During our decision making process to come to Beirut we continually heard about the friendliness of the Lebanese people. Certainly we have found the people from the school to be very friendly and helpful. Several incidents, one which happened to me and another to an ACS colleague, will give you a more complete sense of just how friendly and helpful the people of Lebanon really are.
Several weeks ago, while Sharon was at the apartment coping with traveler’s illness, I walked the neighborhood looking to buy a few things. One task was to find Sam’s, a beverage store several blocks from our apartment. Sharon had located this store when I was at the administrators’ retreat. She gave me directions, but I was having difficulty finding what I knew to be a small storefront. Knowing that most people spoke English, I said hello in my best Arabic (one of my five Arabic words) to a man standing on a street corner, and then in English asked if he knew the location of Sam’s. Just my luck, he spoke no English. As I thanked him (one of my other Arabic words) and started walking away, he stopped me and yelled across the intersection to a friend. This second gentleman came over immediately, and while he spoke some English, he too did not know the location of the store. So together they called yet another person over from across the street. This third person came right over, and both spoke English and knew the location of my destination. Thanks to these helpful and friendly Lebanese I was able to have an Almaza (the most popular beer in town) that evening. Phew!
Kristina is a new teacher at ACS who hails from the state of Washington. She lives in our building with her daughter who will be a senior at ACS this year. Several nights ago she and her daughter decided to order dinner to be delivered. Delivery of anything to one’s domicile in Beirut is tricky since street names are not the primary means of identifying one’s residence, and street signs are pretty much non-existent. Instead, you provide the delivery person with a nearby landmark. In this instance Kristina directed the driver to a nearby pharmacy where she would wait for her order. She was standing by her designated landmark when she noticed a delivery scooter driving away from her. Realizing this was most likely her dinner that was departing, she began running and shouting at the driver. Immediately a man from across the street hopped his motorcycle and chased down the scooter, and in doing so rescued Kristina and Rebecca from a dinnerless evening.
There are no stop signs or street lights in this city. Somehow or another traffic moves along, although car horns are put to good use by drivers. This lack of traffic control makes crossing the street on foot a bit tricky. One learns quickly to be just a big aggressive when you need to get to the other side. When you see an opening in the traffic, you cross. It is most common to have drivers stop for you, and if you hesitate, they will wave you across with a hand wave and a nod.
A final word about the cab drivers in Beirut. Most cabbies attempt to engage you in conversation, regardless of how much English they speak. They want to know where you are from and how you like Beirut and Lebanon. “Lebanon. You like?” Many of them know someone in the states, or speak of their desire to visit. Even the negotiation for the fare is done in a friendly manner.
The warmth of the people here is a big part of what has made our first couple of weeks in Beirut relatively easy.