Friday, 31 January 2014

Don’t look back…. you’re not going that way

A view from my childhood taken in 1990
A friend put a status update in Facebook recently reminiscing on days gone by and lamenting the fact that things have changed.  I love looking back and musing over the past, remembering the people and places that form the mosaic of my life, but along with the nostalgia come the memories of less rosier times, the tears, frustration, doubts, loneliness and grief, and I’m grateful for it all, truly I am.  Because without it all I wouldn’t be where I am today….right here, right now, and where I am is….. happy Alhamdulilah.

I love looking back because there is so much to learn with hindsight, but I can’t live in the past, it’s too much like walking along a lovely beach only for it to turn to quicksand keeping you bogged down and unable to move on. It’s important to remember the good times and the bad, the people Allah put our way, to learn from our mistakes and also those of whom we loved who have passed on, to gain wisdom with age so that we can appreciate life and put everything in perspective.  I know that I don’t have as much time ahead of me as the time with which I have already been blessed.  I know that time inexorably marches on, and when I look at the photos of those whom I love who have gone, and read their letters it reminds me that I, too, will one day be a mere name at the end of a letter, a face in a photo, a far distant memory, and the cycle of life will go on without me…. just fine.

To be honest, I wouldn’t want to go back to yesterday never mind the days gone by.  Just as I wouldn’t want to be single again once I was married, without children once I had them, want them to be small again now that they’ve grown, I didn’t want to live back in Ireland when I lived in England and now I wouldn’t want to live in England again.  I would not want my life any other way than it is, right now Alhamdulilah.

In many ways my life in Algeria is not that different from my life in England – I still have to cook, bake, wash, clean, organise, plan ahead, tidy up, argue, reason and, when that fails… stamp my feet and throw a tantrum.  The most oft question out of my mouth still to this day is ‘what will I cook/bake today/tomorrow?’ I still have my husband and children. I still have a very good support network of good friends here in Algeria but also am still in contact with those I used to know in England, I still have my family in Ireland, even if some of them have passed on, and of course, last but very much  not least I have my faith, my reason for living, my purpose in life.

I don’t have the luxury of time ahead of me to spend too much of it wishing I was in another place, another time.  As L.P. Hartley said ‘The past is a foreign country.  People do things differently there.’  And how true that is!  If I were to miraculously go back…. would I happily give up all that the present has to offer including the people I didn’t even knew existed then, and who have become so important to me now.  And if I was to bring the future back with me… then it wouldn’t be the same, would it?  The trick is to be happy in the now and to use the past as an education, a reminder of all I have to be grateful for, and a way of gaining wisdom to make the present a better place to dwell, and to not let yesterday take up too much of today.  We’re all on a journey and I know that, if I keep looking back, I’d probably keep tripping up and falling over my feet.  It’s better for me to keep my eye on the end goal, know where I’m going and try to prepare myself for that time that’s just around the corner inshallah.  
The same view from my childhood taken in 2011

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Foot-in-mouth disease

I wish that my language bloomers were confined to just derja, but I have made a few in French too.  Once my daughter forgot a copybook that I knew she needed for school so I raced up to the primary school and knocked on the gate, and when the security guard opened up I told him I needed to give it to my daughter, so he very kindly let this mad Irish woman in, but then as I didn’t know where her class was, I asked him where it was, except…… I didn’t say the word, ‘classe’, instead I asked him where her bedroom was!  And then there was the time when my youngest daughter didn’t want to come to a social function because she knew all the old ladies (and some younger ones too) would be asking about her as a prospective wife for some eligible bachelor in their family.  I told her in French that if anyone asked I would just tell them that she was too young.  She looked at me and said, ‘Mum, I’m too young…. not too yellow!’ ‘Jeune’, ‘jaune’, what’s in a word…. a whole world it seems, as she didn’t come with me anyway.

I remember when my now 15 year old son was only about 5 or 6, he heard me asking for directions, after which he said, ‘Mum, please just speak French…. don’t try and speak derja.’  Now that he and his siblings all have a few years of French classes behind them, it’s more a case of ‘Mum, please…. just don’t talk….at all!’ Only Allah alone knows the mistakes I’ve made that I don’t know about….. I try very hard not to think about them as there is only so much shuddering one can do without looking like you're in the throes of an epileptic seizure. 

