assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah, below is an interview with our dear sister in Islam, Evelyn, may Allah preserve her, amin!
Where are you from and how long have you been in Algeria?
I am from Ireland and have lived in Algeria for 12 years Alhamdulilah.
What would you never change and what would you change in Algeria?
What I would never change in Algeria:
Obviously the fact that it is a country of Muslims with Islam being the center of most things in life in one way or another – the adhan, mosques in every community with more springing up all the time, the way people answer ‘Asalaam alaykum’ always with the full ‘walaykum asalaam wa rahmatulah wa barakatu’ and usually with sincerity, whether it’s in the supermarket, the market, the doctor or dentist’s surgery or the police checkpoint on the road, the packed mosques in Ramadan and at Eid etc. etc.
The kindness and friendliness of the Algerians. I’ve had several guests from abroad who have come and stayed with us for a while, and their interactions with Algerians whether it’s my husband’s family, or shopkeepers or complete strangers, have all helped them to feel welcome and at home, and this despite the fact that most of them weren’t Muslim.
The fact that I can send the children to the local shops at any time to buy something at any time of the day, that I can buy one egg or a tray of 30, that if the children don’t have the money on them to buy something the shopkeeper will let them have it and let them pay him later, that the bread and croissants and petit pain are often delivered in the early morning before the shopkeeper opens and people will help themselves and pay him later when he opens.
What I would change in Algeria?
The education system! More on that below in my answer to another question!
The bureaucracy! I have never seen so much red tape in my life, and I can sum it up with one example – here your birth certificate expires before you do……every flamin’ year, as does your death certificate, although that probably won’t annoy you as much as it will your offspring. And any original document you have is absolutely worthless as the most important one is the photocopy of it, which has been signed and stamped in the local council offices. If your children want to join a sports club they have to run around after paperwork and signatures, not to mention medical certificates. They should make that in itself a sport – it certainly gets the heart rate going enough to qualify as one!
I would enforce the rules of the road more here in Algeria so that those who rudely overtake those who are forming a nice orderly queue and, who as a result, cause major traffic jams are fined and forced to think twice before behaving like such idiots. I would also educate pedestrians on the fact that the road is NOT their domain and they’re just allowing cars on them out of the goodness of their hearts – walking out in front of cars is not a good idea if you don’t like pain, crossing the road from around the front of a bus is not the wisest way to remain vertical, and just because a car has headlights doesn’t necessarily mean you can be seen on a dark road wearing dark clothes. That’s just for starters!
Has your way to make shopping changed since your move to Algeria? If so, in which way?
Yes and no. There are some convenience foods I used to buy that I no longer do – e.g. you can find frozen chips here but they are relatively expensive and I would need 3 packets for one meal in my family, so it’s more cost effective to buy potatoes and make them from scratch. We always bought chicken, already chopped up and divided nicely, and now I buy a whole one, with the insides cleaned out for me, but I chop it up myself. I used to buy vegetables on a weekly basis but now I’ve learnt not to buy them unless I’m going to use them within a few days as they just don’t last very long, which, annoying as it is at times, is a comfort because it obviously means they don’t use as many pesticides and chemicals as in Europe.
But I still like to go out and do one big shop on a weekly basis, something still rarely done by Algerian women who prefer to go out on a daily basis and buy what they need for that day. But whereas before I would go to Asda, Lidl and then Tesco, I now go to the grocers for all my vegetables, the ‘flour man’ for all my baking goods, the ‘chicken man’ for my chicken and two local small supermarkets to buy all the rest of my shopping. I get my daily milk and bread and other daily essentials from the little shops around the corner from me.
Do your kids go to public school? The positive and the negative things about the Algerian school education?
Yes they have all attended public schools and this has helped enormously in their integration into society here, to learn all the unwritten ‘do’s and ‘don’ts’, the social etiquettes and to make good friends in the local community whom they can see during holiday time. Maths skills and memorisation skills are honed to a fine art which can help in other areas of their lives.
But I’m afraid that the negative things far outweigh the positive and, in answer to your other question above there are many changes I would love to see made to the education system here in Algeria. I would make teachers more accountable for their actions – at the moment many of them are little tyrants and the students have no recourse to complain – if they do they are vilified by all the teachers and the administrators alike. Even in University they can act with impunity and not be called to account for their actions. A lot of people who are in the teaching profession are not in it for the right reasons, but more because it’s a job that can accommodate working mothers, or those who like long holidays, or want job security. As a result I have heard of teachers who are quite vocal in their dislike of students in general, seeing no good in any of them whatsoever, not to mention being very derogatory about Algeria itself. Not exactly the kind of role model you want for your child. There has been some improvement with regards to employment of teachers – there was a time when you could get a teaching job purely on the basis of having a degree – any degree, even if it’s far removed from a school subject or teaching itself. But now, if you want to get into teaching even with a degree you still have to go through a teacher training period, which although not enough is still better than before. If it was possible to weed out all those whose natural affinity is not to teaching and replace them with those who have a real love and gift then I think the change, not only in the education of our young would be enormous but would reverberate throughout the society, in a positive way.
In some subjects Instead of memorising huge amounts of facts I would encourage the children to learn through research and discussion and debate.
I would invest more money in education, to improve the physical structure of the schools themselves as well as providing equipment necessary to support the education of our children. The government and police and army buildings are often very beautiful and well maintained, and if this could be done also for schools then I think it would show the importance this country has for education. Most parents are very ambitious for their children’s education but I don’t think this is backed up by the ‘powers that be’.
And that would be just the beginning!
What has helped you during the toughest times and given you the strength to say ‘I do want to stay in Algeria’?
I have to give credit where credit is due – Allah has helped me through the toughest times and given me the strength and the patience to stay here during the most difficult times. But it is important, I think, to point out, that it is of the utmost important to move to Algeria with the primary intention of pleasing Allah, first and foremost. If you do so you are guaranteed His Help through the most difficult times. It is an added bonus that your husband and children are happy here, but that should not be your main intention, because if it is then it’s only human to resent them in some ways when the going gets tough. It helped me a little I think, that we had sold our home in UK and had nothing whatsoever to go back to……we could only keep moving forwards. I also have the greatest gift a woman can be blessed with – an understanding and supportive husband who acted as a buffer between me and Algerian society in general and his family in particular which certainly helped me find my feet and get used to the etiquettes and norms here, and establish good relations….especially with his family Alhamdulilah.
Have you ever visited the desert?
Yes, when my eldest was an only child! Many moons ago we first stayed in Laghouat, and then in Ghardaia and I would love to go back, or to other desert towns, especially in the winter or spring breaks when the weather is more bearable there.
Name 3 things you love about Algeria?
Obviously the fact that it is a Muslim country and that the people here, even the most non practising ones still have no doubt whatsoever about the existence of Allah, that He is One and that Muhammed was His Last Prophet and Messenger . They may argue with you about points of the religion but this much Iman they all possess with absolute certainty.
I love the climate – the heat in the summer and the mild winters. It gives such a lift to my spirits to look out at the sunshine and clear blue skies in the middle of winter mashAllah.
I love the vastness of this country and it’s variety of beautiful terrain – from the gorgeous beaches on the Mediterranean sea, to the snow-capped mountains in the winter, to the beautiful countryside of the Kabyle regions to the vast expanse of the Sahara desert and it’s tremendously hospitable inhabitants.
The Our Algeria Team