“Being an Ambassador’s Spouse is a Profession”

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Mrs. Linda Benmoussat

Spouse of the Algerian diplomatic mission’s head in Azerbaijan

BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA

AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER

IN AN INTERVIEW WITH AZERI OBSERVER, THE SPOUSE OF THE HEAD OF THE ALGERIAN DIPLOMATIC MISSION IN AZERBAIJAN, LINDA BENMOUSSAT, TALKS ABOUT HER IMPRESSIONS ON BAKU, THE ROLE OF THE AMBASSADOR’S SPOUSE IN DIPLOMACY, AND HER UNDERSTANDING OF THE PHRASE THAT THERE IS A WOMAN BEHIND EVERY SUCCESSFUL MAN.

Question: Mrs. Benmoussat, could you tell our readers a little bit about your childhood, education, and profession?

Answer: I was born in Algeria, and I am the youngest of a family of six children. My father was a revolutionary that fought during the war of Algeria for its independence from 1954-1962. Although I was born after the independence, my siblings and I grew up in a patriotic climate.

I studied first in Algeria where I got my degree in economics. Then I got married before starting my masters’. However, the diplomatic life offered me so much more to learn, and I found new interests, such as languages. I always try to learn the language of our current country. I can still remember some Swahili from Tanzania and even some Amharic from Ethiopia. I also found a passion for art. For instance, I learned the delicate skills of painting on ceramic and porcelain during our time in Bulgaria. I also took the opportunity to obtain my degree in interior design while we were in Canada. Of course, my husband’s career and my children’s development have always been the most important thing, but I have been lucky to see and learn so much.

Q.: How would you describe the role of an ambassador’s spouse in diplomacy?

A.: It is an honor and privilege to represent my country. It is a great responsibility to represent a country like Algeria, which has a long history and significant cultural wealth. It is important to me to promote Algeria daily to both the host country and the world through the diplomatic circle. Ambassador’s spouses must show the best of ourselves because people discover our countries through us. It is not always an easy life since we are constantly moving and we must adapt every time. It has inconveniences, such as being far away from our family and country, but at the same time, the advantages are countless. For instance, I have lived in seven different countries and learned so much and met so many people that I will never forget. I learned a remarkable amount about different religions, cultures, and traditions. It is exciting to travel and dive into the culture of every new country. Being an ambassador’s spouse is a profession. I put aside my career to help my husband pursue his career. His challenges, issues, and ambitions have become mine.

Q.: What is the most challenging and the most rewarding aspect of being a diplomatic spouse?

A.: The challenge is that it is continuous and never stops. When you arrive in a new country, you feel like you have to know everything about the country and have good relations with people to recreate a new family and a new home. The language is also a big challenge, but there is always a way to adapt. That is why it is important to be open-minded and to respect everyone. Every year I meet countless people, sometimes I meet people I will never see again, sometimes I meet people again in other countries or even back in Algeria, and sometimes I meet people with whom I have common friends. It is rewarding to gain such knowledge through this amazing network of friends from around the globe with different cultures and backgrounds. Beside our cultural, religious, and linguistic differences, we find a way to get close and stay connected when everything seems to separate you.

Q.: Diplomatic life is challenging for numerous reasons, including living far away from loved ones and moving frequently. How do you and your husband support each other?

A.: It is difficult to be away, and I think it was even harder at the beginning because it was different from my prior life. I cannot even count how many times I have had to move and change houses. However, with time I came to understand that my real home is with my husband and children. It is not easy to leave our family and friends in Algeria, but we call each other and stay in touch, which is important because it is a way to stay connected and linked to our country even when we are miles away. Every time we travel to a new country, we go as a tight pack. It can be difficult for the children, but I am grateful that ours have been able to benefit from this life, which has given them the incredible ability to adapt, be tolerant, understanding, and open-minded. Our children have absorbed so much knowledge from their travels and can all speak three to five languages fluently. I could not be prouder of my children. My daughter and my eldest son are both about to finish their studies in the United Kingdom. My youngest son is currently studying at the Lycée français de Bakou, and I am quite satisfied with his evolution.

Q.: What do you most admire about your husband? What does he most admire about you?

A.: His intelligence and the passion and love he has for his work, which is where I think he excels. His courage and bravery in a lot of situations we faced in our life, showing me that he has a lot of perseverance and a great personality. I admire his ambition to bring more through his work and path. Both being children of Algerian revolutionaries, we carry in our hearts a deep love and commitment for our country, and that is something that counts a lot to me. I do not know what he admires the most about me. I guess you can ask him (smiles).

