This article originally appeared on VICE France.
Most people think of Libya when they hear of Tripoli, but Lebanon’s second-largest city bears the same name. Located in the north of the country, just 30km from the Syrian border, Tripoli once had a thriving economy, but decades of neglect by the national government have seen it become Lebanon’s poorest city.
In 2018, the UN reported that 60 percent of residents in one of the city’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods were unemployed. Since then, the situation has become even more dire. During the pandemic, Lebanon’s economy has basically collapsed, and in August of 2020 a massive explosion in the capital, Beirut, led to the resignation of the government, which still hasn’t reassembled. In Tripoli, residents have been reporting near-starving conditions, and protests against COVID restrictions have been ongoing for a year. The latest round of demonstrations, in January of 2021, was met with violent repression, as security forces fired live ammunition on the crowds, injuring 74.
But even in the midst of this pandemonium, people in Tripoli have found a way to let off some steam – by watching smoke rise out of spinning cars. Drifting – when drivers reach fast speeds before suddenly steering the wheel and sliding sideways, with control – is thought to have originated among street racers in Japan in the 1970s.
As a car-obsessed country, drifting is also hugely popular in Lebanon. On a Sunday afternoon in late December of 2020, friends and families from across the country defied COVD restrictions to gather and watch racers burn their tires on the asphalt. People cheered as the drivers drifted across a slalom course plotted with orange traffic cones and blue containers. For a moment, everyone seemed to have forgotten their troubles, their ears echoing with the sound of roaring engines.
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