#HerBus: “The buses do exist; the map simply tracked them down”—Youmna’s story

We are always happy to receive stories of riding the bus, particularly when they highlight the diversity of gendered experiences on Lebanon’s transit, as part of our occasional but still ongoing #HerBus series. And these stories are even more special when they intersect with our own!

Youmna got in touch and told us how Bus Map Project co-founder Chadi Faraj’s app had a significant impact on her mobility in and around Beirut.

Fun fact: googling how to get to Fanar by bus was the exact same way our team first got together!

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Being a Beiruty girl, who loves to go out, but is living outside of Beirut without a car, has never been easy.

Needing a family member or a friend to drive me, or paying a minimum of $10 to go anywhere, drove me to buy a car in my early twenties; lack of parking spaces and nervousness while driving from Bshemoun to work in Hamra drove me to give my car away and miss out on most events in my late twenties.

I created a car-less pattern that suited me: I go in the morning with dad go to work in Hamra; I stay after work in Hamra to feel alive, then make dad come and take me home.

I was once asked by a foreign friend while nagging about my problem why I didn’t take public transport? And at that time, I remember feeling ashamed while saying to him that we don’t have any.

The pattern I created went great until my dad needed to travel for two weeks and I left my job and needed a more economical method to go to Fanar to conduct a study, so I started googling, and by coincidence, I found the Lebanon Buses app.

Using the app, I learned how I could take the Number 15 from Corniche then jump into the Number 5. On the way back, I could take a service to Dawra and then the Number 2 to Hamra.

After using the app, I paid 3000LL instead of 30,000LL per day, and I became curious about how I could use more buses.

When I shared the app and map with my friends, half of them said: “you wish!” And I was so pleased to tell them that the app is correct; that the buses do exist and the map simply tracked them down.

With every bus ride, there is a story. They’re safer and funnier than taxies, so hopefully I will be sharing these stories with you as they come along.

Bus 15, horloge urbaine – Mira’s story

Scroll down for English translation

 

Bus 15, horloge urbaine

par Mira Tfaily

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Courir pour l’attraper alors qu’on sait pertinemment qu’il en arrivera un autre cinq minutes plus tard et sauter pour en descendre parce qu’on est trop impatient pour attendre qu’il s’arrête. Les sièges en cuir patiné qui craquent quand on s’assoit un peu trop bien, les cigarettes grillées en cachette à l’arrière en essayant d’éviter le regard amusé du chauffeur.

Porter ses écouteurs sans musique pour ne pas se faire embêter; aller s’asseoir exprès à côté de tous les passagers pour les entendre raconter leurs histoires. Bus stoppé à Dora, bus stoppé à Cola, bus stoppé partout parce que Fawda w ma fi dawle, habibte, c’est ça, Beyrouth. C’est ça, Beyrouth, ou en tout cas c’est beyrouth par morceaux, et ça n’a jamais été autant Beyrouth que dans les fragments de vie que l’on capture à bord du bus.  

Bus 15 bondé en milieu de journée avec les piétinements des passagers debout qui forment une dabke folklorique sur des musiques de 2011; bus 15 solitaire de 4h du matin, tu ne sais pas ce qu’il fait là, il est désert, furtif et il roule plutôt vite.

Les chewing gums à l’abricot, les colliers de jasmins, les billets de 1000LL et les camel qui passent de main en main. Les pelures de bezer partout par terre, les restes de café qui jaunissent au fond des gobelets.

picture Garine Gokceyan
picture Garine Gokceyan

Le bus en août et sa chaleur suffocante qui se mêle à l’odeur des gardénias flétris.
La pluie d’octobre qui suinte à travers la fenêtre mal fermée.
Le coucher de soleil insignifiant et majestueux de janvier sur la corniche.
En mai on ne prend plus le bus on marche.

Les ados qui descendent à Gemmayze pour humer l’interdit et brûler leurs ailes sur le bitume âcre de la nuit tombée, les amants qui semblent n’aller nulle part et les ouvriers qui reviennent de Cola avec le sentiment du devoir accompli. La plupart ne savent pas où il va, mais reconnaissent par où il passe.  

