From the Middle East to the Middle West: The bridge over the Turkey River at Elkader, Iowa. (© 1997, Eric Baxter).
Algerians historically haven't been lucky. Ottoman Turks lorded over the country for three centuries (1516-1830), and when Turks were done, the French took over. But from 1832 to 1847, the Algerian population gave the French a Meghrebi taste of la résistance. It was led by the great Sufi scholar and military leader Amir Abd al-Qadir, who controlled most of the country until the French captured him in 1847. They'd pledged that he could retire to Alexandria in Egypt. They lied. They exiled him to various fortresses in France, where he was held prisoner until the advent of Napoleon III--who freed him, gave him a pension of 100,000, and let him move to Istanbul, then Damascus. He was more famous and celebrated by the French in his retirement than he'd been reviled by them as their principal enemy in Algeria. His fame circled the globe. He died in 1879
So what on earth has the story of an Algerian hero got to do with Midwestern homesteaders? This: when the homesteaders decided to name their village in 1846, they gave it the name of Elkader, in honor of the Algerian hero then busily fighting the French. (The Elkader town fathers and mothers must have been forerunners of that now-too common American disease: Francophobia.) Maybe the town's history helped make it more skeptical of George W. Bush's various wars in regions once dear to Abd al-Qadir: Clayton County, where Elkader is located, voted for John Kerrry over Bush in the 2004 election (52%-47%).
The point of this whole story isn't to highlight a bit of cross-cultural trivia that links the Middele East to the Middle West (although there is that, especially in a state that tends to favor Arabic tongues). Rather, it's to relate that when Elkader, a town of less than 1,500, was recently slammed by the floodwaters of the Mississippi, which ruined some 40 houses, it received a relief check worth $150,000--not from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency better known in the last few years for losing checks than delivering them to the right address, but from the government of Algeria.
The donation to the Clayton County Disaster Relief Committee "is to assist exclusively in the recovery of the citizens of Elkader as they put their community back together," the Telegraph Herald of Dubuque, Iowa, reported. (My thanks to the excellent Western Sahara Info. blog for pointing me to the story.)
Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, an autocrat not quite in the mold of Abd al-Qadir, nevertheless had a touching message for the people of Elkader, apparently the first time that Elisha and Horace's descendants have ever received a message from a head of state: "We grieve with all the families of Elkader who have suddenly become homeless or have lost their livelihoods and express our deep sympathy as well as our admiration for the way that it is facing adversity with the pioneer spirit of dedicated volunteers and of community solidarity."