Adapting to life in Algeria was difficult for all of us in different ways. We lived in a seaside town about 35kms from Algiers in a nice but rather conservative area. Six of us lived in a two-bedroomed flat with no furniture or furnishings and most of our things still in boxes. The water was turned off every few days without much of a routine so it was difficult to plan. My sister-in-law and I agreed that we often felt it all depended on whether the man who was responsible for turning on and off the water for our area had a row with his wife or not! The electricity supply was also fairly precarious with it going at the first drop of rain or clap of thunder. Sometimes it didn’t come back for days. Trying to figure out what to feed my family was another huge problem. All the produce in the market seemed to consist of green vegetables and unless I started treating my family like cows I had to find what else there was available. And that did not come to much where I lived so it meant going further a-field. Also, after several times when the vegetables went off, I realised the reason why Algerian women go shopping every day, as opposed to once a week like I used to do in UK. Produce free from pesticides and additives go off quicker than those that contain them! And then there was the irritation I felt when my husband would come back from shopping saying that he could not find some vegetable because it wasn’t “in season”! When, oh when do onions go out of season!!!!
I remember two different days in particular that epitomised the difficulties of my life during those first months in Algeria. One was a Friday, both the water and the electricity had gone all morning, and I was exhausted from trying to prepare a dinner from scratch. My husband came back from Jumuah prayer full of Iman having heard a lovely khutbah, feeling at peace and refreshed. Just as I was about to collapse, the water and electricity came back, and because I did not know for how long the water was back, I had to wash the huge pile of clothes and clean the flat. I remember crying and my husband asked me “Do you want to go back?” I said, without any hesitation no, I just wanted it better than this. The other time was one of the last nights of my daughter’s holiday from England. It had been a disastrous holiday with everything that could possibly go wrong, doing so spectacularly. I wanted to prepare her favourite chicken dish and we had no water or electricity. I also had a whole chicken that I had to cut up with not a clue as to which end to start with! I got out my trusty Delia Smith cook book for beginners (good old Delia Smith!) and looked at her diagrams, sitting on the floor of my kitchen (I had no counters to prepare it on), by candle light, and absolutely butchered this poor unsuspecting chicken, all the time thinking “what am I doing here?”
By far the most difficult thing, besides the fact that we had to leave Sarah, our daughter, behind, was that I lost total control over my children. From having them 24/7 and being solely responsible for their education and general well-being, I was relegated a back seat by virtue of the fact that I didn’t speak Arabic and hadn’t a clue what was going on unless someone kindly took pity on me and translated for me. The day the children started school I cried. And then when I saw what a fuss was made over whether their books were covered in a particular colour of plastic or not, or whether they had the copybooks with the right number of pages I cried again. They played a lot outside and often went over to their aunts to eat and I never knew where they were, whom they were with, whether or what they had eaten. It was very hot in the summer and all the children lost weight and I was really worried for their health.