Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Algiers

As I have mentioned previously the English speaking ex-pat women in Algiers hold a monthly meeting on the first Saturday of every month.  I am reminded of an article I read some time ago that implied how inaccurately and discriminatory the word ‘ex-pat’, short for ‘Expatriate’ is used.  It refers to someone who lives outside their homeland, so that can mean anyone from anywhere living in a country that is foreign to them. Therefore it’s perfectly fine to say that those of us who are not Algerian and who live here are ex-pats.  But….how come then……in UK and Ireland we refer to some people from other countries (usually poorer than our own) as immigrants and not ex-pats.  Even in my own mind the word ‘ex-pats’ denoted to me, well off Europeans or Americans who go and live in another country, and not those people who come to Ireland and UK for a better standard of living, and yet we are all expatriates.  So I have had to readjust my way of thinking on the whole subject of expatriates.  Whew!  Not a bit like me to go off on a tangent is it????

ANYWAY……as I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself, the monthly meetings have been going strong for over 11 years now Alhamdullilah  I, myself, have only ever hosted one, 10 years ago (took me that long to get over it!!!), and it attracted quite a crowd despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the fact that we lived so far from everyone.  That meeting had men and women and children, because quite a few of the husbands who drove their wives to the house just hung around and my husband invited them in (despite his dire warnings to me that he was not available that day) and he and the other husbands had such a whale of a time they thought maybe they should set up their own meetings!  The following day neighbours came up to both him and my eldest daughter and congratulated her on her engagement.  After all….there couldn’t possibly be any other reason for a large group of women to congregate on an afternoon over coffee and cakes.

I had thought of holding it several times since then, when it seemed as if nobody else was able to host it, but always at the last minute someone would step up to the plate and I could breathe a huge sigh of relief.  But this time it didn’t look as if anyone was going to volunteer so I went ahead and, in a moment of temporary insanity, I invited everyone to my house.  It being January with the days so short, and knowing it was quite a distance for most people to travel, I wasn’t expecting much of a turnout – actually I had visions of it being just me and my two daughters sitting staring at each other and twiddling our thumbs.  However my friends who live in this area all rallied around and said they were coming anyway.  But then the number of women on the Facebook group interested in coming, started to grow at the same rate as my blood pressure, and then I started panicking about where I was going to put everyone. 

There is nothing like hosting an event in your home to get all those long overdue jobs and tasks done – I highly recommend it!  I had 6 days in which to prepare, so I sat with my list and organised and prioritised and worked my butt off and nagged my head off, so that when the day came I was so looking forward to seeing everyone.  I prayed to Allah that He would bless the meeting and the sisters with a safe journey… time I will be more specific in my dua and ask Him to bless them with a short journey also!

It does make things so much easier when you don’t have to provide the food (although of course I did bake for the event), only the hot and cold drinks.  I have hosted events in our home for Algerians and I found them far more stressful due to the fact that I always feel a little out of my depth and am never sure of all the etiquettes, the unspoken do’s and don’ts.  But when it comes to a monthly meeting anything goes as nobody cares very much about what’s served with what and in what cup or plate, as the women’s first priority is to meet up with each other and catch up, get new ideas and maybe get some things off their chest and, in the process, perhaps find ways and means of coping with the problems of living here in Algeria.

I moved the kitchen chairs into the living room, pushed the kitchen table into a corner, brought some extra chairs into the courtyard to make an outdoor extra seating space (Alhamdulliah the day was dry and not too cold), and prepared flasks of hot water, milk and coffee. My friends who lived locally also were very supportive providing me with extra mugs, flasks and even a coffee table barakallahu fihunna.  At one stage the living room was practically empty and the kitchen was standing room only with a whole group standing around chatting – I should have known that would be the most popular area with it being near the food and drinks!

Over 30 women and young girls turned up covering 11 different nationalities, and, although I had little time or opportunity to sit down and chat with anyone, I was able to catch up with some.  It was wonderful for me to see groups of women and girls sitting around chatting and laughing, and I felt truly grateful to Allah for the wonderful community of sisters here in Algeria, and for the opportunity to facilitate this get-together.  One of them had brought a talk by Muhammad Mukhtar Ash-Shinqitee  entitled The Goodly Life and you can find it here.   The Islamic talk has brought many benefits to the meetings – the first and foremost is the blessings as promised in the following hadith:

Abu Hurairah and Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “When a group of people assemble for the remembrance of Allah, the angels surround them (with their wings), (Allah’s) mercy envelops them, Sakinah, or tranquillity descends upon them and Allah makes a mention of them before those who are near Him.”

They have been good reminders to us all, Islamic tips on how to cope with life here as a foreigner in Algeria, and usually they bring everyone at the meeting together in a unified group for a brief discussion which adds a feeling of community to the meeting.

Among the guests, three of them had been to the original meeting in my home 10 years ago, and one of them, who had been a young girl then and was now a married woman with her own child, gave a wonderful feeling of continuity.  It does help a lot that only children under the age of two and girls over the age of 10 are allowed, and we had 3 toddlers and a baby who were as good as gold Allahibarek. 

We had asked the sisters to please park their cars on the road perpendicular to our road in order not to inconvenience our neighbours so when my husband returned from work and saw no cars parked outside our house he assumed everyone had gone home, until my youngest told him ‘go and have a look at the hall at the bottom of the stairs’ – wall to wall footwear!  And that was after two thirds of the guests had gone! The neighbours never blinked an eye at the comings and goings on that day, proof that after 10 years they have become accustomed to our odd gatherings (‘odd’ referring to both the gatherings and the guests).

And that temporary insanity I mentioned at the beginning of this post?  I think it may be more permanent than I thought because I’d be happy to host another meeting again……soon…….especially during the summer months when the days are longer.

And the day after the meeting we had one of the side benefits of hosting a monthly meeting, a Queen Antoinette Day – anyone hungry?  Let them eat cake!

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