The stories of the Bikfaya bus
From Ain Toura, Mrouj and Bikfaya to Beirut, aboard buses where many things happen from racism, harassment, friendships, discoveries and old time reminiscing.
From Ain Toura, Mrouj and Bikfaya to Beirut, aboard buses where many things happen from racism, harassment, friendships, discoveries and old time reminiscing.
Going to university was my first real challenge in the “outside world”. I took an entrance exam to the school of journalism in 2012, and for the first time in my life, I had to deal with enrolment procedures on my own. At the time, I couldn’t care less about getting a driver’s license or owning my own car. I had the luxury of getting regular rides from my brother and mother to my university in Sadd el-Bouchriyyeh (Sadd el-Bouchriyyeh is a district in the “Metn” aera in Lebanon).
A short while later, though, I had to find another way to commute to and from my university. I had to rely on myself and figure out how to get from Sadd el-Bouchriyyeh to Dawra (Dawra is a suburban area of the Lebanese capital Beirut) on my own. I was clueless about the distance between the two areas, and, apparently, my ignorance was easily detectable by the taxi driver who asked me for three times the regular tarif. When he dropped me off in Dawra, I was furious to realize that I had overpaid for a 10-minute drive. As I caught the bus that would take me home, I contemplated the failure of my first experience with public transportation.
The bus took off, and my first journey from Dawra to El-Mrouj (El-Mrouj is a mountain village situated in the “Mount Lebanon” area) began. A month after I started university, my mother’s insistence that I find a way to commute on my own forcibly led me to this bus. I was angry and frustrated about my new means of transportation for the rest of that year. The distance was unbearable to me; an hour and a half by bus for a ride that wouldn’t take half an hour by car. Luckily, the buses passed right in front of my house, making it a little easier. My father repeatedly reminded me of the three years he spent commuting daily between our village and his high school in Ras el-Nabeh in Beirut. What he was really trying to say was that I was being a “spoiled girl” by complaining about a trivial matter.
Thus started my efforts to find ways to entertain myself along the way. My first attempt was accompanying a group of girls who lived in nearby villages and went to same university. We stood together each morning at a gas station in Nahr el-Mot, waiting for our bus. I remember our collective relief at the bus arrival in the cold winter days when it rained so hard that it was difficult to see the road, then our collective disappointment when we realized that it was another bus heading to Bteghrin or to the north. In fact, there were two buses that took the Bteghrin route and only one that passed through el-Mrouj, so, sometimes, we had to wait for over half an hour. We used to dream of a new warm bus instead of the big old iron bus which promised us a journey of cold wind drafts and seeping-in rain.
As time went by, I abandoned my girlfriends and took up reading instead. I discovered that reading seemed to have a distance-shrinking power. Later on, I decided to plug in my earphones to dilute the noise from the streets, the passengers, and the bus engine. Just like that, music and books became my travel buddies.
As I started to get the hang of my experience with public transport, I began to organize my meetings with friends in accordance with the bus schedule. I knew I had to leave the house almost an hour and a half before any appointment I had. It would take me an hour to get to Dawra, then about half an hour to get anywhere inside Beirut.
Taking the bus actually started to grow on me, to the point that I forgot about considering getting my driver’s license. I chose this new time investment in reading, studying, and listening to music over a quick drive to my destinations. My adaptation to the whole “bus situation” was my gateway to familiarize myself with Beirut. I became a daily visitor to Hamra Street (a central street in Beirut) and I always caught the last bus that took off from Dawra at 8:30 PM.
At 8:00 PM, I would arrive to Dawra. At 8:10, I would hear the distinct sound of the big iron bus honking, followed by the sound of its enormous tires approaching. Joe, the driver, parks in his usual spot. I climb the bus and find my seat in the second row, as Joe gets off the bus to catch up with one of his driver friends. Five minutes prior to our departure, Joe returns to his seat, starts the engine, the radio and takes off. This, for me, is the best time to ride back home. There are no traffic jams to stop us on the way, few passengers take the bus at this time of day, and a much-needed calm prevails after a long day in the busy capital.
