An enduring tale of immigration often resides within every family that has traversed continents in search of new beginnings. Typically, among these seafarers is a critic, sternly appraising anything tied to their homeland. Conversations around homegrown fruits effortlessly transform into grim economic analyses, while the joy of a relative’s academic success is overshadowed by dismaying comments on the country’s educational system.
This all-too-familiar character was none other than my father, throughout my youth. Living in Canada, our family visits to Algeria were invariably tainted with his pessimistic outlook and hints of remorse. Undoubtedly, the guilt of leaving behind his roots and the life he knew haunted him, which I speculated he expressed through pointed criticism, partly as an attempt to assuage his own unease.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t until I started journeying back to Algeria alone that I could form my own opinions about life in this latter land. It was around this time that my fascination with African football burgeoned, leading me to the unavoidable conclusion that if I were to make a mark in football journalism, I would need to “return” to Algeria.
Much has been shared about the concept of “reverse immigration”, the phenomenon of children of immigrants voyaging back to their roots, hoping to rediscover ancestral wisdom, reconnect with distant relatives, and heal their identity crisis. These heartwarming accounts are met often with cynicism by the older generations who wittily ridicule, “Wait until they have to deal with governmental agencies’ paperwork.”
I recall a dinner debate in our Canadian living room when I declared my decision to relocate to Algiers. “He will last two years,” quipped my older brother, to which my father promptly retorted, “More like two months.” The guesswork over my term in Algeria established a family wager that lasted for months. As it turned out, I ended up staying there for six years.
On arrival in 2010s Algiers, I was engrossed in the exhilarating environment. The country, having enjoyed an economic boom for half a decade, was a thriving melting pot of journalists, young professionals, and entrepreneurs, myself included. Wildly popular English language institutes peppered the cityscape, and the country was still basking in the afterglow of a stellar 2014 Fifa World Cup showing. These were golden years for a journalist who also taught English on the side.
Yet as we mature, we begin to mirror our parents, and I found myself whispering words of discontent about Algeria’s issues, ultimately leading me to depart a year and a half ago. Intense travel restrictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with diminishing civil liberties, had rendered journalism problematic. I yearned for a different experience, a desire that pulled me to Marseilles.
Being in France, ensconced within striking architecture, savoring buttery pastries, and basking under the sun, has been an opulent affair. Yet, I quickly discerned a gaping hole. Covering African football from afar was not as fulfilling. I yearned the routine delights: A cheap cab ride, meeting a stranger on transit, sampling freshly caught local sardines. If these small pleasures form the essence of everyday life, it would certainly be a lovely spot to settle.
As I get ready for “reverse immigration” once again, I find myself musing about my circumstances. I no longer harbor the initial excitement, the novelty has faded, and existing challenges have resurfaced. Yet, the prospect of homeward return to dive back into my passion surpasses any hurdles. After all, isn’t finding contentment in doing what you love, where you belong, a joy everyone should experience at least once?