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Algerian man
Photo: Bernard Bonnet
Ali looked at me, slowly, intensively. I was very impressed. He said in the end, in French, "How is Madeleine doing?"

Madeleine Algeria (Part 3)

Bernard Bonnet from France

When I returned to my friends' house, the guy asked me if I wanted to see my grandfather's ex-property. For sure, I did! The countryside must have stayed the same. We drove around five miles, and we stopped in a very hilly landscape. My land! It was very emotional.

The guy beside me spoke, but I did not listen. I thought of that time when my grandfather worked on this land. He never knew how to become rich as many French did there; it was probably a sign of his honesty. My grandfather died a short time after his arrival in France: he missed his country too much and lost his mind.

Suddenly, we saw a very old man leading his sheep. My friend said to me, "Wait a minute! That man used to work for your grandfather. I would like to introduce you.

The man came to greet us. Then my friend pointed out a barn in front of us on the top of the hill and asked the shepherd in Arabic, "Ali, what is that farm up there?"

The Bonnet's farm," answered immediately Ali." (You have to realize that this farm had become on independence a state farm, a sort of worker cooperative.)

And pointing to me, my friend said. "Look, he is Bernard Bonnet, Georges' son, Albert's grandson."

Ali looked at me, slowly, intensively. I was very impressed. He said in the end, in French, "How is Madeleine doing?"

Madeleine was my grandmother. The mother of my dad. It brought tears to my eyes. Thirty-five years later, Ali thought he was still on the Bonnet farm and remembered the name of my grandmother. I took him in my arms and I gave him some news of the family. My grandmother was suffering from Alzheimer disease in an institution for elderly, near my parents' home. She had forgotten everybody, even my father. She did not know any more where and why she was living. And, in her native land, far from her, a ninety-something-year-old man was still living with her.

I told him she was fine and still very active. A tender smile lit his face. I had the feeling that he was waiting to get some news of my grandmother, and that now he thought he could die. Maybe he had been secretly in love with my grandmother. Maybe also my grandparents were very kind to their employees. I was a little less ashamed to be a colonist's descendant.

Thanks to Ali, I know now what a native land is. My roots were not a house or a land, but just some traces in the heart and the head of a man. Thanks to Ali, I understood, beyond the historical and political point of view, what my family's path was. Nowadays Ali is probably dead. Our meeting was a magic instant, quite surrealist. He passed on to me the trace...my trace.

Bernard Bonnet's story: Part 1 | Part 2


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