Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Life in Algiers: Driving Socially

Driving in Algiers requires collaboration between drivers
 It’s now been over 20 months since moving to Algiers, Algeria—-aprox 15 months since we got a car here. I could go on and on about how stressful it was learning to drive myself around: the narrow confusing one-way roads, dearth of useful signage, seemingly endless traffic jams, numerous ‘uses of the bumper,’ difficult parking, and the overall impression of anarchy on the roads.  

However, today I want to share what I love about driving in Algiers.  In fact, after a recent trip back to Washington DC, I've rather come to appreciate the Algerian approach.

Why, you ask?  Back in the USA, I would regularly drive from point A to point B (sometimes long road trips) without ever communicating with another driver beyond the standard use of turn signals and brake lights.  In Algiers, however, I can barely get out of my own garage without interacting with folks in my path!

Driving in Algiers requires negotiating with other drivers and pedestrians. When encountering a car coming the other direction, someone needs to squeeze over or even back up.  At an intersection or traffic circle, someone has to choose to yield. There aren’t any traffic lights (removed for security during the terrorism of the 1990s) and the traffic cops aren’t always around to help, so it is on you to nonverbally request a turn. You’d think this would be a recipe for road rage and chaos, but I’ve discovered that despite my first impressions, Algerian drivers are extremely kind (they prioritize keeping traffic flowing over issues of who-came-first, so that took me a bit of accepting).  Just as I figured out Zambian truckers’ blinker system to tell you when it’s safe to pass, I’ve discovered that Algerians stick their thumb out the window to politely request your patience while they stop traffic for a moment in order to parallel park or let someone in/out.

Why am I sharing this with you?  Because it has got me re-pondering a phrase/philosophy an American traveling companion taught me about some years back: “Stay in your lane.”  This life approach is about minding your own business and keeping your eyes on the prize that is at the end of the path you are on. It also has an underbelly suggestion of sticking with 'your own kind.’  

Stay in your lane may be an effective coping strategy when the lanes of life are clear, but what of when they aren’t?  What of when we have to pull over or back up to let others continue their path, knowing that if neither of us yields then we are all stuck?  

My friends/readers are smart people, so I'll just set these questions here and step away for further contemplation.  I might flesh it out one day for a sermon and/or other writing. 

a rooftop moment of serenity in Algiers