Rafiq Hariri airport, Beirut
18 May 2018
Folks, today I’ve been so far out of my comfort zone, I might never find my way back in.
‘My Commute’, episode 2: ‘Not Exactly My Commute’.
Now, the greatest danger in Lebanon is not armed lunatics (that’s a whole other place). Here, it’s… traffic!!
There appears to be no rules, just honking. God forbid if you let anyone in – or even stop for ambulances. 3 lanes become 5, cars close enough to… well, much too close!
4 or 5 people on one motorcycle, babies included. ‘Syrians,’ say the Lebanese, exasperated. And honk.
Nobody signals for anything. Though, oddly, they seem to signal for… nothing. Blinkers are on, but we’re not going left or right, not doing anything, just blinking (possibly to the rhythm of whatever’s on t’radioooo). Confusion Central.
Pedestrians, well, you take life in your own hands. Like Saigon, only with cars. And again, I’ve been glad of all that Frogger practice in my formative years.
You’d think Beirut’s traffic would improve, at least microscopically, with one damn good driver in it (me 😬). Not today!
So I decided to spend my last day in Lebanon hiking, because #allthefood(Arabic food is the best in the world, srsly!) I hire a driver/guide (cause I get lost in my own back yard) to go to Wadi Qadisha (gorgeous canyon, seen from above in the pic here). Friend of a friend of a cousin of the hotel receptionst. Or something. Let’s call him Ghassan.
All day I think he seems a bit off. Pale, quiet. But what do I know. Could be his normal. He’s not eating anything. Or drinking. Because Ramadan. I don’t either. Because… solidarity, I guess. All good, super early morning, not hot. I have a plane to catch late afternoon, so we start 0500. So far, so good.
On the way back, outskirts of Beirut, he pulls over (thank god for that), his face contorted in what looks to be excruciating pain. He clutches his stomach. Gasps! Pain doesn’t appear to let up. Retching!
Damn! What to do? Do I call someone? Where even are we? Ghassan can barely speak. I’m worried it might be… don’t know the English name for it… tarmslyng in Norwegian. It’s when your intestine and/or your stomach get all twisted, and whatever needs to get through, can’t. Dangerous stuff. Can kill you.
We change seats, and I look for a hospital. Thank heavens for mobile wifi. Or rather, thank Morland. (Also, wished you were here to read the damn thing. Google maps and I: not friends even at the best of times.)
But just then an ambulance appears in rear view mirror. Blaring sirens. Forcing its way through this uncooperative transport hell. Split second decision: I do the same, forcing my way in behind the ambu. And for the next 10 minutes or so, my pulse is about to push through my throat and run away.
Just.Cannot.Lose.Ambulance. Ghassan is howling. Minute by minute I get ever more aggressive in this horrendous, out-of-control traffic. Can’t beat’em, join’em. I’m turning Lebanese!
Reach hospital and pull up behind ambu. Jump out and yell. In EngFrenArabWegian, probably. Whatever. I remember saying YALLA!!
I’m understood. Someone takes over. Ghassan is brought in, I get a glass of water and explain. Plus, I have to get to the airport. Someone makes phone calls. Taxi appears. My bags out of Ghassan’s car, and back in Beirut traffic. Thankfully not behind the wheel now.
Long story short (ok, maybe not so short), I’m now in airport, drinking coffee (clearly a bad idea). Waiting for phone call from receptionist to hear status on his friend’s cousin’s friend. Or whatever he was. Ghassan.
OK, Lufthansa is here. Adrenalin still at full throttle, confidence at delusional levels. Fuck, I could probably fly the plane if need be.