A bus ride is more than just getting from A to B—although, under ideal circumstances, this is exactly what should happen. But before, during, and after many things can occur. So here is a guide on how to find your bus, how to prepare for your journey, and what buses can teach you about life.
Taking the Bus: How to Get the “Bus Feeling” in Jordan
Taking a bus in Jordan can be a little complicated. First, you need to venture out to the bus stop, or a spot where someone told you that a bus would stop there at some point. When you arrive at said spot, a lot of very helpful people will tell you that there is no bus running there, or that the buses are not going today, because today is Friday (of course), or because yesterday was Tuesday (valid reason) or because it rained (can you believe it?) … But at some point, that is if you have time, a bus will come, stop (inshallah) and off you go.
The driver drives, the person on the other front seat collects the bus fare and, whenever driving past, a person will lean out of the window and yell where the bus is heading. Not only that, they will try to talk people into taking this exact bus and will invite or rather persuade them to board. As if someone coming out of the clothing store in Amman would suddenly think “Irbid? Oh, now I really want to go to Irbid, why not?” Because the buses start at a specific starting point and will end at a specific destination, however, every driver seems to have their preferred route there, so you really never know who will stop where.
It is truly fascinating how Jordanians manage to navigate this system. For example, quite regularly you will observe a person standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Buses and cars are passing by. And then suddenly, something changes, that person just knows that their bus is coming, and the bus driver just knows that they need to stop for this person standing on the curb. The bus screeches to a halt, the person enters and off they go again—I am completely amazed and hope that my bus feeling will turn on sometime!
How to Journey: Traveling on Matatus in Uganda
Matatus are the main way of transportation between cities in Uganda. The small Toyota busses have the size of a Volkswagen, around 15 seats, and the capacity for an endless amount of passengers. My personal record was riding alongside 26 people, three babies, and three chickens.
Your journey starts by talking to as many strangers as it takes to find the correct place where the matatu will stop, and then some more strangers to bargain your bus fare! Once you have agreed on it, you need to find a place for your luggage and yourself. Here you have two options. The first option is to pile your backpack along with other luggage in the trunk, try to find a good seating spot (preferably in the back to avoid the crowds up front), and then enjoy the ride as much as possible. The second option, despite it making your ride a bit more uncomfortable, is to take your backpack along inside with you during the ride. Yes, you definitely have even less space with this thing on your lap, and yes, it gets super hot and humid. But it is a great solution to keep your bag clean from chicken excrement, and the rucksack can provide you with crucial survival services:
It can be an airbag, it keeps you nice and warm at night, and most importantly, it keeps mothers from putting their babies on your lap (or the disgusting blankets that are wrapped around them). It is quite common there that moms use a minibus as a holiday resort. They just station their kids and babies on the laps of the free babysitters around them who (very conveniently) can’t run away and enjoy getting some hours of peaceful sleep.
Since I am not so great with little kids, every trip I have in a bus displaying the words “God's Plan”, “Inshallah” or “Thank you, Jesus” is an adventure...
So what do buses teach you about life?
In Uganda, they taught me about a society where different religions were practiced and represented everywhere. They were visible in everyday life, yet not as a source of conflict which was something quite eye-opening for someone coming from a country where anything not Catholic or Protestant is met with distrust.
A bus is also a place where you can learn about the “unwritten rules” of society. Whether it is gender-separated seating in Jordan (with people often getting up during the journey to shuffle around), or something as simple as trusting in strangers to take care of your baby. In Sweden, I learned that being a bus driver does not prerequisite being sullen.
Sometimes it is not even about taking the bus. It does happen that a bus does not come and everything goes wrong. Still, then, you experience that people go out of their way to help you. You will meet a stranger who will help you get new bus tickets, you will find yourself in the backseat of a motorbike chasing down the bus you just missed, you will start talking to the stranger next to you and eight years later you look back and laugh at how your friendship started. Mishaps like this teach you patience about life and that in the end, everything will turn out OK sometimes.
Written by Julia Glatthaar.
Photo and cover photo by Julia Glatthaar.