#HerBus: ‘Who is Who on the Bus?’—Lucia’s Story

Today’s #HerBus post is a photo-essay by Lucia Czernin, a writer and photographer who took part in our Bus Map Photo Action last summer. We are very happy to publish this beautiful account of her thoughts and experiences exploring our first edition bus map and getting to know some of the stories — just 14 glimpses — behind that intricate human tapestry that is the riding public.

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‘Who is Who on the Bus?’

by Lucia Czernin

Who are the people in the anonymous crowd of commuters? What are the stories behind them? I sometimes wonder why we are not constantly amazed to see new faces, given the fact that every face is unique in its way and represents a unique person and story. It might be a natural mechanism in order to protect us from the exhausting idea of endless new information. I guess humans need this security: familiarities, being surrounded by things and people they know, at least from time to time. In order to not lose control, we tend to divide the world into two broad categories: people we know and people we don’t know. But then, the process of a stranger changing categories, turning into someone we know, can consist of only a look, a smile, an insult or a simple gesture. This happens by chance or it can be deliberately provoked. But the idea of taking the initiative might frighten most of us, and I know it totally went against my own inclinations. And yet, as they say, “who dares, wins”.

Once on board, wavering down the “autostrade”, surrounded by honking, shouting and Arabic music, I thought I actually had a very important book to read and I might not really want to get to know these people. But then, I pulled myself together and dared to stumble over some awkward question in broken Arabic to the person in the seat in front of me. Suddenly, it seemed the music would stop, and people would interrupt their shouting and honking to fix their eyes on me, asking: “What is your problem?” Humans are an amusing species: on one hand we can only survive in community, while on the other hand, we love to lead a bubbled-up life. This tendency might be particularly strong in cities and is also referred to as “civil inattention”. Especially in cities that hold twice as many cars as persons, it seems that even on the bus, people like to pretend that they are on their own. Best strategy? Catch their attention.

Usually it is not very comfortable to look like a foreigner, but in these journeys that I documented, it helped to attract the curiosity of my fellow passengers. In some instances, I was lucky to meet new friends without having to take the first step, and could very naturally engage in conversation and photograph them. On two occasions I managed to bring an accomplice along, as my moral support; a partner in crime makes you feel bulletproof! So eventually I found myself bouncing across the bus talking to strangers. And every face I captured with my camera represents a precious add-on to my personal universe:


Lucia Czernin

Please say hello to Omar and Shanti. They have just gotten married, and they are perfectly happy using the bus on their honeymoon. You would think, they couldn’t be better off on a luxury cruise!


Lucia Czernin (Hamra)

As she enters the bus, the sweet elderly lady with the “Alice” band and the matching polka-dotted cotton dress radiates an air of confidence. She is one of those people that remind you of the caring granny from your childhood. As soon as she is seated, she produces her rosary booklet out of her handbag. Although she is fully focused on her pious activity, she doesn’t mind being interrupted. On the contrary! She is delighted to explain the different parts and prayers of the rosary, indicating pages and pictures. The rosary lady of Hamra seems to be in high spirits as she goes on to explain the Novena to Saint Rita (a nun from Italy of high popularity in Lebanon). She is about to offer me her dear devotional manuals, as if it were a precious gem. Her recommendations include novenas, a prayer repeated during nine days for a special intention. In her case, it is always about health issues: spiritual and physical ones – for family members and neighbours. The photo I take is the only thing that makes her uneasy. She feels embarrassed because she hasn’t arranged herself properly this morning. But then she takes a photo of me in return, as a souvenir. And I am assured that she would always send me a prayer whenever she finds me in her photo gallery, squeezed next to Saint Charbel and company.


Lucia Czernin (Hamra)

These two ladies have been following my conversation with the woman with the rosary, and have eagerly encouraged her to pose for my camera. Rima, the woman by the window, has been living in Lebanon for 31 years, getting married and raising her children here. We find her on her last day in Lebanon, however. Tomorrow, she will leave to her home country, Mauritius, for good. “I doubt very strongly that I will ever get the chance to come back,” she tells me. She seems to be serene about that. “What do I like about Lebanon? I love this country, especially the generosity of its people,” she says. The woman next to her, also from Mauritius, is a close friend who has been in the country for 25 years, and seems quite well established. What would be their message to the world, if they had the chance to be heard by everyone, standing on a balcony? Rima: “I will go home.”


