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What a disappointment....no more roses.
Photo: Bernard Bonnet
I remembered having heard of a wonderful garden of roses that my mother was very proud of....Finally, after asking somebody, I saw it. What a disappointment! It had become an insurance office, with a very ugly sign on the facade and no more roses.


Madeleine Algeria (Part 2)

Bernard Bonnet from France

Paris, 1989
I was one of the managers of the French Bookstore Institute in charge of the international exchange program when I received a fax from the Algerian Minister of Culture. They wanted me to build a two-week training program for their booksellers. At last, I had the opportunity to go back to my native country!

My parents had always refused to consider returning one day to their country. I would never have thought that it would be me, their son, the first of the family to go back. But in this month of March 1989, I was very happy to put my feet on the harbor of Algiers, the white city. I do love the big cities on the sea such as Lisbon, Naples, and Marseilles; Algiers is one of the most beautiful. It was just before the first events caused by the Islamic movement, but Algeria was still safe. I had organized the training so that I could take one week of vacation and return to my past.

First, I wanted to travel to the desert gates to visit Ghaardaia, a splendid city in the Deep South on the edge of the Sahara. It was a long trip, and I had to spend a night on the bus. I was the only European on board among farmers and workers, returning home after a business trip to Algiers. The night was deeply dark, no moon, no stars. We were alone on the road. I did not want to sleep. Trying to peer into the darkness to see something on the roadside or further away to locate where we were. There was nothing; just a bus in the night, full of people, all sleeping except for one French guy.

Suddenly, one of the sleepy forms stood up, said two words in Arabic to the driver who stopped his bus. The form got off and went straight into the night. In five seconds, he disappeared. How could he know where he was. We were exactly in the middle of nowhere. The man had smelled his land. He was home. I was very impressed, and I understood, right at that moment, what I was looking for: to smell my own land.

The name of my village had been changed after the revolution: Cassaigne became Sidi Ali. It was located in the western part, near the Moroccan border. This region is an archetype of the Mediterranean landscape. Fields of olive trees and vineyards fall away on wonderful and white sandy beaches. The bus ran across this paradise, and I perceived how it must have been difficult to have to leave this country. I had my nose against the bus window and was overcome by nostalgia.

The bus stopped in the central square. My parents had given to me the name and the address of a family they trusted (My mother was very anxious and afraid for me!). They were very surprised when I introduced myself, but they welcomed me warmly, as often happens in these countries, where people always share all that they have.

They wanted me to take a rest, but I was very impatient to walk, alone, in the village in search of the school. I remembered having heard of a wonderful garden of roses that my mother was very proud of. I vaguely remembered a corner of a street. I went two times round the village, but it was impossible to recognize the house. Finally, after asking somebody, I saw it. What a disappointment! It had become an insurance office, with a very ugly sign on the facade and no more roses. I was very sad and I began to think it was a bad idea to want to come back there. Memories are always more beautiful than reality.

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Bernard Bonnet's story: Part 1 | Part 3


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