Thursday, 24 December 2015

Eid Al Adha 2015

Cakes left over from a wedding and gifted to us - LOVE the tajine dish!
Every Eid we have had since we moved to Algeria has been different, and what has made each one unique is the variation of people with whom we have celebrated - different in-laws each time, but this year Eid Al Adha was markedly different in that we celebrated it as a family on our own.  This wasn’t what we had planned, but then man plans and Allah is the Best of Planners.

I was really looking forward to a lovely relaxing Eid al Adha (or as they call it here in Algeria – Eid Al Kabeer, the Big Eid).  We didn’t have enough money to buy a sheep so we didn’t have all that work to prepare for, and instead I was looking forward to spending a nice relaxing morning with the boys doing the rounds of the neighbours to help out if necessary, with me sitting drinking coffee and reading, and then a trip into my mother-in-law for a dinner not cooked by me (what a treat!), and then back home for a lovely relaxing evening with the family.  What could go wrong????

Two days before Eid my husband received a call from a friend who, when he found out in the course of conversation that we were not having a sheep this year, told my husband to go to a particular place and get a sheep for which payment was already made.   My husband didn’t understand what exactly he was talking about but decided to go and find out anyway.  And….what was my reaction to this unexpected gift???  Gratitude? Amazement at another’s kindness?  Praise to Allah for His mercy on us????  Erm…….no….not a bit of it.  Yours Truly’s reaction was to feel sick to the pit of my stomach as I watched my vision of the Perfect Eid slowly fade away, and instead be replaced by one of work, blood, gore, poo (the sheep’s that is I hasten to add!)and lots and lots of water and cleaning. ‘What’s the point – it’s not going to be ‘our’ sheep anyway as we didn’t buy it so why bother with all the work when we won’t get the blessing of it’ and on and on I went….as only I can do.  My husband, to give him his due, didn’t argue, just sympathised with me but  nevertheless went on his merry way to seek out this sheep, the downfall of my Perfect Eid. 

We had a very special guest (happy to say a two legged one)that day who we took, along with her children, to the beach for afternoon chocolate cake and doughnuts in the beautiful autumnal sunshine.  We returned to find the sheep happily ensconced in our front courtyard munching away…….on my fledgling olive tree and making short work of it and my other plants.  I so wanted to slaughter it there and then…..and my husband along with it, but refrained and instead made do with getting them to tie it up away from what was left of my plants.

This sheep was a quiet, placid, well behaved one as sheep go – it didn’t strain at its restraints or bleat all night long, but just happily accepted its fate, sitting in straw in the corner under a window and munched away – the noise is very evocative of children munching on crunchy breakfast cereal....chomp, chomp, chomp.

Love this drive into my in-laws.  Often I can't believe I actually LIVE here!
Eid day came and, after the prayer, once the children had fortified themselves with homemade chocolate cake and biscuits it was all hands on deck.  My husband, following the Sunnah didn’t want anything to eat or drink until he had slaughtered the sheep, which he did with his customary care and kindness – stroking it and calming it and not letting it see the knife, not even for a second and, once he had done the deed everyone had their part to play.  One kept the knives sharp with our electric knife sharpener, another poked a hole under the skin and started to blow it up so that it could be removed easily, another was cleaning up the blood from the slaughter, and then it was a group effort to remove the skin with everyone joining in….everyone except me.

First I cleaned up the front courtyard where the sheep had been sleeping and then hosed it down and left it to dry.  As I did so I could hear all the arguing, exclaiming and bursts of laughter from the central courtyard and I felt so grateful for this blessing, because even though it didn’t feel like a celebration of the kind to which I was accustomed in my childhood….you know, the kind with presents, lovely new clothes, decorations, etc. it felt like it in a new, different way, where everyone pulled together to get the job done and had fun in doing so.  Some families play board or card games…we…..slaughter and cut up a sheep.  In the end the same result…..quality family time together and at least we get to eat the results Alhamdulilah. 

Then  I was busy preparing food in the form of chicken roasting in the oven, chips, salad, to go with the liver, heart and other innards which would be fried up and served on a bed of fried onions along with lovely crusty French baguettes.  The children commented on each organ as it was removed and, as I felt them, still warm, in my hands I felt a deep gratitude to Allah, first for this wonderful food, and then to the sheep who had been sacrificed in the most humane way possible, so that we could have this wonderful meal Alhamdulilah.  I also said a lot of ‘astaghfirAllah’s for my initial reaction to Allah’s risq and blessing to us.

Once my boys and my husband had finished with our sheep they went across the road to help the neighbour with his one.  He had a new son-in-law who was willing to do the job, but our neighbour insisted that it wasn’t Eid if my husband and boys were not involved so they waited until they were free.  So sweet especially considering that, 11 y ears ago, they didn’t know we existed.  Just goes to show you don’t have to live a lifetime on the same street to become good neighbours Alhamdulilah.

And perhaps the one thing that cast a special glow over the whole day was the simple but moving reason we received a ‘free’ sheep in the first place - A man gave away 20 sheep in memory of his father who had passed away.  We don’t know this man, or who his father was but, in an age where everywhere you look, newspaper and TV news headlines, Facebook updates etc.  there is so much negativity, Allah with this one simple act, blessed us with the knowledge and hope that there is always more good than bad in this world.  Alhamdulilah.

On our way into my in-laws the 2nd day of Eid.  The rectangular building is the El Aurassi Hotel

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Algerian Residency

Alhamdulialh I finally got my 10 year Algerian Residency after 2 years, 7 months and a few weeks….but who’s counting.  I signed and paw marked in triplicate and now it’s ALL MINE!!!!  The policemen (yes….men…they were a jovial crowd) laughed and said they’d all be retired next time I came in.  I’ll miss them…I’ve seen them every 3 months for the past 2 and half years, more often than my own family in Ireland.  I am so excited at ALL the things I can do with it – I can leave the country, and then come back…..and …then…leave again…..and then…come back again. Admittedly I could do this before with the temporary residency paper, the récépissé , but usually received funny looks and a few ‘wait here a minute while I check’s as they gingerly held the ancient artefact with the countless  renewal date stamps and numerous folding creases that looked like it was going to disintegrate at any moment.  And maybe once in a while the school might allow me to sign something for one of the children, so that I can feel like I am of some use after all. 

I had heard that they were stopping the 10 year Residency and I know one sister who has lived here longer than me, who received a 2 year one instead of a 10 year one, and she was told that she should hang on to her récépissé to prove that she had applied for it before the beginning of this year, as they were stopping the 10 year residency altogether.  Then my husband told me that a policeman friend had told him the same thing.  But when my husband asked the very nice policeman today he said that the 10 year residency is still in place and that anyone applying has to be married to an Algerian and living here for 3 years ( I had heard at one time it was 5 and another it was 7).  So it must be true….because the man in the station says it’s so, at least today anyway.  Tomorrow a different policeman, a different station…..a different story.

So now….what am I going to do with myself??? I know!!!  I think it’s just the right time to start applying for the next one.

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Life of 'Umar bin Al-Khattab (ra) - TV Series 2012 [English Subtitles]

This past Ramadan, just as we did last Ramadan, every night after Taraweeh prayers we settled down as a family and, while digging into various edible treats we watched the series of the life story of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (RA), the Companion of the Prophet Mohammed (SAWS), and the second Caliph after his death. It comes in 30 episodes and mercifully, the version my son downloaded has English subtitles. From the very first episode it dives into life in Mecca in the 7th century, and, for reverts like me, the Arabic names and the ignorance of knowing who is related to who can make it very confusing.  It didn’t help that, last year, we didn’t know how to adjust the light for the first few episodes so I couldn’t see anyone’s face clearly enough and could only identify them by their clothes…..when they changed  their clothes I was totally stuffed.  Alhamdulilah we managed to adjust the picture and all their faces came into focus, and then it was a challenge trying to remember who was the son or brother of whom.  The man who acts as Omar is an unknown actor…..for good reason….he can’t act for nuts, but that’s okay because so much of what he says are Omar’s own words (not all though – there are times when it’s obvious that a point is deliberately being made, a good point maybe but nevertheless not something that Omar himself said) and, he was such an interesting person with a unique view on life that he grabs your attention almost from the beginning.  Admittedly there are a lot of minutes spent on him as an old man sitting on a horse looking back, reminiscing on his life, or travelling very s….l….o….w…..l….y on a camel, at which point my husband irately would ask to ‘fast forward’, and this in addition to me asking ‘who is that again?’ meant that the 40 minute episode usually lasted a lot longer……with the kids patience proportionately decreased. 

