The other night I was going to meet up with a friend to watch The Kingdom, which, to my mind, was all right for an action movie, but not nearly as clever as it thought it was. I flagged down a cab and when it stopped I did a double take. The driver was a woman.
When I was a kid, I remember there being a riddle that went like this: A boy is wheeled into the emergency room, and the surgeon takes one look at him and says, "I'm sorry, I cannot operate on this boy. He is my son." The doctor is not the boy's father. Who is the doctor, then? The answer, of course, is, his mother. But at the time I remember hearing this riddle, the answer was not so obvious, and people would give answers like "his uncle" or "his grandfather," because they simply couldn't imagine the fact that a doctor would be a woman.
These days, the idea that a doctor or a lawyer or a chemist could be a woman seems obvious. For some reason, though, I was really shocked by seeing a woman cab driver. She acted just like her male counterparts: cursing, mumbling about traffic and trying to rip me off.
Obviously, there's nothing about driving a cab, as opposed to say delivering refrigerators, that would prohibit most women from doing the job. But I suppose it's just a question of habit, and I'm not used to seeing women cabbies, not even in Europe or the States. (The only other one I've seen was an African woman in Paris.) After talking to friends about it, I've been told that there are a few in Beirut, and one even wears the hijab.
Coincidentally, a few months ago, I was near a police headquarters close to the periphery of Beirut when I suddenly saw two women soldiers walking down the street. Since then, I've run into a couple more. While I've seen plenty of women soldiers and police officers in my life, I'd never seen any in Lebanon, so I was really (pleasantly) surprised.