It is hot, and I am in the first minutes of what is going to be a long day of travel. They’re expecting me in Namus, and I’ve only just left Dir Edis after a long wait in front of the little post office. I should say: a long sit on the step outside the post office, watching the ants go into and out of their holes. I’ve been here two years now and sometimes I worry about my fascination with the ants.
So I am relieved when the bus finally arrives. It’s a bus I don’t recognize and the driver is identifiably religious, wearing the hat marking him a hajji and a long white dishdash, with his red-and-white kaffiyeh wrapped over his shoulders. He also has a vague bruise in the middle of his forehead. I know it’s completely unfair, but I’m always a little more wary of men dressed like this, I guess because they seem more likely to be offended by anything I do wrong. So I avert my eyes as I hand him my coins and sit down demurely several seats behind him.
There are fortunately few people standing at the roadside “bus stops” along the downhill stretch of Dir Edis, so that stretch doesn’t take long. We pass through the village arches festooned with welcomes and good wishes for the king and turn right toward Irbid. The view is what it always is: bare rocky desert, distant olive groves, and the occasional odd pyramid of loose rocks that either denotes a property boundary or the resting spot of a very bored shepherd-child. We twist up and down, into and out of the two wadis between us and the major Irbid-highway.
Between Dir Edis and Irbid there is one other village, really more of a suburb of Irbid than a village, with the usual assortment of little stores but also featuring a gas station and several mechanics. I have occasionally been on a bus that stops to refill at the gas station. Even more occasionally a bus driver will pull up outside this village’s bakery, which is on the main road, and lean out to order bread for himself and anybody else on the bus who wants some. I guess this is a nice service for the people who live on the near side of Dir Edis, further from the baker, so they don’t have to head up the hill after they get home. It still feels like a peculiar presumption on the schedules of the other bus-riders. But time moves differently here, as I have to remind myself again and again.
And it looks like this is going to be one of those times, as the bus slows just east of the gas station and we pull up in front of a shop I don’t recognize. Better yet, rather than simply yelling out the window, our bus driver disembarks. He walks around to my side of the bus and enters into a vigorous conversation with a man sitting on a stool just outside the shop. I don’t understand the word for what he wants, but he wants two kilos of whatever-it-is, and he doesn’t want to pay the asking price.
Finally the two men come to an agreement and the shopkeeper disappears inside. I begin to count to myself in my head, partially to calm myself down. It’s not like anybody needed to get from the tiny village into the big city for anything important. This is even worse than stopping on the way to Dir Edis, when the driver could at least safely assume that we were done with our business for the day. But no, I’m sure his preference for the canned goods of this particular shopkeeper outweighs any need any of us might have for, you know, transportation. How typically Jordanian, I think.
I have counted to ninety when the shopkeeper reemerges with a bulging black kees of whatever-it-is. The bus driver pays him and thanks him with a handshake and walks back around to reboard the bus. As I follow him with my eyes, I notice that nobody else looks even mildly concerned: every other face on the bus wears the distracted stare-int0-middle-distance that is the norm in public here.
When the driver boards the bus, he doesn’t slide into his seat immediately as I’d expect. Instead he sets the bag on his seat, unties its knot, and slips its handle over one wrist. He steps to the first seat and extracts from the bag a long, ridged cucumber, which he hands to the first passenger with a grave nod. He works his way to the back of the bus handing every person a single cucumber. Only when we are all cucumber-enabled — and his bag is almost empty — does he return to his seat and start the motor.
I look around the bus in bewilderment and notice two things. First, the cucumbers are apparently for eating, as several of my fellow travelers are eagerly gnawing away at them. I tentatively bite into mine and find it sweeter than the smooth cucumbers I normally buy (and on which I would not typically snack as if they were bananas!).
Secondly, the mood on the bus has changed distinctly. Before, we were strangers on our way to diverse and unrelated business in the big city. Now we are fellows from Dir Edis sharing a cucumber picnic.
How typically Jordanian, I think.