And, even if you are like my husband and speak derja, classical Arabic, French and English you can still speak a Khalota – I heard him on the phone once saying ‘Parce que je suis busy bezef’.  Another time I heard him say to my son, ‘Mat disappear-ish’, (don’t disappear!) and I thought to myself, I think I could get a grip if that’s all I need to do!

I absolutely dread it when any lady comes up to me in the market or a shop or anywhere and starts rabbiting away in derja and, when I say in the one phrase of perfect Arabic that I have learnt, ‘Sorry, but I don’t speak Arabic’, I have to endure the funny looks at me, up and down, while they walk away shaking their heads with an expression on their face as if to say ‘we’re on to a right one here’.  Well… I suppose… if someone said in English to me… ‘I don’t speak English’ I’d have the same look on my face. 

Despite the fact that I seem to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease I have had some successes, and even fairly recently brought a friend, who can’t speak either derja or French, out shopping.  We managed fine Alhamdulilah even if it was a bit of a case of the blind leading the blind.  My problem (apart from the major one of basic language skills of course), is confidence.  I went to the market once and thought to myself, how hard can it be to ask for a kilo of tomatoes, so I did.  To which the seller asked me a question in return.  My first instinct was to panic ‘Oh my God, he’s talking back to me… what do I say now?  How am I going to get myself out of this one?’  Then I calmed down and realized that all he was asking me was whether I wanted salad ones or cooking ones (all sold together here in Algeria), so I said I wanted the salad ones, primarily because I could say the word for salad easily, but happily coincidentally they were the ones I wanted anyway.

I know that I have to, somehow, get to grips with this local language, and ignore all the voices in my head that tell me I’m too thick (actually those particular ones are not in my head…), I’m too old, I don’t have time, even if I learn it I still won’t understand everyone in this massive country, etc. etc.    A few years ago I met the elderly grandmother of a friend of my daughter who told me how she had come to Algiers from the countryside many years previously when she was a young married woman, and only speaking Kabyle. She had to learn derja and find her way round and buy the groceries herself, and I thought to myself, ‘I never would have known that I would have so much in common with this woman’.  I just have to get on with it… get a notebook (the last one was tiny and ended up gathering dust in a corner somewhere) and start writing down phrases I need to learn and start asking how to say this and how to say that, and make more of an effort…ANY effort would be more.  I feel that I miss out on so much, even if at some social functions it’s a blessing in disguise – in the past I have asked my daughter to translate for me, and she has pleaded with me ‘oh Mum please don’t ask me to repeat it… it was SO boring having to listen to it in the first place!’ I love asking my mother-in-law about her life and her past and how things were when she was young, but I can’t do it unless there is someone around to translate.  I have also met quite a few Algerian women that I found fascinating and wished so much that I could communicate with them, there is so much I could learn from them, and one in particular who is very knowledgeable in her deen (religion), who is also very kind and easy going, and every time I see her I wish so much that I was fluent in derja or, in her case even Arabic.

I don’t know if you can ever really be a part of a people until you speak their language, and although I don’t know if I will ever be fluent, I do very much want to pay tribute in some part to this wonderful country, and the least I can do is learn its language, if only I could stop putting my foot in it. 
Road to Tipasa

Friday, 24 January 2014

What’s in a word… a whole lot of trouble when it’s the wrong one

The Roman Ruins, Tipasa, Algeria

I am totally ashamed to admit that I do not speak the local language, derja, even after being married to my husband for SO long mashAllah, and after living here for 10 years.  I loved languages in school and I know that I could improve my school girl French to a fairly good standard if I just put my mind to it.  When I speak in French it’s usually in the present tense – I rarely ‘did’ anything in the past in French and have very few plans to ‘to do’ anything in the future. In fact I never live so much in the present as I do when speaking French.  The reason why I won’t  ‘put my mind to it’ is because I really want to spend that time learning Arabic and derja, the last of which is not a written language and is an Arabic local dialect that includes some French, with a smidgen of the Italian and Spanish languages thrown in for good measure.  As a result, my French has deteriorated further to the point that I use Arabic for most nouns and a lot of other words, but still can’t string a sentence together in Arabic so I use the French words to fill in the gaps. Khalota – this what the Algerians call a mixture and usually refers to a meal of leftovers and accurately describes my awful French and even worse Arabic or derja. 

