(Image taken at Deir Taanayel in Bekaa Valley)
My parents have arrived to Beirut. It has been 26 years since they came to Lebanon, together.
I cannot believe we are here, together, after such a long time.
During our first evening out, I realized how much I embody a mixture of their characteristics and qualities.
I see the habits we share, both good and bad, and it leaves me smiling.
I am grateful to be their daughter. In all their craziness, they are my sanctuary and role models.
Mom and dad have done amazing work in their lives. Their 40+ years of advocacy and service work is recognized and venerated. Masha’Allah.
Walking in their footsteps is an honor. Their lives were not easy and I can only hope to lead a life of selfless commitment to the global community, as they have.
It’s been too long
The first family trip to Lebanon was in the summer of 1992.
That trip would alter the course of our lives and how we embraced our ancestral homeland, culture and community.
The relationship I would start with Lebanon, my culture, and ethnic community would be one filled with extraordinary highs and lows.
War ravaged and turbulent, the summer of ‘92 would alter the path I would walk upon when I returned to the U.S.
Though I always knew my culture and faith would play an integral role in my future, Lebanon solidified my desire to fight and advocate for my Arab and Muslim American community.
Something triggers you
The reinforcement I needed to follow my passion and pursue a life committed to service work would begin on that trip.
After returning to the U.S., I delved into service work with boundless passion and dedication.
While in Lebanon, I witnessed suffering and destitution. It was heartbreaking. Those moments observed made me realize I could not ignore human suffering.
At age 13, I realized that my skills and talents could be used to benefit the less fortunate.
Serving others and ensuring the success of under-resourced would become a vital part of my existence.
Strong values start at home
These gifts are passed on by my parents.
Compassion, understanding, empathy, dedication, and honesty are quality characteristics instilled in the foundation of our upbringing.
My parents taught us by example. Each of my siblings walk the same or almost similar path. We are committed to service and supporting the under-resourced and do so in our own ways.
I feel for those who have not been taught to think about or care for the well-being of others.
A few days ago, we drove through Beirut alleyways to avoid the crazy traffic.
Between roads Hafez Al Assad and Imam Al Khomeini is an area carved out in the Ghobeiry district that will make your heart ache.
Poverty is far above the means people live in throughout these crannies and passages of the city.
Driving through this area is arduous and toilsome. At night, it is frightening to navigate without electricity and streetlights.
Passages barely accommodate the smallest of vehicles and I, turning my side mirrors inwards to pass through, have both hands on the wheel and eyes looking in every direction before proceeding.
Children, underprivileged and covered in grime race through the streets, chasing one another and playing with homemade or broken toys.
Some as young as six years old work in shops with horrifying sanitary conditions, alongside older males.
Many make only a few dollars a day, helping to support families. Education is just as scarce as opportunity.
You can observe an emptiness in the eyes of children here. The glimmer of excitement and wonder has diminished.
A ten year old can walk you through troubles and sufferings most 40 year olds have yet to experience.
A walk down memory lane
(Image from: www.souar.com – Beirut, Lebanon in the 1960’s)
Each area we drove through, dad was reminded of his youth.
He began working at the age of 8, having to help support eight other siblings.
The nickels and dimes he made went towards his family and what he could save went towards his schoolbooks and education.
He knows every nook and cranny of the Beirut from his childhood. His recollection of memories from 55+ years ago leaves me astounded.
Recalling where old historic landmarks once stood in place of the shiny, towering buildings of the present, he walks down memory lane each time we drive around town.
Education was a luxury
Dad loved school. He was exceptionally talented in his youth and loved to read and write.
With a photographic memory, even at 67, he continues to recall things that leave my mind boggled.
(Image from: www.michcafe.blogspot.com)
As much as he wanted to continue his education, he had no choice but to leave school and work. Living in Bourj Hammoud in his youth taught him a great deal.
By 7th grade, he was working full time, doing odd jobs to help support their growing family.
Doing his best to continue educating himself, he would read books and write poetry to keep his mind active.
“I learned to save money and hustle to make a bit extra so I could enjoy some parts of my youth,” he says while we head through the mountains.
