Sunday, 24 November 2013

Home is where the heart is

One of my favourite streets in Algiers
Soon after we arrived in Algeria my husband started a business with one of his nephews and his friend and the van we had brought over was appropriated in this new venture.  This business was our only source of income for the first few years and kept us going until we had found our feet and settled down in the country.  Every time I saw the van I thought of my Mum and her kindness and thoughtfulness to us, and wished I could have painted ‘Sally’s van’ across the side!

In April 2004, 6 months after moving over, my husband planned to go back to England, and, at the very last minute (literally 24 hours before) decided I should go back with him.  I felt awful telling his sister that we were going as it meant that she would have to take care of our 11, 8 and 5 year olds while we brought the 3 year old with us.  I told her that I had no plan to go and that, in actual fact, I had planned to give the flat a good spring clean while my husband was gone.  She laughed and commented on how that’s what she and most Algerian women would be planning if their husbands were going away for a time.  I promised the children that I would wake them up in the morning even though we were leaving very early, but when I went into them the next morning and saw them all sound asleep I just couldn’t find it in my heart to wake them.  I kissed them and then left the flat to find my sister-in-law standing outside her flat.  I asked her to tell them that I was sorry for not waking them but that I had kissed them and that I loved them, by which time both she and I were sobbing on each other’s shoulders.  Of course…. her tears may have been at the thought of having to take care of them for 10 days!  But I don’t think so… she’s very soft-hearted mashAllah!

 My daughter came over for a break during the Spring holidays, and, if I had planned it to be THE most disastrous holiday ever, I could not have planned it better.  It rained for most of her stay, the electricity kept going off, she and a couple of her brothers contracted a stomach bug that confined them to bed for a few days, her sister then contracted chicken pox and the back windows were stolen from our brand new Kangoo car.  As a treat, towards the end of her stay, we brought her and her siblings to Khemis Milanna, a good hour’s journey from where we were living, to see friends who owned a Pizza restaurant. I admired the beautiful scenery as we drove down while my car sick daughter sat in the back and muttered something very non- complimentary about me sounding like Heidi.  When we arrived and finally sat down to eat, the pizza had a drizzling of olive oil over it which my daughter hates, and we ended up laughing at the catastrophe her holiday had become.  It was either laugh or cry.

On the last weekend I urged my daughter to start packing early and not leave it to the last minute, as I knew the family would all be around to see her before she left.  She burst into tears and said that she didn’t really want to go back to England.  You could have blown me down with a feather.  I had resigned myself to her going back to England and never wanting to come back, and was flabbergasted at her outburst.  She then explained that, when we talked about moving here, and then, after we had done so, she could not see us having the same family life that we had when we lived in England.  She remembered her holidays here and had loved it but couldn’t translate that to actually living here.  But the one thing that this holiday had shown her was…. we were still a family and still lived as a family exactly as we had in England, complete with all the chaos that involved.  Home really IS where the heart is, and it’s people who make a home, not bricks and mortar.  I told her that she didn’t need to go back if she didn’t want to, and, after thinking about it, she decided to go back for the last term to finish her ‘A’ levels.  It was so hard to see her off at the airport, but it meant that when she finally did move to Algeria a few months later, she came happily looking forward to her new life, without any doubts in her heart.

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