I cannot recommend this series highly enough. Right from the beginning it grabs your interest as it shows the huge dilemma that the Prophet (SAWS) and the Message posed to the elite in Mecca – their agonising discussions on what to do with him, their plots and plans which usually backfired, and the fear of those first Muslims in disclosing their faith in this ‘new’ religion to their families.  For me it was so refreshing to see these Companions of the Prophet in their true light – they were……well…….like the rest of us.  When we read about the lives of the people on whom the Prophet (SAWS) could count on as his companions we can often be misled into thinking that they were so perfect that we could only hope to emulate them, when in fact they were as human as the rest of us and also, refreshingly, as diverse.  They each had their strengths and weaknesses, and they did not change miraculously overnight into perfect people once they accepted Islam.    Their strengths before Islam were their strengths after Islam, but so were their weaknesses and these they had to work on just like the rest of us.

Of course they had the huge blessing of the Prophet (SAWS) among them to guide them and inspire them to be better human beings.  Although we also have his guidance and, of course, the Message from Allah, the Qur’an, we don’t have this blessing, but then, we don’t have the huge tests that those first Muslims had to endure either.  I cannot imagine what it must have been like to have to go out in battle and see your own family – father, brother, son, uncle, cousin, nephew, former close friend – as your enemy and have to fight them for the sake of Allah.  And we’re not talking about cowardly suicide bombers, or those cowards who plant a bomb and then run and hide while it goes off and kills scores of innocent people, or snipers who hide behind their guns at great distances – never mind those who sit in comfort while firing off long range missiles that decimate whole villages and towns.  No…..we’re talking about hand-to-hand combat for sheer survival with those whom they loved….and probably still did as you cannot turn love off like a tap. 

The series shows how the Message of the Qur’an blew like a wind through Mecca changing its inhabitants forever. How it travelled from land to land through people who were willing to make huge sacrifices, and through its core Message which attracted people from all walks of life.
The surprising thing for me were the moments when I actually felt what the first Muslims were going through – that feeling of realisation that THIS is it…..this Message makes sense and gives meaning to everything….even the most meaningless event in life.  At the same time how do you turn around to those you love, who have cared for you and always looked out for your best interests, and tell them that you no long believe in what they believe and in what they have inculcated in you all your life.  Not only that… do you tell them that you are afraid for them and their souls?  I have to admit that, at times, I sat quietly in tears, while the rest of my family watched because it brought back a lot of memories for me and…..a lot of regrets.

But it’s not all doom and gloom….in fact the series is more about how Islam changed Omar (RA) from the person he was, into an Islamic version of himself, and the same with the rest of the Companions.  There is one father, and his two sons who made us laugh every time they had a scene together.  You can so well understand the father’s frustration when first one son becomes Muslim and then the other.  One son is a lot more vocal while the other is more conciliatory but the dialogue between the three is really amusing, and also quite touching. 

The series filled in a lot of the blanks in my knowledge of Islamic history, provided a timeline of events and the story lines on various personalities filled them out as real people rather than the cardboard cut-outs that they sometimes come across in books.

For me, watching this series developed a real connection between me, in the here and now, and those who lived then, a sense of continuance, a sense of familiarity, and a sense of love and appreciation for all they did so that I could live the life I do today.

Of course it helps a lot when you have someone who understands Arabic and has some knowledge of Islamic history beside you when you are watching it as they can fill in some very interesting details: there was the time when Omar (RA) was emigrating to Madina, and the people of Mecca were imprisoning people to stop them from going.  He stood in the main public area and announced that he was emigrating and that anyone who wanted to leave a bereaved parent, wife or child could try to prevent him!  What it didn’t say was that he brought something like 20 others with him, people who were in a much weaker position and who would never have been able to emigrate without his protection.  When it showed Hind’s fear of facing the Prophet after having his uncle killed in battle, one of my daughters told me the story of when she made her pledge to the Prophet (SAWS) along with all the other women in Mecca, she was so embarrassed that she covered her face so he wouldn’t recognise her, but, of course he did.  When he (SAWS) asked them if they had any questions she asked so many and was so impertinent that she made Omar laugh!  The series itself kicked off many interesting discussions between us as a family, from which I, myself, learnt a lot…..not least that somehow…..despite me….my children know quite a lot about their deen Alhamdulilah!

Abu Bakr (RA) and Omar (RA) were the two closest friends of the prophet (SAWS), and they became the 1st and 2nd Caliphs respectively.  They also could not have been more different in temperament and personality – completely chalk and cheese.   They might not even have become good friends if it wasn’t for Islam, and yet they loved each other so much and had so much respect for each other.  It reminds me of all the friends I’ve been blessed to meet since I became Muslim, from all over the world and all walks of life, and how we too became good friends through a common goal – growing in faith in Islam.

It was very refreshing and also somewhat comforting to see how these people did not change into wonderful people overnight, and most of them still retained their own personalities and all of them had to work on their own weaknesses – a great comfort to those of us who despair sometimes of ever being as good as we should be.

I love the fact that 1400 years later we still wear the same clothes, fulfil the same Islamic obligations in the same manner and try to practise Islam in the same manner just as they did.  There is a sense of continuity and kinship down through the years, a real feeling of being part of the Ummah Alhamdulilah.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The kindness and goodness of strangers

It started as a day like any other.  My eldest, Sarah left home at 8.00 am to travel into Algiers with her brother.  He duly dropped her off at Tefora bus station in Algiers and continued on to his hospital appointment.  When he returned home alone just before 1.00 pm I was not overly worried.   Sarah had gone to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rouisseau, a place infamous for being somewhere people disappeared for inordinately long periods of time.

When the doorbell went at around 1.30 pm I just assumed it was my youngest son’s friend…the one who is around at our house so often we’ve been tempted to put him in our Family Book. Instead it was one of Sarah’s students to tell us that someone had found her phone and had rung them to let them know, seeing as their number was the last one she rang.   ‘How kind’ I thought…of her student and of the person who had found her phone.  My son rang her phone and arranged to go and pick it up.  Meanwhile I had visions of Sarah frantically looking everywhere for her phone, retracing her steps all to no avail…..and with no way of telling her she was wasting her time.