Le bus 15 en escarpins en revenant de Mar Mikhael, le bus 15 en baskets après un jogging avorté sur la Manara. On décide de s’arrêter au Luna Park, on monte dans la grande roue déserte à 4000LL, et on regarde enfin les bus microscopiques d’en haut, qui rythment inlassablement le trafic de leurs striures blanches.

 

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Bus 15, The City’s Clockwork

I usually run to catch it even though I know for a fact that another one will come five minutes later; and I jump to get off because I’m too impatient to wait for it to stop. With its patinated leather seats that crack when I make myself a little too comfortable, and the cigarettes I grill on the back seat trying to avoid the amused glance of the driver.

Sometimes wearing my headphones without music to avoid being annoyed, sometimes sitting on purpose near all passengers to hear them tell their stories. Bus stuck at Dora, bus stuck at Cola, bus stuck everywhere because “fawda w ma fi dawle, habibte, this is Beirut.” This is Beirut; or at least, pieces of Beirut, and never has it been more Beirut than in the fragments of life you get to catch onboard.

Bus 15, overcrowded in the middle of the day, where the feet of passengers standing draw a folkloric dabke on songs from 2011; bus 15, solitary at 4am, you don’t know how come it is still on the road, empty and stealthy.

Apricot-flavored gums, jasmine necklaces, 1000LL bills, camel running from hand to hand, with bezer shells all around the floor, and coffee leftovers yellowing the wrinkled plastic cups.

The bus in August and its suffocating heat, rising up in the air along with the mesmerizing smell of rotten gardenia.
The October rain oozing through the half-closed window.
The meaningless and majestic sunset of January on the corniche.
In May, I don’t take the bus — I walk.

The teens that get down at Gemmayze to smell the forbidden and burn their wings on the pungent asphalt of the falling night; the lovers that aren’t heading anywhere, and the workers coming from Cola with their satisfacted sense of accomplishment. Most of the riders don’t know where the bus is going, but they are certain it will pass by some place they know.  

Bus 15 wearing stilettos after an evening in Mar Mikhail, bus 15 wearing sneakers after an aborted morning jog on the Manara. I decide to stop at Luna Park, I pay 4000LL to climb in the deserted big wheel, and I finally catch a glimpse of the microscopic buses seen from above, relentlessly punctuating the traffic with their white streaks.

 

#HerBus: ‘Seeing the City with New Eyes’—Sara and Sirene

Earlier this year, we launched a series on women’s experiences of public transport in Lebanon, which we opened with a post about ‘first impressions.’ This summer, we are leading a Collective Map Action with a group of students, some of whom have never taken a bus before. Here’s the story of two new bus riders:

 

How Can Public Transportation Curate your Perception of the City?

by Mira Tfaily

Of all the reasons that could push someone to climb into a Lebanese bus, one of the most fascinating is curiosity. This is the motive that led Sara and Sirene, two AUB landscape architecture students, to take part in the Bus Map Project’s summer mapping initiative as volunteers. With the academic background they are bringing with them, the two young women reflected on the way their first-hand experience as bus riders has shifted their perception of the city:

“We took Bus 15 from Ain el Mreisseh — we weren’t sure where it was heading, so we decided to stay on the bus, to see if it would take us back to Ain el Mreisseh. We had to take another bus at Dora; the whole trip took us 2 hours,” they explained, as they told me about their very first bus ride. Taking the bus without knowing where it was going became a new way to marvel at things they usually pass by without noticing. From this perspective, public transportation can be a way to awaken curiosity, raise new questions and imagine new answers.

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“Usually, we travel the city by car or by walking. We had some misconceptions before taking the bus; mainly about danger and uncertainty. However, now that we have taken it, our prejudices have somehow vanished. It’s really easy and affordable to use. It isn’t particularly dangerous for a woman to use. You always have to be careful — not because you’re in a bus, but because you’re in Lebanon.”

Sara and Sirene still see that lack of information is the main problem regarding buses. “We were asking riders for information. Most of them did not have any idea regarding the final destination of the bus, but rather, they knew that the bus would pass by the place they were going to.” However, by choosing to go beyond this uncertainty, the two volunteers subverted their lack of familiarity with the whole system into a new way to poetically apprehend the urban environment we all are entangled in.

Capture

Their second trip was much more ambitious, and saw them taking a van from Jnah to the Bekaa Valley. This experience allowed them to think of and speak about the bus as a truly public space, appreciating the social diversity that is ‘consubstantial’ to their own being. Buses are part of the urban environment, but they still remain invisible to a large part of the population that knowingly or unknowingly chooses not to see them.

