To Ramlet el Bayda I chose to embark
With Jad, my trusty homegrown guide,
Who had spent three hours trying to park.
The parking spot we found was quite wide,
But not, strictly speaking, lawful,
“We’ll just leave my number on the windscreen inside.”
I was met with a stench so awful
As soon as we stepped out of the Fiat,
It was a moldering box of falafel.
“That’s odd” I said to Jad in his straw hat,
“How one could abandon such a thing,
Must have left it out for a cat.”
My guide led the way and started to sing
But I was too flushed and sweaty to join in,
Long gone were the cool days of spring.
First to block our path was a large green trash bin
That across the whole sidewalk overflowed,
And piled bags all the way up to my chin!
After that we came across an uncrossable road,
Where two-ton heaps of steel were zipping by our side,
Restrained neither by traffic laws nor penal code.
Sixty six times in the next six seconds we almost died,
When Jad put a hand up and led me through,
Drivers seemed happy to assist our clear suicide.
Then I felt something give way under my shoe,
“Oh, we don’t clean up after our dogs either,” Jad said,
“I can’t keep my eyes on the ground for you.”
I felt a heavy throb in the back of my head,
I desperately needed to rehydrate,
All the moisture within my body had fled.
The last drops in my bottle were too few to satiate,
And I had already hauled a huge empty-bottle stash,
“Might I ever find a recycling bin in this state?”
“A recycling bin? Oh, don’t be so brash,
You know you can discard it wherever you may,
This whole city’s a big pile of trash!”
The next sight I beheld no canto can convey,
It left me behind my guide immobile,
Disguising my distressful dismay.
Three shirtless kids were digging through a pile
Of black and blue bags by the side of the street,
“What are you looking for?” I tried to smile.
One kid jumped onto his bare feet
And the two others followed him towards me,
“We were just looking for something to eat.”
“But we find a lot of cool stuff too,” said he,
“Like Legos or Transformers or a G.I. Joe,
But they’re always missing a limb or three.”
What to say to them I did not know,
Till Jad said “say nothing” and moved me along,
“Else they’ll follow you wherever you go.”
The stench was still growing strong
As we moved closer to our destination,
How can the air here be worse than Hong Kong?
What I then beheld resolved my speculation,
I asked Jad why our trail was cut by a train of tires,
He answered, “Just another demonstration.”
“These things often go out in massive fires,
That scatter black clouds all over the city
And benefit no one but pneumatic suppliers.”
“But is there no environmental committee
That keeps tabs on all this?” I asked Jad,
“Or a government with the least bit of pity?”
A government, he said, he was certain they had,
But an environmental committee he was not,
“One must not let such issues drive one so mad.”
But the fact that the city is being left to rot
Was most definitely driving me insane,
“Soon there would be not one unlittered spot!”
“That day shall come, and it will be to our gain,
When the stench rises to the highest penthouse,
And from action our leaders can no longer abstain.”
“Thus a final solution they shall be forced to espouse,
Disregarding to whose pockets the profit then goes,
And no longer would anyone their trash with petrol douse.”
Oh, I thought, my guide actually knows
A rational remedy for this reeking hell,
To fight its fire with fire, I suppose.
Soon it will collapse in on itself, and well,
That only could prompt the first sustainable action,
A nationwide incentive to rid the state of its smell.
After having that thought, my first reaction
Was to reach for the empty-bottle stash on my back,
And begin my litterary benefaction.
I left one bottle in a narrow crack
And another in the tip of a traffic cone,
The rest I dumped right onto the tarmac.
Some tissues from my pocket I had pulled out and thrown,
Watching the wind carry them afar,
And stuck my gum to the speaker-end of a payphone.
“Did you just?” my guide said with a look quite bizarre,
“What’s the fuss?” I said as I took off my left sock,
“You’re becoming more Lebanese than we are!”
I chucked that one sock across a whole block
And alas, still possessed by this Satanic force,
Took a quick piss on the sidewalk.
I had felt not a tinge of shame or remorse
When my guide yelled, “The great Lord has answered our prayer!
We’ve arrived at the beach, the end of our course!”
Only to discover there was now a building there.
He erected his tent in Martyrs’ Square,
Amidst cries against fraud and pollution,
As he waved his placard in grave despair,
“Hear ye, brethren, I have THE solution!”
Some minutes later he amassed a crowd,
Who starkly startled had started to stare
At the man who grew so awfully loud,
A hair-raising silence hung in the air…
“Whether you follow the Bible,” he cried,
“Or whether you’d rather not pray,
Whether you demand three more than one bride,
Or three cups of maté a day.”
“The holy figures you live to obey,
Through feeding your kids divine primacy,
Have long turned their faces in sheer dismay
At your eighteen sects of plain lunacy.”
“Politicians chase nothing but power
By stressing the lines of our difference;
We must not keep this up one more hour,
And start to promote Complete Tolerance!”
“We’ll teach our kids before they know their name,
About the Muslims and Christians and Druze;
We’ll teach them we are all one and the same,
their own universal truth they can choose!”
“We’ll hang up banners and write on the walls,
That not anyone from now on shall hate;
On billboards and bridges and bathroom stalls
Intol’rance we’ll no longer tolerate!”
By then he had garnered many a friend,
Who joined his chants with utmost elation,
All fiercely determined to put an end
To all the divides that scar their nation.
Cursing the State they hurled stones left and right,
“Down with the intolerant! Down with the intolerant!”
They forced all others fully out of sight,
And then swiftly proceeded to burn down the Parliament.
To a foreigner, an ordinary Lebanese road might often seem like an entirely disarrayed muddle of addling disruption and unadulterated havoc; but to a native that has spent enough time on the road to acquire a thorough understanding of the widely criticized Lebanese traffic laws, it always does.
I have therefore devised–after extremely meticulous scrutiny of traffic flow–a brief list that might be of help to any newcomers/tourists in Lebanon:
- All lane markings, traffic signs, and traffic lights are purely ornamental and should not restrict your sense of adventure. If you, however, do happen to stop at a red light for any reason whatsoever, nearby drivers are never reluctant to publicly express their disfavor toward you.
- Contrary to popular belief, our road surfaces are actually strategically designed to keep you soundly watchful at all times. A lapse of concentration might lead to fairly damaged suspensions and/or cervical vertebrae. Also, our drainage wells are constructed for the sole purpose of encouraging staying indoors on rainy days, so you won’t catch a cold.
- Never fully expect to drive to a desired destination without inadvertently passing through your initial location multiple times.
- One of the most commonly practiced extreme sports in Lebanon is road-crossing. If you happen to spot a pedestrian crossing a road, accelerating towards him/her at full speed, to augment the overall thrill of the experience, is highly appreciated.
- Never fully expect to drive to a desired destination without repeatedly stopping to ask for directions that may often lead you to your initial location.
- There are currently eight “Lebanon’s number one” radio stations on air. When in the right place, during the right weather conditions, with the right radio system and the odds in your favor, there is a slight possibility that you might just be able to listen to one of them.
- Never fully expect to drive to a desired destination.
- You are entitled, as a driver within Lebanese borders, to occupy two parking spaces. In the absence of parking spaces, you may park on a sidewalk. If the sidewalk is already occupied, feel free to park in the middle of the road. The Lebanese are free spirited, inventive, and appreciative of diverse viewpoints; there are no limitations as to how/where you can drive/park.