I need to learn a language in a structured way and cannot really pick it up just by listening to it, believe me I’ve tried.  I sit and listen to my husband’s family talking and I really try to pick up words here and there, and, sometimes I do (and usually get the total wrong gist of what they’re saying), but more often than not it sounds like they are making it all up as they go along with a lot of throat clearing in the process.  And, as derja is not a written language this makes learning it, for me, anyway very difficult.  In addition I think that the very thing that, in many ways has helped me enormously here, my poor French, is also the very same thing that has handicapped me because instead of picking up the local lingo, I’ve always lapsed back into my awful French to find the words I need.  I know it’s possible to learn derja because I have friends who speak it, but those who do have usually either lived with their husband’s family for a while, or spent a lot of time with them and with Algerians in general.  Also, a lot of the time, though not always, their own children do not speak English, or do not speak it very well, and this was something I didn’t want for my children.  I could get all high and mighty and say I sacrificed my derja for my children’s English but that would be a load of poppycock, as I know it’s possible to do both – learn the local dialect and maintain your children’s English language skills.

It doesn’t help that, when I do attempt to speak what little I have of it, I make catastrophic mistakes.  We visited my husband’s sister-in-law who had another guest, and, while most Algerians are quite friendly even with all my communication problems, this particular one, though not exactly hostile wasn’t particularly friendly either.  After some time she asked my eldest daughter, Sarah, if I spoke the language, and then I realized that she assumed that I was being stuck-up, so understanding her question I tried with my awful French, tiny bit of derja and the help of Sarah, to explain some of the mistakes I had made while trying to speak this language of theirs.  For example the time when I tried it out with my children and told them that it couldn’t be that hard to speak as they spoke a mixture of languages, to which my son put his hands up to his bright red face and moaned, ‘Oh Mum!!!!  D’ONT use THAT word PLEASE!’.  Oh my God, what HAD I said!  It seems that, instead of using the word, ‘khalota’ I had actually used the word ‘kilota’ which means knickers!  I was able to use this particular blooper to my advantage, however, when some time later, same said son decided, while my husband was abroad, that he would just take a day off school.  I told him that was fine with me, that I would go to the school and explain that ‘she (I’m always confusing ‘he’ and ‘she’ in Arabic) could not come to school as she had a ‘knickers’ of sicknesses.  I never heard another word about skipping school, because it seems that there is a worse fate than school….. even in Algeria. 

Another slipup of mine was merely a potential gaffe as only my youngest daughter witnessed it.  We had gone to the market to buy some vegetables and I asked my daughter to ask the seller for the vegetables I wanted, and I used the Arabic words I had learnt.  Now, if there is one thing I learnt fairly quickly in derja, it’s the name of anything connected to food, so I thought I had a handle on the vegetables.  When it came to onions my daughter looked at me very strangely (even more so than usual), and asked me to repeat myself, which made me think and then slowly realize that, instead of asking for a kilo of onions, ‘bsel’, I had actually asked her for a kilo of ‘zbel’….. rubbish!

And I still have problems with ‘zkara’ which is when someone does something out of pure spite, and the word ‘shkara’ meaning bag and always used when asking for milk as it comes in one.  I’m always so afraid that I will ask for a zkara of milk so I just leave the word out altogether to be on the safe side.  My final example of my blundering forays into the Algerian dialect of derja is the word for sorry.  I remember driving one night and, on coming to a police checkpoint, I forgot to dim my lights, to which the poor blinded policeman gestured me to do so.  As I drove past I said ‘simhaili’ which is sorry… to a female!  It should have been ‘smahili’.  Easily confused don’t you think?

As my husband’s sister-in-law’s guest wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes, she suggested with some sympathy that maybe it was a good idea for me not to try to speak the language, after all.
El Aurassi, hotel, overlooking the Port of Algiers

Monday, 20 January 2014

My three month anniversary

Today is my anniversary….. my three month blogging anniversary.  For some time I had been talking about my love of writing and it’s calming effect on me, and my eldest, Sarah, suggested that I write a blog.  I really was not enamored with the idea as the notion of going public with my thoughts and words was (and truth be told, still is) quite frightening to me.  She kept encouraging me by saying that it didn’t have to be public, that I didn’t have to share it with anyone, and that at least I should try it for three months and see how it goes.  And three months on it’s still going….. very well for me Alhamdulilah. At first I was put off by the thought of the technology of it, after all it’s only comparatively recently that I got my head around Facebook, so she helped me to set this blog up, came up with the name after a brainstorming session and also the description, both of which stimulated me to write…. and write I did. I have really loved being able to put my thoughts and experiences down in some kind of order and go through my pictures, and I have so enjoyed reminiscing over the past.  Even when I can’t think of anything specific that excites me to write, once I sit down it seems to come from nowhere, and I expect this is the ‘blarney’ in me!

