Lebanon: Home away from home…
On December 27, 2017, I left Dearborn, Michigan, my birthplace and home and headed to my ancestral homeland, Lebanon. I have embarked on a new journey, working for the Union of Arab Banks as its International and Diplomatic Relations Consultant.
There was always a strong pull for me to return to Lebanon; something that filled my heart with longing and an ache Michigan could never ease. I found myself returning as often as I could, with an insatiable desire, emptying my savings to sit along the shores of the Mediterranean, a book in hand and shisha table side.
The first time
I remember my first trip to Lebanon in the summer of 1992. My parents took out a home equity loan, wanting my siblings and I to visit our ancestral homeland and learn about the country our parents hailed from. I was thirteen years old and didn’t want to leave my comfortable teenage life in Dearborn and visit a country that was still in a state of war.
I cried as I left Detroit Metro Airport and through the connection at London Heathrow, though when I landed in Beirut, and my feet touched the parched summer ground, I felt like I was home. That summer, I would fall in love with Lebanon and my life would forever change, though I will leave that experience and story for another day.
“Nothing is very constant in Beirut. Certainly not dreams. But despair isn’t constant either. Beirut is a city to be loved and hated a thousand times a day. Every day. It is exhausting, but it is also beautiful.” ― Nasri Atallah
This time, it’s different
Four suitcases contained all my fall clothing to keep me warm in the rainy and wet winter of Beirut. This time was different from the other countless trips to Beirut. This was not a vacation, rather an opportunity to commence on a journey that would bring me to Lebanon to live and work.
I asked myself multiple times if I was crazy to make this move, leaving my family, friends, and life to move 5,889 miles away to a country filled with instability and political turmoil.
Yes, I was crazy and can say that my heart felt completely at peace making this decision to uproot and begin a new life in a land that has held my heart ransom for nearly 25 years.
(Pigeon Rocks “Raouche”)
“Beirut is the Elizabeth Taylor of cities: insane, beautiful, falling apart, aging, and forever drama laden. She’ll also marry any infatuated suitor who promises to make her life more comfortable, no matter how inappropriate he is.” ―Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman
Lebanon, like the Phoenix
Just uttering its name fills my heart with inexplicable happiness. A land abundant in history, steeped in God’s superb majesty, and nestled in the bosom of the Mediterranean.
Many writers have likened Lebanon to the mythical Phoenix. Lebanon has been ravaged by decades of war and turmoil, only to rise from its ashes and rebuild itself, strong and resilient, in the face of fractious adversity.
Its people, formidable, unwavering, and spirited, have weathered both triumph and tribulation, time and again. For decades, the Lebanese have faced danger in the eye, destitution, suffering, and poverty. They lift their chins in pride and honor, hailing from lands where Jesus walked and performed his first miracle. A land which contains stories of ancient civilizations and cultural evolution, with structures still standing and functional.
(Mom and I at the Roman ruins of Baalbek)
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. – Gibran Khalil Gibran
Emerging from the airport, I knew this time would be different. The smell of diesel fumes and the impatience of horns honking, consumed me. This nation, the approximate size of Rhode Island, is far too congested and is inhabited by over 5 million people.
This trip would make me more cognizant of the sounds, smells, actions, and emotions that propel Beirut and its people.
(View from Harissa and Our Lady of Lebanon Church)
Do I dare say that I know what to expect? Certainly not. This journey is one which will teach me about my own desires, requisites and adversity. On this adventure, I expect to engage in a dance where what I consider “home” will rumba with me into the moonlight.
There are many experiences waiting and opportunities to be seized, and it’s about time that I branched out of my comfort zone and took a leap.
Let this journey begin. I am finally ready for what the eastern world has in store for me.
You have your Lebanon and I have mine.
You have your Lebanon with her problems, and I have my Lebanon with her beauty.
You have your Lebanon with all her prejudices and struggles, and I have my Lebanon with all her dreams and securities.
Your Lebanon is a political knot, a national dilemma, a place of conflict and deception. My Lebanon is a place of beauty and dreams of enchanting valleys and splendid mountains.
Your Lebanon is inhabited by functionaries, officers, politicians, committees, and factions. My Lebanon is for peasants, shepherds, young boys and girls, parents and poets.
Your Lebanon is empty and fleeting, whereas My Lebanon will endure forever.
– Gibran Kahlil Gibran, “The Eye of the Prophet, “ 1920
(View from Bsharri, the Village of Gibran Khalil Gibran)