My very first language class was held downtown between the hours of 8:00pm and 10:00pm. My supervisor was less than thrilled. I was on my own, new to the country, and finding my way around the city.
Good sense and security protocols dictated that, car-less, I should seek out the next quickest, safest form of transportation to and from class: taxis. But I soon discovered that taxis were difficult to obtain at 8:00pm, let alone 10:00pm, and buses are non-existent at that time. The local metro, however, which was located 10 minutes from my house and ran straight to my school without requiring a change of lines, was perfect. . . except that, as my supervisor said, one had to worry about pickpockets, long waits between trains, and the fact that mostly men and rougher types would be my companions at that time. Responsible for this new worker, he didn’t like the idea of my hanging around the dark at stations or traveling in that company. It was all I could do to convince him not to pick me up from class himself.
As it was, he accompanied me on my first metro journey. I was to stand close to women whenever there were any, avoid using cross-body bags with long “sliceable” straps or stowing things in my pockets, never show my phone, and keep my eyes peeled at all times. I was to call him at any time in any need. I took the metro every night for the duration of the class and to team meetings, appointments, and, basically, whenever it could get me where I needed to go.
While my colleagues both foreign and national eschew the metro because of its reputation for petty theft, discomfort, and unreliability, the metro has become my favorite form of city transport. As someone with very little sense of direction, the stops have become orientation points for me around town. The crushing crowds are my chance to be among everyday persons going about their business. The long rides are a chance to think and pray for those around me without any distraction from my phone. And most exciting of all, I have discovered a sub-culture.
Young people still give up the very few and coveted seats to elderly ladies and injured individuals. I might be thrust aside by the enthusiasm of an exiting crowd, but if you are in a wheelchair, driving a baby buggy, or lugging a suitcase, someone will stop the tide to help you onto the platform. Beggars and salespeople work the aisles undisturbed. An unspoken rule allows a woman standing to hand her bag or bundle to a lady seated and expect the latter to hold it for her for the duration of her journey. Strangers grip strangers when hand straps are out of reach, and a quick smile or apology serves as simultaneous introduction and permission. I’ve ridden the same line long enough now that the chewing-gum salesman pauses in his sales progress to help me practice my dialect. Metro line #2 has become “my” line.
Where am I going with this, you ask?
I’ve arrived at the conclusion that something which at first seemed risky has since absorbed me into a culture of caring. What seemed inconvenient and slow, has proven a true north to my shaky compass needle. Hours of travel apart from my earphones have resulted in prayer that comes now in an almost Pavlovian reflex to my stepping between the spring-loaded doors. These days, an Uber-like car service is available when a taxi is not, but who wants to chance an unknown driver at an astronomical price? No, the metro for me. As it turns out, this form of transportation has proven transformative.
About the Author: Kimberly is an IDEAS Associate and agricultural specialist. She works alongside local farmers in rural North Africa, giving them access to resources, techniques, information and hope. Enjoy other blogs by Kimberly, such as Surviving the Elements.