Sunday, 11 January 2015


One of the unforeseen disadvantages of moving to Algeria is that I have seen less of the country than I did when I came here on holiday.  Somehow, the settling down process has taken every ounce of our strength and every minute of our time, and when we do get a chance to go and explore we have no money…or we have the money but work and school and University and exams all get in the way.

So when my husband suggested a fool-proof means of visiting and staying in Oran I jumped at the chance.  He had a friend (don’t they all?) whose wife was from there and her in-laws had an empty flat beside their own one and we could stay there, just a short distance outside Oran.  My eldest son, allergic to the idea of travelling that distance with his siblings and parents in the confined space of a car, decided he had more interesting things to do like catching up on his sleep and hanging out with his friends.  The two girls took some persuasion, but after explaining that no, we were not going to stay with strangers, we were going to stay beside them, and we would have a chance to explore Oran, they decided to be adventurous and come with us.  The two youngest boys needed no persuasion – a road trip to Oran?  Yipee!

When I asked my husband to ask the brother what we needed to pack in the way of kitchen or bedding equipment I was told not to bother, and so I clamped down the tiny voice of doubt in my mind by reminding myself we were only going for 2 days…what could go wrong?
A unique way of growing trees!

The day came and we were packed and ready for just after lunch time as we were to follow the brother who was going to travel down with us in a separate car to collect his wife and children who had been staying there on holiday.  So we waited for his call to say he was ready, and we waited, and we waited. We prayed Asr prayer, and when it came to Maghrib the girls and I decided we were no longer going to go because it was just too rude to land in on a family of complete strangers at midnight or maybe even later.  My husband who had been out all day returned home to a mutiny with us women unpacking and planning a nice quiet weekend without him or the boys.  When he told the brother, HE rang back and said, honestly it was no problem…we were all welcome and we must come.  After quite a bit of back and forth phone calls and heated discussions between us women and my husband, my husband informed me that the brother’s family absolutely insisted that we come.  I knew my husband really wanted me to go with him so I relented, purely to please him, but I really wasn’t happy about arriving in a strange house with  strange people in the middle of the night. The girls really didn’t want to go at this stage and I persuaded my husband to let them stay behind.  When all the children realised that I was going without either of the girls each of their reaction, from all five of them and my husband, was ‘how are you going to manage?  You can’t speak the language. How are you going to communicate with your hostesses?  You need at least one of the girls with you!’  I told them all that I was a bit on the old side to need babysitting and if this family absolutely insisted on me coming….then THEY could put up with the consequences….ME!
The Basilica of Santa Cruz

As we set off at 8’0 Clock at night I sat in the car and prayed to Allah ‘You know this is such a daft thing to do…it’s rude and I’m sorry but it’s not up to me.  I really don’t want to do this but I’m doing it purely for Your Sake.  Just help me get through it.’  My husband was full of the joys of spring on the journey down and Allah answered my dua and I managed to be civil to him the whole way!
Inside the Basilica of  Santa Cruz
We arrived in at midnight and my husband and second youngest son disappeared off into a room, and I was ushered into another room with my youngest son.  The brother’s wife and her sister both greeted me and then brought in a complete meal…chorba, main meal, bread, salad…the works.  I barely touched anything as it was late and I was tired….and extremely embarrassed.  They wanted to know where the girls were and I told them that they had stayed behind because it was too late…and was greeted with puzzled stares.  Anyway, somehow, I got through the next hour and they showed me to the bathroom and when I returned they had made a bed up for me on the canopy.  So much for staying in the flat next door!  They had made another bed for my son, and then there was a third bed made up on the floor where the hostess settled down for the night, and I realised that this was out of courtesy to me.  When I came to Algeria on holiday once, without my husband, I went and stayed with his brother and his wife and when it came to night time, for the first few nights she insisted on sleeping in the same room as me.  I found it all very odd but it was Algeria and peculiarity and abnormality was part and parcel of my observations here so I never remarked on it.  It wasn’t until sometime later, either on a forum or Facebook that someone made a similar comment and I discovered that  this was considered to be part of a hostess’s duty in ensuring the comfort of her guests, because it was considered discourteous to leave them sleep on their own in a strange house!
Inside the Basilica of Santa Cruz
The next morning I tried to communicate with my hostess and I remember so well, as she made way for me to go to the bathroom she muttered to herself ‘ma famt waloou’ (I don’t understand anything), and I burst out laughing.  She looked behind at me and when she realised that I had understood her she also started laughing and from there on in everything was fine.

I met her married daughter, her parents and we all had breakfast and then my husband, the boys and I went to look around Oran.  It was winter and the day was quite foggy so the pictures I took were not all that brilliant, but we had a good look around and bought a take-away, before returning to the house for the evening meal at our host’s insistence.