From my freshman year and until my Masters graduation, this had been my daily routine. After graduation, my trips to Beirut weren’t as recurrent. However, I kept the tradition of commuting in Joe’s bus whenever I wished to visit the city. His routine was exactly the same, but what was even weirder to me was that Joe himself hadn’t changed. Bus drivers usually adjusted their schedules, but Joe chose to keep everything as is. Joe came across as a reliable driver to the passengers because he always avoided getting into any kind of trouble or picking up a fight on the road. Like any passenger, I had my own memorized inventory of bus drivers and their tempers, and I learned to guess the mood of the trip based on the person behind the wheel.
The competition for picking up passengers often translates into a fervent race which creates moments of sheer horror for the passengers. The drivers, however, manage to maintain a poker face as they speed recklessly among other speeding cars. Accidents are likely to happen, but the bus drivers show no sign of worry about the passengers lives or their own. Despite my fear of speed, I admit that sometimes I found myself content with the idea that the shenanigans would at least get me home earlier than planned.
When things got tense in these situations, I used to raise the volume of the music to blur the sounds from my surroundings, which worked well in alleviating some of my tension.
The bus driver sees the passengers as walking profit. The passengers, especially foreign construction workers, often argue with him over the tariff, yet the driver never overlooks a missing 500 or 1,000 liras. These little arguments persisted even after the tariff rose to 3,000 liras and was announced to all through papers posted on all bus doors.
The foreign workers are often openly discriminated against. They always take the back seats and have to stand whenever a girl can’t find a seat. They are also not allowed to sit next to a Lebanese girl. The workers have adapted to these rules, distancing themselves from the girls and automatically moving to the back of the bus. Bus drivers had come up with these rules based on the common assumption that a girl’s safety is always the men’s responsibility. My personal experience oxymoronically revealed to me that most of the times I was subjected to any kind of harassment in the bus, the perpetrator was Lebanese. I heard the same stories from other girls who took the bus, and we even compared incidents and perpetrators, who turned out to be serial harassers. It was so ridiculous that we laughed about it.
The scenario is almost religiously replicated. Usually, the harasser stands in Dawra, checking out the girls. A girl gets on the bus, he follows suit and sits either next to her or right behind her. He wears the hat of his hoodie over his head and sometimes pretends to fall asleep. Then, he meticulously proceeds to try to touch her leg or her waist, until she blocks him or yells. He panics, asks the bus to stop, and hops off, even if he’d been on the bus for a few minutes only.
I stare at the photograph of the old man, hanging from the rear-view mirror. The first time I saw that photograph, I thought it must be of the driver’s grandfather. The grey hair, wrinkles, and overall appearance gave me that impression. For eight years, I glanced at that same photograph whenever I got on the bus, but, over these years, a lot had changed on the public transport routes. The old man in the picture glanced back at the ever-changing world of the bus: the distances have shrunk after the war ended, the volatile fees have exhausted both drivers and passengers, the quarrels have become the daily bread of drivers, and most recently, the entire enterprise of public transport had been living with the threat of shutting down if bus owners give in to the overwhelming economic collapse in the country.
Of course, I remember my first day in Lebanon. It was the 25th of July 2013.
Like many other young men in Syria, I was facing a harsh reality.
I graduated college, only to discover that work opportunities were scarce in Syria, so I came to Lebanon.
I got the contact of a foreman here in Lebanon from some friends. I arrived to Antelias (Beirut North suburb), where I knew absolutely no one. So, I just stood there waiting for a bus.
When it arrived, I showed the driver a paper stating where I wanted to go. He said okay. He treated me normally. I didn’t feel he was resentful or anything…
So, I arrived here and started to work. I rarely visited Beirut, unless it was a weekend or a day off.
I’d wait for the bus. Here, in the mountains, buses take forever to arrive. Sometimes I’d wait for an hour or more.
The first time I took the bus to Beirut… was a bit of a shock.