“I don’t think we have a culture of the public space in Lebanon. Moreover, there are a lot of stigmas attached to taking public transportation. Change will come little by little. Taking the buses and learning to see them with new eyes is the first step to amelioration.”

And curiosity is the first step of that first step of understanding these invisible yet ubiquitous buses that shape the urban life of a silent part of the population. Get curious, and start taking part in this latent conversation.

 

#HerBus: رحلتي مع الباص—Nada’s Story

We wrap up our #HerBus series — but not the larger conversation — with this sweet reflection by Nada on her time in and with the bus. Nada’s story raises the question of what we can do to stop the pressures of routine and urbanism from forcing us to become ‘mismatched’ with public transport in Lebanon today.

Is the car our only alternative? Can transport infrastructure learn to grow and adapt to our needs, as much as we learn to grow and adapt to its rhythms and logics?

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…رحلتي مع الباص دامت ثلاث سنوات متتالية من ايام الجامعة و اكملت الى ايام العمل

.كان للباص فضل اذ كان الوسيلة النقل الاكثر امانة من غيرها

.كان طريق الباص مناسبا جدا اذ من بيتي الى طريق خمس دقائق سيرا على الاقدام و حتى من العمل

نشأت مع الاعوام صلة مع بعض شوفير الباص ..اذ ان هناك من صار معتبرا نفسه ملتزما معي كالتاكسي و كان ينتظرني حتى اطل من المفرق عند ساعة السابعة و كذلك بطريق العودة لا ينطلق بدوني

و لا انسى المعاملة اللطيفة من البعض معتبريني كأني ابنة لهم حتى ان مكان جلوسي كان محجوزا مسبقا

و في شهر الورود و الغارينيا كان يستذكرني بوردة مع كل صباح فينعش نهاري .. و ما اجمل الصباح مع ورد يفوح منها العطر الذكي فتتفأول بنهارك

لا تعتاد فقط على سائق الباص كذلك على الاشخاص فابدأ تدريجيا ان تكتسب صداقات و تترافق معهم و تلتقي بهم فتكون الصبحية و يمر الوقت و تنسى العجقة داخل الباص و خارجه

.فيصبحوا رفاق الدرب و يتفقدونك و يحجزون لك المكان ان نسي السائق

حتى انه في بعض الاحيان تتطور الرفقة الى صداقة ثم الى تقارب و احباء

و الجميل هو ان بعض السائقين لديهم حس راقي في الموسيقى فيروزيات صباحا و وديع صافي و صباح و حتى الاجنبي فهو يهذب أذاننا بدل زمامير العجقة و مع غياب الرفيق

و لكن مع مرور الوقت و لان العمل متعب و تقضي اوقات اضافية لاسف لا تعود تجد الباص من بعد ساعة معينة و لان اصبح دوام العمل متأخر و لأن الوقوف بالليل في الشارع ليس آمن خاصة كفتاة بدأت ابحث عن بديل و بما ان التاكسي ليس آمنا ايضا فالحل كان ان اشتري سيارة

هذا الحل بات الافضل من عدة نواح كفتاة و لتريح الاهل من الهم

افتقد كثير من الاحيان الى الباص و خاصة بهذا البلد و عجقة السير و قلة المواقف و لكن متطلبات و ظروف و عدم تجهيز البنة التحتية للباص تجعلك تتخذ البديل


Megan Barlow


My journey with the bus lasted three years, from my university days to my days of employment…

I preferred the bus because it was the safest mode of transport.

The bus route was very convenient, as it only took me 5 minutes to walk to it from my home, and it was close to my workplace as well.

Over the years, a connection was formed with the bus driver.. Some of them even began to regard themselves as obligated to me, like a taxi, waiting for me until I emerged from the side road at 7 AM, and not leaving without me on the way back.

And I cannot forget the kindness of those drivers who saw me as a daughter, going as far as reserving my seat for me.

And in the months of roses and gardenias, I would be greeted with a flower every morning, energizing my day.. and how beautiful is the morning when the fragrance of a rose fills the air, brightening up your day..?

