Focus on Family: Algeria

 

Monaghan native Sr Dympna Mc Eneaney spent eight years on mission in Algeria. She spent the first six years in the city of Mascara, which has a population of 150,000 and lies 100km to the south east of Oran. Sr Dympna spent her last two years in the small town of Hennaya, 170km south west of Oran and close to the border with Morocco. Christianity is greatly restricted in the country and any form of evangelization is forbidden. Here Sr Dympna shares some snippets from her experience in Algeria.

 

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From my eight years in Algeria, I got an insight into some aspects of Algerian family traditions. I will take a  moment to reflect on a few of these with you here.

 

Family Life

Algerians mainly live in extended families. The new bride moves in with her mother-in-law - therefore the grandparents have an important role to play. This situation is not always easy especially for the daughter-in-law. Young women today prefer have their own place if it is financially possible.

 

Marriage

Marriage gives the woman status in the society.  They are big occasions and the customs vary from place to place. In one area (Tlemcen) the groom arrives on a white horse at midnight dressed in traditional robes. After much singing and clapping he throws his cape into the crowd. It’s the same idea as the bride throwing her bouquet here – only this is for the men to catch.

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A map of the northern coastline of Algeria and Morocco. Algiers lies to the north-east while Oran and Hennaya (denoted with the red marker) to the north-west. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

 

Feasts

The Ramadan fast and feast stands out for me. I was invited to some meals at sunset. After the evening prayer the fast is broken with milk and dates to commemorate the diet of the Prophet Mohammed in the desert. They have a great variety of dishes and then men, women and children are out and about celebrating and in a happy mood. On the Feast, the children get new clothes and women have a variety of buns already prepared. There are visits all around.  The fast is difficult especially when the weather is hot, so a celebration is called for.

 

Food  

Couscous is the food for all big occasions. It is served with a light vegetable sauce and chicken. People are seated in groups on mats or cushions at low tables. The food is served in a big bowl and all partake. No television meals there!

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Map of Algeria with the city of Mascara marked in red. Source: www.elkader-iowa.com.

 

Wakes   

Like Ireland wakes are big occasions. A tent erected before a house is a sign that someone has died.  For 3 evenings the men - neighbours and friends come to the tent for couscous. The women eat together inside. Women don’t go to the cemetery for funerals. They visit their graves on Fridays.

 

OLA Family  

Presently there are five OLA Sisters living in two communities in Algeria. There are from two Sisters from France and one each from Italy, Nigeria and Togo.

When I was in Algeria, there would be  3 – 5 missionaries in the village or town. Missionaries have been around for a long time and are well accepted. We offer services such as women’s sewing/craft centres, health care and language classes.  I was involved in a women’s centre and teaching English as a second language to adults.

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Members of the OLA Community in the city of Oran.

 

Christians in Algeria

I didn’t know any Christian families but I met a few individual Christians. They have to keep a low profile.

 

Family Issues in Algeria

There is a lot of youth unemployment and that can fuel fundamentalism. On the surface the country is peaceful.

 

- Sr Dympna Mc Eneaney

 

Sr Dympna is currently on mission in Rostrevor. The first OLAs arrived in Algeria in 1937. There are currently five OLAs living between two communities in Algeria. One is located at the port city of Oran with a second community in the town of Hennaya in north-western Algeria. The Sisters are a Christian presence in the predominantly Muslim country. Arts and crafts workshops along with pastoral support are the main works of the Sisters in Algeria. Christians are unable to practise their faith openly in Algeria and are forbidden from promoting the Christian faith.

Algeria is the tenth largest country in the world and the largest in Africa. Much of the country is covered by the Sahara Desert. Algeria has a population of 40 million people.