The sidewalks we walk every day are not really pedestrian friendly. Uneven concrete, utility poles, motorcycles parked or even driving down the middle of our path make our trips out of the house a veritable obstacle course.
Many of them are only wide enough for us to fit single file. We’ve discovered that the rules of the road when it comes to walking the streets of Beirut are quite similar to those you encounter when driving – namely, the right of way goes to whoever is bigger and faster.
Caleb and I were recently laughing about how we’ve both started playing chicken with our fellow pedestrians. For the most part, we are happy to move out of the way to let someone pass, but in a few not-so-rare situations, we have begun to stand our ground.
Situation #1 – Shab vs. Stroller
There’s a stretch of road that we use at least once a day where the whole sidewalk is currently blocked by construction debris. It’s a one-way street and cars park along the curb, which means we have to walk out into the street, against traffic, until we pass the construction. So, I’m pushing Ruby in the stroller with one hand and holding Isla’s hand with the other when we meet a young man heading the opposite direction. To my right, we are as close to the parked cars as we can get and the traffic is moving pretty steadily to my left. One of us is going to have to step out into traffic to pass. Who’s it gonna be? The 20 year old boy or the mom with the stroller and toddler?
Situation #2 – Umbrella Etiquette
Caleb is walking Isla to school when a downpour catches them off-guard. He doesn’t have an umbrella, but that okay, they can just stay under the walkway. Until a man in a suit with his umbrella also tries to stay under the walkway blocking their path. Who’s gonna step out into the rain? The Daddy with his wet little girl or the man with the umbrella? (Okay, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt…maybe it was a new umbrella and he didn’t…want it….to get wet…?)
Situation #3 – The Last Word
Traffic is at a near standstill and Isla and I want to cross the street. No one is going anywhere so we start to cross in an open space when the car we are trying to walk in front of pulls up and cuts us off. She gets so close to the car in front of her that there is no space for us to squeeze through in order to cross. I’m now standing right at her window, but the driver is ignoring us because as long as she doesn’t “see” us, it is our responsibility to move out of her way. Obviously, I am not about to play chicken with a car, but I am determined to get the last word and have no problem pounding on her trunk as we go around her!
Now, there are two groups of people that we will always move over for, no matter the situation: the elderly (for obvious reasons) and domestic workers (because we figure any chance we can get to show them respect, we need to take it).
On a related note, I have found that men under the age of 17 and over the age of 35 generally go out of their way to make things easy for pregnant women or mamas with a baby. It’s quite nice, actually.