Q.: What are your impressions about Baku? Have they changed since you came here for the first time?

A.: I was excited to come to Baku because it is a country I knew nothing about. To be honest, my husband had the choice between many other countries, but he picked Azerbaijan since it is an emergent country with whom cooperation could be of great significance in different fields. When we first arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by the safety, modernity, and cleanliness. My husband had the great honor of opening the Embassy of Algeria in Baku, and the kindness of the people made it much easier for us to get to know the country better. The language was a bit of a challenge, but I have some knowledge of Bulgarian, which is similar to Russian. Also, my mother tongue is Arabic, which helped me to understand part of the Azeri language, so I could easier communicate and learn. Moreover, I prefer direct contact with people and this little understanding of the languages enabled me to discover more of the personality of Azerbaijan, which was a delight.

My impressions have not changed since my first day here, I have only gotten to know the country more. I have lived in Baku for almost four years and have had the chance to witness the success of the European Games, Islamic Games, Chess Championship, and the Formula 1. I have admired the constant evolution of Azerbaijan.

Q.: What activities are you involved in during your stay in Baku?

A.: As you may know, as a spouse of a head of mission, I am an active member of the Heads of Mission Spouses (HOMS).We do a lot of charity work, which is very rewarding being in a position to help people. At the same time, it is a great way to get to know other members of the group through our commitment to this work.

Through HOMS, I had the privilege and honor of meeting the First Lady and Vice-President of the country, Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva, on two separate occasions.  The members of HOMS met with Mrs. Aliyeva during Novruz, both in 2016 and 2018. These meetings embodied her active involvement in humanitarian work through the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Mrs. Aliyeva is a woman who is always close to HOMS, and I have great memories of these meetings.

Q.: What do you like to do in your spare time?

A.: I have so many different things that I love to do. For instance, when I am at home, I enjoy going for a swim. I am a very active woman and have been since a young girl. I have always been into sports, for instance, I was a national volleyball player in Algeria. I love to walk and ride a bike, which is why I love Baku because it offers so many places for that.

Discovering new places is also very interesting, so whenever I travel, I try to capture the spirit of the landscapes through my painting and photography. Additionally, I have a passion for knitting and sewing. I always wander into bazaars looking for new fabrics since Azerbaijan has plenty to offer regarding colors and patterns. I am currently learning Azeri and Russian and am starting to be quite good at them.

Q.: What differences and similarities do you find between Azerbaijan and Algeria?

A.: Algeria and Azerbaijan are separated by 5,000 km, but in general, there are many similarities in our civilizations. We are both Muslim countries, and our languages are very similar because of the Arabic remains in Azeri, which is quite a trait. The most incredible similarity, in my eyes, is that both are young countries which based their economies on oil and gas. That is also why I believe we can learn and help each other. Both of our countries have long had cooperation which started years ago. Many Algerian soldiers were sent for studies to the Naval Academy and Oil University in Azerbaijan when it was a part of the USSR.

Q.: What could you advise to families of young diplomats?

A.: The most important thing young diplomats are looking for is quality of life. The standard of life in Azerbaijan is not disappointing. It is quite high, life is very modern and also very safe. The authorities of the country are very helpful towards diplomats and have been respectful of our function. The state of Azerbaijan has been working hard to get to this level.

Concerning the aspect of when you arrive in a new country, you should discover it yourself, walk around, get lost, ask for directions, be adventurous, because that is the only way you will get to know the country. Plus, being close to the locals helps you see the country from their eyes. Being a diplomat is not just about having a glamorous life. The beauty of discovering a country is to learn all its different facets. The fact that it is temporary does not mean that you should not get to know it to the maximum.

Q.: To finalize the interview we have our signature question. It is said that behind every successful man there is a woman. How does this manifest itself in your family?

A.: I like this saying, and I think it is true. The spouse’s role is to unconditionally strengthen and support her husband’s ambitions if she wants him to be successful. My husband has his responsibilities and career to pursue while I am here to support, advise, and help because I want him to succeed. It does not mean that I do nothing for myself. My husband has always pushed me to do what I felt like doing, but it is also my role as a wife to help him fulfill his duties, the same way that it is my role as a mother to push my children to excel in everything they do.