I love that I write to an invisible audience, as I know that nobody is reading what I write… at the moment anyway. But this could change soon…..Sarah is now threatening to ‘out’ me, because somewhere the parent/child dynamic seems to have shifted and she feels that she knows what’s better for me than I do myself.  All with the best of intentions and lots of good humour of course!

So, furiously back-peddling here, before I write any more drivel on my life here in Algeria I want to emphasise that, I don’t mean to sound disrespectful when I talk about the bureaucracy here,  because every country has the right to demand whatever they wish from foreign nationals who wish to visit or live in their territory, and I am aware that, after all, I am a guest of this country, but if you don’t have a sense of humor and are not able to find the funny side of things here, you could go slowly insane (or maybe even very quickly depending on your personality).

So to reiterate…. I love Algeria and I will do anything I can to stay in this wonderful country that I now call home, but I cannot leave my brain and my sense of humour at the border. And to be honest, Algeria is not the only country wrapped in so much red tape it’s almost choking, because bureaucracy in England is rife also.  I had the same midwife for each of my last four children and with each successive child there was even more paperwork to complete, so much so that she said she spent more time on it than on nursing.  Unfortunately England has been forced to go down the same road as USA in that so many people are suing all sorts of organisations and individuals for huge sums of money for the most petty reasons that everyone now feels the need to ‘cover themselves with indemnity’ against everything imaginable. Even something as simple as opening a bank account is now a headache, with banks trying their best to cover themselves against any charges of funding terrorists, fraud etc.  Every time I travel back to England and Ireland I think to myself ‘Algeria really isn’t nearly as bad as I thought!’

I hope also that I don’t come across as condescending and patronizing about the social etiquettes and norms here.  I love all the things that make this country unique and that are so different to what I am accustomed, and I want to document them, primarily for myself, because the longer I live here, the more these customs become normal to me and I take them for granted.

I love this country… I really do.  And, whenever I go back to England and Ireland, I always come ‘home’ to Algeria Alhamdulilah.
Driving along by the port into Algiers

Sunday, 19 January 2014

You don’t HAVE to be mad to live here…. but it sure helps

Winter sky just after sunset
I have also started going through the hoops in order to apply for Algerian Nationality, the necessary prerequisite being that you have been married to an Algerian (presumably the same one) for 7 years and have resided in Algeria for 5 years.  Between you, me and the wall, in my very humble opinion, I think they should give me automatic Algerian Nationality by virtue of the fact that I’ve been married to one for longer than a lot of Algerian women!  They should throw in a medal into the bargain! All the same paperwork required for the Residency is also necessary for the Nationality with a few extra thrown in to spice things up a little – this time 12 photos are necessary (hopefully they will end up locked away in some dusty drawer never again to see the light of day),  a confirmation from the court in Rouisseau to say that my husband doesn’t have a criminal record (probably because there’s no way they can definitely verify that I don’t have one which, by the way, I dont!),  and my Irish birth certificate translated into Arabic and signed by the Irish Foreign Office.  Oh… and a psychiatric report….. certifying that I am sane.  This last one seemed to me to be the biggest dilemma…. If I was sane I wouldn’t be applying for Algerian Nationality, because although you don’t have to be mad to live here…  it sure helps, but without a certificate saying I was sane I couldn’t have Algerian Nationality.  Who are they kidding!  How many Algerians would pass for being sane!  However, maybe there is a method in their madness – if they accept a lot of sane foreigners as Algerian Nationals, maybe our strain of sanity might spread to the resident population.  We live in hope.

We went to the surgery of a recommended psychiatrist and I sat in the packed waiting room for women (all doctor and dentist surgeries have segregated waiting rooms here), and tried to look inconspicuous.  Most of the women sat quietly or chatted amongst themselves but one woman seemed to stand out as she was hugging her teenage daughter, and, at first, I thought maybe it was the daughter who had the problem and she was just giving her comfort.  But when the woman started talking to the room in general and her voice started to rise considerably and she became more emotional I realized that it was she who was in need of the doctor.  I tried really hard to understand what the problem was, but all I understood was that it had something to do with her brother and….. a qarantita sandwich!  The Psychiatrist was a very nice man, just asked me a few general questions, signed the form and sent me on my way with a certificate entitled 'Certificat d'Aptitude Psychiatre', which to my mind implies that I merely have an aptitude for sanity….but who am I to quibble! Especially as the certificate expired after 3 months… and that was 7 months ago, so for a while I was certifiably sane, and now, I’m just as mad as the rest of them.  Nor-mal!

