Tag Archives: driving in Lebanon

On basic human decency.

I understand that people in Lebanon have been driving this way for as long as they’ve known themselves, and I also understand that the lawlessness has its roots in war (or rather, wars).  I understand that the concept of “pedestrian right of way” does not exist in Lebanon, and that when choosing to cross the street here, I am accepting the risk that cars might not stop for me, even if I am in plain sight.

But one thing I do not understand is how people do not yield to a woman pushing a stroller when she is trying to cross the street.   No excuse or explanation will ever make me understand that type of behavior.  It is beyond my comprehension.  Way.. WAY beyond my comprehension.

To try and get people to change their driving habits in Lebanon would be an exercise in futility –  but maybe..just maybe..I can get people to change the single habit of not yielding to pedestrians in the street.

To all of my readers, understand that when people are crossing a busy street or intersection, it is likely that they have no other means of getting to their destination than to cross a busy street.  If they had another way of reaching where they need to go, I’m sure they would take it!  Please, especially in the case of women/men with strollers, exercise basic human decency, and let them pass. And that doesn’t mean inch your car as clooooose as you can to the pedestrian in question..it means leaving an ample amount of room for the person to cross without feeling pressured.

Where did all of this come from?  Well, I was crossing the street in downtown the other day when I spotted a woman who was in obvious distress..there she was, stuck in the middle of downtown traffic with a stroller, trying to get cars to stop for her so she could pass.  When I saw this, I ran to where she was standing and put my body in front of an oncoming car so that she could finally cross the street.  The driver threw his hands up in the air in disgust.  I threw my hands back at him in disgust.

After the woman and her stroller reached the sidewalk safely, I turned to her and said, “I’m so sorry, I really am so sorry.”  Angry and flustered, she looked down at her baby to see if she was ok..and then looked at me and said, “This is the worst country in the world. Really.  Thank you so much for your help.”

Please. Yield to pedestrians when they are trying to cross the street.  It is the decent thing to do.

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Sometimes, I’m at odds with myself.

Let me explain.

Not having a car means that I have to take taxis at least twice a day – to and from work. Usually I only take service taxis, but on the rare occasion that I have to go visit some friends outside of Beirut, I usually call a private taxi service.

Friday after work, I had plans to go visit a friend in Hazmieh, where I lived for about five months before moving to Hamra.  Most of the taxi drivers that work for the private taxi company I use know me by name – I used to call on them twice a day when going to and from work from Hazmieh. Usually, the ride with them is very pleasant..we talk about life..about work..about how I’m enjoying Lebanon..about how they have to work a second job just to pay for their wives to go to the salon three times a week (true story!)..

But on Friday, my experience was very..very.. different.

I had given the taxi company instructions to meet me outside of DHL in downtown.  I was having coffee at a nearby restaurant with some friends waiting for the customary missed called signifying that the taxi is either close by, or at the appointed destination..I get the miss call, say my goodbyes, and start heading towards the taxi..then I get another missed call, and another, and another..until I look down at my cellphone and see that the taxi driver missed called me 6 times in a row..

“Something must be wrong.” I thought.  “Usually they aren’t this impatient.”

My pace quickened.

Finally, I got in site of the taxi and started waving just as he was about to miss call me again.  As soon as I get in the taxi, he started to rant,

“20 dollar! 20 dollar ticket!” he yells as he waves this piece of paper in front of me with indecipherable Arabic written on it..

“Excuse me?” I ask, unsure of whether he was trying to charge me $20 for the ride from downtown to Hazmieh..

“The police! He give me $20 ticket for waiting on the road for you!  I drive 14 hours a day and I don’t even make $20 dollar!” he says as he puts his head in his hands.  It was painfully obvious what a big deal a $20 ticket was to him.

I didn’t know what to say, usually the taxi drivers know not to wait on the main road, and swing around into the parking lot where they aren’t block traffic.  And I knew that I hadn’t kept him waiting for that long of a time to warrant a $20 ticket.  But even so, my heart broke.  The driver must have been in his early twenties, but the wrinkles around his eyes made him look a lot older.  He looked exhausted..exasperated..on the verge of tears.

I spotted a ring on his wedding finger and immediately my mind jumped into a different scene.  There I was, sitting inside his home..watching as he explained to his wife that he got a $20 ticket at work today..and saying, “I don’t know what we’re going to do..”

But my mind quickly came back to the present as we started swerving in and out of traffic..my body sliding left and right with every turn of the car..