Lucia Czernin (Hamra)

Ahmad could have done better if he had known about the photo session on the bus. But he bears it with dignity. He came to Lebanon from Raqqa, in Syria, two years ago. Back there, he owned a Falafel place. He stuck to his domain, and is now working at Abou André. Ahmad’s family members are all in Damascus. He goes there twice a year to support them. His message to the world: “that everyone may be alright, and all may be well.”


Lucia Czernin (Hamra)

This bright fella is on his way home from school. He lives in Basta and is in the 10th grade. School is alright, he tells me, and he particularly likes chemistry. Later he would like to become a nurse, because his cousin is a nurse and tells him that it’s a fine job. But he could also study to be a computer scientist. His message to the world: “World peace?”


Lucia Czernin (Hamra)

This is a father of four from Sudan. He works in Achrafieh and his family lives in Dora. His children are aged 5, 3, 2 and 1, and they all go to school in Achrafieh. His job is not what he had dreamed of, but at least he can work.


Lucia Czernin (Broumana)

Aida is going up to a village above Broumana, to her sister’s house, as she does every Sunday. Her sister needs this support since she would be lonely otherwise. Aida’s husband joins her, every time. He has been a sacristan in a church for 20 years. Aida works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry once sent her to South Africa, three years ago, on an accounting mission. She still remembers the many aunties in the kitchen there. She is 60 years old now, and doesn’t have any children. “I have cried a thousand tears because of that. But now I am old anyway,” she confides. Everything happens for a reason. Aida is the most confidant of all her work colleagues, and of her neighbours, and of her brothers and sisters, she tells me. She takes the bus every morning from Dora to Gemmayzeh. She even knows most of the other commuters who come from Tripoli, and worries about them when she doesn’t find some of them on the bus. They always greet each other. When asked about her message if she were standing on a balcony and had the chance to speak to the whole world, she first wants to know on which floor the balcony would be! “What would I say? Bonjour! Please come in!” She then adds that she would wish the world a blessed day, in case this was happening on a feast day. “Yesterday, for example, was the feast of Saint Thekla.”


Lucia Czernin (Faraya)

As I enter the bus in Dora, I seem to be crashing a private family scene. The driver is taking his wife and son out on a Sunday trip to Jbeil. All three of them are enjoying themselves, giggling and talking loudly. The driver’s son, Ryan, is proud to be helping out his father by collecting the transport fees from passengers, as they get off at their destinations. He turns out to be quite firm, to the extent that his father has to calm him down when two ladies get away with paying only 1000 LBP each, instead of the customary 1500 LBP. I am not surprised that Ryan wants to be a soldier when he grows up. He will definitely do his job dutifully.


Lucia Czernin (Jounieh)

“My name is Felicidad. Like in the Spanish Christmas song: Feliz navidad, feliz navidad…” she sings to me. Felicidad is married to a Lebanese man. Her husband is 92 years old, she herself 45. She has children and grand-children in the Philippines. She’s never met her grand-children. She used to work as a cosmetician, but now there is no time for that, since she is taking care of her husband. A good man, she tells me. She brought along her friend Mary, who has just arrived from the Philippines. Mary needs help getting around and building up her social network.


Lucia Czernin (Antelias)

Michelle feels great. She is on her way to work in Antelias. “If I was the owner of this bus, the first thing I would do is change the seats. And then I would remove the Smurf from the windscreen.” When asked about Lebanon, she assures that there are many positive sides to the place. To state just a few: its smallness – you will always find someone you know ore are related to. You will never be completely lost; the weather – so much sun and still you have four seasons!; the food… “Badkon chocolat?” is her message to the world.


Lucia Czernin (Jounieh)

Dunia is a refugee from Iraq. She came to Lebanon one month ago, together with her husband, her two children and her parents. She is now expecting her third baby. What she likes about Lebanon: they are safe here. They live in Jounieh and they haven’t made a lot of friends yet. There is hardly any interaction among neighbours here, she says. Her message to the world: “kounou bi aman w salam.”


