I, Nadia, Wife of a Terrorist
By Baya Gacemi
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright © 2006
University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.
My husband, Ahmed, died a month ago. He was killed during
an operation led by the security forces in Chrea. His body was
recovered but they never found his head. The police assume his
friends hid it after decapitating him. GIA terrorists are known
to do that, especially in cases involving an "emir," like Ahmed,
because it makes identification harder. The police told my father
they were sure it was Ahmed because they recognized the
wound on his arm. I thought I had seen his body among several
others on television one day, but the corpses they show look so
similar it's hard to tell them apart.
I sensed his death was imminent. For some time before it
happened, I'd sit in front of the TV every night at eight o'clock
expecting to see his remains among those of the latest terrorists
killed. My instincts were right. Two weeks ago the police
from the Eucalyptus district, which includes the village of Hai
Bounab, where Ahmed and I lived, informed my father of his
death and asked him to relay the information to me. I immediately
took my family record book to the police station, hoping
they would update it by entering the change in my marital
status. Then I could go ahead and assume my new station in
life: widow at twenty-two, and mother of aneighteen-month-old
son. I'd been waiting for the news for such a long time.
At last, I was going to be freed from the chains binding me to
a man I hadn't seen since March of 1996 but whose existence
weighed on me more with each passing day. The chief of police
met with me and confirmed that he had received reports
substantiating Ahmed's death: "Terrorists who were with him
and taken alive have testified to the fact. But, by law, until the
body has been positively identified, we can't assume he's dead,
and we certainly can't state it on legal documents." It was yet
another disappointment. Even in death Ahmed was making my
life difficult. Noticing my frustration, the police chief advised
me to file an appeal with the state prosecutor for a "confirmation
of death." If Ahmed's body was not formally identified
within a few months, the appeal would allow me to take the
necessary steps to have his death officially registered based on
witness accounts. It's common practice now because so many
terrorists are killed in remote areas and are buried out there by
their friends. The police chief seemed just as relieved as I was.
He confided to a friend of mine who'd gone to the station with
me: "Her husband caused a lot of problems. For us, his family,
and the whole village. He was a real idiot. Things were just fine
when he was with his friends and family. Then he started acting
like a jerk, and what did it get him? His wife is a widow now,
and his child is fatherless. And he ended up slaughtered like a
dog." Alone in my bed that night, I cried. Tears of relief. Tears
of exhaustion, joy, and who knows what else? Tears of sadness,
for sure. Even though I was happy to escape the nightmare I'd
been living, I wish my married life hadn't ended the way it did.
I wish my son's father, a man I lived with for three short months
and loved passionately, hadn't wound up as nothing more than
a headless body at the bottom of a ravine on the Mitidja Plain.
And so I returned to Hai Bounab after not having set foot
there in more than a year and a half. It was spring, and the land
was spectacularly beautiful, as it always is then. It's hard to resist
the urge to roll on the green carpet of grass dotted with yellow
daisies. That's what I used to do as a carefree young girl. The
foliage in the orchards was as dense as ever when I arrived. Here
and there, a few oranges that the farmers had overlooked were
clinging to the branches. Exactly as it used to be. This region
has always brought prosperity to anyone who knows how to
cultivate it properly. The French colonists were the first. When
you look at such an idyllic scene, it's hard to understand how
the people who live here could possibly be inclined to violence.
I ran into Ali in Eucalyptus Village's main square, just a few
yards from police headquarters. He was wearing a communal
guard uniform. I didn't recognize him at first. He is just forty-five
but already looks like an old man. It's hardly been two years,
yet he has aged considerably. His features are drawn, and deep
furrows etch his face. The day I ran into him, he was helping
the police patrol the roadblock and was carrying a rifle on his
shoulder. I stopped to say hello. When he comes face to face
with me, he still has trouble concealing his feelings of guilt. He
couldn't avoid bringing up the topic: "Can you believe it? After
all I did for them, they wanted to take my daughters from me
and force me to build a hideout for them under my house." I
didn't say anything. The discussion would have been pointless
and all too painful. And besides, I had other problems. I just
asked how his daughters were doing. They were friends of mine.
I don't hold anything against him. Ever since he turned my
husband and his friends in, Ali has been living in an abandoned
hammam in Eucalyptus, where the police arranged for him to
stay with his wife and children. They were afraid the terrorists
might seek revenge. He's not the only one who was forced to
move or run away. Terrorism has caused so many people to flee,
torn apart scores of families.
Ali had been one of the GIA's most trusted allies. Seeing him
at his new job made me realize how much things have changed.
Life is back to normal, except that the joy that existed before
is gone-that special joy unique to country people. It's as if a
leaden cloud is looming over the region. How could it be otherwise
when every man you meet from the moment you approach
the area is armed? As soon as I was in Hai Bounab-about a mile
and a half away-I went to visit my mother. She had moved
back into our old house barely two weeks earlier. She hadn't
returned to the village-nor had I-since the day our former
neighbors pointed their newly acquired guns at us. We were so
happy to be going back home that we'd forgotten that in their
eyes we were first and foremost a family of terrorists. They used
to be our friends, but that day they threatened to set fire to
the truck carrying our furniture and belongings. We promptly
turned around and drove off. It was thanks to the police that our
house wasn't destroyed. They let a needy family stay there but
made it clear to them that the arrangement wasn't permanent.
They would only be looking after the premises temporarily. On
the way to my mother's, I had to walk by my own house. It's
been gutted by fire and partially demolished. Even so, there's
a family squatting there. My mother tells me they're decent
people. Their house was razed by an explosion. They said they'd
vacate whenever I wanted.
Everyone in our village believed that the GIA had taken over.
Either that or they pretended to. I had no choice. I had to believe
it was true because I was the wife of Ahmed Chaabani, the emir
of Hai Bounab and the surrounding area. I know for a fact that
by remaining silent and providing logistical support we were all
responsible for letting terrorism take root and grow here. The
terrorists had complete control for more than three years. The
community condoned their actions, accepted everything they
did, and didn't revolt against the GIA until it started terrorizing
the very people who had aided and abetted the group. The
turnaround was just as sudden as it was violent. But I simply
accepted things the way they were. I loved my husband, and
that's all there was to it. I forgave him everything. And I've paid
dearly for it.
Excerpted from I, Nadia, Wife of a Terrorist
by Baya Gacemi
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press.
Excerpted by permission.
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