When the driver of a London double decker bus stops to let one more running figure on, it always leaves a smile on my face. That such a well-calibrated system still has space for a human gesture gives me hope. And, just a little, it reminds me of home.
In Syria, the ‘micro’ or ‘service’ is a white mini bus. It’s meant to hold 12-14 passengers, but creative drivers often add an extra couple of seats in the corridor.
Tourists considered riding a micro a reckless adventure. But when I lived in Syria, the everyday employee took it back and forth to work. Despite my mother’s constant disapproval, in 9th grade I managed to start taking micros. This way I saved my allowance money for fun instead of taxis.
One great characteristic of micros is they are the one vehicle every Syrian driver fears driving near, so you can rely on getting where you want fast. And unlike public buses, micros stop everywhere the driver feels like stopping. This allows you to catch a micro at a red traffic light in the middle of the road.
Music blasting out of the front speakers, countless sudden breaks – these signs indicate an experienced driver. Certain drivers are fans of Arabic singers, while others prefer the radio. Others still listen to lectures and force all passengers to listen with them. This is why a well-travelled passenger aims for a window seat and keeps their headphones on.
The intimacy with fellow passengers extends beyond the cosy seating and sharing a newspaper. When you collect coins from everyone, it becomes personal. You must ensure everyone has received their change and remind those who haven’t paid to do so.
I’m not sure if the micros rides back home have changed a lot since I last was there. But I have a feeling Syrians still rely on the service. Maybe now, instead of exchanging polite talk about the weather, they are exchanging well-wishes and urging each other to be careful in such difficult times.