2.30 pm came and went and I wasn’t really worried….she may have decided to give up and go get her paperwork anyway.   3.00 pm had arrived, and no sign of her and, at this time I was supposed to be at a friend’s house for coffee, so I texted her to let her know I would be late.  By 3.15 I was becoming annoyed….why couldn’t she pop into a taxi-phone and call us?  When we first moved to Algeria 12 years ago (yup…it’s been THAT long!) there was one on every corner where you could go in make a phone call in a small phone booth and then pay when you had finished.  Now, with a mobile pressed up to every ear I’m hard pressed to remember the last time I saw one. Of course there is also the fact that mobile phones have made us practically number illiterate with few of us knowing any phone numbers by heart.  But I knew she would remember our home phone number….she had to repeat it to Algerie Telecom enough times to have it burnt into her brain.   But…there are cyber-cafes EVERYWHERE…..She could send me or her sister a message on Facebook or email me.  By 3.30 pm I was almost convinced she had been kidnapped and sold into white slavery.  I say ‘almost’ because the only thing holding me back from the brink of insanity was the knowledge that she had lost it in Tafora, one of the busiest bus stations in Algiers, and the upside of Algerians being so interfering and nosy caring and curious is that there is no way anyone could be attacked in broad daylight in such a busy place without several people intervening.  And there was also the fact that no Algerian kidnapper worth his salt would leave a perfectly good iPhone behind
 At 3.40 pm she finally sauntered in the door and I didn’t know whether to hit her or hug her.  The day, of course, had been so very different from her perspective.  She had realised she was missing her phone within fifteen minutes of dropping it, but was almost convinced she had dropped it in the car….of course she couldn’t ring her brother to check.  So she retraced her steps back to the bus station and looked up and down the footpath where she had walked.  There was a cleaner nearby so she asked him if he had seen it, and he told her he hadn’t but…she could ring her number with his phone.  I’m amazed she knew her own number but she did ring and it rang out.  She thanked the cleaner and walked back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where she spent the rest of the day.   If you know anything at all about this place you will know that in terms of awfulness it comes close to being sold into slavery.  It is notorious for its ineptitude and inefficiency , and, as a result it’s like a monster that swallows people whole and spits them out in pieces.  People enter these premises perfectly sane and calm and come out as total lunatics spitting fire.

When she finally was reunited with her phone she saw she had 24 missed calls between the first time she had used the cleaner’s phone up until lunch time…. The cleaner had taken it upon himself to try and make contact with whoever had picked up her phone (I don’t think there was much cleaning done as a result!).  But it seems that it was an older gentleman who had picked up the phone and not knowing how to answer it had left it ring, although not without opening some apps in his first few attempts to answer the darned thing.  When he arrived home he handed it to his son who contacted Sarah’s student (and also finally answered the cleaner’s call!).

So all’s well that ends well.  Sarah was reunited with her phone and I burnt a few calories pacing the floor with worry while also making it to my friend’s home for coffee where I had a lovely afternoon (adding on all the lost calories) with a few other friends.   And… of all……our faith in the innate goodness and kindness of strangers, in general, and Algerians in particular, was strengthened.  Alhamdulilah…there is always more good than bad in this world.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Ramadan 2015

Over the years I have come to really love Ramadan in Algeria.  I love the totally different atmosphere created by the fact that the vast majority of the population are fasting from just before dawn to dusk.  This year it started on 18th June just in time for the end of the main school national examinations, the Cinqueme,  the BEM and the Baccalaureate, and for the summer to really begin.  Women start stocking up on food weeks beforehand before the prices go up, and they also restock their kitchen cupboards with pots, pans, crockery and anything else necessary to ensure as easy a Ramadan as possible.   I was pleasantly surprised, this year,  that main foodstuffs did not noticeably go up in price Alhamdulilah.

As I go out and about for my shopping I’m so amazed at the good humour of most of the Algerians I have to deal with…..they almost all serve you with good humour and more often than not send you on your way with an ‘Allahinourak’ or Allahiyahafdhak’ ringing in your ears.  I love the way they ask children in the age range of 10 - 12 if they are fasting and if they reply in the affirmative they are always greeted with an ‘Allahibarek’ and praise, and sometimes even a small gift.  If they’re not fasting then that’s ok too..’they’re still young’ is usually the opinion of many.

The shops are full of foods that no self-respecting Algerian table would be without on this Blessed of all months – dried prunes and apricots to make ‘laham halou’ (sweet meat), frik (bulgar wheat) or vermicelli  and tomato puree to make ‘chorba’ (soup),  vol au vent cases, different type of cheeses, cold drinks, water etc . etc. and then the vegetable shops do a roaring trade on all kind of vegetables for the various ‘jeu-ess’ dishes (dishes with a lot of sauce/soup) and salads,  and there are always customers around the back of small lorries selling  huge water melons and cantaloupe and melons that melt in your mouth straight out of the fridge.   Then there are the small stalls that suddenly appear out of nowhere, cropping up here and there on streets outside people’s houses selling ‘mutalou’ (Algerian bread), ‘diol’ (the Algerian homemade samosa pastry) and bunches of parsley, coriander, mint and eggs.

One of the most wonderful things to happen in Ramadan is the closure of the coffee shops during the day – no longer do you have to walk out on the road to avoid walking through a coffee shop which has spread out across the pavement.  I never cease to be amazed at the number of men working out in the sun, fasting, from early morning until mid afternoon.  The workman who put the protective covering on our wall said he actually preferred to work during Ramadan, and he did work on our house all the way through the month last year.  His brother was working with him for a little while until, one morning,  my husband returned to the house with the workman and found him stretched out sound asleep on the ground with his head on the doorstep!  His wife had given birth to their first child the night before….no surprise that we didn’t see him again for the rest of Ramadan!

My husband went to England at the request of the Muslim community to which we belonged when we lived there.  They invited him to be their Imam, leading the Taraweeh prayers in the evenings, giving the Friday khutba and generally leading them in the prayers throughout the month of Ramadan.  So it was just the 5 children and me on our own for the month and so many sisters said to me that it must be a lot easier without him, not having to cook all the special Algerian foods.  To be honest, neither here in Algeria nor when we lived in England has my husband ever insisted on Algerian dishes, and neither did I feel less restricted with him gone.  I missed him….for himself…but I managed fine without him Alhamdulilah due to the fact that my kids are grown and know their way around all the convoluted systems of paperwork here.

We had a few sisters for iftaar and there wasn’t a bowl of chorba or bourek in sight!  It was lovely to sit and sip coffee and cake in the courtyard outside under the star studded sky with the Qur’an recitation wafting across the air from the nearby mosque.  We also went to my mother-in-law’s  and another good friend’s house another night which broke the routine nicely Alhamdulilah.  But we had our own lovely routine throughout Ramadan – breaking the fast at 8.20pm and starting to fast again at 3.30am left little room for anything more than eating, praying, reading Qur’an, relaxing and breakfast.  We all found it easier to stay up than to go to bed and wake up a little while later, as this made it easier to eat and to pray Fajir properly.  So this meant that we often slept until Dhuhr time.  The girls and I split up the cooking between us so that none of us spent a long time in the kitchen each day, and whereas I preferred to get all my preparations and cooking done between Dhuhr and Asr they preferred to do it afterwards.  Having all day to cook one meal and some side dishes meant that the day was free to do other things, and I felt a new sense of freedom and serenity Alhamdulilah.  Jumuah (Friday) is usually a very busy day for me, and suddenly it was as relaxing as all the other days.

One of the girls washed up after iftar while the rest of us relaxed a little, and then the boys went out to the mosque for Isha and Taraweeh prayers.  The girls and I preferred to stay at home and pray on our own giving us a chance to revise our Qur’an and, for me, to understand what I was saying and so help with my khushoo (concentration).  The boys often bought ice-cream on the way home from the mosque and then we sat down with snacks and left over food to watch the Omar Ibn Khattab  series from MBC.  It is in Arabic with English subtitles and I absolutely love it – it brings up so many interesting subjects to discuss, and it helped to boost my Iman  no end Alhamdulilah.  I have written  my own thoughts on the series in more depth which I will post soon inshallah.  Then we all went off to do our own thing, coming together for suhoor.

In the last week or 10 days I baked various goodies and put them in the freezer for Eid day….doing a little every day meant that I didn’t spend too much time on them,  especially during the last 10 most precious nights…the Best of All nights.

The days flew by so quickly and before we knew it the month was up andI was sad to see it end.  As my kids are older now I have more opportunity to read the Qur’an, say dua, pray Taraweeh and night prayers, and the peace it all brings is something unfathomable mashAllah.  Of course I didn’t do nearly as much as I could have done, and the peace I experienced was just a ‘taster’,  but I pray that Allah will help me to continue at least one good habit beyond Ramadan inshallah.

