Friday, July 21, 2017

The earth stood still because it misread Beirut traffic lights (and other geographical indications in Lebanon)

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly and Fady Chahine
Well there you go, the earth stood still - it took the Beirut traffic lights seriously when they are nothing more than mere suggestions. On intersections with police officers on them, giving contradictory signals to the ones on the lights, please do not move before he finishes his discussion with his long lost "khayye habibi" who happens to have wanted to take a turn to the right but criss-crossed three lanes (causing almost four accidents) to speak to the policeman in question.
I was once in Dahyeh asking about a certain address, the indications given to me by a young man were like - "take your left then you see a parked red car, after the car go right, there's a sign for a butcher but he might be closed, cross to the right - there's a van on the corner - and the building you want is right there".
Lo and behold, the red car was there, the butcher was closed, the van was right on the spot, and the building was right there. With a small problem: It had no entrance. As in seriously, I went behind it, in front of it, to the sides, but there was no entrance. So I dutifully went back to the man and explained to him my issue. He looked at me as if to say "must I do everything in this town?" so on we went again to the red car, the closed butcher, the van, and when we go to the building the young man went to the side of it, took off a zinc piece of metal which was laid there and showed me what could be described as hole-in-the-wall-cum-entrance for an eight story building. "There! Can't you see the entrance?"
Of course, such incidents are not unusual - if you ever take a bus to the north, on the way back, it is often that passengers ask to be deposited as "jisr el khachab" - the wooden bridge. It happened several times and it left me puzzled, whenever the bus would stop there was no bridge in sight, neither wooden nor otherwise.
So I took my guts in both hands and asked the driver about it. Needless to say, he gave me the same look that man in Dahyeh did - must I explain everything to dim-witted Beirutis? - and he showed me a wooden element which goes right above the water-channeling ditch right where he parked. "See?" he self-evidently said. "That's a wooden bridge". Apparently, the presence of a small piece of wood above a ditch to help passengers go to the other side of it is deemed enough to be called bridge.
Now of course, sometimes it's pushing it, on a bill from Electricite du Liban, the famous American University of Beirut was described as, "opposite McDonald's". Which brings us to "7ad wayn aloulak?" - whenever you hear this, run!