Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Being an oddball has its merits

The beach at the end of our road

When people, Algerians and ex-pats alike, ask me if I’m happy here in Algeria, sometimes I almost feel as if I have to apologise and explain why I am, indeed, very happy and content in my life here in Algeria.  With some women, especially those whom I meet for the first time, and who may have only just moved here and are still in the shell shocked state, I do try to make an effort to be gentle and considerate of their fragile mental state.  I don’t want anyone going away from an encounter with me thinking ‘why can’t I be like her? (Not something anyone in their right mind would usually assume in relation to me) What’s wrong with me that I can’t be happy here?’ or any other negative comparisons.  So I usually begin with the fact that, I’ve always been a bit strange or odd, not that you have to be so to be happy here, but it sure helps.

Just as in marriage, nobody moves to Algeria without a lot of baggage, and I’m not talking about the kind that fits in boxes and suitcases, but the stuff that makes up our psyche, a lot of which we are totally unaware of until something out of the norm brings it to the fore.  And, in Algeria, there are a LOT of things that are unusual to put it politely, bizarre to put it truthfully and, during those happy times when it’s easier to be positive about the country, you might even consider things to be quirky and amusing.

Your reasons for moving to Algeria are very important, dare I say it, even crucial to the success and happiness of your move.  Before you make the move to live here it’s good to remember the hadith (authentic saying of the Prophet Muhammed, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) in Imam Nawai’s book on 40 hadith: From the Amir al-Muminin Abu Hafs 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, radiya'llahu 'anhu, that he said, "I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, saying, 'Actions are only by intentions, and every man has only that which he intended. Whoever's emigration is for Allah and His Messenger then his emigration is for Allah and His Messenger. Whoever's emigration is for some worldly gain which he can acquire or a woman he will marry then his emigration is for that for which he emigrated'."  Similarly if you move here to please your husband or for the sake of  your children, then your reward will be in having pleased your husband or enabled your children to learn Arabic and live in a Muslim society.  But is that enough and…what about you?

Ok, let’s face it, very few, if any, of us grew up with a childhood dream of living in Algeria.  A lot of us probably would have been hard pushed to say where exactly the country is situated, if asked, before we totally lost our sanity and fell in love with an Algerian man. Similarly I don’t know if I would have shown such an deep interest in Islam if I wasn’t married to a Muslim.  But although I may have been influenced by him to read into Islam so as to understand him better, I didn’t convert to the religion to please him.  In the same way I didn’t move to Algeria purely for him or our children, I moved here also for me.  Which is a strange thing to say I suppose because then you might wonder….what is there in Algeria for an Irish lunatic like me.

It’s true that, at first, I was not exactly enamoured with the idea of moving here, but after a lot of thought, introspection and prayer, I made up my mind to make this move, to please Allah first and foremost, and, somehow, I just knew and believed that this move, as a result of this intention would also be of benefit to me.  It went without saying that it would benefit my husband to be near his family again and back in his own country where he was, to all intents and purposes accepted for who he was without any stereotyping or discrimination.  And it would certainly benefit our children to have a life where Islam was at the core, to learn and become fluent in the language of the Qur’an, to learn how to live in an extended family (not mine unfortunately but some family is better than none), with all the difficulties and blessings that can bring. It is also a life where the basics are not taken for granted and where children have a lot of the freedoms with which I grew up and which are lost for various reasons in a Western society nowadays.

The thing you have to remember about me is that I left home many, many years ago, not for a husband, or children, but….just to leave home.  I didn’t get very far, but London for me was just a stepping stone to an adventure that was just waiting around the corner for me.  The fact that it took me 20 years to get off the bloomin’ stepping stone is neither here nor there.  That sense of adventure and longing for something completely different to that with which I had grown up, is one of the reasons why I love it so much in Algeria.  Where other women are genuinely bewildered and lost by the contrast that Algeria provides to anything they’ve known before, for me it’s all an adventure.  But for so many women here, they left behind their families, their close friends, their security, to live an isolated life, made even more lonely by virtue of the fact that it’s in stark contrast to their husband’s life back in the bosom of his loving family.

Once Allah guided me to Islam Alhamdulilah, I met many different women from many different parts of the world, with very different cultures and traditions, and I had become accustomed to eating food from one dish on the floors (yes…… we did have dishes and a table cloth!) of friend’s bedrooms or various different mosques, trying to eat rice with my fingers (not very successfully….I could never get enough into my mouth so that I usually felt more like I was nibbling than actually eating.), and eating foods I, myself, would never have put together on the same plate, never mind the fact that I was sometimes surrounded by women with whom I could not communicate with anything other than a smile and a gesture.  In a way this was all preparation for the contrast of life in Algeria which so many women find difficult and which only adds to their feelings of being alone, isolated and strange.

Most of the ex-pat women I meet here in Algeria say that the first few years here were really difficult for them, that they felt very isolated and lonely, and some have even said that they grieved for their old life back in the country in which they grew up. I found the first 10 months here very difficult, but this was because I wasn’t in my own home, I was cooped up in a flat with no outside space in which to sit in the sunshine, the water and the electricity went off regularly, and I was so cold…..well for the first 7 months anyway.  I remember one Friday when the water had been gone for a couple of days and the washing was piling up, and the house was a tip.  My husband came swanning in from Friday prayer, lovely and clean (he’d been to the bath house for a wash) in his pristine white camis, full of high Iman having been to the mosque and listened to the khutbah, and full of the joys of life.  The contrast was just too much and I was so tired and low that I was in tears.  My husband said to me ‘well….do you want to go back then?’ and without hesitation I said ‘no, I just want better than this.’

One of the first things my husband did when we moved into the flat was to get the internet in….at a time when it was unheard of in the home, and we had to pay per minute.  But it meant that I could email my family and friends and this was wonderful for me.  When I remember back to when I moved to England I used to write to my family and friends in Ireland regularly, and I realise that this was my way of coping with being away from all I loved and missed.  It was a time before digital cameras, Facebook, and it was my way of sharing my life with those I had left behind.  It was therapy for me. 

So, I never grieved for the life I’d left behind at either time period in my life, nor did I feel lonely or isolated.   But then that’s probably because….I’m an oddball!  Once I feel at home IN my home, I’m quite happy to stay there….alone if needs be, although with a husband and 5 children all of whom are either nearing adulthood or already adults and still living at home, this alone time doesn’t come very often and is always appreciated when it does.  I’m an introvert and so quite content and happy in my own company (well the way I look at it…someone has to be!) and don’t experience the stir-crazy emotions that other women may experience here due to long periods of enforced isolation. 

However there were times when being away from home was very difficult and two occasions in particular when I experienced real grief and loneliness that were so strong they are embedded in my memory, and I will write about these another time inshallah.  I bet you can’t wait…….!!!!!
The view from the beach at the end of our road....who couldn't be happy here?

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