My youngest son had deserted me in favour of a much younger playmate and I was left to fend for myself, communication wise.  By the time I left the next morning, somehow,  I had managed to learn the whole family history and we had all become good friends.  That’s the thing about being Irish….we never let a little thing like a language barrier get in the way of a good story...... or getting all the 'sca' (Irish slang for gossip).

I think we caught him on a bad day!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The life of a revolving door

One of the nicer selections of patisserie cakes
When we were still in England, before we moved to Algeria I really believed that one of the big advantages for me in moving to Algeria would be all the free time I would have to myself.  Time was slower there; at least whenever I was on holiday it certainly seemed the case.

My husband told me that if I didn’t feel like cooking or baking I wouldn’t have to as there was plenty of cooked food to be bought and the patisseries shop cakes were wonderful and very cheap.  I don’t know who got more of a shock on that score, him or me, but after a few ‘take-out’s’ consisting of: overcooked roast chicken, ‘frite omelette’ which consisted of exactly that – chips and omelette in a baguette, or what they euphemistically  called a pizza, but which was, in fact, a pizza base slathered with tomato puree with a sprinkling of plastic cheese that wouldn’t melt even if you cooked the base to a cinder, or else had cream cheese dotted around it, that idea went totally out the window .  The patisserie shops usually only sold small tartlettes, sometimes with pastry that tasted of cardboard, and ‘mille feuille’ which was actually about three sheets of cardboard sandwiched together with grey custard all served up in a nice neat rectangle. Admittedly we lived outside the centre of Algiers in a place which, although a new development, was still quite conservative in many ways, and where ready-made food sold outside the home was in short supply and rather inadequate.  There were some wonderful restaurants and patisserie shops in Algiers centre and its suburbs and I had THE most delicious melt-in-the-mouth ‘mille feuille’ once when my husband’s sister-in-law treated me to one in one of the posher areas of Algiers.

 But in the area in which I lived there was very little to be had so I had to cook and bake almost every day…..and…..from scratch.  No easy shortcuts here.  If I wanted a pizza I had to make the base as well, no defrosting one from the freezer and putting my own toppings on it.  Ready-made chips were unheard of so it was a case of peeling, chipping and cooking them, no mean feat if there’s no water and the electricity has gone.  All the recipes I had from the UK seemed to have one vital ingredient missing that I couldn’t acquire here and so my daily moan became ‘what on earth will/can I cook today?’  Of course the best thing would have been to imitate the Algerians in what they cooked but my family, including my Algerian husband, didn’t like a lot of their food, which was, in many ways a blessing because some of the things they cooked were time consuming and labour intensive.  Fine, if you have daughter and sister-in-laws to help, but a real chore when it’s just one person cooking for a company of hungry gannets.

Little by little I managed to adapt, thinking ahead and planning meals, and we moved to a different area of Algiers where foodstuffs were better quality and more varied, if a bit on the expensive side.  The children were out in school or University and I got on with my busy day, and, as they grew older they helped as much as they could so life became easier…for a while.  I didn’t realise it then, but that was the best period, at least in terms of more time for me,  up to now in this whole adventure of living in Algeria.
The children grew older (and therefore bigger which means they ate more!) and somehow, from what seems like nowhere, they developed lives of their own.  At an age when they could all be helping me a lot more and therefore my life should be drifting off to that nice easier stage I had dreamt of, they are all really busy with school, University (whether travelling to and from or actually studying), Qur’an classes, teaching English, crafting sessions, football, going to the gym etc. etc. and I am left with the brunt of the work which has actually increased because now I am feeding an army of grown-up gannets where patisserie cakes go nowhere in satisfying that afternoon ‘sugar fix’ and a take-away costs a fortune and still leaves everyone wanting more.

The family car is now in demand from three drivers and, although we are all considerate of each other in this matter, it often means that my aspirations for a social life come second to more pressing matters.  It’s difficult for me anyway to try and plan any kind of social engagement because there is always something or someone to scupper my plans – with one going out the door, another coming in, I feel it’s easier to just stop still in one place and let everyone move around me.  I feel as if  I’m standing still like a door while everyone goes in and out, but at the same time moving around in never-ending circles like a headless chicken, which is where my eldest daughter, Sarah, and I came up with the perfect metaphor for my life just now….…..a revolving door.

If it seems as if I’m complaining then please understand I am most definitely not – in many ways staying at home and, by so doing, enabling my husband and children to live their lives may seem difficult, and for some people I’m sure it most certainly would be,  but for me… suits me just fine Alhamdulilah.  So….I’m not complaining…..I’m explaining why it is I don’t have as much time as I thought I would have, because let’s face it really - the only way I would have more time to myself here in Algeria than I did when I lived in England is if I left my husband and children behind!
One of our regular treats - summer AND winter!