Lucia Czernin (Safra)

Khaled is from Akkar. To him, Lebanon’s flora is a big plus, but his family always comes first. Khaled has always striven to work in the lighting sector. But after school, he started at Hawa Chicken and is now a security guard at the Canadian Embassy and at the German School in Jounieh. Through this job he has become a good observer, he tells me. But whenever he can, he gets away to Akkar. By bus, of course.


Lucia Czernin (Jbeil)

Let me introduce you to the “mas2oul” of the Crusader fortress in Byblos. This excellent man has been a loyal bus commuter from Jounieh to Byblos for 50 years. He always brings his lunch box in a small hand bag. He loves his job, since it allows him to meet people from all over the world, though he can hardly communicate with most of them, not being a fan of foreign languages. But he knows every historic detail relating to the fortress! Just ask.


Lucia Czernin (Antelias)

This is Ahlam on her way to Zalka. She works in a spa. Her favourite part of Lebanon is her family. The only thing she really can’t stand are the slow bus drivers. She tries to avoid them. Her phrase to the world: “respect one another.”

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Lucia’s story is part of an ongoing series highlighting the unique and complex experiences of women who use public transport in Lebanon. Do you have a story you want to share? We will post it with as much, or as little, editorial input as you request, to make sure that your voice is in the forefront. You can write in English, Arabic or French, and when appropriate, we will share a translation that sticks as closely as possible to the spirit of your story. Share an experience, keep it personal, make it academic, be creative — your city needs your voice!

#HerBus: ‘Van 4, from dawn to dusk’—Virginie’s Story


« As long as it is not clean, I will not get in this bus »
« You’re not afraid?! Why don’t you take a service instead? »
« The Number 4? I did not even know there was a bus that goes from Tayouneh to Hamra! »

Van 4 by Virginie Le Borgne

Yes, there is indeed a bus that links these two places. A bus, or rather a minibus, a sort of van, often a semblance of damaged car body, sometimes customized, which passes at top speed and then slams on the brakes to let two or three persons escape from it. More than one bus, there are even 300 of it that go through the town every day, ferrying passengers around from Dahieh to Hamra, from dawn to dusk, for 1000 LBP. I am sure you’ve already seen it—at least heard it…

——Its impatient drivers who insult the others around, hail the coffee seller to have their caffeine shot, reign over their own kingdom, and share easily their mood of the day with their neighbors in the cabin and sometimes even sing a song——

Van 4 Driver by Virginie Le Borgne

I get on the Number 4 almost every day. Because it is fast. Because it is cheap. Because its price is fixed so that you don’t have to renegotiate for ten minutes once arrived because there was a lot of traffic on the way. Because when I am in its den, I feel like I am an audience member of a movie in which the town passes before my eyes as well as my own life. Because it is still one of the best ways to have a good idea of the contradictions and evolutions of Beirut. Because it gives space to women, men, others. Because I could write about the multi-confessionalism that takes place in it, the gender mix and also the public transportation—the so-precious public transportation—that it symbolizes; but these words are now trite, having been used every time something is said about Beirut. So it would be better to let you form your own ideas . . .

Van 4 by Virginie Le Borgne

I’ve taken the Number 4 under the rain at 7 AM after a party, taking advantage of this bubble to complain to my friend about the complexity of human relationships. I’ve taken Van 4 at midnight, under a pale sky, leaving behind me on the sidewalk a man who did not dare kiss me. I’ve taken it in the summer, at 9 AM, praying that it would speed up so that I can be at my Arabic class on time.

Van 4 by Virginie Le Borgne

I’ve hated the “4” during the ten irregular minutes I had to wait for it at Tayouneh, while twenty services or so hurried to honk at me. I’ve loved the “4” all the time that remains.

I’ve hit my head a hundred times against its metallic roof while trying to extract myself from it once arrived. I’ve almost fallen while entering, when the impatient driver decided to start up again before reaching my seat. And I will carry on falling.

