Stories from Afar & Up Close

At the end of the line

One of the things I have wanted to do since I got to Lebanon is to ride every line of the public bus-system from beginning to end. Many Lebanese people try to tell me there is no public transport in Lebanon, but I regularly take the bus, so I know this to be incorrect. However, I didn’t manage to convince anyone of the contrary until I got hold of this map:

Yes, that is a route map for almost all lines operating in Beirut. Now since this is Lebanon, of course it is not as straightforward as this piece of paper would have you believe (there are competitors in beige-colored busses who go the same routes but take shortcuts if they think they can make more money that way, for example; and there are times when the bus driver has a bad day and refuses to go the last few kilometers if he only has one or two passengers), but in general the system works quite well: you pay 1000 liras (€0.50) when you get on, and you can stay on the bus until he turns around to go back.

It’s usually fun to be on the bus. It goes slow, so you see a lot along the way (and by slow, I mean really, really slow), and you often meet people. Since it is such a cheap way of transportation, a large part of the passengers are foreign workers (Sri Lankans, Ethiopians, Syrians) going to town on their day off, which makes for many smiles and a festive atmosphere. There’s never a dull moment: I’ve had a bus driver offering everybody a coffee his local roadside coffee-stand, a bus driver who sang hymns with his passengers, a bus driver who made an extra stop to get his green beans for dinner, and a bus driver who passed by home to pick up his kid (asking one of the passengers to go to the 3rd floor to tell them to hurry up). Unfortunately, I’ve also had a bus driver drinking beer, a bus driver who blocked another one’s way, jumped out of the bus and beat him up, and a bus driver who threatened to slap a Sri Lankan woman because she refused to give her seat to a Lebanese passenger (I still regret not speaking up then).

In general, however, I like to ride the bus, in all its dirtiness, dustiness and brokenness. And at the end of the line, there’s always a surprise. Here’s what I found in Bhalnes:

Half a bus! Doesn’t that make you want to get on the road with the glorious L.C.C., the Lebanese Commuting Company? (Not to be confused with the L.T.C., which is, as I understood, the only true public transportation – the L.C.C. is a privatized copy installed by Hariri.)