As usual we went to my inlaws for Eid day and I must admit that Eid has become more entertaining in recent years as my husband’s nieces, their children and his sister-in-law come from England so now I have someone to talk to in English, and don’t feel so much like a heap of clothes plonked in the corner.  Of course that is my own fault…’s certainly not theirs that I STILL cannot speak their language. When we first came to live in Algeria, Ramadan was a quiet affair at my inlaws, but as my husband’s nieces and nephews have all married, it has become a busy and social occasion once more with my husband’s mother and sister right as the central pivot of it all.  For me it is wonderful to have dinner served up to me and not have to lift a finger to help (I have tried in the past and there are so many other willing hands among the younger generation who enjoy the chatting over the dishes, that I don’t even pretend to argue any more).  We left in the early afternoon and came home to a lovely quiet house, a rest, a DVD and some edible goodies.  The next day we were planning to go to the sea but….we were all so exhausted that we just rested for the day instead.  And then the next day….we were all fasting again……

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

C'est la vie.....

A scene from our road one morning (excuse the awful picture....but I was trying to take it without if I was taking it!)
It’s been a while…quite a while actually but then I’ve been really busy…..trying to keep my cool in more ways than one, and stop myself from perspiring and hyperventilating  off the surface of the earth.  Ramadan has come and gone and I started a whole other post on that but life does not stop just because you’re fasting and trying to up the anti in your relationship with your Creator.  No sireeeeee…….Algeria just threw a few curb balls just to make life a little more interesting….and a whole lot more frustrating.

Losing the internet in the summer has now become an annual event.  Probably because the infrastructure just cannot cope with the increase in demand once all the kids stop school, not to mention all the emigrants home on holiday.  So when we lost our phone and internet connection I wasn’t really that surprised, but still we duly paid our Algerie Telecom office a visit to report the fault and waited an hour and half to do so.  A week later, and another one and a half hours waiting just to tell them to cut off the internet until they fixed whatever was wrong with our phone, we discovered, just in passing mind you, that we had an unpaid bill.  It appears that the postman couldn’t be bothered to deliver our telephone bill weeks earlier and we probably had been cut off, hence the first problem…and then a cable problem after that.  But do you think they could tell us this the first time???   Finally Alhamdulilah we got internet and phone, and, although the internet is not brilliant we do have some semblance of connection to the outside world….and then I go on FB….. and wonder why I bother!  Mind you…..FB is not my primary reason for having the internet.

I also had to go back for the umpteenth stamp on my temporary residency – I applied 2 years ago for a 10 year one, and I have been going back every 3 months since only for them to grant me a further 3 months extension. This time they wanted some of the paperwork renewed as it had gone out of date (because they had taken so long to process the darned thing)….along with a photocopy of my passport and, if I had them,  a couple of more photos so they could make a new temporary residency paper as my one looks like it’s been through the two world wars.  In Algeria you need to have a bag like Mary Poppins, except instead of it producing a lampshade etc. it needs to provide every piece of paper ever generated by your presence on this earth, stamped in triplicate in the ‘Baladia’ and hundreds of photos, with an electricity bill thrown in for good measure. After Ramadan I learnt, from a friend who had also gone through all the same hoops as me in her application for her 10 year residency, that she received a mere two year one and, when she queried it was sent from pillar to post until she was finally told that they have now stopped issuing the 10 year residency.  BUT if you can show that you applied before January of this year you are entitled to receive it.  So, if this is relevant to you, and you, too, receive a 2 year blue card when you were expecting the 10 year one, DO NOT give them that creased and crumpled piece of paper you’ve been carrying back and forth to the police station every three months, known here as the 'récépissé' as that is the only proof you have of your entitlement.
Are you sure you couldn't find one any bigger????
And then there were the passport forms I had ordered from the Irish Embassy in Berne – this is the Embassy responsible for any Irish citizens living in Algeria.  Don’t ask me why it has to be this particular one….except….much and all as I hate to admit it…..I think there’s some cosmic link between Algeria and Ireland….in terms of logic anyway.  I had ordered them to come before my husband abandoned me left to go to England for Ramadan so that he could get them all authorised and then post them from there.  Same postman hadn’t bothered to deliver them either, although he did look a bit (only a smidgeon mind you) shamefaced when we asked him about it – it seems the post office itself has nothing whatsoever to do with the mail…we had to hang around and speak to the postman himself, who could be found lounging around holding up the… -box.  He said he vaguely remembered something coming from abroad and went into the back of the post office and returned with….my envelope from Berne…..and our Algerie Telecom bill.

And THEN….yes there’s more….. the secondary school which my youngest son attends decided this year, in it’s not so infinite wisdom to  request that all students be enrolled for the next year… the middle of July.  So off we went to do some more paper hunting only to discover that the birth certificate he needs is no longer issued by the local ‘baladia’ and that we would need to go to the Ministry of foreign affairs in the middle of  Algiers, as he had the audacity to be born abroad. And to add insult to injury the ‘baladia’  wouldn’t accept my signature on the necessary form – they wanted to know was there someone who had a power of attorney for him!!!!!!  It seems I’m ONLY his mother and just won’t do.  By this time I was practically hissing like a viper and coiled to strike anyone else who came in my way, but the school head master very amicably agreed to enrol my son while making a note that some of his paperwork was missing.

All of this in the 30+ degree heat and fasting.  But I have to say….and yes I do have to because credit where credit is due….most of the people we dealt with….in the police station, Algerie Telecom, the school were all very kind and nice Alhamdulilah.  Of course they would have been even nicer and kinder if they  had given me what I needed in the first place, but if Algeria teaches you anything it will teach you patience and the fact that…you just can’t get everything you want in life, just when you want it.  Needless to say you do have to stay sane long enough to learn these lessons.  And Alhamdulilah for my children who had to be the ones who did all the queueing and running around while I, most of the time, sat in the car and perspired.  Of course, always looking on the bright side of life…it could have been worse….I could have expired.

I do love living beside the sea!

Saturday, 30 May 2015

An introduction to Irish......blarney

Adare, Co. Limerick
If I’d been back home to Ireland in the last 3 years this post would have been so much longer, as there are so many sayings I’ve forgotten from lack of use – there really is no point in saying something that absolutely nobody around you understands. 

I never heard my Mum (or my Dad for that matter) use any kind of bad language in her life – for her the word ‘damn’ was a swear word.  Which made it all the more unlikely to hear  the following phrase out of her mouth whenever we complained about one ailment after another:

‘You’re never without an arse or an elbow’

When you hear the same phrase over and over since you were very young you don’t question it – my Dad always entered the house after being away with ‘God Bless’  and we would reply ‘And you too’ and I had grown up thinking that was how everyone greeted each other.  It wasn’t until I realised that other people don’t use these phrases that I started to question them and when I asked my Mum what did her phrase, above, mean and where it came from she looked a bit sheepish and then, half embarrassedly said she hadn’t a clue.  I had never heard anyone else use it but discovered in my research that in actual fact it is a fairly well-known Irish phrase, so it’s ok Mum….you weren’t quite as dotty as we thought!   Not quite…..

Another of her favourite phrases was one my sister said she only ever heard my Mum use and that is a ‘noodie nawdie’, as in  ‘she’s a right noodie nawdie’ – she’s a right oddball.  However, again, it is a well- known Irish phrase originating in the Irish language.

Lord save us and guard us!  Said when surprised at something…usually not a good surprise.

What an a ‘amadán’ (pronounced ‘aumadawn’) meaning what a fool.

C’mere will you ask yer man for the yoke there  - when you can’t remember the name of the man or the thing you want.