As long as Van 4 will run, I will get in it.

Van Number 4 by Virginie Le Borgne

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This #HerBus contribution was written and photographed by Virginie Le Borgne, a freelance journalist living in Beirut. You can follow her on Instagram.

Virginie’s story is part of an ongoing series highlighting the unique and complex experiences of women who use public transport in Lebanon. Do you have a story you want to share? We will post it with as much, or as little, editorial input as you request, to make sure that your voice is in the forefront. You can write in English, Arabic or French, and when appropriate, we will share a translation that sticks as closely as possible to the spirit of your story. Share an experience, keep it personal, make it academic, be creative — your city needs your voice!

#HerBus: ‘Sweat and Perfume’—Florence’s Story

The first time I was in Lebanon as an intern, I had very little money and therefore used buses to move around everyday. Which led a colleague of mine to make a “joke” I didn’t understand yet: “Only Syrians and French take the bus everyday. Because the Syrians are poor and the French are used to it.” And in fact, it’s true, French people are used to public transportation, especially if you live in a city, so I guess that was convenient for me and not weird at all. Plus, it’s insanely cheap compared to everything else in Lebanon. I realized only after everyone reacted like “Yiiiii? You take the bus everyday? You’re not scared?” that maybe it wasn’t customary here.

The hardest thing was actually for me to know which one to take, where to wait for it, and where it would go. I had plenty of adventures getting lost in unknown neighborhoods before I managed to have some indication on what to do. But the drivers, when it happened to me, were always very nice, getting someone to talk in English or French with me if they couldn’t, and helped me with a big smile, a cigarette and sometimes even candies. So no problem, except for being late to my destination.

Now, I can use taxis, uber and services, but I still take the bus when I want to go around in Lebanon, especially to the North, South and the Bekaa. These roads are faster if you take a crazy minivan, if you don’t fear for your life! I was involved in an accident once, but got only bruises and a big scare that didn’t prevent me from going in one the following week. Seriously, these guys can avoid the traffic like magic. I remember once, we were stuck in the traffic of Jounieh on a Saturday, and another van driver talked to ours, telling him to follow his way. Of course, it cut us a full hour of traffic, and our driver was so pleased, the two men kept singing each other love songs for the rest of the trip, it was hilarious and sweet at the same time.

As a woman alone, I actually feel safer sometimes on a bus than on a service, because you always get the best seat away from all the men. Everyone is always watching out for you, and no one will dare look at you in a weird way or say anything insulting. Actually, a man was following me once on a bus, trying to seat next to me, other men saw it happening and pushed him out at the next “stop”. So it’s always a good experience, if you can deal with the smells of sweat and perfume!

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Photo by Idrissa Mboup, taken as part of our Bus Map Photo Action last summer.

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This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting the unique and complex experiences of women who use public transport in Lebanon. Do you have a story you want to share? We will post it with as much, or as little, editorial input as you request, to make sure that your voice is in the forefront. You can write in English, Arabic or French, and when appropriate, we will share a translation that sticks as closely as possible to the spirit of your story. Share an experience, keep it personal, make it academic, be creative — your city needs your voice!

#HerBus: هناك ما هو منظم و رخيص—Farah’s Story

This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting the unique and complex experiences of women who use public transport in Lebanon. Do you have a story you want to share? We will post it with as much, or as little, editorial input as you request, to make sure that your voice is in the forefront. You can write in English, Arabic or French, and when appropriate, we will share a translation that sticks as closely as possible to the spirit of your story. Share an experience, keep it personal, make it academic, be creative — your city needs your voice! N.B. Scroll down for our translation of Farah’s story.

