I was filled with seemingly endless happiness as I made my way from my city, Tlemcen, to the Algerian capital, to start studying toward a master’s degree. Despite a six-hour drive, I did not notice the time passing, as I was eager to start studies that I had long dreamed of.
In 2011, I got a bachelor’s degree in business management from the French section at the University of Abou Bekr Belkaid, in Tlemcen. I had dreamed of working as a journalist since childhood, so I applied to enter advanced studies in journalism right after graduation.
At three in the afternoon, I arrived at the “Ouled Fayet” residence hall for female students, in the western part of the capital. Then came the surprise. The place was deserted. No pedestrians were walking around it and the buildings were scattered here and there in a way not reassuring for a female student who has just arrived from a distant city.
After I knocked at the door several times, an employee opened it with an expression of astonishment on her face.
“The work hours have ended,” she said. “We also have not yet begun accepting the applications of graduate students. Come again in two weeks.”
“But the university classes have started!” I blurted in bewilderment. “Where will we live for the next two weeks?” She did not answer me and shut the door in my face. I was not the only one there. Dozens of female students waited at the office door for the same reason.
I spent two days searching in vain for a place to stay. Later, one of my relatives intervened, and I managed to get a room at the residence hall, thanks to his personal connections.
But the hard-earned room was more like a prison cell. It was very small, on the top and fifth floor. It had barely enough room for one person, but three students had to live in it. There were no chairs or desks. There were only two bunk beds, a wardrobe with no doors, and a small window with broken glass. We had to study, eat, and sleep on the beds, the only furniture in the room.
The bathroom was shared by the whole floor and was extremely dirty, as nobody cleaned it regularly. There was no water running into the sinks. We had to carry water up from the second floor to wash our clothes.
The residence hall had a restaurant, but the food quality and service were terrible. No health or sanitation inspectors checked the kitchen, and the university administration didn’t pay attention either.
Still, the worst part of living there was being subjected to harassment from young men and boys as we got off the bus near the housing, or when we went out to buy what we needed from the nearby shops. The men would shout names at us and bump into us on the street on purpose.
However, hundreds of students and I endured all these poor living conditions in order to pursue our studies and seek a better future. Once, a man broke into the residence and tried to assault a female student. The building was rarely guarded, and the guards didn’t pay much attention to their jobs. The assault led many students to leave the housing, under pressure from their families, and some of them were forced to drop out of school.
I also decided to leave the residence hall. Again, I asked one of my relatives to help me find a better residence, namely “Dely Ibrahim residence,” which was located inside the city and closer to my university. The living conditions were better; the rooms were larger and cleaner, and we had tables and chairs. Four years after leaving that dirty prison cell, I have heard the situation is still the same at “Ouled Fayet Residence.” Nepotism is still the basis to accept students in better housing.
Students complain continuously, but nobody listens or shows interest. I think the problem could be solved simply by appointing competent employees and firing the corrupt administration. I think students would be able to live properly at the housing if just the basic services are provided to them.
The provision of good housing for students is as important as providing a good education. Students have difficulty succeeding in poor living conditions that disrespect their humanity.
Rim Hayat Chaif is an Algerian journalist and blogger.