“You see, there is no traffic here,” he said, as he whisked past old ladies, and children, almost knocking them over.  I don’t think I will ever get to accustom to how people in Lebanon drive with complete and utter disregard for everything and everybody.

I began to get a little concerned as his driving got progressively worse.  I decided it was best to keep my mouth shut.  I had just cost the man $20.  I remembered this, and opened my wallet to see if I had enough money to pay for the trip, and for the ticket. But after going through my wallet and my bag, all I could find was 19 thousand.  I’ve always had a bad habit of never keeping cash on me.

My silenced ended when we stalled on a ramp that feeds onto the highway that takes you to Hazmieh.  I looked up at the driver and saw that he was getting ready to REVERSE DOWN THE RAMP with cars coming our way!

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I yelled..

“Look at the traffic!” he said as he pointed to the sea of cars that lay ahead of us..

And then I remembered.  The Syrian and Saudi president were in town visiting the President at the palace in Baabda.  Of course there was going to be traffic.

“It will take us an hour and half to get through!” he exclaimed..

I glanced behind me and saw cars quickly approaching.  There was no way I was going to let him reverse down a highway..even though I knew that making him wait in traffic would cost him even more money..what was I supposed to do?

“Please.” I said.  “I would prefer if you didn’t. It’s not safe”

With a huff and a slam on the gas, we joined the impenetrable traffic jam.

And then the rage began..

Swerve. Honk. Stop. Go. Screech. Dodge. Honk Honk Honk Honk!!..like a live game of bumper cars..soldiers looking on at the crazed antics of this taxi driver.  I swear, driving in this country is enough for you to want OUT.

I kept my eyes forward.  Too embarrassed to look at the disgusted faces of the people in the cars next to me.  At one point we were at a complete standstill, which is when he proceed to get out of the car to survey the scene himself..Hands in the air he cursed..he cursed life, his job, the traffic…me.

He got back in the car just as the traffic started moving again, and within a few minutes we arrived at my destination.

“I knew it wouldn’t take an hour and a half,” I told him..which is when I handed him the 19 thousand, knowing full well that the ride costs about 11..”I’m sorry for the ticket, but this is all I have.  Next time, if you drive around there is a parking lot where you can wait for me..so that you won’t get another ticket,” he took the money not listening to a word I was saying, and sped off just as I slammed the door behind me..

I’m at odds with myself because a part of me feels that I should call the taxi company and tell them about the incident.  Under no circumstance is it ok to berate a paying customer for your mistake, reverse down a highway ramp, nor subject a customer to unjustifiable road rage..

But then another part of me feels that doing so would cost him his job, and me, my conscience.

14 hours a day, and still..a $20 ticket could be enough to break him for the month.  Does everyone feel this way, or is not being able to cope with unforeseen incidents, such as getting a ticket, limited to only taxi drivers?

It makes me wonder, would he have acted this way had he been compensated fairly for his efforts?

How much more strain can the Lebanese take?

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Screeeeeeech!

There needs to be an intervention, screeeeeching brakes are not cool, nor are they safe!!  Why don’t people here take care of their vehicles?

Symptoms of bad car brakes:

You car makes a sqeeling noise every time you stop your vehicle.

People around you cringe when you approach.

It takes you longer than normal to stop, so you keep pressing harder and harder on your brakes, making a louder and louder squeeling noise!

This is serious.  Let me be the first to tell you, YOU NEED NEW BRAKES!

If I had the means, I would personally buy brake fluid and break pads for all of the vehicles and motor vehicles that make so much damnnnnnned noise!  Am I the only one who cringes when a screeeecching car pulls up next to them?  As if the honking isn’t bad enough…

It wasn’t until I came here that I believed in noise pollllution.  But really, if your brakes make noise, fix the problem.  It is in everyone’s best interest to do so!

According to a car repair website called repair pal,

“Noise heard while braking is an indication of brake wear and the brakes should be inspected. Brakes are very much a safety item, and delaying repair is not a safe strategy. In fact, delaying repair can potentially lead to more expensive repairs because worn brake pads can wear down to the metal backing. When the squealing turns into a grinding, the brake rotors are likely being damaged (often requiring replacement).  Continually driving a vehicle until the friction lining of the brake pads is worn away will lead to expensive damage—your brakes might even fail. Anytime the brakes make an abnormal noise, they should be inspected and repaired before the braking system becomes compromised in any way.”

Edumacate yourself and fix yo breaks!  Click here.

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