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ان النقل العام في لبنان غير منظم بحيث لا يوجد محطات معينة لنقل الركاب ولا حتى الركاب على علم بمواعيد انطلاق الباصات

لكن لمن لا يملك خيار سوى النقل العام يخضع للأمر الواقع وهو عشوائية النقل. قد يكون هذا الخيار أسهل بالنسبة للرجال اما للنساء فالوضع يختلف قليلا بحيث نتجنب الوقوع في موقف محرج كالتحرش وما شابه
لذلك تتجه بعض النساء الى الباصات لأنها وسيلة أمنة وقد علمت هذا من تجربة شخصية

في احدى المرات كنت متوجهة الى الأشرفية، اخترت أن أصعد ب تاكسي لكن كان خياري خاطئ فقد كان سائق التاكسي ينظر بطريقة تثير القلق عندها قررت النزول متحجج بأني غيرت وجهة ذهابي طبعا بعد نزولي كنت أبحث عن سيارة أجرة جديدة وفي نفس الوقت كان باص رقم 2 يتوجه نحوي صعدت وكانت أول تجربة لي لم تكن سيئة بل على العكس فقد كنت أشعر براحة فالركوب بالباص يجنبنا ك فتيات مواقف
.محرجة كثيرة ومع الوقت أصبحت على علم بوجهة الباص تبعا للأرقام التي تحملها

.قد يكون النقل العام من ضحايا العشوائية لكن بالرغم من هذا هناك ما هو منظم و رخيص

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“Public transport in Lebanon isn’t regulated; there are no designated stations where passengers can be picked up, nor are passengers informed about their schedules.

Those who have no choice but to use public transport are forced to accept the way things are — namely, transit’s informality. This may be an easy choice for men, but for women, the situation is a little different, as women tend to avoid falling into uncomfortable situations, such as being harassed, and the like; for this reason, some women prefer to use the bus, as it is a safer mode of transport, as I learned from personal experience:

Once, on my way to Ashrafieh, I decided to take a taxi, but this turned out to be a bad decision, as the driver began to look at me in a worrying manner. I decided to get out of the car, pretending that I was changing the direction of my journey. Naturally, when I got out, I began to look for another taxi; that’s when I saw a Number 2 bus heading in my direction, so I boarded it for the first time. It wasn’t a bad experience. On the contrary, I felt relaxed, since riding the bus helps us young women to avoid very uncomfortable situations. And with time, I began learning about different buses by their numbers.

Public transport may be a victim of informality, and yet, in spite of this, it offers cheap and organized options.

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Photo by Megan Barlow, taken as part of last summer’s Bus Map Photo Action

#HerBus: ‘First Times and First Impressions’—Zahra’s Story

On International Workers’ Day, we remember and celebrate the often-times hidden labor that keeps our cities running. From bus drivers to sanitation workers, nurses to waiters — we salute you.

May Day is also a time to reflect on and challenge inequality. Attitudes towards public transport in Lebanon are often linked to class distinctions. Sometimes these attitudes are masked behind concerns over cleanliness or timeliness or safety — all of which are consumer rights that are not evenly distributed, and hence, are in themselves class markers; other times, attitudes will be much more direct in their aversion to mingling with ‘people who take the bus.’

Today, we want to share the first contribution to the series of posts on women’s experiences on public transport announced on International Women’s Day by highlighting the intersections of class, race and gender shaping how we get around Beirut. Zahra’s thoughtful story is about learning and unlearning, and the experience of challenging fear and privilege to participate more fully in the urban diversity of Beirut. This is a process that never ends, and requires bravery to face up to ourselves.

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I took my first bus in Beirut under the Dawra bridge, heading north to Byblos on the afternoon of Valentine’s Day with an ex-boyfriend. Neither of us had a car, he was British, and I had recently returned from London, so bus travel was both acceptable and desirable. Before London, I had lived in Lebanon for 6 years but I never set foot on a bus partly because I didn’t need to, but mostly because it wasn’t an option. I was a student at the American University of Beirut and was surrounded by a circle of friends that were both revolted and terrified by the idea of public transport. But the aversion was shared by my family and friends outside of AUB, so it didn’t seem like just an issue of financial means.

Since my (non-voluntary) return from London, I was adamant on crafting a “fresh start” and was driven by preferences and considerations that were detached from the Lebanese context. Exploring options for public transport in Lebanon was a choice taken from a privileged position; it was something quite alternative and enjoyable. Taking the bus in a country where bus travel is not mainstream (to someone like me at least) was my way of living in the kind of city I want to live in, as opposed to the real one I have no choice but to be part of and be oppressed by. And so I repeated this journey of imagination several times and loved it. That day in Dawra, my British companion helped me detach myself even more from the social context and provided me with what I felt was an immunity from social taboos. Being a male, he also gave me a sense of protection, even though I knew that if anything were to happen, I would be the one doing the protecting.