Once we had all the paperwork together we brought it to the Justice Department in El Biar, in Algiers where a man behind a desk looked through it and stopped when he got to my translated Irish Birth Certificate.  My husband told him that, as there was no Irish Embassy in Algeria it was impossible for me to have it stamped by them.  The man got up, took down a large storage file, looked through it and took out a file identical to mine, flicked through the papers and stopped and then said that this one also didn’t have the necessary stamp either.  My husband said maybe I might know this person and, of course, once he showed me the name I recognized the it as being a good friend of mine.  The man said that, he would personally bring my file to the head of the department to explain that there was a precedent for the missing stamp, so along the corridor we traipsed to yet another office with yet another man behind another desk, who looked through the file and then noticed that one paper was missing, for which my husband apologized and said he’d be back in a while with it.  So off we flew in the car (well maybe ‘flew’ is not quite the word to use in Algerian traffic)  to another office to procure this piece of paper, and back to the Justice Department where finally the ‘man behind the desk’ accepted my application for Algerian Nationality.

One day some months later I received a letter in the post asking me to come to the Courthouse in Harrach to be interviewed by the Head of the Courthouse.  Actually it was his secretary and it was more a case of filling in more forms than an interview.  She asked me all the usual questions plus the dates of birth of my parents, and my education history, and whether I spoke any Arabic.  As she turned over the umpteenth page I made an involuntary intake of breath when I saw how many more boxes on the form that had to be completed, to which both she and my husband looked at me in concern thinking I was going to pass out.  She then asked me to write out in Arabic that I testified that what I had written was correct and to sign it.  This wasn’t as difficult as it seems as I just had to copy the sentence that was written on the form, in Arabic and then sign it in English letters.  I don’t think it would have been much of a problem if you couldn’t write any Arabic, as, surprisingly they are usually quite accommodating in these kinds of things, because a lot of the older generation are still either illiterate or don’t write Arabic.

Several weeks after this I was called to go to the police station where I normally apply for my Residency, and I was again interviewed there very briefly and the only question I can remember, because it stuck out as having so little significance in my opinion, was where I came in my family and how many siblings I had. Maybe they are devotees of those who believe that birth order affects personality???
La Peruse, Marsa, Algeria

Friday, 17 January 2014

More paper.....more work

I arrived in Algeria in 2003 with a three month visa and, with all the things that needed to be done to settle down to life here, we left the renewal of my visa on the back burner, thinking it was just a formality.  How wrong we were!  When we finally got around to starting down the long road for my application of Residency here, we were given a very severe dressing down from the police for our tardiness.  So for a brief while I was an ‘illegal alien’ in Algiers, something I proudly announced to my husband’s sister living next door to me.  I suggested, rather tongue-in-cheek, that if she rang the police and ratted on me, maybe they would send me back to UK… and I could have a nice holiday there on my own!  She laughingly refused and I knew it wasn’t necessarily out of any great love for me…. She is no fool and she knew who would be landed with taking care of my four children… and it wouldn’t be my husband!  Anyway, as I discovered some years later from the experiences of several of my friends, things wouldn’t have turned out quite the way I anticipated.  Where most countries are very happy and willing to turf anyone out of their country who has over-stayed their visa, Algeria is not.  Many a person has gone to the airport or the port to make a journey abroad with an expired visa, only for them to lose the value of their travel tickets due to the fact that they were refused permission to travel until they had renewed their visa or residency.

