Overseas Briefing

By Guest Contributor

For as long as I can remember I have always loved taking public transportation. As a child I loved swiping my plastic fare card during family trips to the Big Apple. When in Washington, D.C., I worked to memorize the rainbow tangle of the metro system, as it granted me access to an exciting world of fast moving trains, map deciphering and endless people-watching.

It was only natural then that I made it a goal at the beginning of the semester to figure out the bus system in Amman, and to use public transit instead of relying on taxis to get everywhere.

But to be perfectly honest, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I soon discovered that there really is no bus “system.”

It’s not like Washington, D.C. or Atlanta or Austin or even my hometown of Fort Wayne where websites offer colorful guides and passenger information on local courses. There’s no centralized map of the city’s routes, nor is there a record of what is and isn’t reachable by bus.

Buses also aren’t labeled with the name of the routes. Instead, drivers pull up alongside the curb and the fare collector jumps off, shouting the name of the direction and corralling passengers aboard before the bus lurches onward toward its next stop.

After a few weeks of avoiding public transit entirely, I forced myself out of my comfort zone. One day on the way home from school, I decided that I would take the bus.

As I waited anxiously outside the University of Jordan gates, I must have asked a dozen drivers how to get to my neighborhood; each one told me that no buses passed by Um Utheina. “How convenient,” I thought.

Finally, one driver ushered me onto his bus and assured me that by getting off at the second stop I’d be within walking distance of my house.

Stop after stop passed, and I finally hopped off at the traffic circle only to realize that I was farther away from my house than I was when I had begun.

Much to my chagrin, I took a taxi.

Though, remembering the goal that I had set for myself at the beginning of the semester, I refused to accept defeat. I settled on a new strategy: maybe it would be easier if I tried taking the bus to the University in the morning. Waking up an hour earlier one Sunday, I waited patiently at the circle where my host father assured me a big yellow bus would stop on its way to UJ.

I waited for 45 minutes without any luck.

Every morning of that next week I spent hours waiting at various spots along the route to the University hoping to get lucky, but I never actually found a bus stop. I would arrive at school sweating, with my hair in a tangled mess and my feet aching from waiting for so long.

“What the heck?” I wondered. “Did I just not understand correctly? How could something so simple back home be so confusing here?”

Getting a grip on transportation here has been a pretty comical and bizarre experience, especially because every time I inquire about routes, I get an answer that contradicts the previous one. Even though I still haven’t achieved my goal of mastering the system, the experience has helped me discover that many of my assumptions — both about public transportation and other aspects of daily life — must be completely discarded in Jordan.

With this realization in mind, I have decided to adopt a new attitude and a new approach — I now plan to spend a day riding the buses, wherever they go. I’ll chat with locals, map the routes and explore the city. By doing so, I hope to finally learn how to fully utilize public transportation in Amman, and just as importantly, to grow in my understanding of the people — and the city — in the process.

Written by Rachel Sider ’13 from Amman, Jordan

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