Mending Broken Dreams While Fighting With Taxi Drivers
The battle began the moment I entered the taxi that was taking me from my home by the American University of Beirut to the airport.
I heard the driver speak to another client on the phone and tell him that he was on his way to the Sadat area, that he was nearly there and was only held by the traffic.
He assured the person on the other side that he would be with them in twenty minutes, then he hung up and gave a little chuckle.
And I lost it.
The driver was most definitely NOT on his way to that other person, and he was held not by traffic but by agreeing to take me to a destination that was a long way away from Sadat. Anyone who knows Beirut would know how far the distance between Sadat and the airport is.
“Why did you lie?” I demanded. “How could you show such little respect for another person’s time?”
Then I threatened, “I will just get out of the car now, unless you call back and tell them that you won't make it for at least another hour.”
He told me he had no phone credit to make a call, but I didn’t back down. I demanded the number and messaged “the victim” myself, telling them the truth and apologizing on behalf of the driver for wasting their time.
The scene was concluded with the driver admitting his fault, with the excuse that he needs to “make ends meet”.
Neither the driver, nor probably the potential client whose rights I took it upon myself to defend, were likely to understand why I decided to appoint myself as an invigilator of the ethical conduct of the residents of Beirut, the majority of whom lie as often as they breathe its polluted air.
It’s the kind of thing I do all the time.
I would admonish a stranger for grumbling at his wife. Would get incensed at an offensive joke. Would search my friends' faces for traces of trouble and tackle any crisis as soon as they share it. I would argue with my relatives over the simplest of things. And every time I see a construction worker in Dubai, I would curse all buildings, all the capitals of the world, and the very idea of urbanisation.
I throw myself into these ridiculous battles with the same recklessness of a teenager declaring her rebellion against her surroundings. Except teenagers eventually grow up and abandon these battles for more serious and meaningful ones.
I throw myself into ridiculous battles with the recklessness of a teenager declaring her rebellion against her surroundings. Except teenagers eventually grow up
But I keep going back for more naive battles, experiencing one meagre triumph after the other.
Until one day, my friend May jolts me out of some post-battle euphoria by simply saying, “Hala, you do realise that you're just driven by your ego, don’t you?”
It made sense.
What difference did I make in the world when I chastised an exhausted taxi driver who was practically stuck to the leather seat of his car by the harsh heat of the day?
Did I forget the hours he spends behind that wheel, roaming the streets of a cruel city, just to put food on the table? Did I even pause to consider how impossible that may be to achieve without some dishonesty? What is the value of my freely chosen battle in the face of the one he is forced to fight every single day? And what's the point of flaunting my victory, when I was clearly in a position of power that left him no choice but to concede?
The only difference I made was adding a notch in my belt of small victories. It was all just to please my ego.
But my ego has its own story. It has retracted its battles into these smaller spheres of influence only after failing to effect any serious change in the world over the past seven years.
The Syrian uprising awakened in us, in me in any case, a fierce sense of the meaning of justice and of the importance of voice and story. Only to violently crush, over the seven years that followed, any faith we had in our ability to realize that justice or communicate those stories.
And so our daily existence has hung since 2011 between those two poles: awakening and annihilation, an ongoing strife between the heights of hope and the depths of helplessness.
Our daily existence has hung since 2011 between those two poles: awakening and annihilation, an ongoing strife between the heights of hope and the depths of helplessness
My ego has retracted its battles into these smaller spheres of influence only after failing to effect any serious change in the world over the past seven years
I thought, like others did, that I could, with others, change the system of injustice that had silenced the people of my country for decades: by writing their stories for the world to read, we would give their voices a platform, and allow the world to learn about their situation and the reasons behind their uprising.
But we stand now before a war that is unlike other wars in that it is happening in broad daylight; it is the most documented in the history of wars. Yet at the same time, it is still a war like any other: evil, unjust, and cruel, it somehow manages to deny its victims the support of public opinion.
What it seems to be telling us is this: Document what you will and let the world see it all. It doesn't change much.
We stand before a war that is unlike other wars in that it is happening in broad daylight. Yet at the same time, it is still a war like any other: it somehow manages to deny its victims the support of public opinion. What it seems to be telling us is this: Document what you will and let the world see it all. It doesn't change much.
I remember how confident I felt during my first press trip to Homs: The stories I carried to the world would give a voice to those who had not been heard, and the people whose words I conveyed would no longer be mute.
Where have they gone now, those whose voices I carried? They have been muted forever.
We have been crushed on a daily basis, starting in March 2011 and until the strange winter, when Eastern Aleppo was destroyed and we watched its residents march westward, carrying their defeat and what's left of their lives in bundles and bags. One winter later, we watched the same scene in Eastern Ghouta.
That’s why we continue to hunt for small victories. That’s why I fight with taxi drivers; to mend these broken dreams.
With time, I understood that in order to go on living with injustice, I have to separate my work from any immediate results. I have to remove myself from the equation, so that I no longer experience victory or defeat.
Making peace with the current situation means sacrificing the ego. But I’m still afflicted by my ego. It clings to me, and when I fight it, it only grows and comes back stronger.
How pathetic that ego is, scoring paltry points in ludicrous battles, letting me subject that poor taxi driver and others like him to righteous lectures that they are bound to agree with anyway. Yet, my ego is so pathetic that it gets a kick from those easily won battle.
The smug ego is also the defeated ego.
It’s the reflection of a self whose dreams have been crushed. It knows that it must be sacrificed at the altar of inner peace, yet it stays on and fights its small, superfluous battles.