I was in search of an English speaking driver with an operable taxi at the Israeli/Lebanese border. I was in need of a driver who would: make me a reasonable rate for three days of driving, know enough Arabic to minimize our down time at the numerous checkpoints throughout the country. I was also hopeful of finding a taxi that was from all outward appearances in road-worthy condition.
The most promising vehicle I could find was a four-door 1968 Peugeot. I was immediately drawn to it because of its recent light blue paint job. It appeared that rather than applying the paint with a spray-gun an ordinary household broom had been used.The driver was a large, perspiring, half French, half Lebanese gentleman. He wore an ill-fitting brown double-breasted suit with white blue-striped Nike running shoes. His mustached face reminded me of a walnut shell. He spoke fluent Arabic, French, English, German and Hebrew. Over the next three days he passed himself off as a Christian, a Jew, a Shiite and Sunni Muslim and an atheist. His name was Haruk.
It took, however, some time to negotiate the fare with Haruk because of his manner. He simply could not come to the point - any point. The exchange went something like this:
"Would you tell me please what you would charge to drive me from the Israeli border through South Lebanon and into Beirut, round-trip?"
"My car has just been freshly painted for such a journey."
"That is very good, but how much do you want for such a trip?"
"Let us become friends first and then we shall discuss the price."
"I would feel much better if I had some idea now. I am not a man of great means."
"I find that most unusual. Many, many Americans have great personal wealth. I remember a couple from Dallas, Tex."
"No, Haruk, what do you charge by the hour or the mile?"
"Let us drive and get some coffee and you tell me about America and this woman, Faye Dunaway, I am reading so much about."
"Haruk," I shouted, "What is this going to cost?"
Haruk paused at this point and made a grand and dramatic gesture with his arms, "I will tell you later, not now. If you do not like my price, you do not hire me any more again and we shall never speak or write!"
At the end of my three-day visit, I gave him a hundred dollars, my three-piece blue suit and a well-worn pair of New Balance running shoes. Haruk was a happy man with this arrangement and we continue to write.
I should at this point attempt an explanation of why Lebanon is the way it is. As we journeyed north to Beirut, Haruk told me that the history of his people dated back some six millennia and all of it dealt with "gross human misbehavior and foreign conquest." He recounted for me the conquerors of the Levant. "We have been overrun by the Canaanites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Arabs again, Turks, French, more Arabs, Israelis and occasionally the U.S. Marines."
When the French finally evacuated Lebanon in the fall of 1946, it was declared an independent state and was thereafter ruled by alternating Christian and Muslim governments. I asked Haruk if this was a workable arrangement.
He laughed for several minutes, "Workable! Let me tell you what I think of it. It stinks! Now tell me what chance do you think a beautiful but somewhat shallow young woman would have of a happy life if she had the misfortune of having as a father a militant, out-spoken Christian and as a mother a seething, ill-tempered Muslim?"