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

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