Memoir

Jolande Mace

Once upon a time, I lived in Algeria. Myself and my parents were 3 of just 52 Dutch people in the entire country. There was a lot of political instability due to one party, the FIS, having been declared a terrorist organisation, meaning they couldn’t run for government. In retaliation, the FIS kidnapped four French people and released them with a simple message: all foreigners out by the 1st of December. 
 
Nobody took it seriously, until on the 1st, a Portuguese person was killed in the capital. Then a Spanish. Then a French. Then a Belgian. It was clear that the Dutch were next, and we were the only ones in the capital. In the middle of the night, the Algerian couple of whom we rented a house came and got us. We traveled, hidden under blankets, to their home, which they shared with a brother and his wife, and a total of five children between them. The risked their lives for us, because if the FIS found out, they would have been killed too. 
 
Four days later, we were able to get on a flight to France, again in the vehicle of our friends, hidden under blankets. Arriving in haste, however, there were some issues with our identity. This meant that we spent a few days in France, as technically, refugees. We were lucky enough to be able to afford a hotel, and the technicalities were quickly resolved so that we could return home to Holland. 
 
I was 14 at the time and this wasn’t the first time I had experienced real human tragedy but mainly also real human kindness. Kindness transcends politics, it transcends religion, it transcends skin colour or gender. It is what it is: kindness towards each other, because anyone could find themselves in a terrible position at some point. 
 
What we, here, as a group are doing, and what people all over the world are doing for that matter, is making a real difference. Unfortunately, I can’t go to Calais myself because I don’t drive and have family and work commitments. But I don’t need to go to Calais to know something: people appreciate all that is being done for them, and that it is done not out of pity, but out of humanity. 
 
The media may portray them as cockroaches, just like the media back then portrayed all Algerians as fundamentalists, but it takes just one person to say that they are not cockroaches and to extend a hand to them to know they are appreciated and valued as human beings. To know that their situation is not something they chose to be in, but that circumstances forced this on them. 
 
For me, this is the least I can do. Not just to pay back a debt towards a wonderful family who put their own lives at risk to save mine, but because we are all human. This group has given me so much hope and shown me that humanity is alive and kicking. Thank you all so much. 

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