|With no kids left at home, Terry and I are living in Alicante, Spain this fall. Alicante is an unassuming but delightful mid-sized Spanish city situated on the Mediterranean south of Valencia, with an international airport that offers a one hour, direct flight to Algiers, Algeria.
For the past year, Terry has been commuting to Algiers once or twice per month, helping a former business colleague start a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant that will make oncologic medications. The project brings together a successful Algerian business family with a group of highly educated and talented, displaced Syrian physicians, pharmacists and engineers who have left their country in an attempt to start a new life elsewhere.
Before the civil war started, the Syrians ran a successful pharmaceutical plant in their home country. As conditions worsened there, they realized it was no longer viable to maintain their company so they closed up shop and fled the country. They are among the lucky ones who were able to leave and now contribute to the Syrian diaspora that is slowly but surely settling in new locales around the world. Terry’s colleague was fortunate in that he already possessed a US passport, enabling him and his family to settle in US. The other participants in the project were less lucky and have settled in Algiers though they fervently wish to someday be allowed to settle in the United States, which remains the holy grail for foreigners seeking opportunity and a chance to better their lives. They Syrians speak frequently of the horrors ongoing in their country, typically with a note of hopelessness in their voice. Syria, as they know it, no longer exists.
Algeria is the largest country in Africa and the 10th largest in the world in terms of land mass (it is 3.5 times larger than Texas). Four-fifths of the country is taken up by the Sahara desert where the country’s estimated 12 billion barrels of oil reserves are located. The majority of the population of 36 million lives along the northern coast. It is a poor country, having never fully recovered from their fight for independence from France in 1962 and the brutal internal civil war in 1992. Governed by President for life- Abdelaziz Bouteflika who was re-elected for the fourth time in April of 2014 with 81% of the vote. Arab-spring protests seeking democratic reform took place in Algeria in 2011 but did not reach the critical mass as it did in neighboring Tunisia and Libya.
As a result of these protests, the government of Algeria enacted a series of social reforms including addressing the woefully inadequate health care system, especially the unmet needs of cancer treatment. In the next decade, the government plans on building 172 new hospitals and 45 new specialty clinics including cancer treatment centers. It is against this backdrop that Terry’s group is slowly making progress. Construction of their manufacturing facility in a suburb of Algiers is well under way and to date, the project has moved forward with unexpected smoothness.
Living in Algiers, though intermittently, is a Spartan existence for Terry. It is the overwhelming kindness and generosity of the Arab culture that makes his time there more pleasant. Recently, small herds of sheep and goats began appearing in Algiers, available for purchase and slaughter in order to celebrate Eid al Adha, or the Festival of the Sacrifice, celebrating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael. Islamic tradition dictates that after one slaughters their sheep or goat, you must consume just one third, give one third to friends and the final one third to the poor. One of Terry’s colleagues was going to purchase a sheep for Terry. Save for the fact that Terry was leaving Algiers soon thereafter, he likely would have found himself trying to figure out how to divvy up his gift.