Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Les Falaises, Jijel
What I remember most about those first few months is feeling cold all the time and the rain.  We had no heating at all in our flat until my mother-in-law took pity on us and gave us a heater, which was the type commonly used throughout the country – a gas fired heater with a large flue to the outside and a small window where you could see the flame.  There was already a niche in the wall in the hall for one so it was just a case of getting it installed.  The Algerians have this notion that a heater is not something suitable for a living room and so they plonk them in the one place where they are not needed and are the most inefficient – in the hallway just inside the front door.  This is the one area that is the warmest and yet is the furthest away from the living and sleeping areas, and if you have unexpected guests they may well be greeted with a few lines of damp washing drying in front of it, as soon as they enter your home.  We had no furniture other than our bed, chair-beds for the children, a few chairs and a computer desk, and we didn’t want to buy anything until we had our own home. 

We had arrived just before Ramadan and my long suffering sister-in-law and her daughter cooked for us for the whole month, after which we went out shopping for a fridge, cooker and washing machine.  We went to an area named Hamis, notorious for the sale of all kinds of electrical goods, which my husband told me had sprung up without any authorization and which had become so successful that the authorities could do nothing but leave it evolve.  However it extended its control by refusing to do anything useful like putting in pavements so it was a fun place to visit in the winter, if you liked looking like a mud-pie.  My first impression of the town was that it reminded me of a town in the Wild West straight out of a cowboy film.  There was a straight road and on either side a line of buildings of varying heights with shop signs advertising their wares.  My other sister-in-law came with us and I was fascinated by the fact that, while I was caked in mud from the hem right up to my eye-balls, she, without any apparent effort on her part, had hardly a spec on her, even her shoes looked clean!   She insisted on buying us the items we wanted and so, at last, I could start to take care of my own family again.

The thing about change is that it brings out qualities in you that you never knew you had, and some you could quite happily have lived to the end of your days without knowing.  I am an introvert, and, although I almost always enjoy myself on most social occasions, I don’t actually care if I don’t see or talk to people from one end of the month to the next.  Yes… I know… I’m odd.  And yet, I found myself wanting to get out and about and go visiting, and really looking forward to any excuse to get out of the flat, something that was totally alien to me.  Looking back I’m sure it was psychological – I still wasn’t driving in Algeria at this stage, and even if I could I didn’t know how to get anywhere, and I had nowhere to go because I hadn’t made any friends of my own. Our home was temporary so it didn’t really feel like home to me, and I think I felt confined.
Having my sister-in-law nearby meant that, whenever she had guests, they invariably popped in to see me too.  Both of our kitchen windows looked out over the building’s front steps and car park so we could see people coming and going, and whenever I saw someone coming to visit her I went into panic mode and raced around trying to make the flat semi-presentable.  I am not, by any means, a slob, but I never quite learned the knack of cleaning the whole flat every day just in case of such an eventuality… mainly because I just couldn’t be bothered.  I remember one day when I saw someone coming and did my usual headless chicken routine only to see them go off again without coming anywhere near my door.  I stood at my kitchen window, not with the relief you would expect, but instead, with hands on hips I wondered indignantly why they hadn’t come over to see me!  The human mind is an amazing, and, in my case, a contrary marvel.

 One of the very first things that my husband did was to get the phone line that was already installed, re-opened and then to get me an internet connection.  This was very rare in households, and cyber-cafes were very popular where you could go and sit at a terminal and pay for an hour’s internet access.  So it was a real luxury to have it in my home and we paid by the minute. But it was wonderful for me, and helped me to feel more connected with the rest of the world, and especially my family and friends. (This was long before Facebook I hasten to add)  I remember the first time I rang my Mum, she was so happy to hear from me and was so amazed at the fact that the line was so clear. 'I can't believe you're in Africa... you sound like you're in the next room!'  Before we had our own phone-line the only connection was through my sister-in-law, which made for some awkward phone calls between my husband's family and my own.  My sister told me of one ‘conversation’, using the word in its broadest sense, she had with my husband’s nephew where they both thought they could have a coherent conversation if she talked as loud as she could and he replied with ‘okay’ to everything she said.

No comments:

Post a Comment