I like to watch other people in their cars whenever I’m going anywhere. I don’t drive (obviously, as it’s on my list of resolutions this year) and whenever I get a lift anywhere or take the bus I like to stare out the window at the drivers and passengers of other cars. (I would read, but I get travel sick.) And I like watching people in cars more than buses – people in buses aren’t as relaxed, whereas those in cars feel right at home, even though they’re in the middle of the motorway.
I love it when you see a woman laying into her husband – and you can tell it’s her husband from the look on his face: either sulky or brow-beaten. If he’s not her husband he’s usually arguing back, which is entertaining because Algerians – like all Mediterraneans – use their hands to gesticulate wildly, so you can often work out what they’re arguing over. And the more the guy waves his hands about, the more the woman does too. Thankfully, it seems as though you don’t actually have to use the steering wheel that much, so people drive ‘hands-free’.
Then towards the weekend you get those who drive home to one of the near and not-so-near provinces. You know that they’re going for the weekend, because it’s not holiday time. Holidays in Algeria are taken to coincide with Winter Break (end Dec – beginning Jan), Spring Break, the Eid festivals, Ramadhan and either July or August (deemed the hottest months of the year – too hot to work). Note: not all these times are taken as holidays by everyone, but because kids, etc are off, it’s the time you see more people going away for longer periods of time. Otherwise, they’re weekenders. But they pack loads of stuff in their cars: everything from bedding, to stuff ordered by relatives and neighbours back in the provinces. Some people have very nice blankets, others have clothes and some have food. Whatever, it fuels the imagination.
Then there are the (very few, thank God) men who read the newspaper as they drive. That makes me laugh. It’s so dangerous, obviously, even if you’re in slow moving traffic, because people here drive like lunatics. Clearly, seeing as some are reading the paper. But it makes me laugh because it looks so ... so incongruent. And they do it like it’s totally normal.
Perhaps the most interesting drivers (to me, at least) are women in cars by themselves. They always look really put-together and then you glance into the seat beside them and there is chucked their briefcase/folders (if they have them) and on top, their handbag. And the handbag’s always open. Now, we all know, it’s bad form to poke though another girls bag without her permission – it’s like reading her diary. So this is like a sneak peak into another person’s inner sanctum. Only a lot less interesting. Disappointingly, they almost always have stuff similar to me, varying only if they work closer or further to home. But I keep looking anyway. I see hairbrushes (if they don’t wear hijab), pins (if they wear hijab), body spray, pens, notebooks, mirrors, make-up, books and plenty more.
I think that watching other people in their cars is like looking into a tiny snapshot of their lives. That’s why it’s so interesting.
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