I had to run to catch the bus. It stopped eventually, and I got in through the backdoor and took a seat.
Then, I noticed that the driver had tried to drag me behind him on purpose. At first, I thought it was just incidental.
I noticed that the foreign manual laborers, like myself, were always treated that way.
Every “pretty” girl or Lebanese guy would get on the bus through the front door, and the workers would use the back door.
It was clearly discriminant against the Syrian workers who usually finish work at their construction sites at 4:00 PM and take the bus while still wearing their work clothes.
I mean, what do you expect of a worker? To wear French perfume for the site?
It was just that: racism. Ethiopians, Syrians, and some other nationalities always took the door in the back.
The second time, I intentionally tried to board through the front door; the one right next to the driver.
He gave me a dirty, maybe even spiteful, look, but didn’t say anything.
I had prepared a comeback, just in case he tried to stop me.
I wanted to say, “Hey, is this about money? I can pay you now for all the seats on the bus, because I want to sit wherever I want!”
It was that simple to me. One’s dignity is above all else.
I always think about one particular incident. Once, there was this fifty-something year-old man walking down the street in the rain.
He was from Deir el-Zor, I could tell from his accent later.
He got on the bus which was full of people. So, he found a bump right behind the driver’s seat (on top of the engine), and he was tired so he sat there, opposite a Lebanese man.
The man said “go sit in the back”, to which the Syrian old man replied, “I’m fine here.”
I felt it was too blunt of the Lebanese guy to just ask him to get up like that, but he went on.
“I’m telling you to go to the back now…” The Syrian guy said “Please, don’t disrespect me, let’s remain polite.”
So, there was a verbal quarrel for a little while, and it was dangerously coming close to a physical fight.
You might say I’m being biased, siding with the Syrian guy, but I’m telling you, the Lebanese man was very racist in a persistent way.
He used derogatory terms even when the Syrian man was minding his own business and being polite.
He even insulted the entire Syrian people, saying: “Just what we needed! This kind of scum!”
Eventually, the Syrian man went to the back, although he absolutely had the right to stay since he has paid the same fee as everyone else…
Well, I’m here in a regular way. I carry all the needed documents and my stay is legal, so if someone insults me, I can just pack my stuff and go back home with my dignity.
But, it’s different when you have a family, kids, and rent to pay. Then, you start to really fear for your job.
I think that’s what the Syrian man was thinking when he agreed to go to the back.
When I got back home that day, I was thinking a lot about what had happened.
He was right, so why would he give in like that? He was polite, so why did the rude guy win?
I thought to myself that it must be his living conditions and the responsibilities he had to fulfill… a family he needed to look after, maybe.
It’s really unfortunate that someone who was already a weak link in his own country become only weaker in another country…
You know, when I first got here, Syria was a big mess: ISIS, the opposition… I used to be extra careful with anyone I didn’t know and report anyone who was suspicious, no matter what his nationality: Syrian, Lebanese, or whatever.
Now that I’ve been taking the same buses on the same routes for some time, the drivers and passengers have come to know me better. I even sit next to the driver sometimes now.
But, many drivers still show a lot of racism. They still stop the bus more than 10 meters away from a Syrian worker to make him take the back door.
This kind of thing is really insulting. Why do they do this?
And racism is everywhere, practiced by those who were pro or against the Syrian army’s presence in Lebanon.
It’s like that divide between black and white in Europe before. Here, it’s: are you Syrian or Lebanese?
Trust me when I say, more than half of the buses’ passengers on my route are usually of various non-Lebanese nationalities.
This is why, nowadays, I’ve noticed a changed behavior on the part of the drivers.
They’ve realized that their livelihood actually depends on these foreigners and have become less aggressive towards us.
It’s 8:10 PM, and the bus is parked in Dawra. The grey-haired man in the photograph hanging from the rear-view mirror stares solemnly; his gaze frozen in time. Joe leaves his driver’s seat to go buy a couple of chicken sandwiches and a bottle of Cola. At 8:40 PM, Joe starts his engine. The bus’s lights go off for a short moment, then light up again, and remain lit throughout the journey to el-Mrouj.
