Stories from Afar & Up Close

Pulling out the big guns

Coming back from Damascus, I was once dropped off at the highway just before Beirut and needed to take another bus to get back home in Hamra. I got on a mini-van which happened to be empty and was supposedly going my way. Unfortunately, the driver changed his plans upon seeing me, and took a left turn where I knew we should be going right. I asked him where we were going, and he said he ‘just wanted to pick something up at home, I didn’t mind now did I? We could have a cup of tea together?’But yes, I did mind, so I opened the door of the van and when he saw I wasn’t kidding, he slowed down and I jumped out.


Last year I was living on one end of an L-shaped building. On the other end, new apartments were still under construction. Communication with the construction workers was usually courteous and friendly, until one day they employed a guy who just couldn’t stop staring into our apartment. Whether my roommate and I were in our respective bedrooms or in the living room, his eyes were constantly following us. One day I couldn't take it anymore, so I went over to the work-site and told him in no uncertain terms (in limited Arabic, yes, but with easy-enough to understand hand gestures) that I had had enough of his non-stop looking into our house. Luckily, the other workers followed me and yelled at him what the hell he thought he was doing, and before I was back in my apartment they had sent him away and never employed him again.


A few days ago, I was home alone in my pajamas, when I heard voices on our rooftop-terrace. To my surprise, I found the janitor of the building right outside our open balcony-doors, showing the living room to a prospective tenant. When he noticed me, he backed away, but a minute later the doorbell rang. It was the manager of the building: if I could please move over and show the tenant our house. This time in French, I was a bit more eloquent: Did he think it was ok to sneak into my house like that? What if I was in the bathroom? Or walking around in my underwear? Just to name a few scenarios. He saw nothing wrong with it, after all the prospective tenant was an American woman – just like you! But neither am I American, nor is the janitor, who was also there standing on the terrace of my house with the tenant, a woman (and neither of which are really the point, ultimately), so I slammed the door in his face.

This morning, the manager wanted to speak to Walid about the inappropriate behavior of his wife, what with me denying them entrance to my own house and objecting to the janitor breaking in by way of the terrace. Walid asked him what he would do if a stranger would enter his house when his wife was home alone, and when the manager didn’t know what to answer, the assembled neighbors were there to help him out: shoot him, of course! ***

A while ago, a foreign friend of mine living in Beirut for the summer wanted to take a bus home, but accidentally got on the wrong line. A friendly passenger advised her to stay put until the end of the line, when the bus would turn around and go back to where it came from. Sensible advice, except that the bus, with my friend as the only passenger left, did not turn back – the driver took some back-roads until he got to the highway, parked the bus on the side of the road, and sat down next to my friend, to ask if she was married, after which he proceeded to grope her. She screamed and pushed him off of her, but having learned never to get out of a vehicle on the side of a highway she still needed to stay with him until he decided to drive again and get back to the inhabited part of the city.

We have so far identified which type of bus is was (the beige one), and which line (the 4), and there are apparently only 4 or 5 drivers on this line so it won’t be long until we’ve singled out which driver it was, but we’re as yet undecided what to do with him. Sending in a big friend acting as her husband, although probably an effective scare, will only reinforce the idea that what he did would have been ok if she were not married, so we need something else. These are obviously issues that need attention on a much wider scale, but until then we have to deal with it on a case by case basis. Anybody any ideas?