The call of the land.

I have always thought that happiness is not a destination that we reach once and for all after a long journey leading to a state of permanent ecstasy. For me, happiness is rare. It’s moments. A few hours at most that we remember for the rest of our lives: a memorable family dinner, a wedding, the concert of an artist we admire or the birth of a child. There are no rules, happiness falls on us and leaves as quickly as it happened.

“Are you happy in your life?” Is a question I have never been able to answer; This doesn’t mean that I am unhappy, but no I am not in an uninterrupted bliss. None of us can answer this question truthfully.

In this year 2016, my moments of happiness were much more frequent. Did I finally learned to live with myself? What a wonderful year. I was in a certain inner peace and in harmony with my environment: work, love, travel, family, friendships …. Everything was going well.

My curiosity for Algeria and Mohammed had not disappeared, on the contrary. But this beautiful period of my life had taught me to step back and be less obsessed with these identity issues. But the desire was still there. After all, wasn’t it a good time to go? I was strong, balanced and had that aspiration to live a great adventure. That is so me; always more. What could go wrong anyway?

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July 2016. I spent two weeks in France for holidays, probably the best since I’m an expatriate. I had not been home for more than 18 months and I missed it. I don’t miss living there though; I have a dream life where I am and I love it. But France is my land and I am deeply attached to it. It’s earthly. Being a tourist in your own country is a delightful sensation. Rediscovering all these things that make life in France so beautiful and so sweet is a real pleasure.For my friends and my family, I realize that for them there is nothing exceptional to live there. Everything is commonplace, and it’s normal when it’s the only horizon that one has. We only see the world from where we are. And for me, to visit France makes me madly happy. I don’t speak only of its landscapes and its countryside that I enjoy to tour by car. Beautiful landscapes, I have the chance to see some often, and much more beautiful than those that can be seen in France – yet the bar is high!. What touches me the most is the art of living -”art de vivre”-, the heritage and the organization of French society. This is something that many French expats have in common: we are aware that being French is being spoiled by life.

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The terrorists attacks of 2015 (January and November) deeply hurt me, like many people. I had this strange guilty feeling of being far away and of being unable to be at the side of the country, like a person, touched by this tragedy; I would have liked to be here for my France in these difficult moments. These are certainly the times when living far away has been the hardest to for me to handle. France is for me like a relative. I personify it. I lived the sublime march for freedom of January 11, 2015 by proxy in front of my television, with an emotion that was difficult to understand: a mixture of immense pride and deep sadness for what had happened a few days earlier.

I landed in Paris on July 15, 2016 early in the morning, after a 13 hours non-stop flight. When I turned on my phone, I learned about the Nice attack that took place the night before on national day celebration while I was on the plane. Horror again. This time I was there, and I could see in people’s eyes and observe the attitude of customs officers and the police at the airport. The dignity and pride of being French was everywhere. No defeatism, no fatalism. It eased my pain. I love my country so much.

In Paris for a few days, I had informed Nassima of my arrival and we had agreed to meet as usual. Appointment was made for a coffee in the late afternoon in a bistro in the Place de l’Alma. The weather was gorgeous and I was happy and jovial to see her.

As soon as I saw her walking towards me, I saw on her face that something was wrong. We hugged each other and at first I acted as if I hadn’t noticed anything from her body language. After a few minutes of catch up, Nassima’s gaze darkened. She was not happy. Almost depressed. She shared with me her feeling of  loneliness since her daughter Hana and her son Wahib no longer live with her.

They are in the Paris area and visit her often but she found herself alone in her house and it is hard for her to accept it. She has few friends, few activities outside of work, and she is deeply bored. There is no one left at home to keep her company and keep her busy. She sees life as a burden and has dark thoughts. I admit that I am a little disconcerted by what she tells me. I am on a positive dynamic, and I don’t want to exhibit too much in front of her. I didn’t intend to tell her about my trip to Algeria at that time, but as the conversation progressed, I thought maybe it would give her a little enjoyment that I have the desire to discover the country of our origins.

For a long time, Nassima stayed away from Algeria. She kept a long distance relationship mostly through phone with her mother and siblings, but she rarely went there. After our first meeting in 2009 she returned and revealed my existence to her mother, who was moved by this story, which had the virtue to reactivate their mother-daughter relationship who had been in decay for years. Since then, she returns much more often to Algiers. She even told me that she was sometimes in touch with Mohammed on the phone, but never told him about me.

While we are on this sunny terrace surrounded by rich tourists and parisian hipsters glued to their smartphones, Nassima cries. Her misery is really deep and she can’t live like that anymore. I am helpless; there is nothing I can do to make her feel better. Then spontaneously I said: “I have the idea to go in Algeria, to see Algiers and maybe try to meet Mohammed”. She looked at me with her intense eyes. It was impossible for me to say whether she was happy or not with this news. “If you go to Algeria, I’m coming with you,” she said. “You will need my help to meet Mohammed. Then I would love to show you Algiers and introduce you to my mother “. I admit that this idea hadn’t cross my mind. I immediately found it brilliant. A real initiatory journey, together. What could go wrong? Nothing, I thought.

The rest of our meeting went much better than the beginning. We left the bistro to stroll along the river Seine, from the Pont de l’Alma to the Pont des Arts. We walked slowly, arm in arm – she couldn’t let go of me – and discussed our upcoming trip. The sunset light was superb. It was one of those moments of happiness.

While we were admiring the beauty of Paris, I said: “You know, if you had a man in your life you wouldn’t have this feeling of loneliness, this sadness. We all have the right to love and be loved! It would do you good to find you a man who falls in love with you, who makes you laugh and with whom you can have activities and interests in common “. She replied sharply, “It’s too late for me. I have never been lucky or happy with any man, it will not start today. And who would want to be with me, at my age? ” Without letting go of my idea, I insisted: “If you do not believe in it, then it will not happen. I am convinced that somewhere there is a man for you. And if you don’t believe it, I believe for you.” She smiled.

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The day after this long meeting, I thought about it with a smile on my face. For a moment I had been able to do something good to Nassima, to give her hope.

First with the prospect of a memorable trip together in Algeria, her land. The one where I was conceived. And despite her apparent reluctance to meet a man, I felt that she was maybe willing to entertain the idea.

After all, life sometimes gives us some incredible surprises.

One thought on “The call of the land.

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