For a little over an hour, the passengers remain quiet while the radio fills the air with the loud noise of popular music. The night passengers are a fixed bunch that rarely ever changes: An Armenian school teacher, a man in his forties who always carries a small suitcase, and Syrian laborers. Joe’s nighttime routine is different compared to that of other bus drivers, but then again, the route itself is unique.
Joe begins his journey from el-Mrouj at 7:00 AM. He arrives at the bus stop half an hour earlier than his departure time and waits for his turn. There are many passengers at that time of day; mostly college students and employees on their way to work. Joe takes one route in every “round” he makes; from el-Mrouj to Bikfaya to Dawra. After a 75-minute drive, Joe parks in Dawra, then waits for three hours until his next round. From 9 to 12 noontime, Joe sits in his seat and scrolls on his cellphone screen. Sometimes, he goes to see one of his friends in the city, until it’s time for the return trip. The 80-minute noon drive includes a 10-minute break in Antelias. Joe makes his final journey at 8:30 PM from Dawra, and arrives at 9:00 to Antelias.
Joe follows the designated timetable of the two public transport routes in Metn, which has been in place since 1990. The first route goes from el-Mrouj, through Bikfaya, and ends in Dawra. The second goes from Bteghrine to Bikfaya to Dawra. The first longer route costs a higher tariff.
The process of organizing bus connections began in 1998, when Michel el-Murr, Minister of the Interior at the time, formed a committee whose task was to regulate the work of bus drivers and keep their routes separate from those of the state-owned public transport buses. The committee monitored drivers, approved departure and arrival schedules, and issued warnings to violators. According to regulations, drivers who got three warnings were suspended from work. After some time, the committee was dissolved, but its mechanisms remained in place. Two departure points were designated in el-Mrouj and Dawra, and buses’ working hours were pinned. Each vehicle owner pays five thousand Lebanese liras per day as a parking fee, in addition to a monthly municipal tax of some sixty thousand Lebanese liras.
When Joe was just a kid, his father used to tell him, “Life’s a spinning wheel, just like the one we drive every day.” He wanted Joe to graduate and get a job in a profitable, comfortable kind of business, but Joe was disinterested in school and thought of the bus as his entire world. He used to sit behind the steering wheel of the parked bus and dream of taking it for a ride. When he grew older, he confessed his wishes to his father: he simply wanted to be a bus driver, just like him. Although his father didn’t try to stand in his way, he still advised him to look for another job.
Joe’s father worked as a bus driver for fifty-five years, starting from the sixties on. He used to drive one of the four buses that took the Aintoura – Burj Square route in two roundtrips; one in the morning and another in the evening. Between the main roundtrips, he used to pick up passengers on the coastline road. Shortly after the civil war began in 1975, public transport on this bus route was disrupted, so Joe’s father started working as a school bus driver for Champville, Jamhour, and Fanar students, consecutively.
When he was fourteen years old, Joe enrolled at al-Kafaat institute to study electro-mechanics. When he started cutting classes, his father came up with a way to motivate him, by offering to teach him how to drive the bus during their daily school pickups. Joe had to wait for a year and a half, until after he learned the basics, to get the chance to drive short distances, and, as he got better, the rides got longer.
Eventually, Joe didn’t learn to like school, but he did commit to attending regularly. The one part he liked about going to school was the drive there. He would sit behind the wheel and show off his skills in front of his classmates. During those school years, Joe’s father fell ill and couldn’t work as much as he used to. Before he knew it, Joe was spending more time working on the bus, and less time going to classes. Nevertheless, he passed his official exams and graduated school. Soon after, the school bought its own buses and no longer needed his services, so Joe and his father had to move back to the public transport routes.
After his father’s passing, Joe became a full-time driver, though, at first, he was too young to carry a public transportation license. Joe wasted no time applying for one once he turned 21, the minimum legal age to obtain a license. He took 4 mandatory exams: a private driver’s licensing exam, a public car transport exam, a truck driver’s licensing exam, and finally, a bus driver’s licensing exam. Joe passed, and could finally declare himself an “official” bus driver.