I was shopping in Cork the other day – ‘the other day’ could range anywhere from yesterday to 10 years ago.

Back the road….in the total opposite direction to ‘up’ or ‘in the road’, and woe betide those who would confuse the two.

When a child has hurt themselves they are often told  ‘Shur it’ll be grand before you’re married’  as if this is any kind of reassurance to a small child.

I stepped out of the house and there it was……. gone! 
She’s weak for herself meaning she absolutely loves herself
Saw ya across the street the other day but by the time I caught up with ya….. ye were gone!

A LOT of conversations start up, especially among the more mature of years, with ‘Do you know who’s dead now?  You do know him, ah you do, you DO…you’d know him to see!’

Whenever you meet up with someone whose name you have forgotten it’s no problem:  ‘Tis  yourself!’  Or  ‘Is it yourself then?’ said with great enthusiasm should gloss over any awkwardness.

More power to your elbow.  Meaning good job done, or well done

About a lazy person – if there was work in the bed he’d sleep on the floor

Ah there ya are!  Are ya back?  Erm….no…I’m just a figment of your vivid imagination!

Hold on a sec….I’ll be back in a minute

There was aytin an drinkin in it!  Meaning there was a lot of it.

Irish phone call:

How’s things now?/How’s the form?  You’re well? Ah sure nothing strange. Isn’t the weather brutal? Yeah,  I know yeah . Right. Sure go on so. Bye… bye….. bye…. bye bye bye bye bye bye

Alternative ending:   ” Good luck, good luck, good luck….. go on wha? Ok.  Go on. Bye bye bye…..…..bye”

View from my brother's garden
My brother had a Dutch neighbour who was putting in a new door in his house.  My brother, making conversation as he was passing asked him ‘how’s the door turning out?’  meaning how’s the work going so far, at which the neighbour looked at him in puzzlement and then said ‘From the inside!’

If ever stuck at a bus stop with a stranger the conversation  (and conversation there will be as there seems to be an unwritten rule never to be silent when you  can have a good ole chinwag (chat), and strangers are only friends you haven’t made yet )will usually consist of the weather, politics or religion.  You might be forgiven for thinking that, in Ireland it’s either raining or….it’s raining, but that is not so:

Sure it’s great drying weather.
“There’s great heat off that sun.”
When it’s raining lightly – it’s a soft day.
When it’s warm – it’s close         
All weather is "fierce." It can be fierce wet, fierce cold, fierce mild, fierce dry, fierce windy, fierce drizzly, fierce warm, fierce frosty, fierce breezy, fierce damp, fierce humid, fierce dead. Fierce everything, basically.

And when it does rain it can be spitting, pouring, bucketing down or lashing.

Many an Irish child has been sent off to get ‘the messages’  (the shopping), which their mammy would then put in ‘the press’ (cupboard)when they returned home.

In the past on a Saturday night all across Ireland Mammys would put towels into the hot-press (airing cupboard where the hot water boiler was stored) to warm them up for the weekly baths in preparation for Mass (Catholic Church service) on Sunday morning.

” She’s there every Sunday chewing the altar rails”  a rather fervent mass goer.

The dead arose and appeared to many (someone not seen for ages)  or as my Dad would say when I’d get up after a long lie-in…..’so there IS life after death then!’

There are no end of expressions describing those considered not to be ‘the full shilling’, or….’all there’ :

If he had another bitta wit, he’d be a half wit
If he had two brain cells he’d be twice as dangerous
Shur he’d be only half as smart as someone twice as smart as him – another one of my Dad’s favourite expressions.

She woke up like a bag of cats…..she woke up cranky    
Cmere  a while I want ya….said very fast to someone from whom you need something

Lovely stretch in the evenings. Referring to the summer evenings
The nights are really drawing in. referring to the winter coming
View from Garnish Island
Don’t come running to me if you break your leg!

Shut your mouth and eat your dinner!

Ah will ya relax will ya – shur  pressure’s only good for tyres!!

On dropping food on the floor – ‘don’t worry – its’ clean dirt’

I’ll do it now in a minute!

He’d rob the eye out of your head if you weren’t careful/ he’d rob the eye out of your head and come back for your eyelashes.

Very small meal – sure it wouldn’t fill the holes in your teeth

Sure it’s only down the road…..anywhere from half a kilometre to 10 kilometres!
To someone who answers the phone – ah so you’re at home then are ya!

If yeh die with a face like that no-one will wash yeh

I like your hair……did you knit it yourself?

He couldn’t lie straight in bed (a bad liar)

Look at yer wan, who does she think she is…the Queen of Sheeba?

Who does she think she is?  Lady Muck?

Yer man and yer wan usually refers to a man or a woman whose name you don’t know or escapes you at that moment in time.

Will you stop gawking!  Stop Staring!

When feeling nervous about something ‘I’m rattlin’

Were ya scarla?  Were you scarlet?  Were you embarrassed?

I was morta (mortified) Extremely embarrassed. And everyone in Cork is often either ‘scarla’ or morta’.

I’m in and out like a fiddlers elbow  - very busy

On the phone to let someone know you’re on the way   ‘shur I’m halfway there’ ……….and they haven’t even left the house yet. (A phrase both Ireland and Algeria have in common)

Stop the lights!  Said in surprise usually to something not very complimentary

Short hands, long pockets to describe someone who’s miserly

Your eyes are like two burnt holes in a blanket (a look brought on when you’ve had too many late nights)

That fella wouldn’t back away from the table too quick/ that fell wouldn’t back away from the table without a fight  said about someone with a good appetite.

So ……what’s the story?  Any news?

How’s the form?  How are you?

How’s the craic (pronounced ‘crack’ but with absolutely no connection whatsoever to any illegal substance!)? How are things?

He made an absolute hames (it rhymes with ‘James’) of it….a mess of it

He/She came with one arm as long as the other – didn’t bring anything to the house when they came visiting.

He/she would give an aspirin a headache

‘Ah go away!!’  or  ‘Go way outta that!’  Said in surprise at something.  When my eldest was about 6 years old she asked me why ‘Granny’ didn’t like me, and when I asked her where she got that idea, she replied ‘Because she keeps telling you to ‘go away’!

She’s got a face like a slapped arse/wet week-   someone who looks miserable

She’d bring a tear to a glass eye – someone who can move you to tears

It’s’ banjaxed’ meaning it’s broken or irreparable. 

The Jacks – the toilet

I haven’t seen her in donkey’s years….a very long time

Put the heart crossways – to give someone a fright
Macroom, Co. Cork

The guards – Garda Síochána …the Police

Ossified – drunk out of your mind

Will you stop acting the maggot?  You’re a right toe-rag!  Usually said to children when they’re messing around and being annoying

Taytos – ALL crisps, whatever brand, are called Taytos going back to when Taytos were the only crisps to be bought in Ireland.

A culchie – someone who comes from the countryside

Topper – a pencil sharpener

A sliced pan – a sliced loaf of bread

Hair like rats tails – lanky and greasy and uncombed

Between the jigs and the reels  – as in ‘between the jigs and the reels he never got there in the end’ meaning ‘between one thing and another’.

If you’re in Cork you can’t help notice that they put ‘like’ in every sentence, and if the sentence is a long one it can appear more than once: I was down the Mardyke like and I heard yar man was selling this yoke like and I thought to myself like that would look great in the sitting (living) room like.

Boy (pronounced ‘bye) is another popular ending to many a question or statement in Cork as in Are you alright there now boy? Sure that’s grand boy!  Which brings me to a Cork joke:

An Arab and a Cork man were travelling through the desert , when the Arab said I think I’ll build a city here’ to which the Cork man answered ‘Do Boy!’

Stand back and let the dog see the rabbit – another of my Dad’s old favourites, when he was about to tackle a difficult job.

