her sister a message on Facebook or email me.  By 3.30 pm I was almost convinced she had been kidnapped and sold into white slavery.  I say ‘almost’ because the only thing holding me back from the brink of insanity was the knowledge that she had lost it in Tafora, one of the busiest bus stations in Algiers, and the upside of Algerians being so interfering and nosy caring and curious is that there is no way anyone could be attacked in broad daylight in such a busy place without several people intervening.  And there was also the fact that no Algerian kidnapper worth his salt would leave a perfectly good iPhone behind
 At 3.40 pm she finally sauntered in the door and I didn’t know whether to hit her or hug her.  The day, of course, had been so very different from her perspective.  She had realised she was missing her phone within fifteen minutes of dropping it, but was almost convinced she had dropped it in the car….of course she couldn’t ring her brother to check.  So she retraced her steps back to the bus station and looked up and down the footpath where she had walked.  There was a cleaner nearby so she asked him if he had seen it, and he told her he hadn’t but…she could ring her number with his phone.  I’m amazed she knew her own number but she did ring and it rang out.  She thanked the cleaner and walked back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where she spent the rest of the day.   If you know anything at all about this place you will know that in terms of awfulness it comes close to being sold into slavery.  It is notorious for its ineptitude and inefficiency , and, as a result it’s like a monster that swallows people whole and spits them out in pieces.  People enter these premises perfectly sane and calm and come out as total lunatics spitting fire.

When she finally was reunited with her phone she saw she had 24 missed calls between the first time she had used the cleaner’s phone up until lunch time…. The cleaner had taken it upon himself to try and make contact with whoever had picked up her phone (I don’t think there was much cleaning done as a result!).  But it seems that it was an older gentleman who had picked up the phone and not knowing how to answer it had left it ring, although not without opening some apps in his first few attempts to answer the darned thing.  When he arrived home he handed it to his son who contacted Sarah’s student (and also finally answered the cleaner’s call!).

So all’s well that ends well.  Sarah was reunited with her phone and I burnt a few calories pacing the floor with worry while also making it to my friend’s home for coffee where I had a lovely afternoon (adding on all the lost calories) with a few other friends.   And… of all……our faith in the innate goodness and kindness of strangers, in general, and Algerians in particular, was strengthened.  Alhamdulilah…there is always more good than bad in this world.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Ramadan 2015

Over the years I have come to really love Ramadan in Algeria.  I love the totally different atmosphere created by the fact that the vast majority of the population are fasting from just before dawn to dusk.  This year it started on 18th June just in time for the end of the main school national examinations, the Cinqueme,  the BEM and the Baccalaureate, and for the summer to really begin.  Women start stocking up on food weeks beforehand before the prices go up, and they also restock their kitchen cupboards with pots, pans, crockery and anything else necessary to ensure as easy a Ramadan as possible.   I was pleasantly surprised, this year,  that main foodstuffs did not noticeably go up in price Alhamdulilah.

As I go out and about for my shopping I’m so amazed at the good humour of most of the Algerians I have to deal with…..they almost all serve you with good humour and more often than not send you on your way with an ‘Allahinourak’ or Allahiyahafdhak’ ringing in your ears.  I love the way they ask children in the age range of 10 - 12 if they are fasting and if they reply in the affirmative they are always greeted with an ‘Allahibarek’ and praise, and sometimes even a small gift.  If they’re not fasting then that’s ok too..’they’re still young’ is usually the opinion of many.

The shops are full of foods that no self-respecting Algerian table would be without on this Blessed of all months – dried prunes and apricots to make ‘laham halou’ (sweet meat), frik (bulgar wheat) or vermicelli  and tomato puree to make ‘chorba’ (soup),  vol au vent cases, different type of cheeses, cold drinks, water etc . etc. and then the vegetable shops do a roaring trade on all kind of vegetables for the various ‘jeu-ess’ dishes (dishes with a lot of sauce/soup) and salads,  and there are always customers around the back of small lorries selling  huge water melons and cantaloupe and melons that melt in your mouth straight out of the fridge.   Then there are the small stalls that suddenly appear out of nowhere, cropping up here and there on streets outside people’s houses selling ‘mutalou’ (Algerian bread), ‘diol’ (the Algerian homemade samosa pastry) and bunches of parsley, coriander, mint and eggs.

One of the most wonderful things to happen in Ramadan is the closure of the coffee shops during the day – no longer do you have to walk out on the road to avoid walking through a coffee shop which has spread out across the pavement.  I never cease to be amazed at the number of men working out in the sun, fasting, from early morning until mid afternoon.  The workman who put the protective covering on our wall said he actually preferred to work during Ramadan, and he did work on our house all the way through the month last year.  His brother was working with him for a little while until, one morning,  my husband returned to the house with the workman and found him stretched out sound asleep on the ground with his head on the doorstep!  His wife had given birth to their first child the night before….no surprise that we didn’t see him again for the rest of Ramadan!

