I spent the morning bus ride letting my head drop behind me on the rear glass window, trying
my best to relax and ignore the bumps of every pothole on the road. I say bus, but it’s
really a glorified van carrying far more people than its designed capacity. I’ve started using my
time on the morning and afternoon commute to sneak in a power nap on the way to and from
school, because it keeps me more alert during the day, and almost no one wants to talk on ride
over. The drive takes nearly forty minutes one-way and has a habit of tiring me out way more
than it should. At first I was using the time to read, but the lack of suspension and normal driving
style befitting Erbil roads quickly made me carsick. Staring down at a book page was not a
smart choice when constant acceleration, braking and frequent turns are a thing.
Morning conversations on the ride would normally die within five minutes of driving, and on most
afternoons the other people on the bus with me preferred to stare out of the window blankly
rather than talk. Napping on the two-way commute has helped me cut into the fatigue I build
every day that comes from a school day that lasts from 750 to 350.
The commute is pretty routine. We weave through narrow Ankawa streets picking up other
teachers, between 11-14 in total depending on who else might be driving or showing up for the
day. Our bus driver is good at his job. I wouldn’t say that makes for smooth driving- the ride is
actually jerky as hell- but he is good at his job. He understands all the strange nuances of
driving in Erbil. It’s a collection of lawless roads with beautiful foreign cars. I’ve already been to
a few countries where driving culture is probably the single most unsafe thing about a country,
and Erbil definitely competes with the best. it’s up there with the bulldozing taxis of Albania, the
reckless busses of Morocco, and the nihilistic motorcycle drivers of Sierra Leone. Like Sierra
Leone, I’m starting to be surprised that I haven’t witnessed a serious accident. Drivers drift left
and right, all over highways where lines are non-existent. It takes a skilled and experienced
individual to handle such roads, and that’s why I was so appreciative of our bus driver. He quit
two days ago. We weren’t a block away from school when he received a phone call, and pulled
the bus to the side of the road to yell at whoever was on the other end of that conversation. He
fumed for a few minutes, turned the bus around, and once we had parked in front of the school
again he got out and went inside. Our supervisor came out a minute later to tell us he had quit.
One of our PE teachers, Saleh, volunteered to drive the bus home for the day, he being the only
other person riding it who had a valid Kurdistan drivers license.
The next morning the bus showed up below my apartment at 710 as it does almost every
morning, with Saleh the PE Teacher driving. I got on, sat in the back, talked and shared stories
for maybe ten minutes, and then closed my eyes to relax. I’ve already done the drive enough
times to know every turn and stop, how long I can let myself be lulled into a soft nap, and after
which turn I have to pull myself out so I can have enough time to mentally prepare for the day.
We were not even five minutes from school when I was jolted out of my deep relax. Everybody
in the van slammed forward into the seat in front of them as we heard a crunch outside the van.
I looked up to see we had T-boned a taxi in the middle of the small intersection, and cars were
already honking from behind us and the taxi. First we were all quiet, than the jokes started, and
within a minute we all decided to hop out of the van to walk to school. I stepped out and waited
for a minute as a few others did, and listened to our PE Teacher’s argument with the taxi driver.
I couldn’t understand any of it, naturally, but it made me laugh. I looked at the front bumper of
our van and the passenger door of the taxi, neither one seemingly dented enough for how
jarring the impact seemed to be. The ten of us walked to school, laughing at how ridiculous
our day had started.
These are the situations that I am becoming used to, the ones you have to process with a good
deal of humor. There are a number of things here that do frustrate me to almost no end,
so when I do have a chance to laugh at something, I readily take it. It was random enough that
our bus driver had quit the day before, and that in the first morning after he walked out that we
had an accident. Laughing at these little situations has made it easier to get through a day that
already has plenty of surprises and seems to last forever. Laughing the little problems away
doesn’t excuse the fact that I still haven’t been issued my residency card, a process that is
supposed to take only a few weeks and is now going on forty days, but that’s a different story.