“Saving a penny or two here and there allowed me to watch a movie or go somewhere with friends.”
Fulfilling the meaning of Mohsen
My dad is true to his name. Mohsen; the benefactor, charitable, and one who does good things for others.I hold my father in the highest regard.
He lived his entire life working so that others had what they needed, sacrificing his own dreams, goals, and opportunities.
He had forgone a great deal to ensure everyone else was happy and fulfilled.
How many of us are willing to do that? To put the needs of others before our own?
Life consumes us and we fail to advance our desires or fulfill our truths. It is easy to forget the world around us and neglect those in need.
Thinking of your own needs does not make you a bad person. Humans have diverse needs, desires, and passions. Our priorities are different and that is okay.
Our characteristics and foundation help to pave our path and how we react to situations in the world around us.
Others and their role in our lives
My father always put others first. He still does. At times, it is a point of contention for our family.
His hand is always extended, never empty, and his heart always in tune with the needs of others.
During our youth, I recall times we resented his generosity towards other people.
Whether family, friends, or random strangers, we did not understand where this desire to help others came from.
Until we really understood his history, we were bitter about his generosity and charitable efforts.
Poverty is a living hell
On our way to dinner we passed children in dumpsters scrounging for food items. Each one of us shared our thoughts on the matter.
It was gut wrenching to watch.
“I lived my entire life working multiple jobs so you and your siblings will never know what a hell it was to be poor,” dad always says.
In the car he said, “The way we lived was extremely difficult. There are good memories. But, I still carry the difficult ones with me. We were far below poverty. We were lucky when we had food to eat. Meat was a luxury.”
Being without food
Dad shared details of how he would accumulate scraps of food from different vendors at the end of the business day.
These scraps he took home so his siblings could eat. That is a great burden for a child to carry. It hurts my heart to think of a 9 year old carrying that responsibility and desire to help his family.
Lebanon is a nation where government assistance is a far away dream. As an American, I think of being 9 years old and my only care being how late we could stay outside to play.
It helped me to understand why dad eats meat and feels it is what makes a meal filling. Whether consumed or not, dad fills the table with food.
This can be wasteful, though he sees it as ensuring everyone has enough and is not deprived in anyway.
This is a psychological ramification poverty can have on an individual. I have learned to understand and accept it.
The guilt is consuming
Hearing these stories again gave me a pang of guilt.
I always feel guilty hearing his stories. We lived comfortably and never needed or wanted for anything.
I easily recall the years I resented people dad gave his time, money, and effort to.
Dad was taken advantage of and unappreciated. I watched as his efforts were taken for granted. It was irritating and made me resent people.
Those closest to him had often left him emotionally, financially, and physically spent. It was our immediate family that would deal with the repercussions.
Initially, I was angry when learning the harsh truth of my dad’s past. I watched him continue to deprive himself of what he deserved and wanted so someone else could get ahead.
It took years for me to understand the psychological impact poverty has on individuals. Dad divulged truths that took me years to process and appreciate.
Dad’s upbringing contributed to the rooted desire to help others. He was among the eldest in the family and felt responsible to take care of the others.
My father was the only sibling to step up and address situations that needed solutions. Where others lagged or were busy, Mohsen made the time and gave the effort.
Call on Mohsen
To this day, his siblings will all attest to the fact that he has always been the “go-to” person in the family; immediate and extended.
Talal, a local businessman who has known dad over 45 years, said, “your father was always the responsible one. We looked up to him.”
Talal shared that dad was the gatekeeper and person who handled any issues in the community. Dad is honest and just. He is trusted to do things the right way.
Build your legacy
(Image by: Debbie Malyn – Times Herald)
I pray to have the same legacy my father has created. Knowing my parents and siblings can come to me for anything is a comfort.
They trust me, completely, and I take that honor seriously.
It warms my heart to know members of my community feel comfortable enough to seek my opinions or assistance.
They know I will never betray their trust or share their concerns or needs. These are the blessings and deeds we carry with us to our graves.
Creating a legacy rooted in trust, compassion, honesty and charitable giving is important to me.
I ask that God continue to watch over my loved ones and provide them with opportunities to remain true to their roots, faith, and upbringing.