As for first impressions, the first thing I thought when I rode a bus was: “it’s not as bad as everybody thinks it is”. People were ‘normal-looking’… there were women like me… young, some middle aged, Lebanese, and more or less “well-presented” or mratab as they say. This first impression discredited the assumptions that so many people around me held- that buses are run down, stink, full of migrant workers and haunted by the spectre of the dangerous Syrian worker. The second thought that came to my mind was that all these people were acting very normal and civil, including the bus driver. The normality reassured me. I was certainly in a new place, outside my comfort zone, but judging by the looks of the people around me, I wasn’t really outside my ‘circle’ and even if I was, these outsiders weren’t so different. The men were not astonished by the presence of women amongst them, even though some of them were young and attractive and alone.

Once I found comfort in this new space, I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride and this is how the ‘entertainment value’ of the bus came to be my reason to seek it many times after. It turned out that I was an outsider after all because I wasn’t just commuting like everyone else, I was there for the journey. On a bus, I was the audience, and the city was my show. People, conversations, incidents, the humor and absurdity of Lebanese life flashed before me and I was both part of this show and its observer. It created a new experience of the city and a new sense of belonging to a ‘public’ space/facility/realm.

Bus No.2

Bus No. 2 passes right by my house and heads to Hamra as its final stop. Every day, I would see it passing by but always resorted to service taxis, even though they cost me much more (especially given my request to cross the imaginary desert that stood between Ashrafieh and Hamra). The 1,000 lira bus fare was very appealing to an unemployed graduate, so I decided to try it out one day. When I entered, I tried to act like a regular to compensate for the red lipstick and heels. It didn’t work and all eyes were on me, especially when I asked the driver how long the journey to Hamra takes. He wouldn’t give me a straight answer: “it depends on the traffic”. My insistence was holding back the bus so a commuter shouted from the back, “half an hour.” I thanked him, paid the fare, and sat in the back relieved that the ‘gaze’ had broken off and moved on to its new victims. On the way, I was overjoyed to be heading to work on a bus. I felt there was an order of things that I was never aware of in this city… something was working and people were abiding by rules. At the time I didn’t know LCC buses were operated by a private company and thought that they were government-operated. This initial idea however gave me a feeling I have never felt before in this country… that I was entitled to a service as a citizen, that there was a government looking after me, that I was no different than anyone else on the bus, migrant worker, Lebanese, man, female alike.

The bus also took me through neighborhoods I don’t usually go through on my way to work, always seeking the same and shortest route. The bus ride expanded the city’s horizon and it felt like everything was a lot more connected. I got to work in 50 minutes as opposed to the usual 20 something minutes it would have taken by car or service, but it was worth it and I was in a good mood. I haven’t repeated it since because it’s simply not practical to travel for 50 minutes. If that wasn’t the case I would gladly drop the service and car rental for the bus.

When we reached the final stop in Hamra next to Barbar, everyone was getting off and the driver noticed that I was confused so he asked me where I am going. I said I was heading right to the end of Hamra and asked if the bus heads in that direction. He said no so I politely thanked him and left to continue walking. As I headed off, the bus driver started beeping at me so I turned back to see if I had forgotten something. He told me “if you want I can drop you, just for you, walaw”… and so my experience of utmost equality came to an abrupt end and back I was to the city of preferential treatment, sweaty wrinkled winks and catcalling. I said no thank you and walked off doubting whether I was too harsh in my initial reading of the gesture. Maybe he was just being nice, can’t people be nice? Do we have to be programmed like Londoners? I yearned for the predictability I felt for 50 minutes while on the bus no.2. I may have made up this predictability entirely, it may have been just my projected expectations of what a public transport system should be like. Maybe another person would have appreciated the driver’s offer. Who am I to say? I now ride to work in my rented car.