You don’t only get used to a bus driver; you also get used to other people, and begin to gradually make friends who you accompany and meet for a morning chat [sob7iyeh] that passes the time and helps you forget the crowdedness both inside and outside the bus.

So they become your companions, and they ask about you when you’re not there, and they keep a seat for you if the driver forgets.

In fact, sometimes this companionship develops into friendship, then greater intimacy, then love.

And what’s nice is that some of the bus drivers have a sophisticated taste in music, playing Fayrouz in the morning, and Wadih Al-Safi and Sabah, and even foreign music as he refines our ears so that we do not listen to the honking of traffic, or to substitute for a missing friend.

But as time passes and work becomes more tiring and you begin to work overtime, you unfortunately start to miss the bus after a certain hour, and as you work even later, waiting on the street at night becomes unsafe, especially as a young woman. So I began to look for an alternative, and because the taxi isn’t safe either, the solution was to buy a car.

This was the best solution from different perspectives for a woman, and to give my parents peace of mind.

I miss the bus from time to time, especially in this country, with its traffic jams and dearth of parking spots, but duties and circumstances and the lack of public transport infrastructure forces you to choose the alternative.

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Photos by Megan Barlow, taken during our Bus Map Photo Action last summer. English translation by BMP.

#HerBus: “Fais-moi découvrir Beyrouth!”―Garine’s Story

Today’s #HerBus story is a special one! We first met Garine when she took part in our Bus Map Photo Action last summer and captured way more photos than our modest CFP required. We chatted and picked her brain about cities and culture and identity, and before we knew it, she left to pursue her graduate studies abroad, where she developed her “Al Bosta” design project — a branding concept that brings to life a vision that we at Bus Map Project have been calling ‘joud bel mawjoud’, or excel through what exists. We’ve enjoyed following Garine’s work over the past months, and are happy that she took the time to share her thoughts and reflections on this bus adventure.

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How to take the bus in Beirut? from Garine Gokceyan on Vimeo.


J’utilise souvent les transports publics, que ce soit les bus ou les services. Pourquoi je les utilise? Parce qu’ils t’emmènent partout où tu veux, tu n’as qu’à t’asseoir et profiter du moment. Ah oui, j’ai oublié! C’est aussi parce qu’ils sont presque gratuits!

I often use public transport, whether it’s buses or shared taxis. Why do I use them? Because they take you wherever you want; you just have to sit down and enjoy the moment. Oh yes, I forgot! It’s also because they cost almost nothing!


"The Bank" by Garine Gokceyan
“The Bank” by Garine Gokceyan


Souvent je prenais le bus pour aller d’un point A à un point B, mais pour les jours de Bus Map Photo Action, c’était comme si je disais au chauffeur “amène moi quelque part, n’importe où! Fais-moi découvrir Beyrouth!” — je n’avais pas de destination exacte.

I’ve often taken the bus to go from point A to point B, but during the Bus Map Photo Action, it was as if I were telling the driver “take me somewhere, anywhere! Let me discover Beirut!” — I did not have an exact destination.


"Optical Illusion" by Garine Gokceyan
“Optical Illusion” by Garine Gokceyan


D’ailleurs ce n’est pas une légende quand on dit que les libanais sont des gens chaleureux, curieux et qui adorent être pris en photo. C’était vraiment marrant comme expérience!

Moreover, it’s not a myth when we say that the Lebanese are warm and curious, and love to be photographed. It really was a funny experience!


"The Romantic" by Garine Gokceyan
“The Romantic” by Garine Gokceyan


À force de prendre plusieurs bus dans une même journée, j’avais remarqué que chaque conducteur avait son univers personnel. Chaque bus avait sa propre décoration, sa propre musique, son propre esprit, ses propres peluches… On sentait la touche originale de l’artiste-conducteur qui nous invitait à voir Beyrouth dans un cadre particulier.

En fait, tu rentres dans le bus et tu en sors avec pleins d’histoires à raconter!

Since I was taking several buses in one day, I noticed that each driver had his own personal universe. Each bus had its own decoration, its own music, its own spirit, its own stuffed animals… One could feel the original touch of the artist-driver who invited us to see Beirut in a particular setting.

In fact, when you get on the bus, you get out with plenty of stories to tell!


