A RIDE ALONG BEIRUT
* Excerpt, full piece published at Mashallah News
Every day, the approximately 300 mini-vans of Beirut's route No. 4 weave their way through the city like ants digging away at the earth. With each trip back and forth, their route scrapes away at the surface of the city, further ingraining itself as an inseparable part of it. An unmissable way of "getting there" for passengers, and a means of making (some sort of) a living for drivers. An exhilarating experience - exhausting chaos.
There and back. And again. Often five, even eight, times a day.
Bus route No. 4 runs from three stations near the Lebanese University campus in Hadath to the American University of Beirut Medical Center in Hamra, traversing a large section of the city's infamous Green Line, which divided Beirut in two during the civil war. Going along for the whole ride exposes an intriguing "slice" of the city. At some points, it flashes past like a fast-forwarding reel of film: blurry and inexhaustible in its contrasting, contradictory impressions. A tall, imposing cheese-grater of a building - abandoned. Construction sites. A strange statue of some fat politician. Traffic lights that don't work. Automobiles and their frustrated, happy, or half-awake drivers. The odd pedestrian or tree fighting for their right to exist.
At other times, bogged down in yet another traffic jam along Spears Street or at the Mar Mikhael Church intersection, the city lies motionless around you like a massive, panting beast. You finally have time to take a closer look at your surroundings. Maybe you can pick up again, if only for a fleeting moment, the fragile thread that ties all of these disparate places together into one city: Dahiyeh, Ain el Remmaneh, Chiah, Badaro, Ras el Naba`, Basta, Bachoura, Monot, Downtown, Hamra.
All the while, the beast exhales its intoxicating fumes into your lungs, and you wonder how anyone manages to stay sane in the midst of this cacophony of car horns, roaring engines, and oppressive heat...