There is a certain smell that arrives in Beirut in the late springtime that lets you know for sure that summer is right around the corner. No, it is not the fragrant aroma of the gardenias at they blossom on the trees of Hamra street, nor is it the salty mist from the Mediterranean Sea along the Corniche, nor the smell of freshly packed zaatar from a corner store….


It is the smell of shit. Literally, the smell of sewage. The entire city of Beirut smells like shit and rotting garbage in the summer, and that’s how you know summer has arrived. Starbucks smells like a hundred toilets overflowing. The top floor of my apartment building smells like cow farts. The Corniche begins to smell like someone chopped up all the fish heads in the city and piled them up for three months to just sit there. Zaitunay Bay smells like diapers. Little shops smell like air fresheners, of course, pumped into the air at five second intervals, in a desperate bid to cover the stink.

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I like to think it's something like living in the Middle Ages, or Victorian England, when the smell of the streets of any given city or any given town was so dank at all times that people would walk around with sachets of perfume to huff constantly like addicted glue sniffers, just to get through the day.

But spray all the perfume you like. They can’t hide it. If you smell shit, it may mean there are literally germ particles, in your nose.

Why does Beirut smell like shit in the summer? A few reasons – all of them due to the heat. Naturally, as the weather gets warmer, the garbage starts to rot. The sewage – which is always pumped directly into the Mediterranean Sea – starts to cook slightly, increasing the putridity. The food – all of it – gets spoiled ever so slightly so that at any given time, everyone has massive diarrhea.

Beirutis storm the city’s pharmacies, regaling the entire shop with their symptoms, begging for something, anything, to make this shitting stop. If it gets really bad, the pharmacist will offer Cipro, which allows Beirutis in turn to shit out their entire intestinal system before it can be replaced with another. Friends offer advice. Laban! Eat more laban. Stay away from fish, or white cheese, or chicken. Buy an air freshener. Go to Paris.

But most of all, don’t worry. Once you get used to it, you can’t smell it anymore.


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Thanks, Habib. We hyperlinked your article into the post.

Angie Nassar on May 13, 2015 via web
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There are several sewers that run off Beirut's coast. Here is one: Thanks for brining attention to this. Sad that more journalists are not following this story.

Habib Battah on May 13, 2015 via web