"Fetish" by Garine Gokceyan
“Fetish” by Garine Gokceyan


J’imagine ce jour où la circulation serait figée à Beyrouth, pleins de voitures dans les rues l’une derrière l’autre, toutes bloquées. Et le seul moyen qu’ils auront, pour enfin avancer, serait de faire bouger les voitures une par une depuis Saida.

I imagine the day when all circulation in Beirut is frozen, the streets full of cars, one after the other, everything blocked. And the only way that they can move forward, would be to budge the cars one by one from Saida.


"Al Bosta" designed by Garine Gokceyan

En quelques mots, je voudrais avoir le choix de mes transports à Beyrouth et non pas être imposé à choisir le transport en voiture.

In short, I would like the choice of how I get to Beirut, and not be forced to choose the car.

"Al Bosta" designed by Garine G.


J’espère que les gens verrons dans mon projet l’idée de l’initiative.
Une initiative individuelle pourrait peut-être inciter une collectivité à agir, à penser à améliorer leur condition de vie.

Ne pas attendre le gouvernement à se bouger, mais faire nous même bouger le système, bouger la circulation.

Et un jour, on pourrait même se dire: fini les “zammour”, fini l’embouteillage, fini la pollution… un jour.

I hope that people will see the idea of the initiative in my project. An individual initiative could perhaps encourage a collective to act, to think about improving their living conditions.

Do not wait for the government to move, but rather, let us move the system ourselves, making traffic move.

And one day, we could even say: no more “zammour” [car horn], no more traffic jams, no more pollution… one day.


"Red is ready" by Garine Gokceyan
“Red is ready” by Garine Gokceyan


Un bus est un grand véhicule de transport en commun, ce n’est ni un monstre vert qui dévore les gens, ni un bateau mystérieux qui passe par le Triangle des Bermudes. C’est vrai que parfois ça peut ressembler à une boîte à sardine et j’avoue ça peut être gênant mais dans tous les cas on a la possibilité de réagir et mettre fin à tout circonstances inconfortables en demandant à la prochaine de s’éloigner.

Pour résumer, Il faut arrêter de croire à ces histoires d’horreur qu’on nous raconte sur les bus et les van. Il faut juste essayer! C’est jamais trop tard de prendre un bus, il y en a un qui passe tout les 6 minutes.

A bus is a large vehicle for shared transport, it is neither a green monster that devours people, nor a mysterious boat that passes through the Bermuda Triangle. It’s true that sometimes it can look like a can of sardines, and I confess that this can be annoying, but in any case, one has the ability to respond and stop any uncomfortable situations by asking the person next to them to move.

In sum, we must stop believing in these horror stories that we are told about the buses and the van. You just have to try! It’s never too late to catch a bus, there’s one that runs every 6 minutes.


"Al Bosta" by Garine Gokceyan

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All photos and graphics by Garine Gokceyan. Text translated into English by BMP.

#HerBus: الفوضى والفلتان—Lynn’s Story

Today’s #HerBus story is troubling and bleak, and some of the conclusions it draws are controversial. While it is not a first-hand account, we thank Lynn for sharing her thoughts and reflections on the experiences of Lebanese women on public transport, because the fear of violence and exploitation that she expresses is real and pervasive. Scroll down to read our translation of Lynn’s story.

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لطالما كنّا ندرك سابقاً ان الامن اللبناني غائب عن الساحة المحليّة، وقد تسبب هذا الغياب بتفشّي ظاهرة خطف المواطنين من امام مسكنهم او حتى خطف القاصرات من خارج المدارس في بعض المناطق كما بات معلوماً في الآونة الاخيرة

هنا سأسرد واقعة حصلت مع رفيقتي حيث أخبرتني اذ انّها كانت في أحد الأيام بإنتظار باص ليقلّها من جسر الكولا الى جونية حيث اعترضها شابان وبدءا يتحرشا بها لفظيّاً ويٌسمعاها كلام بذيئاً. وعندما تحاول كل فتاة الوقوف بقرب رجل الأمن يلحق بها من كان يضايقها غيرآبهين لوجوده. ويصل الباص وهنا الخطورة الكبيرة حيث تكون هذه الشابة الانثى الوحيدة في خضمّ مجموعة ذكور ينهالون عليها بالنظرات وكأنها حوريّة في بحرالعسل فتعيش الشابة حينئذٍ ليس فقط خوف داخلي انّما رعب شديد من هؤلاء. وما تلبث رحلة الوصول الى المنزل بالانقضاء يحاصرالفتاة رجلين او ثلاث ويحاولون الاعتداء عليها لفظيّاً علماً ان السائق لا يفتح فاهه لربما اعتاد على هذا النمط من الالتماس او انّه يفضّل تجنّب التورّط معهم