Joe drives a particular kind of bus, known as the “big iron bus”, which has a special significance in the Lebanese collective memory for its resemblance to the Ain el-Remmeneh bus, infamously considered as the first spark of the civil war. Today, one can rarely spot one of these buses on Lebanese roads, except in the North Metn region. Joe has painted his bus white and red and decorated the interior with colorful ribbons and a unique horn. Although the bus has old-fashioned hard seats and lacks air conditioning, it can still carry 32 passengers to their destinations. Joe prides himself of his exceptional bus and insists that he wouldn’t trade it for the newest bus in town.
Occasionally, two buses from el-Mrouj and Bteghrin would cross paths somewhere before Bikfaya’s bus stop. At which point, the passengers realize that they are about to witness yet another “race” between their bus and another one running behind schedule. The drivers pick up speed and, sometimes, the vehicles collide or come close to collision. Things get messy as passengers scream in fear, while the driver screams back at them asking them to remain calm, as he, simultaneously tries to cool things down with the other driver over the phone. Nevertheless, the race goes on, and even traffic jams can’t stop the action, as the drivers go against the traffic in the opposite lane just to keep their race going. Every once in a while, one driver would step out of his vehicle, sometimes armed with a stick, with the intention of starting a fight with the other driver. Nothing can curb the escalation except crossing that imaginary finish line in Dawra.
Joe admits that he, too, has lost his temper several times in such fights. As for the passengers, their reactions range between furiously leaving the bus and idly waiting out the quarrel they have so become acquainted with.
Today, Joe has outgrown the bus fights, since he has had his share of those and, hence, has set boundaries with his fellow drivers. Although, the recurrent incidents, together with the harassment (by both passengers and drivers) that some girls suffer on the bus, have discouraged many passengers.
The number of bus passengers has been sharply declining for three years, to a mere 10 percent of the old rate. With the repetitive Covid-19 lockdowns, the numbers have dwindled further.
These blows have taken their toll on Joe’s business, and he has started to consider the prospect of quitting. It seems to him that he can’t endure any additional financial losses, and every passing day brings him closer to making the decision of parking his bus one last time and going home for good…
Joe’s income has withered over the years, and although he knows that he can’t expect a fixed rate of profit in this profession, he still finds himself in a rough situation today. By the end of a day’s work, Joe goes home with no more than 40 thousand Lebanese liras, whereas a year ago, he would have made something between 100 – 150 thousand liras, and five years ago, he would have made something between 200 – 250 thousand liras, which is more than 5 times what he earns today.
When buses first started working on this route, the tariff was no more than 25 pennies. In the nineties, when the Lebanese lira’s exchange rate was fixed, the tariff increased to 500 liras. And after the year 2000, it reached 1500 liras. In the recent years, it became 2500 liras, and today, after the Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted, the tariff is set at an unprecedented 3000 liras.
The drivers were promised compensations to lost business due to the lockdown, and recently, it was decided that each public transport driver, with the exception of truck drivers, would benefit from a one-time grant of 400 thousand Lebanese liras.
When Nisha first set foot in Lebanon, she neither knew anyone in the country nor spoke its language. The one thing she knew was that Ethiopian domestic workers suffered a great deal of racism and injustice in this country.
On Sunday, her only day off, Nisha removes her mandatory pink work uniform, fixes her hair, puts some makeup on, and rides the bus by herself from Bikfaya to Burj Hammoud, where she spends her day wandering and shopping. She got used to this routine, until one day, something happened on the bus, disrupting her solitude.
The walk from the house to the highway usually takes Nisha about ten minutes. There, she restlessly waits for the bus to arrive. Once it does, Nisha boards and immediately scans the space for a vacant seat, avoiding any contact with either the driver or the passengers. She feels apprehensive and anxious of the Lebanese people; many tend to treat her as an inferior so she always prefers to keep to herself.
