French who fled Algeria return to their roots

Thu Sep 10, 2009 7:37am EDT
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By Lamine Chikhi

DELLYS, Algeria (Reuters Life!) - After sailing half way around the world to the small Algerian port where he was born, Gilbert Gambardella stepped off a boat and back in time.

Gambardella was a young man when he left Dellys in 1964, two years after Algeria shook off 130 years of French colonial rule.

His family were pieds noirs ("black feet"), French nationals born in Algeria whose ancestors were European settlers or North African Jews.

Indigenous Muslims turned against the pieds noirs after a traumatic and bloody war for independence and about 1 million of them emigrated to France. Many left in panic and took only what they could pack into a suitcase.

Gambardella became a mathematics teacher in French-held New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific. After he retired, he used email to track down a friend in Dellys, who urged him to return.

At 77, Gambardella made the months-long voyage back to Algeria with a friend, not knowing what he would find left of his past.

"I thought that nobody would remember me. I was wrong. Dozens were at the port to greet me," he said, holding back tears. "Even the mayor, whose father was a friend of mine, was there -- it was incredible."

"My father was born here. I was born here. My wife was born here and three of my children. Dellys is part of me and I am part of her," he said. "Now I can die. I will have no regrets."   Continued...