Although Algeria is the largest country in Africa and is about 9.8 times the size of the UK mainland it rarely gets a mention in International news coverage. To be honest I knew absolutely nothing about the country when I met my husband. When he told me where he was from I thought to myself ‘he’s very light skinned for a Nigerian!’ I knew where Morocca and Tunisa was but Algeria? Hadn’t a clue! I knew nothing about the country or its inhabitants and even after we were married I could never find any books on Algeria other than the Berlitz guide which was quite interesting and useful but not from a personal point of view. Of course there were books in French but these didn’t look too exciting and seemed to be either very dry political treatises on the country or books by or about the heroes who fought for the independence of the country and their stories. I could never find anything modern, in English about what it was like to live, or even visit here, least of all anything from a foreign point of view.
Algeria doesn’t have a tourist industry as such and there are good and bad points attached to this. It doesn’t have the hawkers and the vast amounts of commercialism that a tourist industry can bring to a country, but at the same time it doesn’t have the nice restaurants and hotels either. You can’t just decide to fly to Algeria on a whim… you need a visa, and in order to acquire one you need to have an invitation from someone in Algeria. Most of the foreigners here are French ex-pats, who are of Algerian parentage, foreign wives of Algerians, and workers and students from all over the world, but especially other parts of Africa.
Because Algeria is so vast – it takes the same length of time to fly from Tamarasset in the South of Algeria to Algiers as it does to fly from Algiers to London – there are large variations in landscape with the mountains rolling down to the Mediterranean sea and the beaches in the summer, the snow in the mountains in the winter, and the vast expanse of the Sahara dessert. The people in Constantine have a very different culture to those in Oran or Algiers or the Sahara, and what can be rude in one place is considered ok in another and the traditions and even language of the Kabyle people is totally different to those of the people who live in the deepest South of the Sahara.When I first came here 10 years ago I was quite a novelty, and, although I still am in many respects, there are more and more Algerians who know someone from Europe living here. When I first arrived and people asked me why I came and how I found life here I discovered that, if I answered with a positive and happy reply, I was looked at in much the same way as people look at someone who is not ‘quite right in the head.’ And the more I tried to explain why the stronger the look. But just as the infrastructure is changing and there are more hotels and swanky restaurants cropping up, so too are people’s attitude’s changing and people seem pleased that Westerners especially are coming over here to live, and the mindset now seems more ‘and why wouldn’t you come here?’
It is sad but true that we saw more of the country when we came here on holiday than we have seen since we moved here. This has been due to spending every spare penny and any free time we have on going back to see my family in Ireland, via England, and on renovating the house. But inshallah…. we intend to change that……watch this space.