You cannot take anything for granted when driving in Algeria. The fact that the person driving in front is indicating a right turn doesn’t mean that he or she is actually going to turn right… it could mean that they have just forgotten to turn off the right indicator. Anyone can just move out in front of you at a moment’s notice so you better pay careful attention to the parked cars around you. Buses that pull up to a stop are a clear warning that someone is going to cross the road in front of you. When I was young I had it burned into my brain that you should never, ever cross the road in front of a bus because you just can’t see the traffic coming on your side of the road, but in Algeria walking around to the end of the bus just seems like far too much trouble. And many is the time I’ve seen people driving in reverse up the hard shoulder of the motorway when they’ve missed an exit… oh heck I even saw a few people driving completely the wrong way up an exit off a motorway. The great thing about this is… that if I make a mistake it’s not the end of the world. People tend to just shrug their shoulders and say ‘nor-mal’. Once I was driving on a road and decided I was going in the wrong direction so I did a ‘u’ turn and drove back the way I came. As I drove the first car coming in the opposite direction flashed me and I realized I was driving on a one way system… the wrong way. Did I turn back? Are you kidding? I didn’t want to get more lost than I already was ( and with a back seat of ex-pats urging me to ‘keep going, keep going’) so I put on my hazard lights, drove slowly, moved in when a car came in the opposite direction and wasn’t flashed once for the rest of the drive. Nor-mal.
There is no official breakdown service in Algeria, but that’s not really a problem, especially if you are a woman. No man is going to drive past and leave you stranded at the side of the road. Once I was so busy concentrating on trying to get off a quiet side road onto a busy motorway that I never noticed a big hole at the side in which the front tire got stuck. Out of what seemed to be nowhere a man appeared and said that, if the passengers got out he would push the car out of the hole for me. As soon as the passengers disembarked a few more men appeared and very soon the car was back on track Alhamdulilah. When the passengers got back in I looked back and saw several cars and realized that these men had been passing by and had just stopped to help.
Then there are the police security check points, some of which cause really bad traffic jams especially during rush hours. I find it so amusing that sometimes, after inching along the motorway for 10 minutes or more, when I finally reach the policeman he is frantically gesturing everyone to move faster through the checkpoint, and I think to myself ‘if you weren’t standing in the middle of the sodding road I could drive much faster!’ Occasionally I have been stopped and had my papers checked but it’s very rare and usually the policeman has been polite and respectful.
But then there was the day when I came across one who had obviously got up on the wrong side of the bed. I was driving on a busy stretch of road when I realized I had missed my turning so I decided to turn around and, I was so busy watching for a gap in the busy road that I didn’t notice the little Police cabin on the other side of the road until I had crossed over right in front of it. I knew immediately I was in trouble as the police are very tetchy about stopping or parking anywhere near their stations, barracks or road-side cabins for security reasons. I could see the police man in his knee high black leather boots marching down the steps of the cabin was already in a temper as I drew up in front, and he started ranting and raving in the car window about how we cannot do a ‘u’ turn, like the one I had just made without asking their permission first. My daughter politely apologized but tried to explain about me, the driver, being a foreigner (no point in being one if you can’t use it to your full advantage!), at which he looked at me and then continued to rant and rave. Another policeman urged him to just let us be on our way, but he wasn’t having it, and my daughter continued to remonstrate with him, at which point, I could see us being hauled away and put in a dungeon never to be heard from again. So I said to my daughter to stop arguing with him and while she and I were talking the policeman finally stopped mid-rant, listened and then beckoned us to continue on our way without another word. We realized afterwards that he probably didn’t really believe that I, dressed in full hijab and niqab (face veil) was really a foreigner (after all how many foreigners dressed like that in Algeria?), and that he thought I was being arrogant, especially as I was the driver and I was the one who had made the mistake, at not wanting to address him directly, . As soon as he heard us speak English he must have realized that I WAS indeed a foreigner…. strange and all as that must have seemed to him.