He’s a right plámáser (pronounced ‘plawmawser’)/ Stop your plámásingplámás meaning to flatter or suck up.

So now….if you visit Ireland for the first time you’ll be able to talk about the weather as good as the next wan,  and you’ll  know when you’re being insulted up to the eyeballs….maybe…..because often it’s done with such charm it might go right past you!

And finally, although this has nothing whatsoever to do with Irish sayings I still think it’s amusing enough to share.  Of all the things I’ve learnt in Irish in school, the only verb that I can still successfully conjugate in the language, much to the great delight of my children,  is ‘to see’ in the present tense:

To See – Feic (pronounced ‘Feck’)

1 sg     feicim
2 sg.    feiceann tú
3 sg.    feiceann sé/ sí
1 pl.    feicimid
2 pl.    feiceann sibh
3 pl.    feiceann siad

Can’t think why this has always stayed with me…..along with the Irish word for….word…..’focal’ (pronounced ‘fokkal’).
West Cork

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The joys of being an odd-ball

Ever since I was very young I’ve always considered myself to be…well….not to put too fine a point on it….odd!!!  I know that each one of us is a unique individual, and as a result, we may each appear odd to others at times, I’ve always felt my personality borders on the downright weird, and I have thought maybe it’s my background.  I mean, what’s the point in having a slightly (some might think that was an understatement)  unorthodox  upbringing if you can’t use it to hang all your most undesirable traits.  At the same time….I do think I hide it well......most of the time. 

Then a few years ago my eldest daughter, Sarah informed me that I was an introvert.  I immediately dismissed it as hogwash – I had the idea that an introvert was someone who was shy and quiet, and seeing as I could talk the hind legs off a horse with anyone, including those with whom I have no common language, I certainly didn’t fit the bill.  But then she said something that totally resonated with me – extroverts are people who, after socialising, return with a buzz and a real feel-good factor, whereas introverts return from the same situation with a desperate need to wind down and be quiet and alone.  Sometime after this I saw an article on Facebook entitled something on the lines of 'the 23 signs you are an Introvert', and when I went through them 19 of them were so me, and it was a light-bulb moment for me – there was a name for what I was and..... it wasn’t ‘peculiar’!

Recently Sarah did the Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typological approach to personality tests (can be found here) first for herself and then with my eldest son and other daughter, and then she turned her attention to me.   I found some of the questions difficult to answer as it wasn’t always clear to me exactly what they meant, so we had quite a few discussions and a lot of laughs.  Finally I got my result – ISFJ but with a margin of only 1% between  Sensing over Intuitive and very high introversion, some of the personality characteristics of both INFJ and ISFJ could apply to me, with stronger leanings towards INFJ.  I did the test again on my own, going with my gut instinct this time when answering the questions and came out with almost the exact same result!

And it has been a revelation to read a description of me by someone who has never met me!

They are notoriously bad at delegating ("If you want it done right, do it yourself"). And although they're hurt by being treated like doormats, they are often unwilling to toot their own horns about their accomplishments because they feel that although they deserve more credit than they're getting, it's somehow wrong to want any sort of reward for doing work (which is supposed to be a virtue in itself). That’s me!

ISFJs make pleasant and reliable co-workers and exemplary employees, but tend to be harried and uncomfortable in supervisory roles. It may come as a surprise to some…but in reality…..I hate telling people what to do!

They hate confrontation; if you get into a fight, don't expect them to jump in after you. You can count on them, however, to run and get the nearest authority figure.  I will do my very level best to avoid a confrontation at all costs, or to diffuse one, however that does not mean that I don’t blow up every now and then when the pressure builds to breaking point.

They are, in fact, sometimes mistaken for extroverts because they appear so outgoing and are so genuinely interested in people -- a product of the Feeling function they most readily show to the world. On the contrary, INFJs are true introverts, who can only be emotionally intimate and fulfilled with a chosen few from among their long-term friends, family, or obvious "soul mates." While instinctively courting the personal and organizational demands continually made upon them by others, at intervals INFJs will suddenly withdraw into themselves, sometimes shutting out even their intimates. This apparent paradox is a necessary escape valve for them, providing both time to rebuild their depleted resources and a filter to prevent the emotional overload to which they are so susceptible as inherent "givers." As a pattern of behaviour, it is perhaps the most confusing aspect of the enigmatic INFJ character to outsiders, and hence the most often misunderstood -- particularly by those who have little experience with this rare type.  This explanation is one that probably best describes me.  If I don’t go to an event it’s not because I won’t enjoy it or the interaction with people.  I know, for a fact that I will have a wonderful time,  but I choose to stay at home, alone, because I need that more, I need my alone time to recharge my batteries, or I’m in danger of burn-out and becoming stressed.

Usually self-expression comes more easily to INFJs on paper, as they tend to have strong writing skills.  This is SO me!!!!  I don’t know anyone else who would prefer to write to someone rather than to talk to them on the phone.

There were other observations that I recognised in myself but….as they were of the more complimentary nature I just could not bring myself to copy them here.  I just ….could….not.

Obviously you cannot take the millions of people in the world, add to them the millions upon millions of people who have lived since our time began, and just squeeze them all into 16 personality traits.  There is so much more that defines who we are, how we perceive the world and how we react to what happens in our lives.  We are, each of us unique, so much so that all of us, at one time or another will have that feeling of total isolation where we feel as if nobody else can possibly understand us in the same way as we ourselves understand who we are.  It can be overwhelming to feel that total sense of ….aloneness.  But, I think, this is not something to be feared but actually something to embrace and rejoice in because it is the perfect representation of our uniqueness – there has never been anybody else in the world who has ever been the exact same as each one of us (in my case some may breathe a huge sigh of relief!).   It has always seemed so strange to me that, in a world where individuality and being your own person is so highly valued, at the same time there is a huge pressure to conform to the norm.

But just as being male or female has a bearing on how we view the world, I think these tests can help to enable us to become more self-aware and,  personally for me, have helped me to be more true to myself and not look on some of these traits as something for which I have to apologise.  Even more importantly they have helped me to understand some of the traits I have seen in those closest to me which previously I could not comprehend and caused me to take personal affront.  We all had such a laugh while doing these tests…..there were so many ‘a-HA’ moments and, as a result, I think, a deeper tolerance and acceptance of each other inshallah.

If anything, these tests have revealed to me yet another facet of the wonderful intricacies of Allah’s amazing creation.  MashAllah.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

A day in the life....

Pitta bread ready for the oven

Have you ever had one of those days when you know that you would have had a more productive day if you had just stayed in bed?  First I put the bread maker on to make Pizza and realised I had put in the ingredients for pitta bread instead.  So now……I have 8 pitta bread, because, of course, I just had to double the quantity…and the blunder.  I still have to make the Pizza dough because I have nothing to put in the pitta bread as yet.

Then, as I was minding my own business (not very well I’ll admit) I heard this very peculiar noise from the back garden.  It sounded like someone cranking a piece of scaffolding or something like that, and when I looked I just couldn’t believe my eyes!  What is it with our garden and birds???  Last year it was Moriarty the seagull and this year it’s a ……turkey (Actually.....NOT a turkey but a guiinea fowl as corrected by a lovely reader in the comments below, mashAllah) !  I just have this nasty suspicion that someone is trying to tell me……I’m for the birds.  Tell me something I don’t know.  Then, as I was trying to take a photo of the flamin’ thing my camera wouldn’t work and I think that the memory stick has gone kaput.  And….to cap it all….I burnt my milk saucepan.  It was wet, I NEEDED a cup of milky coffee so I put it on the cooker to dry before I put the milk in and ….promptly forgot about it until I smelt it. All of this before 9.30 am.  I really wished I’d stayed in bed.  So now I’m going to make pizza and then I’m off to do my spring cleaning.  I mean….what can go wrong with a bucket of hot, bleachy, suddy water and a cloth??? 

