Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Algerian husbands homeward bound Part 1

Le Jardin D'Essai, Algiers

One thing that often comes as a shock both to foreign wives and their husbands is that the husband can find adjusting to life here in Algeria, after living abroad for some time, difficult also.  And, I think like everything else, if you haven’t mentally prepared for it then it can make life more difficult.  Very few, if any, of the men returning to live in Algeria have ever lived here with a wife and children, and so their memories are of a single life. They often assume that their families will just help out, but don’t always realise that their families have not lived in a vacuum while they were abroad and have very busy lives of their own.

I remember one sister who remarked to me after she and her husband first came here with a view to moving over permanently, “I can’t understand why my husband has this lost look on his face all the time – as if he doesn’t know which way to turn, or what to do next”, and I told her I had seen that exact same expression on my husband’s face. It’s because many Algerians have been away a long time and everything has changed – new companies have sprung up, the systems have changed, the paperwork is dismaying to say the least and even the landscape has been transformed beyond recognition. I can’t count the times when, driving through an area, my husband has remarked on how different it used to be before he left to live abroad, with orange groves, forests, farmland and scrubland being replaced by whole towns.  There are no structures here as there are in other countries to help people find work – no job centers or employment agencies, no phone books, no directories to go through, although this is changing and there are some online now, albeit rather limited in their scope. A lot of brothers depend on family and friends, all of whom give conflicting and often negative advice.

They certainly are not prepared for the humongous amount of paperwork a foreign wife, and children born abroad, entails, and how they will often have to go to a different ministry altogether for this paperwork, as a result. The best advice to any husband in this situation is not to take any nonsense, nor to take ‘no’ for an answer.  

Another important piece of advice - check every document thoroughly once you have received it – we’ve had so many problems with children’s names and birth places being incorrectly spelt on birth certificates etc. etc. And when some bureaucrat or clerk makes a mistake, it’s up to you to jump through the hoops to correct it.  It can be so depressing for any husband to come back to Algeria and expect to relax and have an easier life, and then find himself like a dog chasing its tail.... on an almost daily basis with no end in sight.

One sister said that her husband was perfectly happy for her to go out and about when they lived abroad, but suddenly, living here in his native country, and, in his native town, he refused her permission to go out at all, even for the smallest thing, and she became so frustrated and depressed as a result, until one day he told her how shocked he was that the country in general, and his hometown in particular had changed so much and he didn’t recognise any of the people in the streets and he became afraid for her and their children.  This is something that is rather strange but not unique to Algerians – I’ve seen it with other nationalities also who, when they go abroad, they are far more trusting of the natives of another country than they would be of their own.  The Algerians ‘know’ their own kind inside out and this can be frightening for them when they have a wife and children in tow.  It takes time for them to find their confidence, and also their own place in the society here.

They also find that the people in Algeria have changed and none more so than his own family. At first the novelty of being back home again is wonderful, but gradually he comes to realise that he’s not the only one who has been ‘growing up and away’, and some of the etiquettes that he was used to are no longer important, and others have taken their place.  Life within the family seems more complicated, and, if he has a father, then it can be difficult to be told what to do again after all the independence to which he’s been accustomed.  And, don’t forget he now finds himself often embroiled in the quarrels that arise within the families, and, if he tries to be a peacemaker this task can be exhausting... and time consuming.  Sometimes he may also feel pulled between the family he was born into and his new family, and a wise woman is one who never puts him in a position where he feels he has to choose.  Not to mention the extra chauffeuring he will be expected to do, especially on special occasions like weddings – expect to become a ‘wedding widow’ at these times!

Le Jardin D'Essai

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