A year and a half after her arrival in Lebanon, a girl sat next to Nisha on the bus while she was on her way back to Bikfaya. The two girls smiled at each other and a dearly-missed sense of ease and safety washing over them. They spontaneously began to speak in their native language. They talked loudly, without regard to the other passengers. Nisha found out that her new friend, Salamuit, worked in the same region. They exchanged numbers and that was the beginning of their friendship.
The recent Lebanese economic crisis has prompted the two friends’ decision to return to Ethiopia as their respective employers became unable to pay their salaries in US dollars. Nevertheless, Nisha is glad to be heading back home with one new friend she made in Lebanon.
Nisha and Salamuit move from one store to another in Burj Hammoud. Their shopping tour falls on a Wednesday this time, instead of the usual Sunday, because the purpose of this particular tour is buying new cloths and basic goods to take home, where new horizons and work opportunities await them.
The woman in her fifties, sitting in the backseat of the cab, asked the driver to raise the volume of the radio. She hearkened as she leaned forward, closer to the front seat, while the radio announcer blurted out some seemingly random, non-sequential numbers. Several minutes later, she heard the one number she’d been waiting for.
Her wishes had come true; Salah, her youngest son, had passed his official high school examinations, becoming the first of his siblings to graduate from school.
The mother, unable to contain her joy, asked the cab driver to take her to the closest sweets shop. Salah had finally concluded a three-year chapter of his life that he had spent commuting back and forth between his village, el-Mrouj, and Ras el-Nabeh in Beirut.
Three years earlier, when Salah consulted his math teacher about the answers he wrote in his ninth-grade exam, the teacher claimed that Salah would fail without a doubt. A while before that, Salah’s neighbor had promised him 100 liras if he passed his Brevet (ninth grade) exams. As opposed to this neighbor’s son, Salah was doing very little studying; spending his time playing games and hanging out. After some time, the results were out, and somehow, Salah and one of his colleagues from Dhour Choueir had passed, while the rest of their classmates had failed their exams. So, Salah won the bet, but he only got half of the money he was promised. In any case, it was now time for him to look for a suitable high school.
At the time, the idea of moving to Beirut didn’t go down well with people of the North Metn villages, and those who spoke openly of making the move were mocked. Education was still considered a luxury, and students who had thus far studied the French curriculum could find suitable high schools and eventually graduate school, whereas those who enrolled in the English curriculum usually dropped out of school after ninth grade because only a very few high schools offered English programs.
In his search for an appropriate high school, Salah disappointedly found out that schools in the North Metn region exclusively offered French curricula. So, Salah, insistent on pursuing his education, had to look further, and finally found the Raml el-Zarif high school in Beirut. It was as close as he could find, but the distance meant nothing for him. On his trips to Beirut, a friend of Salah from a nearby village became his regular commute companion.
The hardships of the journey were no big deal to the ambitious, politically involved, young man. Salah commuted to and from Beirut from 1971 to 1974, not only for the purpose of going to school, but also to take part in the student demonstrations.
Salah would get to the bus stop in el-Mrouj at 6:00 AM every morning, pay the driver a quarter of a lira, and hop in the bus heading to the Burj Square in Beirut. It was a 40-minute journey through the Bikfaya route, on a narrow road that could accommodate no more than a single car lane. Nevertheless, the bus made a swift journey, uninterrupted by traffic on that rarely-busy route. The few car-owners in the village were numbered and well-known, the most famous of whom was the village doctor who came once a week to his clinic in nearby Bolognia and spent the rest of the week at his primary workplace in Gemmayzeh.
Forests and bushes filled the areas between Bikfaya and Antelias, so it was highly unlikely for new passengers to join the bus on that route. Most passengers heading to Burj Square joined the bus either from the village squares between Antoura and Bikfaya, or from Antelias and Dawra at the coastline.
Fifteen-year old Salah couldn’t care less about the cold drafts in the bus along the way. His trip had become a routine to endure, in which he would chat, snack, and even get a little nap. Upon his arrival to Burj Square, he hoped off the bus and walked to his school in Ras el-Nabeh. On his way back, boredom would hit, and he would feel an overwhelming desire to get home as soon as possible.
