Potluck of Cultures

Nassima

This is Nassima. She is from Algeria. “Whenever I go back to Algeria, it is like a festival!”

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When Nassima got to know her husband Salah through mutual friends on Facebook, she was still living in Algeria, while he already lived and worked in the United States. Once they started talking online, however, there was no stopping them: Facebook conversations turned into Skype calls, which in turn grew into a long distance relationship. “The distance was hard, but because his work is mainly on the laptop, he is always connected. We were together all the time, only via Skype, but it was like we were already living together. (laughs)” When Salah proposed to Nassima during one of his visits to Algeria, she knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him; and so, she decided to leave behind the only home she had ever known to begin a new life with her husband nearly half a world away.

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In Atlanta, her life is worlds apart from her life in her home country. Growing up in Algerian society, where the pull of traditional values remains strong and family is considered to be the most important unit of society, Nassima lived with her parents until she got married at 27. “We have this thing: girls are not allowed to live by themselves, only, for example, if she is studying far away. It’s not really an obligation, though… I don’t 17015725_739435936204869_9093936453234547479_othink there are girls who choose to stay in one apartment while their family is in another. I prefer to be with my family, I think it is better. This is how we live.” Even though she lives far away from them now, she still feels very attached to her family and they speak almost every day. She jokes that, because her brothers and sisters have all stayed in their hometown after marriage, it is always possible to get ahold of the person she needs, even if they are not online. “Family is so important, we always stay attached and close to each other. Now, they are always online! (laughs) Because of the long distance, we miss each other more, so we also talk more. I feel like I’m closer to them now.” The biggest change in her life, however, came in the form of her beautiful daughter Lina, welcomed into their home 9 months after starting their new life in Atlanta. Even though she regrets that she is not allowed to work in the United States, she is glad that she now has the opportunity to spend so much time with her darling Lina. “I miss doing something interesting, like working or studying, but I wouldn’t want to spend all my time at work; I really want to spend my time with my Lina. I am always with her now, but even when I see her old pictures, I really miss that time, it is like I was not there! So you can imagine, if I was working, I would really miss her.”

When Nassima describes the differences between Algerian and American culture, food, or even their people, she says it is like comparing the incomparable. Even English, she quips, is different. “When I was in Algeria, I was really good at English, so I thought: I am good, I can understand and talk English… I will be good in America! But then when I got there it was not the English I was talking about. (laughs) With time, my English has gotten better… that makes it easier.” Yet, while the differences between the two countries are vast in every way, Nassima has found a way to combine her own lifestyle and traditions with those of her new home. “In Atlanta, I can live, I can practice my religion, … I can do what I did before in my country, and maybe I can also do new things, things I didn’t do before.” For Nassima, her religion is a very important part of her life. In their home in Atlanta, the family still practices Islam and celebrates the traditional Islamic holidays, and she feels it is important that her daughter grows up with the same values and religion she did. She also likes to share her religion and culture with her international group of friends. “In my country, we celebrate holidays with family, so it is weird only to share it with my husband in the United States. I am always sad during these holidays, because I know that my family is celebrating together. So that’s why I try to do it with my friends, to feel a little bit like home.”

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To remind her of Algeria and make her feel more at home in the United States, Nassima has brought a few items from home, amongst them are her Quran, her traditional Arabic jewelry box and the engagement glasses she and her husband drank from at their engagement. “I want to have them next to me; we are using them, so they are not just souvenirs, but they have to be in my home.” What she loves most about the United States are the people; not just their hospitality and kindness to strangers, but more importantly their mentality. She admires how people can just be themselves there, without fear of judgement from others. “People are so nice with you here, even if they don’t know you. I respect how people don’t care about who you are or how you look… They don’t stare at you, they don’t care if you are thin, fat, what clothes you wear, etc. I really appreciate this.”

Ultimately, Nassima is happy living in Atlanta and she loves hanging out with her daughter at their favorite spot in Piedmont Park. “I feel free there, especially with Lina, she can play there. This is the place we go most often, especially on the weekends with my husband.”

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Interview and writing by Tineke Van Varenberg

Make up by Denise Batista

Interview and Photography by Sonal Sukheeja

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