For my Residency Application I needed (a deep breath) – a photocopy of my passport stamped, needless to say, at the local council offices (baladia), 8 photos (10 years down the line there must be a photo of me in every police station in Algiers, and I have visions of bored policemen sitting in back rooms throwing darts at them), Arabic Marriage Certificate, General Medical certificate including cardiologist and HIV tests, letter of confirmation that I am residing at the same address as my husband (and… where else would I be????  The Hilton???) also called a ‘Hebergement’, letter confirming that my husband is supporting/sponsoring me, and a piece of paper from the local tax office confirming I have paid the 3,000 dinars fee.  In addition I also needed a letter from the Irish Embassy stating that I had left my country of origin and was now residing in Algeria.  We told ‘the man behind the desk’ that, as there was no Irish Embassy in Algeria (although now that I live here I do think they really should consider having one!), we couldn’t obtain this piece of paper.  The Irish Embassy in Berne, Switzerland is responsible for the Irish citizens residing in Algeria, and incidentally any Algerian who wants to obtain a visa to travel to Ireland has to apply for it from the Irish Embassy in….. Abu Dhabi.  We were then told that we could go to the Italian Embassy and see if we could get one there.  To this day I really don’t know why this was suggested…. was it because both embassies begin with the letter ‘I’ or was it because they are both Catholic countries??  The mind boggles!  Eventually after some running around, hair pulling, jumping up and down and generally jumping through hoops it was agreed that we didn’t need this piece of paper, and we haven’t had to submit it since Alhamdulilah.  The Residency expires after 2 years and you really need to re-apply about 6 weeks before expiration, and then they will give you a temporary piece of paper to keep you going until you finally get the blue card in your grubby paw.  After five years residence here you are eligible to apply for a 10 year one with the addition of a couple of more pieces of paper and an increased fee payment at the tax office. 

I am now in the process of applying for my 10 year residency and have had my temporary residency paper renewed 3 times already while they process my application, but to be fair, when we applied I could hardly see the policeman sitting at the desk behind the piles of applications stacked on his desk.  There are so many foreigners coming to Algeria now from all corners of the earth – spouses of Algerians like me, an enormous amount of Chinese coming here to work on construction projects, Syrian refugees, people from Turkey, Yemen and other parts of Africa who are coming here to study or to work, that it helps me to be more patient about my own application.

Sunday, 12 January 2014


Ziama, Jijel
The first year of living in Algeria seemed to be all about chasing paper.  All you have to say to anyone here is ‘paperwork’ (‘quaghat’) and immediately people understand.  They understand why you’re so stressed, why you’re so late for, or have to cancel appointments, why you never have any time, why you’re so short tempered, why there’s smoke coming out your ears, your hair is on end and your face is bright red.  Paperwork!  For every piece of paper you need here in Algeria there are about five more.  What more can you say about a country where your birth certificate expires before you do, and where your death certificate must be renewed annually.  Just as well this is a Muslim country, otherwise I have this horrible picture of the powers that be insisting on all dead people being dug up and buried annually.

And for many years now I have had a sneaking suspicion that when a lot (an awful lot) of Algerians get up in the morning and start getting ready for work, they look in the mirror and think to themselves ‘what can I do to make life as hard as possible for everyone who comes across my path today.’  As just one of innumerable examples, my son needed to apply for his Identity Card, so he got all the paperwork together and went to the ‘Baladia’ (the local council offices).  There he was told that a telephone bill with our name and address was not good enough for proof of address, he needed the electricity bill.  So off home we traipsed to get the electricity bill, and when he returned with it he was then told that there was another document missing.  Now…. why, oh why, couldn’t the first person look through all the papers my son brought in the first place and tell him which were missing or which were not correct?  Even when you ask them to give you a list of everything you need – parent’s birth certificates, grandparent’s birth/death certificates, proof of address, proof of work, stamps from the post office, certificates from the local tax office, parent’s ID information, proof of what you ate for breakfast, dinner and tea for the past week (Ok….so now I’m descending into the farcical), there will be something not right, something missing, something that you have to run off for and queue up somewhere else to obtain, something that will take up even more of your time, your energy and your temper.  And… when you queue up for this particular piece of paper… you won’t have all the necessary paperwork to acquire THAT piece of paper so off you run on yet more paper chases, until you feel like a dog chasing its tale in never ending circles. Paperwork!

And don’t think for a minute that it’s only for ID cards, and visas and other important matters that you need to chase around for paperwork…. if your child wants to start a sports or craft class, change schools, start university, get married, pick their nose they need… paperwork. Having been born in Ireland and living in England for as long as I have I am accustomed to the originals of documents being extremely important, but here in good old Algeria often (not always, mind you) a photocopy of the original, authorized and stamped in triplicate (or so it seems to me anyway) is considered to be far more important and necessary than any original document.

