After a long and beautiful day of sightseeing in Saida and Tyr, cities one and two hours south of Beirut respectively, my wheelchair tire suddenly punctured. I noticed my wheelchair getting wobbly and imbalanced when I was wheeling up a slight hill, but thought it was just the uneven pavement. Unfortunately, to my disappointment, it was a major flat tire on the right side. I don’t know how I always get so lucky and encounter the best people who make my unfortunate series of events into such amazing lessons to be helpful and thoughtful to others. I had just finished an archeological site visit when my tire went flat. I was sitting at the entrance of the magnificent Tyr ruins when the lead archeologist for that attraction serendipitously parked his car 🚙 right beside me. We exchanged pleasantries, and I asked him where I could get my tire fixed. He was talking to his staff of two to three, then two to three more men arrived. They were all discussing in a group on what to do. I just watched them in awe as they implemented the steps one by one to fix my problem. One man asked me to sit in a regular chair while they took the broken wheel to a nearby bike shop. Good thing the wheel that went flat was the one that could be pull out, because the other one is stuck in there like a safe with an unknown password. Anyways, next, two men rode in a scooter and took my wheel to the bike-shop. I continued chatting with the archaeologist because he was the only one that could speak English. I learned that there is another ruin site that is even bigger than the one I visited. He said that this one is prettier, though, because it is by the ocean.
Before I knew it, the two men came back with my wheel all fixed! They had to change out the inner tube because it had a hole in it. I offered to pay for everything, but they gestured don’t mention it! It was already evening and the sun was about to set, so I told them I needed to take the two hour bus 🚎 ride back to Beirut. They had a discussion as a group again and decided that one of them would chaperone me to the bus stop to make sure I get on the right bus that head directly to Beirut. I was speechless from all this kindness and proactiveness. Before I had time to cry, figure out a solution plan, and prepare for the worst, the issue had already been resolved. What a country full of beautiful people.
Lebanon is not a wealthy country. The infrastructure is dilapidated and rundown. There are garbage all over the streets. I see Lebanese people both old and young throwing their plastic bottles, cigarette buds, plastic wrappers either directly on the ground or into the ocean. It makes me so sad to think this could be fixed so easily with a little awareness of how harmful it is to the environment and ocean. There are homeless people all over Lebanon. I cannot wheel half a block without seeing a homeless person. And they are more often than not a whole family with babies and toddlers. Older children, around seven and eight years old, follow you around eyeing your belongings. It is quite the scary feeling to feel like you are being hunted for your valuables. It felt like the Hunger Games at times.
Despite all this poverty and lack of material wealth, I feel that Lebanon has a lot of moral wealth. They are warm to one another, they like to be helpful, and there’s this sense of respect for their community. For instance, they say good morning (zaba el hare) to total strangers when they come on the bus. They say “salam” (may you be blessed) when they leave an area (i.e. bus). You get the feeling that there is a level of decency and humanity to this country. Lebanon lets you realize that money and material wealth is not the only wealth in the world. What’s more important is humanity, treating each other with respect, honoring our words, etc. and so much more.
To give you a more vivid image, I’ll give you an example of my interaction with a local bus driver this morning. And by bus, I mean mini van. They are cars that function as buses in this country. Unlike Dubai, neither Beirut nor the rest of Lebanon have a metro or a developed bus system. Instead, they rely on these vans to commute around. The vans all have specific number, telling you which route they go. I took the number four “bus” to downtown. The driver was really nice and did not drive away when he saw my wheelchair like the few drivers before him that morning. His bus was extremely rundown. The seats were torn. The smell of cigarettes was strong. The back door to my right did not close. There was only one other passenger behind me. The driver was extremely thin like he was doing cocaine. I was nervous the whole time I was on the bus. I was thinking, oh my gosh, I actually am enjoying this trip. I don’t want to die yet. Where are they driving to and what are they going to do to me? While my brain was running wild, we had already arrived at my destination. The two men in front helped me assemble my wheelchair. When I was about to pay, they gestured no and smiled. They then led me towards the direction I wanted to go and drove away. Oh, how shock was I... This goes to show you, morality and humanity is not necessarily dressed in pretty looking things.
Just to share one last example with you, when my bus dropped me off in Beirut, several people stayed behind to help me assemble my wheelchair, including a man with a bandaged up hand. After it was done, I told them I wanted to ride a “bus” to my hostel because I did not have enough cash on me. One of the guys, who is a Syrian student studying civil engineering at the Islamic Lebanese University, walked with me to the bus stop and waited for 30 minutes for the bus to arrive. His dad wanted him to be a doctor, but he didn’t want to go to school for 10+ years. His dad is in the chandelier business and his mom is a house mom. He has two sisters and two brothers.
We chatted for over half an hour, but the bus never arrived, so I eventually had to ride the taxi back. But the Lebanese hospitality will always stay with me. Even though, materialistically speaking, Lebanon is a very poor country, the peoples’ souls are not beaten down. Their morality, their humanity, their sense of respect for their community and one another is alive and well. I feel a sense of peace and calmness here that I rarely feel elsewhere. There may not be any money, but we still have each other.