or, They Actually Built That Ridiculous Bus Station!
Municipality Jebel Bani Hamida, Madaba, Jordan
|From Return to Jebel Bani Hamida|
This week’s trip with Tareef was a special one for me, for the beauty of the route, and the nostalgia. This was a route I’d taken by bus almost half a dozen times to visit a Peace Corps friend, Lynn. In fact, the whole route was reminiscent of Peace Corps, as we started in the village of Mshaggar, which was one of our training villages, drove through the center of Madaba past the bus stop for my training village of Ma’in, and ended up in Jebel Bani Hamida where Lynn and Cassie lived as Peace Corps Volunteers.
We actually started in the village of Mshaggar, north of Madaba, where 5 of our J7 Peace Corps Trainees lived in Spring 2004. We Ma’een Trainees went to visit them once, which was interesting to me because the terrain is so different. Ma’een is built on a hilltop, whereas Mshaggar is almost completely flat. It made a good place to start biking, a nice little warm-up to get us going.
Then we regrouped and rode right through the middle of Madaba, which was not as bad as I had anticipated. My memories of Madaba usually involve lots of little boys throwing stones at tourists and other foreigners, and my friend Chris who lives there now says not much has changed. A few boys did run at us as if they were going to push us over, but for the most part it was quite tame, thanks to the Tareef guys announcing in native-speaker Arabic to all and sundry that we were not tourists.
After that, the ride was pretty sedate, a few gentle ups and downs, until we got to this giant hill in Lib. Now, I’d come this way a number of times, at least a dozen, to visit my friend Lynn, to take my Auntie Viv to visit Lynn and climb Maccharaeus, and to take my parents to climb Maccharaeus. I knew that the big hill in Lib was coming, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. It wasn’t until after I’d walked half way up the hill at Lib, and then ridden a good distance more, that I remembered that the rest of the trip went up, up, up. Nader wasn’t kidding when he said that the second 25km were much harder than the first 25km. And a couple km after Lib, it wasn’t as fun. It seemed important to stop before it wasn’t fun at all anymore. So I rode the bus the rest of the way.
But there was one thing I still wanted to see more than anything on this trip. I wanted to know what had happened with the Jebel Bani Hamida bus station project. I like to tell this story as an example of one of the strengths of the Peace Corps. When Lynn first came to Jdaideh, one of 5 villages in the municipality of Jebel Bani Hamida, she went around asking village elders, “If I could find some money to do a big project, what do you need?” and they immediately said, “A bus station!”
“Nonsense,” said Lynn. “I ride the bus out to the village. You have a perfectly good bus, it runs frequently from Madaba, and it goes to every house in the village. What else do you need?” And she bargained them down, as they had probably expected, to a women’s center. A few months later, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) came to Jebel Bani Hamida and asked the village elders what the US could build for them. “A bus station!” they said. And USAID agreed. They arranged for the five villages to share one bus out to the site of the proposed bus station, and then the local buses would have new routes out to the homes in the surrounding villages. It seemed like a good idea, a bus station around which a local economy might develop, with local farmers and shepherds selling their goods to each other, saving them the 45 minute bus ride into Madaba proper. In reality, however, I was witness to several fistfights over this new bus route, which didn’t run frequently enough, and put young people from rival families on the same bus. Noses were bloodied, windows were broken…. It could get quite scary. By the time Lynn left Jordan, she told me that the five villages had gone back to the old bus routes. And yet, when we arrived on the mountaintop this afternoon, there was the bus station! Whether it will lead to the kind of economic development that USAID intended remains to be seen.