I awoke yesterday to a frantic call from the nearby butcher. “Your car has been hit, come get it!”

I went downstairs and found a massive dent in my roof:

It had even bent the frame of the car:

The butcher told me a pot had come crashing down from the fourth floor of the building. To guard the spot for customers, the butcher usually sets his plastic chair out on the street. If I hadn’t parked there, the pot could have come down on him.

Curiously the roof was all wiped off when I got there. Someone–perhaps the pot owner–had tried to clean up the scene.

But thankfully a nearby barber had seen the whole thing and took this picture:

 Here’s a view of the fourth floor. You can see there are still two plants up there. And there are also plants on the first floor:

The butcher was quite angry because a similar situation happened about a year ago when another pot had come crashing down on the sidewalk in front of his shop.

“Do you want to know how to claim your rights,” he asked, wielding a big knife. “Go to the police. Talk to officer (insert name),” he advised, continuing to carve the giant hanging carcas hanging before him.

So I entered the drab offices of the closest police station, where WWE Wrestling was playing on TV. From the beat up desks and broken, tapped up chairs, soldiers and detectives were constantly walking in and out, smoking and working the phones. A young woman with heels and tight pants strutted in to report a poor Syrian cart-pusher who was “illegally” selling vegetables. He sat in the corner in silence, disheveled and despondent as she filled out a report with the help of a young, muscle-shirt wearing undercover agent who walked around like he owned the place.

I thought it would be my turn when they left but then phone calls began to come in about “a problem” in the restive Kaskas neighborhood. Machine guns were taken out of a cabinet, more phone calls were made and I would have to wait till they got back. In the meantime a junior officer took my driver’s license and registration.

“I’m just reporting this because it’s dangerous,” I explained. “The pot could have killed someone.”

“Oh don’t worry,” the twenty-something officer smiled. “Maybe you lived abroad but in Lebanon our heads are made of steel.”

 Suddenly a new wave of officers began to pour in, speaking on phones about KFC illegally parking their delivery motorcycles on the sidewalk. Who’s jurisdiction was it? They argued and I continued to wait.

“Can I just leave my number and you call me when you are ready?”

“We can’t let you leave,” the young officer said soberly. “It’s forbidden to leave when a background check is being run.”

“Enshallah you don’t have a record,” he said with a wink.

Apparently you can’t just complain about something dangerous to the police in Lebanon, you have to file charges and begin court action. It’s presented as a major hassle–one detective even told me to forget the whole thing. “What is it going to cost you after insurance, a hundred bucks? I’ll give you a hundred bucks!” But I insisted.

So a couple hours later, he walked with me to the house of the man with the pots. An old man about 70 years old wearing pajamas answered. After much haggling I agreed to drop charges so long as he removed the plants and agreed to pay the bill. (The officer merely asked him to remove the plants–he did not ask to witness said removal.)

But because we had opened a case, we both would have to go back down to the station for paperwork. We watched the officer hand write what seemed a colossal two-page essay on the events, pausing intermittently to fix three pieces of carbon paper shoved in between. The old man began to tell me how we were neighbors and should be friends. In my mind I wondered why he had cleaned up the crime scene without leaving a note or number.

Before this, the officer had offered us his falafel sandwich. It was now 5PM. “Lunch,” I asked. “Breakfast” he replied.

***

Was justice served? I spent the whole day inhaling smoke, waiting around a broken police station and ultimately upsetting an old man. Some of the officers didn’t seem particularly moved by my case but action can take place if you push hard enough.

Still, the balconies of Beirut are full of pots. So you might want to be careful where you walk, especially on windy days.

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Habib Battah
Habib Battah is an investigative journalist and founder of the news site beirutreport.com. Battah has covered Lebanon and the Middle East for over 15 years and teaches journalism and media studies at the American University of Beirut. He is a contributor to Monocle, The Guardian, BBC World, Al Jazeera and others, a former fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award. Battah's investigative work was recently recognized for outstanding local reporting by the Columbia University Oakes Award for Environmental Reporting. Battah earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. in Near East Studies and Journalism from New York University.

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