My husband went to England at the request of the Muslim community to which we belonged when we lived there.  They invited him to be their Imam, leading the Taraweeh prayers in the evenings, giving the Friday khutba and generally leading them in the prayers throughout the month of Ramadan.  So it was just the 5 children and me on our own for the month and so many sisters said to me that it must be a lot easier without him, not having to cook all the special Algerian foods.  To be honest, neither here in Algeria nor when we lived in England has my husband ever insisted on Algerian dishes, and neither did I feel less restricted with him gone.  I missed him….for himself…but I managed fine without him Alhamdulilah due to the fact that my kids are grown and know their way around all the convoluted systems of paperwork here.

We had a few sisters for iftaar and there wasn’t a bowl of chorba or bourek in sight!  It was lovely to sit and sip coffee and cake in the courtyard outside under the star studded sky with the Qur’an recitation wafting across the air from the nearby mosque.  We also went to my mother-in-law’s  and another good friend’s house another night which broke the routine nicely Alhamdulilah.  But we had our own lovely routine throughout Ramadan – breaking the fast at 8.20pm and starting to fast again at 3.30am left little room for anything more than eating, praying, reading Qur’an, relaxing and breakfast.  We all found it easier to stay up than to go to bed and wake up a little while later, as this made it easier to eat and to pray Fajir properly.  So this meant that we often slept until Dhuhr time.  The girls and I split up the cooking between us so that none of us spent a long time in the kitchen each day, and whereas I preferred to get all my preparations and cooking done between Dhuhr and Asr they preferred to do it afterwards.  Having all day to cook one meal and some side dishes meant that the day was free to do other things, and I felt a new sense of freedom and serenity Alhamdulilah.  Jumuah (Friday) is usually a very busy day for me, and suddenly it was as relaxing as all the other days.

One of the girls washed up after iftar while the rest of us relaxed a little, and then the boys went out to the mosque for Isha and Taraweeh prayers.  The girls and I preferred to stay at home and pray on our own giving us a chance to revise our Qur’an and, for me, to understand what I was saying and so help with my khushoo (concentration).  The boys often bought ice-cream on the way home from the mosque and then we sat down with snacks and left over food to watch the Omar Ibn Khattab  series from MBC.  It is in Arabic with English subtitles and I absolutely love it – it brings up so many interesting subjects to discuss, and it helped to boost my Iman  no end Alhamdulilah.  I have written  my own thoughts on the series in more depth which I will post soon inshallah.  Then we all went off to do our own thing, coming together for suhoor.

In the last week or 10 days I baked various goodies and put them in the freezer for Eid day….doing a little every day meant that I didn’t spend too much time on them,  especially during the last 10 most precious nights…the Best of All nights.

The days flew by so quickly and before we knew it the month was up andI was sad to see it end.  As my kids are older now I have more opportunity to read the Qur’an, say dua, pray Taraweeh and night prayers, and the peace it all brings is something unfathomable mashAllah.  Of course I didn’t do nearly as much as I could have done, and the peace I experienced was just a ‘taster’,  but I pray that Allah will help me to continue at least one good habit beyond Ramadan inshallah.

As usual we went to my inlaws for Eid day and I must admit that Eid has become more entertaining in recent years as my husband’s nieces, their children and his sister-in-law come from England so now I have someone to talk to in English, and don’t feel so much like a heap of clothes plonked in the corner.  Of course that is my own fault…’s certainly not theirs that I STILL cannot speak their language. When we first came to live in Algeria, Ramadan was a quiet affair at my inlaws, but as my husband’s nieces and nephews have all married, it has become a busy and social occasion once more with my husband’s mother and sister right as the central pivot of it all.  For me it is wonderful to have dinner served up to me and not have to lift a finger to help (I have tried in the past and there are so many other willing hands among the younger generation who enjoy the chatting over the dishes, that I don’t even pretend to argue any more).  We left in the early afternoon and came home to a lovely quiet house, a rest, a DVD and some edible goodies.  The next day we were planning to go to the sea but….we were all so exhausted that we just rested for the day instead.  And then the next day….we were all fasting again……

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

C'est la vie.....

A scene from our road one morning (excuse the awful picture....but I was trying to take it without if I was taking it!)
It’s been a while…quite a while actually but then I’ve been really busy…..trying to keep my cool in more ways than one, and stop myself from perspiring and hyperventilating  off the surface of the earth.  Ramadan has come and gone and I started a whole other post on that but life does not stop just because you’re fasting and trying to up the anti in your relationship with your Creator.  No sireeeeee…….Algeria just threw a few curb balls just to make life a little more interesting….and a whole lot more frustrating.

