A Day in the Life of a … Bus Driver
Abu Mariam: ‘Nobody can imagine the mistreatment we undergo’
By Mike Derderian
Star Staff Writer
They are the silent bystanders of a bustling life, the captains who guide their 13-meter yellow vessels through asphalt rivers, carrying those who cannot afford taking any other means of transportation as they go about their day-to-day lives.
Sameer George Abu Mariam is one of those bus drivers, whom you’d meet as you ride Al Sharq Al Awsat (Mideast) bus, and you cannot but to admire the veteran driver.
As people file slowly towards the half empty bus at the station, the sound of dropping coins in the toll box doesn’t distract Abu Mariam who examines those entering the bus with inquisitive eyes.
A young woman scouring through her purse’s contents approaches the toll box and tells Abu Mariam, “It’s hard to find change? I have half a JD; is it good enough?”
“The problem is we do not give change,” exclaimed Abu Mariam, who has been driving for more than 51 years, while the woman tossed the coin and proceeded to the closest seat.
“When it comes to my work as a bus driver, if I was counting on its income to support my family, we would have died from hunger. The JD 160 they are paying us is nothing in light of the growing expenses of life. In addition to this primary salary they pay us JD 5 for Friday,” continued Abu Mariam.
“My first trip starts at 6:00am and ends at 7:30pm—as you can see I’ve just arrived here,” added the father of two boys and two girls. “The long hours are to ensure transport continuity for we are lacking drivers.”
Before becoming a bus driver, Abu Mariam operated heavy machinery and was a trainer with a CCC license and a long experience. But in order to keep his meter running, the 68-year-old man became a driver at the end of his career; he says that a man at his age should not stop working.
“I worked at a lot of projects; however, whenever I finish working in a project I go back to driving buses. In that line of work I’ve toured the world; went to the Faukland, Botswana, Lesoto and even South Africa,” proudly said Abu Mariam, who also expressed his disappointment on the way people look down at drivers.
“What we suffer most here in Jordan is the treatment we get from people—the passengers. Nobody can imagine the mistreatment we undergo and it doesn’t stop with those who like to bargain their ride,” stated Abu Mariam, adding that this type of people argue a lot and tend to give them a lot of hard time. “In addition to that our major problem is that people do not abide to bus stops.”
Abu Mariam’s bus route, that consists of eleven buses, eight of which work around the hour, starts from Al Sharq Al Awsat station going through Ra’as Al Ein, the Fifth circle, King Abdullah’s Gardens, Safeway street, which is one of the rough spots for drivers according to Abu Mariam, and the final stop at the Jordan University.
“Today, a lot of people stand under the bridge adjacent to the Safeway seeking shelter from the sun. So, when I am driving a 13-meter bus I can’t simply stop for a young man gesturing for a ride under the bridge,” explained Abu Mariam. “First it’s against the traffic regulations in Jordan, second it’s prohibited and the third reason is if I get a ticket for loading passengers from there the company will tell me that it was against regulations, so I’ll be in trouble.”
Not only he has to account for his company’s strict regulations, but Abu Mariam also encounters transgressions of impolite passengers, like that 17-year-old teenager, who spat on the bus no sooner it went past him because Abu Mariam refused to pull over in a spot other than the designated bus stop.
“I did nothing! What can I do? So, I swallowed the insult and went on to the next bus stop, to my amazement he simply went on board not remembering his act,” said Abu Mariam, who added if he scolded the boy people would blame him, since he is older.
One would think that a day of driving from one bus stop to another consists of only problems such as these, whereas, Abu Mariam’s day is further disrupted by taxi drivers. “Our colleagues fail to see that a bus licensed to a load of 60 to 70 passengers cannot stop easily, as they foolishly dash in front of us.”
“I am simply passing time, I used to work in Oman as a heavy machinery trainer,” said Abu Mariam, who first obtained his driving license in 1953 and the heavy machinery license three years later.
The hard working bus driver, who resides in Al Ashrafia, has no problem in waking up at 5:00am to go to the bus station. And sometimes, Abu Mariam uses his own car to get to the bus stop whenever the company car fails to pick him up saying that money doesn’t count as much as the importance of getting to work on time, since he has to move at 6:00am.
Once work is done, Abu Mariam heads home where he finds comfort spending the remainder of the evening with his wife and children as he watches recorded television episodes of his favorite programs that he missed while driving people around Amman.
“Until now there are some passengers who fail to notice that they boarded the wrong bus. Bus drivers like me in other countries are totally respected by passengers. We drive you to your work, school and university so a little respect for drivers won’t hurt anyone,” concluded Abu Mariam. “I have to say that pedestrians, more than drivers, should be aware of traffic regulations, especially those who cannot wait to jump out of the bus no sooner it begins to slow down or the moment the door opens.”
These pieces have been taken verbatim from the original edited series “A Day in the Life of a …” published in The Star Weekly on October, 7, 2004 , as I want to remind myself of my progression as a writer.
The series was edited by Walid Kalaji without whom I would have never scratched the skin to reach the mettle. I added the V a few years later as a tribute to my amazing father.
A total of 44 pieces were written. God willing I will publish one each month with a symbolic illustration of the interviewee and his/her profession.