Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On the Streets of Beirut These Days…

Driving in Beirut has always been a challenge to one’s patience, good graces and wits. I love driving in this city partly because I simply love driving, and partly because, on a day when I am particularly stressed and trying to contain it as best I can, the streets will always offer me an opportunity to yell at the top of my lungs and r-e-l-e-a-s-e. Don’t underestimate the therapeutic effects of screaming at another car behind locked doors and closed windows.

The scene is a little different these days, however. For one thing, road, tunnel and bridge constructions, and other detour-causing activities, have produced more bottle necks than over-extended, irate traffic policemen. This becomes ever more apparent when you hear a siren and use every spare accident-missing inch to try and make way. But that’s not all… With the state of affairs the way it is, you wonder where the ambulance is coming from, and if the poor soul being urgently rushed needs medical care for illness, accident or clash. You edge a little closer to the sidewalk, curve into the corner behind that other car. You are relieved to hear the siren steadily approaching, making its way to its destination. The siren is now next to you, you look over to find that it’s a police car… and it’s not alone. The car is part of a short convoy, and the car in the middle is tinted, bullet-proof and unmarked. Only one thought comes to mind now: car-bomb target!!! You do everything short of abandoning your car and running in the opposite direction. The realization makes its way down the queue of cars like a rolling wave, and space is fearfully carved out for the convoy, followed by a moment of stillness; nobody moves until we’re quite certain the car is in continuous motion and has reached a safe distance away. Moment over – and we all rush to take advantage of the fresh free space to speed towards our own destinations, instantaneously recreating our earlier traffic jam.

Typical day on the streets.

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