Losing the internet in the summer has now become an annual event.  Probably because the infrastructure just cannot cope with the increase in demand once all the kids stop school, not to mention all the emigrants home on holiday.  So when we lost our phone and internet connection I wasn’t really that surprised, but still we duly paid our Algerie Telecom office a visit to report the fault and waited an hour and half to do so.  A week later, and another one and a half hours waiting just to tell them to cut off the internet until they fixed whatever was wrong with our phone, we discovered, just in passing mind you, that we had an unpaid bill.  It appears that the postman couldn’t be bothered to deliver our telephone bill weeks earlier and we probably had been cut off, hence the first problem…and then a cable problem after that.  But do you think they could tell us this the first time???   Finally Alhamdulilah we got internet and phone, and, although the internet is not brilliant we do have some semblance of connection to the outside world….and then I go on FB….. and wonder why I bother!  Mind you…..FB is not my primary reason for having the internet.

I also had to go back for the umpteenth stamp on my temporary residency – I applied 2 years ago for a 10 year one, and I have been going back every 3 months since only for them to grant me a further 3 months extension. This time they wanted some of the paperwork renewed as it had gone out of date (because they had taken so long to process the darned thing)….along with a photocopy of my passport and, if I had them,  a couple of more photos so they could make a new temporary residency paper as my one looks like it’s been through the two world wars.  In Algeria you need to have a bag like Mary Poppins, except instead of it producing a lampshade etc. it needs to provide every piece of paper ever generated by your presence on this earth, stamped in triplicate in the ‘Baladia’ and hundreds of photos, with an electricity bill thrown in for good measure. After Ramadan I learnt, from a friend who had also gone through all the same hoops as me in her application for her 10 year residency, that she received a mere two year one and, when she queried it was sent from pillar to post until she was finally told that they have now stopped issuing the 10 year residency.  BUT if you can show that you applied before January of this year you are entitled to receive it.  So, if this is relevant to you, and you, too, receive a 2 year blue card when you were expecting the 10 year one, DO NOT give them that creased and crumpled piece of paper you’ve been carrying back and forth to the police station every three months, known here as the 'récépissé' as that is the only proof you have of your entitlement.
Are you sure you couldn't find one any bigger????
And then there were the passport forms I had ordered from the Irish Embassy in Berne – this is the Embassy responsible for any Irish citizens living in Algeria.  Don’t ask me why it has to be this particular one….except….much and all as I hate to admit it…..I think there’s some cosmic link between Algeria and Ireland….in terms of logic anyway.  I had ordered them to come before my husband abandoned me left to go to England for Ramadan so that he could get them all authorised and then post them from there.  Same postman hadn’t bothered to deliver them either, although he did look a bit (only a smidgeon mind you) shamefaced when we asked him about it – it seems the post office itself has nothing whatsoever to do with the mail…we had to hang around and speak to the postman himself, who could be found lounging around holding up the… -box.  He said he vaguely remembered something coming from abroad and went into the back of the post office and returned with….my envelope from Berne…..and our Algerie Telecom bill.

And THEN….yes there’s more….. the secondary school which my youngest son attends decided this year, in it’s not so infinite wisdom to  request that all students be enrolled for the next year… the middle of July.  So off we went to do some more paper hunting only to discover that the birth certificate he needs is no longer issued by the local ‘baladia’ and that we would need to go to the Ministry of foreign affairs in the middle of  Algiers, as he had the audacity to be born abroad. And to add insult to injury the ‘baladia’  wouldn’t accept my signature on the necessary form – they wanted to know was there someone who had a power of attorney for him!!!!!!  It seems I’m ONLY his mother and just won’t do.  By this time I was practically hissing like a viper and coiled to strike anyone else who came in my way, but the school head master very amicably agreed to enrol my son while making a note that some of his paperwork was missing.

All of this in the 30+ degree heat and fasting.  But I have to say….and yes I do have to because credit where credit is due….most of the people we dealt with….in the police station, Algerie Telecom, the school were all very kind and nice Alhamdulilah.  Of course they would have been even nicer and kinder if they  had given me what I needed in the first place, but if Algeria teaches you anything it will teach you patience and the fact that…you just can’t get everything you want in life, just when you want it.  Needless to say you do have to stay sane long enough to learn these lessons.  And Alhamdulilah for my children who had to be the ones who did all the queueing and running around while I, most of the time, sat in the car and perspired.  Of course, always looking on the bright side of life…it could have been worse….I could have expired.

I do love living beside the sea!