By Diane Wilson
If there's one constant in Beirut besides the bombing it is the men who have warned us not to go into the bombed out sections of west and south Beirut. For one thing, just anybody can not go in. You have to get special permission from hizpallah. You have to have papers. You must have a fixerč who arranges your tour and that usually costs $100. It helps if youčre press. Another thing, it is very dangerous and two of your group are blonde haired women and the situation could be very sensitive. Better not to go in at all. Today, though, we decided to go in. We had papersč of sorts. Medea had her UN affiliate one day pass, gael had a business card, Judith had a business card and I had a little postcard from my book publisher showing the book they published of mine, plus, I had my Texas drivers license!
So we emptied our purses and bags of everything save those papersč and a camera and money for a driver. We went downstairs to the hotel lobby and asked the man behind the desk for directions to a certainč place in south Beirut where we could meet a fixerč. The man looked at us in astonishment. It is very dangerous he said. No driver will take you there.
Yes yes, very dangerous. You will not find a driver. So we walked out into the hot crowded street where traffic is head-on and a dog's width apart and hailed the first red license plate taxi we could find. Would he take us to South Beruit where the bombs were dropped? Yes yes he said, climb in.
Monsieur Mohamad was an old man, spoke little English, and lived in the neighborhood where the bombs fell. His wife and children had fleed earlier but he stiil remained and drove 12 miles into Beirut every morning in his battered taxi. Getting benzene for his taxi was a problem. Either the gas stations were closed or there were long long lines of piled up cars waiting their turn or there was a big fight at the pump for the benzene. Then old Monsieur winked at us; there is always the blackmarket where he can purchase gas for 9 dollars a gallon.
Pretty fast, Monsieur became our fixerč. He seemed willing to take us anywhere and everywhere so we wrote off the Hizpullah as unnecessary for the moment. We would take care of that bridge when we came to it. We were skating on thin ice. I especially realized it when we pulled up to the most recent bombed out neighborhood where buildings ten stories high were flattened to one huge pile of cement and wires and dust and rubble. In one building 52 people were killed and 70 injured.
The rubble was still smoking.A huge Catipiller was clearing one of the streets and one lone man was hauling his clothes in a plastic bag. When we pulled up in the car, we asked Monsieur if we could get out and take pictures. Maybe we were paranoid and the driver in the catipiller didn't even see us and was only in a hurry to clear the rubble before another strike, but when the driver shifted into high gear and rammed his catipillar into the wires strung across the street and popped them like a bullwhip then careened down the dust filled road about 80 miles an hour, I figured our taxi was getting rammed. Later we learned from some media (who had took the tourč) that the word was out that another strike was coming. So we all took off running.