The place was legendary, it was exactly like those old movies from Algerian TV. the road was very small and the trees covered up the roofs of the taxi’s that lay ahead. As far as you can look you would see yellow 7 seat cars parked on both sides. The men stood in groups and talked loudly, most laughed or argued. Funny how these two extremes seem to be the only options, there was no middle ground. many drivers stood by their taxis waiting for any customer to fetch.
As I walked, with 2 of my friends, down the famous “bab ouahran” street in Tlemcen, The one with taxis that can take you all over the country. I found myself fascinated at the classic unhindered sweet looks, smells and feels of this city. I hurried and picked up my phone “click, click “.
“Why?” says Mohamed, confused at my sudden reaction and wondering what it was that I judged worth taking a picture of. The answer was too long; it took 14 lines on this paper so obviously, I was not going to spell it out to him.
“just because!”. I smiled as we approached the first group of drivers to ask for directions.
“Algiers? Oh yes sure, come with me!”. The old man leads the way to a fancy car and we hold our breath… Exciting! But then he moves forward to a very old car and we hold our breaths again!! He goes on, again, to stop by an old “VW” painted faded yellow with a fairly young driver who is ecstatic for having received 3 customers all at once. after we tell him 2 more of our friends are coming, he lights up with a smile and invites us into the vehicle to rest.
Our friends took too long to get to the meeting place and as we waited and tried to calm down the driver and convince him to wait a bit longer, the nice old man comes up to me again with a worried look o his face: “ Benti, why did you take a picture of me earlier?”. I was taken aback. Well, yes I did, but he wasn’t exactly what I was aiming for. Actually, he was only a part of it. Should I tell the truth? oh well, it might work…
“I was so surprised at the beauty of this place; I wanted to take a pic to show my family –throw in a little joke- brag a little about the beauty of Tlemcen”
I stop to get a feel of the situation, the man was still suspicious and my friends were starting to come closer to me in a sort of defensive worried manner.
No! I must find a way out! What could I say to this man that could stop the tension building in the air?
I took a long look at him, his eyes, face, turbine and it came to me. I smiled said:” ih tani 3la khater rak mnawer 3amo “ ( which means:” also because you’re looking very enlightened Sir” in Algeria we use this word as a compliment to the soul of the person ) and he smiled showing all his teeth and my friends turned to me with an amused glance. he giggled a bit and said: “well if that is the case then, by all means, benti, take another and post it on your internet”.I laughed and right then the rest of the party arrived and we mounted the taxi.
The taxi drove off and the smiling old man waved us goodbye as another taxi driver hailed “beslama” to us… we drove off to leave Tlemcen and come home. The smiling old man’s image, now that I look back, was the perfect goodbye hug to me from al jawhara.