We were going for a walk in Algiers. I admit it, complete madness! Not only because the temperature refused to drop below 36 degrees Celsius. But the members of my expedition, well-schooled in my opposition to practical objections, kept their mouths shut.
Algiers, New Orleans
The idea was to cross the Mississippi and to follow the levee to 5041 Patterson Drive. Roughly calculated, that would be about five kilometers over level terrain.
To the left of us, the Mississippi would accompany us and to the right the houses of Patterson Drive would block our view of the trigger-happy parish. Once arrived, completely overheated, we would get the key, hidden in a plastic rock, and throw ourselves in the swimming pool, the sole reason for the entire expedition.
Now there is a ferry to Algiers that takes people for free. But apparently, people don’t even want to go there for free, because there was no one on the boat. A
Algiers, once an area of abattoirs and munition depots, became a sanctuary in 2005 when the devastating force of Hurricane Katrina somehow overlooked this part of the city of New Orleans.
Garden District or Vieux Carré
Going for a walk in the United States is considered insane. But if you do go for a walk, you would go into a historically interesting area like maybe the Vieux Carré with its wrought iron balconies or the Garden District with wooden houses once built by plantation owners.
But you would never ever go for a walk in Metairie or Algiers. Unless of course you are tired of life or probably Dutch. But even then you would confine yourself to Algiers Point, the place to which the tourist signs point.
We ignored the signs and turned left in the direction of the levee that years earlier so bravely had resisted the force of Katrina. From the path on the levee you could see the Mississippi laying quietly next to us.
Patterson Drive starts with number 1: a bad sign for those having to go to 5041. Instead of rows of houses as we had expected, there were green fields of nothing.
After two hours of firm walking and moving ahead as much as three house numbers, Algiers Po’ Boys came to sight. Inside the owner greeted us from behind the counter: “Where y’all from?” I was about to say: “from the ferry,” but I knew what he meant.
We hadn’t exactly come in a pink caddy with rolled down windows blasting hip-hop like everyone else. No, we had come down from the levee in full view of the entire shop with stupid backpacks on.
Condoms and alligators
Algiers Po’ Boys was a shop in the best American tradition. Besides the usual freezer stuffed with cokes, it also offered instantaneous happiness in various area’s: condoms, beer, knives for fighting an alligator, and survival kits for those less lucky in the fight and about to succumb to their wounds.
In the back of the store there was a second counter. Black ladies with white hats willingly scooped former Louisiana swamp life onto sandwiches. Po’ boys!
US Naval Base
“Where y’all heading?” asked the owner who apparently had decided that we were insane but harmless. “My mom wants us to walk to number 5041”, the eight year old explained. “You can’t go there” he commented right away. “At least not by taking the levee. You will stumble upon the US Naval base.”
I looked on the map, and he was right. If we were to continue, we would soon see the gates of the base in front of us Now what? “How long would it take for us to go around it,” I asked. “No idea lady,” the owner said, while focusing on the levee. I have never met anyone who walks around a naval base. Not ever!
The members of my expedition sucked in hot humid air, and waited for my decision before breathing out.
“Well then we just walk around” I said with a happy intonation I didn’t feel.
We took a right at the first opportunity into Algiers en continued walking along the gates of the base. Signs warned us that whoever climbed the gate, without permission, would be shot.
We passed small houses that once must have had color, but now had turned into a hopeless brow. Here and there bits of plastic in the shape of a ball or a doll. It was dead quiet. As if the heath had taken out all noises.
Platoon in the jungle
It took us two hours to get around the naval base. No one talked to us, no one bothered us. Like a lost platoon in the jungle, we marched through a humid and noiseless no one’s land. Where we had expected to get back to the levee, it went wrong. Big gates, houses, guard dogs on leashes all prevented us from getting back to the levee.
“I think it is about time we start looking for a bus”, the other adult member of the expedition decided. We had already rejected the idea of a taxi hours ago. There were no taxi’s. We turned away from the levee in the direction of a parallel avenue and walked into a street where a black teenager with dreadlocks was talking to a white elderly man.
“Car broke down?” the man inquired friendly. “Well not exactly. We were walking and got lost.” I knew how ridiculous that sounded. “Walking?” they both echoed. The dreadlocks moved from left to right and back, each time the girl shook her head in disbelief.
“But where have you walked from? “The ferry,” the ten year old expedition member answered. “The ferry?” the dreadlocks stopped at once. “Yo Emerson, come over here. Listen to this” the girl shouted at a boy further down the road. “Them people came from them ferry. WALKING!”
Ferry of Algiers
Emerson came closer, carefully holding his crotch. Four more boys followed at a close distance. “What ferry?” asked Emerson, as if Algiers were a tropical island with ferries stopping over all day long.
Keisha, as the girl was called, had spotted us first, so technically we were hers. She turned herself into our spokeswoman. Every newcomer received a summary of our adventure.
Them folks from them ferry
Although summary is not quite the right word since the information got longer each time. She told them who we were (them folks from them ferry), and where we were from (them folks from them ferry). The newcomer was then expected to repeat the last words as in a gospel chorus. The ferry? What ferry? Thát ferry?
When Keisha finally got out of breath, I took my chance and asked about a bus. “A bus?” the old man said in disbelief. “You people can’t go on a bus. That is dangerous. You will be robbed and harassed.”
He spat out the word harassed and looked at me as if to say: ‘and that is the nice version’. Now being shot at was one thing, but to also get robbed and harassed was even for me a bit much.
The old man looked at us for a while and then said. “Would it be an idea if I take you guys to Patterson? That is, if you don’t mind the garbage in my car.”
“Y’all come back ya hear!”
We nodded, somehow relieved. Five minutes later we said goodbye to the neighborhood. Everybody wished us good luck and each of them completed the goodbyes with a hug and the words: “y’all come back ya hear!”
On the main road to Patterson the old man looked at me from underneath his baseball cap. “I didn’t want to say this in front of these people but Algiers is a dangerous place. People get hurt around here. There are a lot of whacko’s around.
I nodded in silence. As far as I could tell the only whacko’s in Algiers were five people walking: them people from them ferry!
Text: Anneke de Bundel – Image: Shutterstock
This story has been published in Columbus Magazine.