Sometimes (read ‘most times’) when a rule is brought into place, especially if it’s to your benefit, it takes AGES (years) to trickle down to the ordinary man in the… office.  Of course if it’s NOT to your benefit it comes into effect everywhere simultaneously.  When we first arrived in Algeria we had to renew the children’s birth certificates in The Golf area of Algiers because they were born abroad.  They then made it possible for them to be renewed at any local council offices a few years ago, which is so much easier mashAllah.  My son went to our local one last year to try and renew his one and was told that it was not possible as he was born abroad.  So, he rang my husband who had to come out of work, go to the office, and when he told the woman that the rules had been changed she said she didn’t know anything about it.  So he requested to speak to her supervisor who confirmed that it was indeed possible to renew his certificate there, to which the woman actually apologized to my husband and said she wasn’t aware of it.  Paperwork!

Ziama, Jijel

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The monthly meeting of the mad ex-pats

Lost in Bejaia

One of the first things my husband did when we moved here was to have the internet installed in the house…..unheard of in Algeria at that time as most people used the cyber-cafes that were (and still are) very numerous.  We paid by the minute and it was very slow but was sufficient for my needs which, during those days before Facebook or Skype, were to send emails back to friends and family. When we moved to our new home, once again, he battled to have a phone line installed and the internet up and running and I found an online Yahoo group for women with connections to Algeria.  Although it was wonderful to connect with other women who had an interest in Algeria the format was rather cumbersome in design, and one of the women set up a forum for the same purpose but which was better organized and much easier to navigate.  This forum became very popular very quickly with women from all over the world joining and contributing and, for me, as for other women who had some connections or interest in Algeria, became a supportive network which fast became addictive. The vast majority of women lived abroad and so there were a lot of questions about the day-to-day challenges of living here, as well as discussions around the women’s various experiences with Algerians and trips to the country.

There were heated debates on all sorts of topics relating to Algeria and also Islam, as the vast majority of the members were Muslim, and also some hysterical conversations, and many a friendship was forged on this forum…. friendships that started online, developed privately by email or private messages, that often progressed into face-to-face meet ups.  One year when we were back in England on holiday I mentioned that I had arranged to meet up with one of these lovely ladies in Hyde Park in London, to which my daughter indignantly replied ‘Mum, usually it’s the parents warning the  children about meeting complete strangers off the internet…..!’  So for the purposes of ‘protecting’ me I met the lady in question with my two daughters in tow and we had a a very enjoyable afternoon in Hyde Park.

In November 2006 one English lady who lived here suggested a get-together in her home for those of us who lived here to meet up, which turned into such a success that it has continued for 7 years Alhamdulilah.  At one stage it was in danger of fizzling out altogether with only a few fool hardy sisters willing to host a meeting, due to the fact that there were so many children in attendance that it was difficult to hear yourself above the noise, so it was agreed that there should be no children over the age of two years old, and then girls only over the age of 10.  As a result many more women volunteered to host a get-together because it became more manageable and easier to do so even if you had a small living room, and now we often have offers to host, a month or two in advance.
Road outside Kherrata, Jijel, Algeria
I am so grateful to Allah above for these gatherings through which I have met so many wonderful and interesting women from all over the world, some of whom live here, others who have returned  back to whence they came having lived here for a while, and yet others who were here on holiday. Many an interesting conversation I have had, and I have never failed to come away from one of these get-togethers without feeling inspired and encouraged to do better and try harder.  It may have something to do with the fact that we try to always have an Islamic talk with some relevance to our lives, as a way of remembering Allah in the hope that He will remember us in a group that is greater than it, and that the angels will surround our little gathering with their wings of peace and tranquility. Not everyone who attends is Muslim so we try to ensure that the talk is of interest to everyone, and at least is not offensive to anyone.

In a country where most information is acquired word-of-mouth it is very useful to have so many women living in so many different areas of Algeria, so that not only can you find out about where it’s possible to find a particular product, but also get a better idea of how much the cultural norms differ from place to place.  As a result it is possible to get a better picture of Algeria and its people. 

