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Remembering the daily micro ride

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.

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mayakateb September 10, 2014 at 11:18 pm

I rode the “Micro” for the first time when I was in fifth grade. We didn’t have cell phones at the time so there was a lot of coordination by phone between the sending end (my mom) and the receiving one (her sister) until I got to the final destination. My mom was very hesitant about such step and it took my father’s courage to push my sister and I towards many of those first adventures.

Julia Rampen September 13, 2014 at 7:58 am

Thanks for taking the time to comment on the blog. I travelled in Syria as a student, so we took buses everywhere to save money. We really liked how on the inter-city buses there was coffee and even cake. It was very different from catching a bus in the UK!

Fadios September 13, 2014 at 11:39 am

it is really exciting to ride a ” micro ” here in Syria . . you can feel the faces and read them all . . . it really reflects the general atmosphere here . . i take a ” micro ” everyday and because of that habit i can be closer to what is really happening in the Syrian society . .


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