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Meet Me in the Middle (East)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Road to Nabatieh

Just when you thought the driving in Lebanon couldn’t be more chaotic and nonsensical...add in a war and you have the most unique driving patterns. Ever. Heading south from Beirut the roads are initially fully intact, albeit flanked with crisp new Hezbollah billboards brandishing images of fighters in action and rocket launchers while proclaiming “The Divine Victory” in three languages.

After driving about 15 minutes south, we passed the first rupture created by an Israeli rocket on the left, relatively small hole the size of a car with all the rubble long cleared away.

The bridges and overpasses stand with huge sections ripped from their arches one after the next after the next. Some places the roads have already been repaved, and almost the entire drive the rubble has been removed from the roads. The pavement surrounding each targeted part of the road is also pocked with potholes created from the blasts. There are also several with significant damage that have yet to collapse.

In some places the extent of the destruction made the road impassable and cars would be diverted into the oncoming stream of traffic (normally a two or three-lane road in each direction) but there are no official markers designating this to the drivers in either direction. Once we had to leave the main road entirely and make our way through town to detour around a missing section of the road, then we were back on our way.

As we approached Saida, the multi-lane overpass to the right hung in the most mangled of all the bridges along the road, a spider-web of twisted metal with concrete chunks of all sizes dangling in the air. We would drive for a while on clear, functioning roads and then suddenly hit traffic as people slowed to inch around a large crater blown into the center of the road, crawling along the edge of the remaining pavement.

I discovered I had done a decent job of following the areas I knew that were hit as I anticipated the bridges I had accurately identified through the news. The exit for Oceana, a beach we went to frequently, used to be advertised on an overpass. When I saw the rubble from the bridge I recognized the signs. The same was true, though it was a bit more shocking to see, at the exit I had always taken for Nabatieh.

Driving into the village itself -- which is a complete misnomer by the way, estimates vary significantly but the lowest puts the population of Nabatieh around 35,000, not exactly ‘village’ -- was lively chaos. Although we did arrive at noontime prayer, I have rarely, if ever, seen the streets as active and filled with shoppers and wares as they were on Monday.

I was relieved by the level of destruction in Nabatieh itself, which was less extensive than I had anticipated. The damage is certainly significant, there are entire buildings destroyed and collapsed, but they are relatively isolated structures and the vast majority of the town is functioning.

People were everywhere, traffic was heavy, Beirut may be empty and quiet because everyone is abroad or in the mountains, but the south has returned!

(More on the center and everyone in Nabatieh soon…)


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