Fifteen years into his career, the Algerian taxi driver still finds beauty along Constantine’s roads
What type of taxi service do you offer?
It’s a taxi collectif. In every town there is a circuit of collectifs that transport people in and out of Constantine. I chose not to drive a taxi individuel because I wanted to offer something that’s affordable to most people. Before I became a driver I could only afford a shared taxi.
How long have you had your car?
Three years now. I’ve been a taxi driver for 15 years and have driven a Mercedes from the beginning. Before this car, I had the 240D model. Mercedes are luxurious. They offer so many features you wouldn’t find in other cars. Mine has a secret hiding place where I keep my license and papers, some models even have small refrigerators.
What are your working hours like?
I work every day of the week. During winter, my day starts at 6am. When the weather gets warmer people go out even earlier, so I change my shift to match people’s needs and start work at 5am.
What do you like about your profession?
It enables me to provide for my family and I’m at the service of other people – there isn’t anything more honourable than that. I like being my own boss too. Though they’re beautiful, you get used to the roads of Constantine eventually. But still, when the lighting is right I look sideways out the window and smile at the view.
Do you have any longtime regulars?
I’ve been driving Abdelmalek from his home in Hamma Bouziane to downtown Constantine since 2002. A relationship has formed during all those years – he’s become a friend. Every year, I take him to Algiers a couple of days after Eid.
What did you do before becoming a taxi driver?
I’ve had numerous jobs. My father was a farmer. I quit school after 6th grade and became a street seller to help support the family – there were 10 of us. I was also a carpenter for 10 years. I had my own shop
Constantine is surrounded by dramatic landscapes – what’s your favourite road out of the city?
The highway to Algiers. Here I go as fast as the car can – 170km per hour. My car might be old but it still has potential. To get from Hamma Bouziane to Constantine there are two routes. All the taxi drivers use the shortest road, it has fewer curves and is safer, but the second road has much better views over the towns Bekira and Sidi M’Cid. If I could I’d always take the second route, but it’s 3km longer. It might not seem like much but taking the road 10 times a day means an extra 30km on the petrol tank.
What landmarks do you see along your route?
There’s a viewing spot below the Monument aux Morts, a statue gifted by the French for the soldiers who fought for France during WWI. I like to watch the sun go down there or sometimes wait there for Abdelmalek to call. I remember hiking up the side of the rock to the monument as a child.
What’s your favourite moment in the working day?
The start of the day. After I come back from fajr prayer, my wife makes me breakfast and I go to work. I’m already on the road when the silence of the night transforms to the bustle of the day – it fuels me.
What’s your relationship to Constantine and the surrounding area like?
I was born after the liberation of Algeria and witnessed the beauty and prosperity of the past. At the time of my childhood, we used to dress up on the weekends and go to the city. It didn’t matter whether you were rich or poor, everybody got their shoes polished. People used to read in the public gardens and every morning rose sellers would walk along the pavements of Saint Jean. My hometown Sidi M’Cid used to have three large public swimming pools. People used to come from all around Constantine to swim.
I like to show visitors around old and new Constantine – its eight bridges, the Casbah, the palace of the Bey and the old artisans street in Bardou where they craft copper.
What conversation topics do you get tired of?
I talk with everybody, but I don’t like a conversation that leads nowhere. Usually people complain about the price of vegetables and fruits, others may start an argument about politics and I can’t help but get involved. We have a saying here – ‘You cannot last longer in a conversation than a taxi driver’.
This article appears in the issue64Buy Now