Stories from Afar & Up Close


My friend visiting me from the Netherlands and I were sitting in the back of the minivan going around Beirut. It was dark and raining outside, and we were the only ones left on the bus – we were getting close to the final destination. The van stopped to pick up another passenger. It was a young woman opening the sliding door, folding her umbrella and taking a seat on the first bench. The bus continued its way, the door still open. She’s not closing the door! my friend whispered to me. No of course not, I replied no longer surprised at the scene in front of us, women here don’t close the door. They wait for the men to do that. As we were the only other passengers on the van, there were clearly no men to close the door for her. So who’s going to close the door now? my friend asked, while the girl turned to close the small window next to her, still looking where those annoying gusts of wind and rain came from. No one, it will eventually close when we go downhill and the bus hits the brakes, I said. The door indeed remained open until a few minutes later we stopped at a crossroad.

It is something I can’t get used to, this weak attitude of many Lebanese women, and my Dutch friend’s astonished reaction was a nice reassurance that I am not alone in my disdain for the dependency it displays. Why would any girl need to pass the water bottle to her male friend to open it, when she has proven she can easily do so herself when he is not around? Why does he need to carry her bags, when she is the one who wants to take the stuff with her? I simply don’t understand what’s nice about seeing other people carrying my groceries to the car, or having to stand aside while some men are struggling to load my cupboard onto a truck – clearly in need of an extra hand, but unable to accept help from a woman.

Sietske seems surprised that the bank offers her a credit card and then requires her to bring her husband to sign with her. I say: in a country where women refuse to open or close their own doors, it only makes sense that they are not allowed to open or close their own accounts either.