يتحوّل الباص من الساعة الواحدة ظهراً حتّى التاسعة مساءً الى شريعة غاب تسود قوّة الرجال داخل حافلات النقل العام وما من رقيب ولاحسيب. تعيش الفتاة اللبنانية اثناء تنقّلها ذعراً لا مثيل له، مما ينعكس سلباً على حياتها النفسيّة اولاً وتفقد ثقتها وعزّة نفسها ثانيةً ومهما كانت هذه الفتاة جبّارة ستصل الى مرحلة تشعر فيها بالانحطاطٍ والتعاسة، علماً ان بعض الشابات اليافعات تقعن ضحيّة هذا التحرّش ليؤدّي بعدها في بعض الحالات الى استغلال جسدي وجنسي ولا ندري اين يودي بها لأمر معها في النهاية الى حالات إكتئآب، امراض نفسيّة او حتّى الإنتحار في بعض الحالات

وهنا، لا يسعنا سوى ان ندق ناقوس الخطر في هذا المجال لجهّة ما يتسببه هذا الفلتان الامني واللا اخلاقي في وسائل النقل العامّة بحيث اصبحنا نرى انّ المواطن اللبناني يشكّل ما نسبته 15% من مستخدمي قطاع النقل هذا امام 85 % من الاجانب. فالانسان الطائش العديم مسؤليّة يرتكب الفوضى فتقع الشابات اليافعات ضحيّة الاستغلال. كثرت في السنوات الاخيرة قوانين لحماية المرأة من كافّة العنف الّا ان هذه القوانين ليست سوى حبر على ورق، ويجدر الذكر ان الذين يسيؤون للمرأة ويتعدون عليها لفظياً يحسبون انّ القوانين لا تطالهم ولا علاقة لهم بالقوانين المطروحة

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We have long known that security is missing from the scene in Lebanon, a situation which has led to a string of kidnappings, with citizens and even young girls taken from in front of their homes and schools in some areas of Lebanon, as we have heard stories about recently.

I will relay a story that happened to my friend, who told me how she had once been waiting for a bus from under Cola Bridge in the direction of Jounieh. While waiting for the bus, two young men began to verbally harass her, and say rude and inappropriate things to her. And when the young woman tried to stand closer to a police officer, her harassers continued to bother her, as though the officer was not there. When the bus arrives, the real danger begins, as this young lady is the only woman in a crowd of men, assailing her with their eyes, as though she is a mermaid [or angelic being, hooriya] in a “sea of honey”; this makes her very afraid, on a very deep level, as she begins to feel terror among these men. And as her journey home was coming to an end, two or three men began to assault her verbally, while the bus driver did not open his mouth, perhaps because he was used to this kind of behavior, or because he preferred to avoid getting into trouble with them.

From 1 to 9 pm, the bus is ruled by the law of the jungle, where the power of men prevails inside public transport vehicles with neither censure nor accountability. The young, Lebanese woman experiences a kind of fear without parallel as she commutes; this, firstly impacts her mental health negatively, and, secondly, leads her to lose her confidence and sense of self-dignity. No matter how resilient she is, there will come a time when she feels miserable and depressed. In some cases, some young girls fall victims of the kind of harassment that leads to physical and sexual assault, which could lead to serious emotional and psychological problems, and maybe even suicide in some cases.

We have to sound the alarm on this lack of security and morals on public transport, a situation that has led the Lebanese citizen to make up only 15% of the riding public, while the other 85% is made up of foreigners. Irresponsible people create chaos, which pushes young girls and women to fall into exploitation. Laws protecting women from all forms of violence have increased in recent years, except that these laws are nothing but ink on paper, and it is important to note that those who mistreat and verbally harass women believe that they are above the law.

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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. Photo by Rachel Burnham, taken as part of last summer’s Bus Map Photo Action. Rachel writes: “What endears me to riding the bus as a timid foreigner was the way that I was always graciously offered a seat, no matter how busy the bus or van.”

#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