The distance between el-Mrouj and Beirut always took the same time. Sometimes, when the driver got to his stop ahead of schedule, he had to wait for other buses to leave. Among these drivers, Simon was Salah’s favorite. He was over fifty years old, spoke loudly, and drove fast.
With the school year coming to an end, Salah finally got a break from the daily voyaging and spent his time in his village instead, playing volleyball, reading, and participating in political activism. During the summer season, the village swarmed with vacationers who came from Burj Hammoud (Suburban neighborhood of Beirut, mainly inhabited by Armenians). The “Armenian visitors” arrived in the morning and returned to their homes by the end of the day, stimulating, through this daily routine, the buses’ business, which kept their usual schedules.
At a distance, in Beirut’s Burj Square and close to the Martyrs’ Monument, two private bus companies managed the North Ment buses. “Cedars”, owned by Albert al-Kharrat, was responsible for the Mrouj buses, and “al-Ghazal”, owned by a member of the Murr family, managed the Bteghrin buses. In total, no more than five journeys were made per day: two in the morning, two in the evening, and one at noon. Passengers had to book a prepaid ticket for each scheduled journey, because the buses were almost always full. Passengers who got to Burj Square ahead of the scheduled departure time usually spent their waiting time surveying the markets downtown.
No such offices existed in el-Mrouj. Instead, a small table was planted in the town square, near the Mar Taqla Church, to sell tickets during the summer. The small number of passengers from the village meant there was no real need for an office, as the bus drivers knew the passengers by name and memorized their work schedules and preferable commuting times. Naturally, things were different at the coastline, where an assistant to the driver supervised the passengers’ boarding and disembarking.
Tension was mounting in the country at that time. There was a lot of talk of an impending civil war and schools were affected by the quickly changing circumstances. Sometimes, Salah would arrive to his high school only to wait with some of his friends for any news from the Student’s Association about upcoming demonstrations. If a call for demonstrating was issued, Salah and his friends would relentlessly join the student rally.
They had very specific demands: the establishment of applied colleges within the Lebanese University.
It was a demand that directly affected Salah and other students, since it would allow them to enroll in medical or engineering programs, previously exclusive to students from rich families who could afford private universities after they graduated from school. In addition to the student movement, Salah enthusiastically supported the Palestinian cause. Although his political activism predated his “Beirut era”, Salah’s passion for the causes he believed in would not have materialized if it weren’t for that bus ride; his sole gateway to the world of the city.
When the National Movement held a walking rally in support of tobacco farmers in South Lebanon, 14-year-old Salah didn’t think twice before joining in, even though he knew he would be could get beaten or arrested. With the first rays of light, Salah and his friends were already in the village square. They took the bus from there to Burj Square, then walked to the planned site of the demonstration in Corniche el-Mazraa. Salah was excited about the fact that Kamal Jumblatt was heading that rally despite the foot injury he was suffering. Soon, though, the boy’s anticipation of violence or arrest incidents was dispelled when heavy rain fell, causing everyone to find cover and flee from security forces. With that, Salah took the memory of the day and caught the last bus of the day from Burj Square back to his village.
Writer: Ghada Haddad
Translated From Arabic: Sabah Jalloul
Illustration: Aya Debes
Video: Jad Turk
Multimedia Supervision: Fourate Chahal El Rekaby
Design: Ibrahim Charara
Editing: Rida Hariri, Sabah Jalloul
Development: Jaafar Charara, Rawan Houri
Editor: Ibrahim Charara
The subjects of the stories published on the StoryLeb platform were chosen by the young journalists and media creators who participated in the first training session of the project.
This project benefitted from the financial assistance of the European Commission within the framework of the project Shabab Live, a joint project of Deutsche Welle Akademie, Arab Resource Center for popular Arts and Al Khatt. The content of this video is the sole responsibility of StoryLeb and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Commission or the project partners.