Internal Migrations

While I’m in France, I’ll be studying the Algerian War and its impact on the far right of French politics, so in the meantime I’m doing my best to read up on the topics as much as I can.  I recently ran across this article from the French TV station TV5 that traces the stories of three young women, representative of a larger wave, who have moved from cities on the Mediterranean coast to the Saharan part of the country.  They experience some difficulty adjusting–it’s tough living in the desert, the Sahara’s demographic profile is much different than that of the coast, and the social environment is generally much more conservative–but what’s really striking is how liberated these women feel after moving there.  They’ve found engineering jobs and teachings positions, and even if it might be harder to rent an apartment when landlords are reluctant to rent to single or unveiled women, these women experience new feelings of independence and autonomy living on their own in a new part of the country.  Here’s a brief translation of the summary at the top of the article:

For the Algerians of the North, the Sahara is distance, infinity, heat, and almost certainly a cultural rut.  But today, it’s also an El Dorado of employment, and the desert no longer scares young women who want to find work there.  As engineers, professors, and doctors, they leave their homes and exile themselves to the heart of their own country to live in complete independence.

Apparently you don’t always have to leave your home country to feel like you’ve moved to a new country.  Stories like this really underscore that the cultural unity and identity of a country is often much more imagined than real, and it’s a reminder of how unevenly distributed social and economic opportunities are even within the same polity.

Algerian Flag

And it’s interesting to compare these stories to migrations more familiar to Americans.  Americans have historically thought of freedom and prosperity as hinging on a westward expansion into new territories, but ideas of Manifest Destiny have always been premised on the subjugation or extermination of native peoples, practices that the Algerian story doesn’t seem to reflect (though I wonder how north-to-south economic and demographic migrations have affected the local Tuareg people and others).  Perhaps a better comparison is with the Great Migration, which brought millions of African Americans from the American South to Northern and Western cities.  These migrants often found more racism and hardship than they expected, but in many cases they moved into worlds in which they could cultivate better lives for themselves or their children.  Again, it’s not a perfect match; these African American migrants moved from one scene of discrimination to another, while the Algerian women are highly educated and generally more privileged and thus better equipped to adapt to their new circumstances and find fulfillment in the long term.  But these stories do show that all migrations, internal international, stem from the desire to flee poverty and oppression and seek freedom and prosperity, political, economic, or otherwise.

Image via Wikipedia

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  • ilfdinar  On May 31, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    good job, but the technology to make the Sahara livable for multitudes of people is still a long time away

    • aaronbek  On June 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      I was, in fact, surprised that there are enough younger women moving to the Sahara for TV5 to portray it as a trend. I wonder if it will keep up long enough to make a significant difference. Thanks for your comment!

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