You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to give the kitchen in this house a really good scrub.  The problem is not with its size but more to do with its popularity.  There is ALWAYS someone in it needing something to eat, or drink or put the kettle on.  I have always really admired the way Algerian women in small over crowded apartments just bulldoze their way to a clean home every morning, cleaning everything in sight and not letting anything or anyone get in their way.  I just don’t have that knack so a simple scrub turns into an all day job.
Loquat fruit tree or Mishemsha as it's called here in /Algeria

But the upshot of my inauspicious morning is that the guinea fowl flew off, only to return briefly at coffee time, my camera memory card works on my daughter’s laptop so my son’s pictures of his visit to the countryside are not all lost Alhamdulilah, the pizza went down a treat and everyone’s looking forward to pitta bread for tea, and the Loquat fruit tree (mishemsha in Algerian derja) in the front yard and the fig tree in the back yard are both bearing fruit Alhamdulilah. Soon after we moved into this house my youngest was at a neighbours' house devouring their mishemsha when the lady of the house told him to plant the seeds in his garden and the picture above is the result mashAllah.   The fig trees were already in the garden when we moved in and both fruit trees have withstood total neglect on one hand or too much water on the other,  on my part, and total abuse by various workmen down the years Alhamdulilhah. April!!!!!

Friday, 13 March 2015

Not only 'mad dogs and English men go out in the midday sun'

The view from the end of our road

Over the years we have had various guests from abroad who have bravely ignored all the dire warnings about the dangers of travel to Algeria, and have come and stayed with us and created some very happy memories with us. 

One group who came to stay with us for 8 days were of Pakistani origin but born and brought up in Kenya, after which they moved to UK from where a few of them moved on to Canada.  The only man in the group was a very good friend of my husband in England and he and his English wife had shown us a lot of kindness and support throughout the years we lived near them.  He brought along his two sisters, one of whom travelled from her home in Canada along with her 16 year old daughter.

One of my favourite views coming into Algiers Center from 'our  side
The morning after they arrived the two sisters were up on the terrace supposedly admiring the view of the sea but instead looking down into our neighbour’s back garden and shouting down ‘Asalaam Alaykum’ to them at the top of their voices…..neighbours we had very little to do with up to this point.  Soon after they went out to go down to the sea but somehow managed to wangle themselves an invite into the very same neighbour’s home which was in the opposite direction, bringing back home a plate of goodies. This was just the first morning and I started to wonder if our fragile relationship with our neighbours was going to survive their visit.

Their enthusiasm for soaking up as much as they could of the unique atmosphere of Algeria was, admittedly infectious and rather endearing, and they had a wonderful sense of humour which meant a lot of laughter echoed throughout the house.  The two sisters were older than me and, like all sisters, bickered which sometimes bordered on the point of a full-blown row, in the middle of which they would often stop and invite me to sit between them and relax.  I stared at them disbelievingly and told them I’d be safer sitting in a war zone!  They often chatted away in Urdu and then would turn to one of us and ask ‘what do you think?’  I dared not tell them.

Everything seemed to remind them of somewhere else…Dubai, Saudi, Kenya…etc.  Funnily enough nothing reminded them of Pakistan because contrary to their outward appearance and obvious Pakistani cultural preferences…none of them had ever set foot in Pakistan.  A few times it was on the tip of my tongue to say it all reminded me of Algeria but I kept quiet, and had my revenge when a few years later they returned to Kenya after many years absence and drove their brother mad by saying how much everything reminded them of…..Algeria!!!! 

Ketchaoua Mosque, Algiers
They loved everything and, to be honest even though they were exhausting in their wish to see most of Algeria (we are talking about a country 9.8 times the size of mainland UK) in 8 days, they were easy to please.  As fast as I chopped carrots for the dinner, they ate them exclaiming with every bite how they hadn’t tasted carrots like that in years.  The ate everything I put in front of them….as long as it was accompanied by a dish of rice and they were very much hands on in helping with the cooking and the washing up.

There were many times when we were outside and I was so grateful for wearing a niqab…for all the wrong reasons.  They totally ignored the fact that English and Urdu are not universally spoken or understood here in Algeria and just chatted away to every shopkeeper and vendor nevertheless.  They decided that they just HAD to make ‘mandazi’s, something my sister had introduced us to years ago, which were the Aisan version of a doughnut, but whereas my sister’s recipe did not include coconut it was essential in their recipe.  So off we went hunting down the crucial and very elusive coconut milk.  They would walk into a shop and ask for ‘halib’ and be shown the long-life milk cartons and then they would say ‘no, no…..we want COCONUT halib’ which invariably elicited a blank stare from the poor beleaguered shop-keeper.  Eventually it occurred to me to point to a Bounty bar and ask them for ‘halib’ made with that…and hope they didn’t bring out a chocolate milk carton.  Oh no…they didn’t have that kind of milk, but wait here a minute and they would go down the road and ask in the next shop if they had any.  So many times it went like that….the Algerian shop-keepers were so eager to please the foreigners and find them what they wanted.  We never  did find the coconut milk and they had to make the wretched things without them, which tasted fine to me.  Of course they couldn’t just make them with anything I had in my kitchen…….they needed a ‘tawa’ or griddle which they just had to borrow……… from the neighbours.

The Port of Algiers
They were very vehement in their desire to see the Sahara – coming to Algeria and not going to the Sahara was like going to Mecca and not visiting the Kaaba….their comparison….not mine.  So they piled into our car in the very early hours of the morning along with my daughter (and the flamin’ mandazis), and my husband drove them the 10 hours drive to the Sahara.  While my husband collapsed in a heap and slept for a while they spent their time walking around the beautiful sand dunes and taking pictures of themselves and the camels and picking up Desert Roses, which are natural formations of sand in the shape of roses.  They ate at the home of someone who was a friend of a friend of my husband, because, in Algeria everyone is a friend of someone.  They were offered a place to stay for the night but our guests were adamant that they wanted to return ‘home’.  So my husband drove them 10 hours journey back to our home, stopping once for a little rest on the way.  Our guests soon felt the full force of the lyrics of a song ‘mad dogs and English men go out in the midday sun’, when they became really ill on the journey home suffering from sun stroke and dehydration.

They recovered quickly to attempt to see the rest of Algeria in the remaining time of their holiday and when they did leave, we all collectively collapsed in a heap.  But… be honest…..I would have them all back again tomorrow because, simply, they loved it here, they appreciated our efforts and they were very good fun, which is all I ever ask of a guest.

Port of Algiers

Saturday, 7 February 2015


I am not in the least bit squeamish about most creepy crawlies apart from cockroaches, or ‘grillos’ as they are called here in Algeria.  I used to be absolutely petrified of spiders when I was younger and could not go to sleep once I knew there was one in my bedroom no matter how small.  As soon as my Mum heard me call her in that frantic tone she knew immediately ‘it’s a spider’.  There’s nothing like moving to a country where there are cockroaches and geckos to help see spiders in a rather harmless and kind of mind-their-own-business frame of mind…I might even go so far as to say that they almost seem nostalgic.

I have never minded ants…..actually I’ve always rather liked them.  They are hardworking and industrious and mind their own business…..until now.  Now……they are driving me, literally, up the walls.  We’ve had them in the kitchen and the bathrooms in previous years and they were annoying but not to the point where they drove me crazy…..until this year…..when they, in their hordes of millions, decided to make numerous homes in the brickwork behind my kitchen walls and around my kitchen counters.  At first it was a case of clearing a few off the kitchen counter between the cooker and the sink…the one I use the most.  I used to spray them with a mixture of bleach and water, but after a few incidents where one of my daughter’s favourite tops had a red, discoloured line where it came into contact with the counter top, I switched to vinegar and water which was a lot kinder on my family’s clothes, but had the same effect on the ants….although unfortunately only a temporary one.  They obviously went off and regrouped and started to come out in their hundreds…..they were on two of the counters, the cooker top and the sink. 