Attending these meetings has meant that I have become better acquainted with Algiers, and while at first it was just me and my daughters in the car, I have gradually collected other regular passengers, with 8 and half of us (the 'half'' being a baby only a few weeks old who really is very much a person in her own right, but fortunately didn't need a seat of her own) in our 7 seater car travelling to this month’s meeting.  In fact the journeys to the various homes throughout the Algiers area have turned into adventures where I have routinely got totally lost, but I am blessed with my passengers who, like lunatics let out of the asylum for the day, just enjoy the journey wherever it takes them with such enthusiastic exclamations as ‘Wow, just look at that wonderful view!’ ‘SubhanAllah!  What an amazing sight!’ ‘MashAllah – that shop looks SO interesting’, the last of which always compels me to lock all the doors in case I ‘lose’ someone!  And then of course there are the wonderful discussions on the journey to and from the meetings so much so that sometimes it feels as if the journeys themselves are mini-meetings!

For me, the most amazing thing about meeting all these women, who have become my friends, my support network, and I suppose in many ways, my own family here in Algiers, is that it totally confounds the fear of  living a very lonely life here in Algeria, that I voiced to my husband when he first suggested moving here so many years ago.  Personally it has felt like a gift from Allah, one for which I am so grateful, Alhamdulilah.
Road between El Aouna and Aftis, Jijel, Algeria

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Algerian Irish historical connection

Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland
This is a subject which, although I have never actively researched it, it seems to have found me! 

Once on a holiday here, in Algeria, I remember writing a letter home to my parents, about the fact that I could never go down Bab el Oued with my sister-in-law without having to stop umpteen times to talk to someone she knew. I remember writing that it seemed as if my husband was related to all of Algeria and that maybe, if I looked hard enough I would probably find I was related to him myself! Shortly after that holiday I met an Irish lady who mentioned something about the Algerians invading Cork for a few hours once in the middle ages. It always hung around the back of my mind until one holiday home my daughter, Sarah, bought a book – “A book of Irish Insults”. I know, I know – says a lot about her character doesn’t it!!! Says a lot about the Irish too that they have a whole book devoted to the subject of insults – but…… it’s a very small book! Anyway in it is a short poem where someone called James Clarence Mangan  who obviously did not like the English, used some Arabic words among others, to say so. Now, I apologise to all of my English friends in advance for any insult, and absolve myself of any responsibility as it was written a ‘little’ before my time! It is dated 1837 and was addressed to “the Ingleezee Khafir” (The English non-believer) and… well, let’s just say, it was none too complimentary! When I read it I remembered what that Irish lady  had said and thought there must be something in it. 
Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland
Time passed and then one day one of my Irish friends asked me to look up the origins of the Claddagh ring on the Internet. The design of the ring is in the form of two hands holding a heart with a crown above and it is sometimes called a friendship ring or an Irish wedding ring: 

The legends around the design itself seemed very airy-fairy and numerous but it was the story of the man who designed it that really caught my interest. He was an Irish man from Galway on the West coast of Ireland. His name was Richard Joyce and while he was travelling by sea his boat was hijacked by pirates and he was sold into slavery – guess where? Yep, Algiers! He was sold to a goldsmith who taught him his trade. In 1689, the King of England, King William III, demanded his return and his freedom was granted. The goldsmith was so happy with him that he offered him his daughter in marriage and half of his wealth if he stayed. But Richard Joyce declined his offer and returned to Galway where he designed…… the Claddagh ring! 
The Algiers Inn, Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland
Then one day my sister rang me from Ireland, to say that she had been listening to her local radio station and they mentioned a book that someone had written about when the Algerians had invaded Baltimore in Cork, It’s entitled “The Stolen Village, Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates” by Des Ekin and reads “In June 1631 pirates from Algiers and armed troops of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, led by the notorious pirate captain Morat Rais, stormed ashore at the little harbour village of Baltimore in West Cork. They captured almost all the villagers and bore them away to a life of slavery in North Africa….[I think I know how they felt!] Only two of them ever saw Ireland again.” My sister sent it to me and it is a fascinating read. 
The Algiers Inn, Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland
There is a place here in Algiers that I often see on the signs on the motorway called Bir Morad Rais and I will never look at it again the same! Whenever I drive down the road that one of my friends lives on, I often see boys outside, who appear to be from the same family,  with red hair and freckled faces and they look so Irish! In 2007 we were able to visit the town of Baltimore and my husband gleefully remarked that if anyone asked him what he was doing there.... he would just say he was 'bringing one back'!

Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland
So.... maybe..... I AM related to my husband after all – which means...... I am related to his family! Ermm….. Anyone know of a good English speaking psychotherapist in the Algiers region........for long term therapy????
Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland