Journal: Driving in Lebanon

Fellows Fall 2004

By Julie Goodman

June 01, 2009

Being a pedestrian can sometimes be a challenge on the streets of Beirut.

Being a pedestrian can sometimes be a challenge on the streets of Beirut.

One of my first challenges in Beirut was trying to cross the streets alive.

There, lane divisions are just guides, as are red lights and stop signs. People veer the wrong way down one-way streets, and intersections are complete disorder.

It was baffling to me the way drivers would make wide-arching left hand turns from the right hand lane or leave their car parked virtually in the middle of the street to jump out for a falafel sandwich.

Maha, my translator, told me motorists in Beirut are not actually driving. They are dancing.

And, indeed, even to the untrained eye, travel in the country seems to be more of an instinctual motion than a regulated one.

Drivers, erratic as they seem, are acutely aware of other motorists, taking note of who is talking on the phone and who appears to be thinking about turning left while on the road.

Out of the madness of Ramadan rush hour appears an orchestral movement, with hands flying off steering wheels in gestures of anger. Horns blow in a synchronized system of chaos.

But everyone does seem to get to where they're going.

I was surprised to hear Maha, a Georgetown University graduate who also worked in Washington, say she was scared to drive in the capital during her stay in America.

A false move in Beirut will get you a honk of the horn.

In the United States, she said, it will get you an eight-car pileup.

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