Now I must admit to feeling a bit guilty about my absolute wish to totally annihilate every ant in my home.  But it did start to feel as if these little creatures were taking over my whole life.  In my Aqeedah class we were studying the Prophets and our homework was to research one of the Prophets.  I chose Solomon and found myself even here immersed in ………. ants...... because in the Qur’an, in Surah An-Naml  Allah tells us about the Prophet Solomon (May Allah’s blessing be upon him) who had the ability to communicate with the animals and birds.  He was travelling through a valley with his army of soldiers and he overheard an ant warning all the other ants to return fast to their homes in case Solomon and his men would tread on them by accident.  So of course I felt like a big giant ogre battling tiny armies of ants and I felt bad. 

One of my friends suggested talking to the ants.  Yes….tallking….to….the……ants and asking them nicely to leave my home.  She told me that her husband had done that and that it had worked for them.  Well…..I decided to do my whole ant whisperer thing and I asked the ants, nicely, to leave my house….I asked in English, I asked in derja, I asked nicely, and I asked firmly and then I threatened…..and the ants totally ignored me and continued on their merry way taking over my kitchen.  Another friend suggested I do what she does and just sweep them up in a dustpan and throw them out into the garden.  I had visions of me telling my family that there was no food cooked because I was too busy ushering hordes and hordes of ants out into the garden.   I would come downstairs in the morning and the first thing I had to do was to do battle with the ants – they were all over the sink, all over the counter and the cooker top. Everything seemed clear until I started chopping up meat for dinner or one of the children left a jammy knife lying around and suddenly my chopping board or the knife was totally covered in ants that appeared to come out of nowhere.  Who knew that ants loved raw chicken, turkey and meat?  I always thought it was only sweet things that attracted them.

So I sprayed and sprayed and then got crafty and, after doing some online research I placed little mounds of icing sugar mixed with equal portions of bicarbonate of soda to entice them to eat the latter and bring it back to the nest and kill the lot of them.   I waited and waited for it to work, and I watched as crowds of ants happily dived in probably thinking all their birthdays had come at once.  Then I began to have a sneaking suspicion that slowly but surely became a certainty, that these ants were having a laugh at me.  I could almost swear that I saw them waving at me from the mounds of white goodies I had so generously donated to them and I’m sure if I had Solomon’s (may Allah’s blessings be upon him) gift of being able to hear them, I would hear them shouting  ‘PARTAAAAAAAAAY!’

Having done my research and watched them for hours (at least it felt like hours) and learning more than I ever wanted to know about them, I will be honest and say that they are really amazing creatures, mashAllah.  Their power of smell must be phenomenal as they have proved to me so many times.  One day I was chopping meat for the freezer and did it on the table which, with no connections to any counter or worktop is the one place I feel I can put food with the security that ants won’t be able to get at it.  I could not believe my eyes when I suddenly noticed a crowd of them on the corner of the table.  When I investigated I saw that they had traveled across the kitchen floor, up the chair, and from there, climbed up the tablecloth the end of which was just barely touching it, and up onto the table.  Another time they climbed across the kitchen floor, up the side of the freezer and across the top to reach a small opened container I had left there with some of my icing sugan/bicarbonate conconction……how I KNEW they were having a laugh!

So then I decided to go back to the source and I started to really study them and try to find out their exit holes.  Do you have any idea of how long it takes an ant to find its home! These creatures that  are so super-efficient in so many ways take an enormous amount of time wandering around looking for the entrance to their home.  If I didn’t know better I might almost think these ants were wandering around trying to throw me off the scent so that I would give up and go away and not discover  their little hidey holes….but they’re not that clever…..are they???.Or it could just be that they are like Algerian men…..unable to go from A to B without going via Z e.g. I send my 13 year old son out for milk from the shop that is 5 minutes’ walk away and he returns 2 hours later. He says, ‘I went to see my friend,’   who, of course, lives much further away than the shop. After quite a lot of time watching the ants I discovered them emerging from behind the tap over the sink, from three holes  beneath two of the counter worktops, along the gas pipe down onto the cooker, from a teensy weensy hole on the window sill over the sink and from the bottom of the wooden frame of the kitchen door.  Do you have any idea of how many woman-hours it took of me watching them to discover these little holes?

I then rolled up my sleeves and started mixing cement in a little box to cover up all the holes, and, in the process learnt all I never wanted to know about mixing cement….at first it seems like liquid which is great for doing the fiddly jobs like around the back of the tap over the sink, then it becomes drier and clings together a bit better which is great for bridging gaps in the cupboards under the counter.   The latter sounds easier than in actual practice because it’s very difficult to reach in under the counter worktop unless I remove the shelves and actually lie in the cupboard….with all the excess cement falling on top of me.  The only alternative was a mirror, my mobile phone, a tin of mushrooms and a tin of tuna.  I put the mirror on the shelf pointing up at the hole, I put the flashlight on in my phone and faced it too towards the hole and propped it up with a can of mushrooms on its side against a tin of tuna to stop it sliding off…..I think a tin of any kind would probably do the trick!  Then I started to fill in the holes all along the underside of the worktop, and in the other holes around the kitchen including following the gas pipe up the wall and across the top until I found where it was screwed to the wall and where the ants were emerging in their hundreds. I even went outside the kitchen into the back garden and covered up any holes I could find there from where they could enter the house.  It’s an exhausting and time consuming process and the song ’99 miles from LA’ kept coming into my head except in my case it was ’99 miles of counters and walls’.

I felt a great sense of satisfaction once I’d finished as I felt as if I’d reclaimed my kitchen, and was so happy to get up in the morning and find my kitchen ant-free.  But then…….I realised……the ants were just lulling me into a false sense of security because slowly but surely they all started to emerge again!  When I stopped pulling my hair out and screaming like a banshee I  looked and discovered that they had just moved along and found other holes from which to emerge and torment me.  So again I got out my cement and….well you know the drill.  Whenever any of the kids came into the kitchen all they saw was me either hunched down staring underneath the counter or standing in the middle of the kitchen floor staring up at the pipework at the top of the walls.  At other times I started to relay all the new cubby holes I had found or my new plan of extermination to the point that my daughter told me I was becoming extremely boring….my only topic of conversation was ants.  And when she caught me shouting ‘THERE!  TAKE THAT!  I GOT YA!’ at my miniscule adversaries she started to really worry about my sanity. 

When I found that they were emerging from the top of the wall all along the other side of the kitchen where three pipes came out of the wall at the same point I nearly cried.  They were using the pipes as some kind of super-highway where they careened along at neck-breaking speed all along three walls to climb down the gas pipe onto the cooker top (no matter how clean I kept it).  I might have found their resilience and ingenuity amazing….if only they weren’t in MY house!  I felt utterly and totally defeated because there wasn’t any way I could get my pudgy fingers into the holes between the pipes.  I also discovered something new about ants….they can excavate as I would find new holes right beside the ones I had blocked up.

So now I feel that I have no recourse left to me other than to go out and buy a gun.  Now……before you all write me off as a total lunatic with visions of me in my kitchen taking pot shots at my walls trying to shoot every ant in sight,(although I must admit it’s a very appealing thought in my ant-obsessed mind) I will elaborate and say a silicone or caulk gun and hope that this will reach into areas where no human has been before.  It’s either that or go with one of my sons’ suggestions and just blow the whole kitchen up and start again…..extreme as it sounds don’t think I haven’t considered it….in one of my manic moments.  Throughout all this battle there is one tune that keeps coming into my head ‘I WILL SURVIVE!’  But I’m not sure that’s my own battle cry….or just the ants getting inside my head…….