Growing up my childhood was characterized by tales of my parents’ homeland of Lebanon. My bedtime stories when I was younger consisted of vivid accounts of the sparkling blue water one saw while walking across the “Mina” (Arabic for boardwalk), and the history that filled the air above the cobblestone streets of the “Souk Attieh” (old marketplace). I grew up watching the bright spark of longing and nostalgia fill my parents’ eyes as they told me these stories and I could tell that they missed their country. From a young age I longed to see the magical homeland of my parents. Finally after my parents had spent twenty years away from their country trying to build a modest life in America, things finally seemed to fall into place during the summer of 2010 for us to make a long-awaited trip to Lebanon. I was finally given an opportunity to experience Lebanon firsthand.
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I’ll admit that after we arrived in Lebanon I did not take a liking to it immediately. The Lebanese lifestyle couldn’t be more different than that in America. Anyone visiting Lebanon should know not to drink out of the sink because the water isn’t clean and that the electricity does out at least once a day no matter what area you’re in, there were no lifeguards on the beaches and not a police on the road; being there I felt as if I had come to stay in a third world country as opposed to the glowing oasis I heard of growing up.
One day my mother decided she wanted to show us where she grew up. So we made the trip through the busy streets of her hometown of Jbeil to her childhood home. We entered through the antique wooden door into the slightly dilapidated and worn out living room. I saw a plain couch draped in an old tablecloth facing an ancient bookcase and I saw the bed that my mother shared with her brother. But most of all I saw my mother’s past, her upbringing, and specifically her Lebanon. My naïve eyes were now wide to the deep connection my mother has with her homeland and this opened me to its true beauty. I was also open to another fact: growing up in America my brother and I had been spoiled. Even though Lebanon does not have the paved roads and central air-conditioning that America does, doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful, on the contrary its lack of these assets is what makes it beautiful! I began to see the history in the unpaved streets that spanned through its mountaintops, and the beauty in talking on the balcony with family for hours in the middle of the night because the power went off inside. After I finally became aware of the connection my parent’s had to Lebanon I was able to develop my own connection with that blessed land.
The sense of family one finds in Lebanon is undeniable. I would go with my little brother to the corner shop to pick up a few things and we would have countless people greeting us and graciously opening their homes to us, asking if we were hungry. We spent hours on the beach every day, and I found my world in walking across the algae laden rocks that made up the shore. We walked through the “Souk Attieh” whose streets whispered stories of the past. Once I opened my mind to Lebanon I realized that it was my land just as much as it was my parents’ and I count the days until we go back.
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