Postcard from Beirut – XI

The rains have come to Lebanon. I headed out to run yesterday aware of the gathering storm clouds, but it’s hard to believe how much water can fall from the sky here, and how quickly. By the time I was running along the freeway, the air was gauzy with water and the wind was shoving me back on my heels. Streams appeared on every street running down the hill. Lovely yellow rivulets cut through the clay of construction sites. This would be an out and back run; I had no interest in finding my footing in the city’s narrower, crowded streets. When I did turn around, finally putting my back to the wind, I could see hail bouncing off the sidewalk, but could feel nothing other than the pelting rain. By now the hill had funneled an incredible amount of water down to the freeway. I had to ford every street crossing, and when I stepped off the sidewalk to get around a parked car, the water in the gutter came up past my ankles. It would have been entirely playful if the pooling water weren’t pooling in Beirut. Even rains this torrential don’t cleanse the city so much as reanimate its dormant grime. Oil shimmered on the surface of the water, which was turning from a muddy brown to an ominous and gritty black. The storm drains were backing up, adding to the mix whatever flows beneath the streets. Still, I was getting rinsed clean every few steps, and running against traffic, I could see how ridiculous I looked in the faces of amused drivers. At first I thought the metal banging sound was a car dragging a parking meter through the street. But I heard it every few hundred feet until finally I spotted a manhole cover clattering in its fitting, the torrent below forcing water and air out around the sides. It looked as if it was getting up the courage to pop clear off, but the drivers either knew this was nonsense or didn’t see what I saw. They inched along, pausing just above the cover so that it tickled the underside of their cars. I stopped and stood in the pounding rain, already too wet to mind, and watched the heavy metal disk dance and sing in the middle of the street.