“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We’d like to welcome you onboard British Midland’s flight 8180 to Beirut …”
In all my years on this earth, I have never felt anything quite like this. There was a strange feeling in my stomach – juiced up butterflies flapping their wings at superhuman speeds, maybe. To my right, there is a trio of bearded businessmen discussing politics: to my left, two women are discussing Heath Ledger’s tragic drug overdose. Giddy, I bounce in anticipation of this momentous occasion: I am embarking on my first trip to Lebanon.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
In May 2008, Mirande, the nicest woman in the world, fell in love with my uncle and they decided to get married. In typical Arab fashion, my family and I immediately packed our bags and set out towards the motherland. Located in southwestern Asia – with the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south – Lebanon certainly does not lie in our backyard. Based on Lawrence of Arabia, the news, and my parent’s stories, I confess that I expected Lebanon to be a deadly war zone. Ironically, this stereotype is nowhere near reality. Known as the “Paris of the Middle East”, Lebanon opened my eyes to the world by bringing my taste buds to new heights and developing my love of Arabic culture.
To the Lebanese, food is something to savor and enjoy, rather than fatally consume. It has to be appealing to the eyes as well as to the pallet. This, combined with typical Lebanese generosity, makes for some pretty memorable mealtimes. One of my fondest memories was of our first dinner at the home of Mirande’s parents. Her mother, Taunt Souad, had outdone herself: the table was laden with everything from hummus and m’tabbal (eggplant dip) to tabbouleh (parsley and burghul salad) to kibbeh (a meat and burghul dish …. my mouth is watering!) to sfeeha and fatayer (meat, spinach, and cheese pies) to warak enab (stuffed grape leaves) – and these were just the appetizers! With trained eyes, Taunt Souad thoroughly scrutinized our plates for any opening – every time she spotted an inch of space, she would immediately replenish it with an even bigger serving!
To be clear, this wasn’t an isolated incident: at every meal, our hosts implored us, “kilo b’aad!” (“eat more”). To sum it up, if I were to say only one thing about the Lebanese, it would be that their generosity and kindness are unparalleled (our inside joke is that it's illegal to leave the country without a minimum gain of five pounds).
Fleeing the unbearable humidity of the Mediterranean Sea, we decided to take an overnight trip to the mountains. About an hour’s drive from where we were staying in Beirut, Zahle (my dad’s hometown) is far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Because of this, residents lead comparably slower lives. The most popular afternoon activitiy is to drink Turkish coffee and visit (gossip) with neighbors. As a matter of fact, while my family and I walked down to “al Waddi” (“the Ravine”), a small outdoor promenade packed with restaurants, friendly locals would ask us (perfect strangers, mind you!) to drop by for coffee!
When it comes down to it, this is why Lebanon has such a place in my heart: the people that I met were good-hearted and generous. They displayed the epitome of etiquette; they were passionate about good food and good people; they showed hospitality to every stranger.
Oh, if I could only grow wings and fly there right now!
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.