Bourexit in the Time of Coronavirus

Friday, March 20, 2020 | Algiers, Algeria

Leaving Algeria after seven challenging, exhilarating, edifying, and unforgettable years was never going to be easy, but it sure wasn't supposed to go like this.

As I hinted previously, after extensive discussion last year Nina and I decided that we—along with our canine companions Bourek and Chorba, of course—would depart Algeria this spring. Our "Bourexit" was finally happening.

To decompress from all that life has thrown at us these last few years, we then planned to spend some months traveling before choosing where to resettle. We had held off on a honeymoon after our wedding in hopes of taking just such a trip, and now our chance had come. A few months of backpacking in Asia would be our last hurrah before a new chapter of oh-so-serious adulthood.

By early February, I had wrapped up my work with World Learning (while continuing to support the weekly broadcasts of "Andi Hulm", the reality TV show I host here) and turned to new projects, while Nina counted down her own last weeks at work. We aimed to leave Algiers around May 1, lugging our belongings and dogs to Germany, where we would stash them with Nina's family or friends before setting out for our highly anticipated sabbatical. We were already poring over guidebooks and debating which Laotian temples, Vietnamese noodle shops, Nepalese hiking routes, and Indonesian surf spots we would visit.

Needless to say, the coronavirus did not figure into our grand plan.

Like nearly everyone else on Planet Earth, we are still struggling to adapt to the disorienting news that lands each hour. Is it the end of the world, just an inconvenience, or something in between? Masks or no masks? Evacuate to Europe or hold fast in Algiers? With so little reliable information, making good decisions about anything these days feels impossible.

In a world suddenly flooded with doubt and confusion, all of us are grasping for shreds of certainty. I've found three:
1. Coronavirus is happening. Several days or weeks into this event (depending on your location), most of us still don't yet know exactly what it means for our lives, though all of us have already seen them upended, and are likely to experience much more disruption in the months ahead. The virus is also killing people, and looks certain to continue doing so. Many factors are complicating our response: an unavailability of effective testing or treatment, confusion around what prevention methods are or aren't effective, rampant rumors on social media, insufficient medical capacity worldwide, and less-than-competent leadership.
In the long run, by forcing everyone on the planet to question so much, we will emerge from this period much wiser, with new insights into public health, policymaking and governance, surveillance and privacy, our relationship with the environment, the moral responsibility each generation owes another, and so much more. But in the meantime it's messy and scary—as well as distracting. While we were all struggling to adjust to "social distancing", Trump bombed more Iranian targets in Iraq, Putin extended his rule until 2036, and China launched a massive public relations campaign to rewrite the Covid-19 pandemic story with itself as the savior, not the source.
Even when we return to "normal," our world will never be the same.
2. Bourexit is happening. Coronavirus or not, the time has come to seek new horizons and new challenges. We might not know when (the next few days, weeks, months?) but Nina and I are still leaving Algeria. Sadly, it seems likely that we will have to do so without hugging our many dear friends here farewell. We've also scrapped plans for a goodbye party and for trips to a last few touristic destinations in Algeria we hadn't yet explored. On top of it all, the logistics of an international move during a global pandemic are proving to be just as complicated as you might imagine.
It's not the ending I wanted for my time in Algeria, but I'll be leaving with so much more than I had when I arrived seven years ago: a wonderful wife and partner, two wildly entertaining dogs, and many dear memories of our time here.
3. My book is happening. I feel immensely privileged to have been able to discover this very isolated, unknown country—and to share images, encounters, and reflections from Algeria on my blog and social media along the way. But with time to think, time to write, and space for free expression all being in short supply, so far I have only managed to share a small fraction of what I have learned here. For that reason, I left my job earlier this year with plans to complete one big project before our travels: finally sitting down to write the book about Algeria that has been coalescing in my head for years.
After compiling years' worth of blog posts, drafts, and notes, last month I began writing and working with an editor. In the book, (working title: The Algerian Dream) I will focus on the youth of Algeria and all I have observed about the challenges they face, the creativity and energy they exhibit, and the potential they have to launch this country forward in exciting new ways. The arrival of the coronavirus proved highly disruptive but long hours of isolation in the weeks ahead should allow me to get back on schedule. I expect to publish around December 2020. Stay tuned for updates!
Wherever life takes us next, I intend to continue chronicling my story here on Ibn Ibn Battuta. Thank you all for reading, and please take care of yourselves and each other in these challenging times.


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