My relationship to Lebanon is the relationship of a son to a war torn mother who has, under the heavy struggles of war, forgotten that her son even exists, but when he shows up, she hugs him unaware, with empty attention, while gazing to the fires and bombs in the horizon.
I was born a year after the country’s civil war has started, and grew up to the loud broadcasting of the news over the square TV with the distorted pictures of blood and destruction and very serious newscast sound. We received the newspaper daily to the house, and the big headlines were always negative news from Lebanon or Palestine.
There was always war. The modern history of Lebanon is a sequence of small battles and wars among everyone. The number of battles is almost equal to the number of possible combinations between all factions. Yet, we visited Lebanon almost every year in the summer.
My father is from Sour, called in English Tyre. Sour is a peninsula on the Mediterranean. Sun rises from the sea to greet the sailing fishermen every morning, and sets in the sea from the other side flickering its golden rays on the big arch of the ruins of its fort and old roman city, and greeting its farmers returning home after a hard day of work. Sour is a magical city, with kind people, and educated, smart, and religiously diverse inhabitants. Sour was mentioned in the bible 12 times, and is one of the oldest cities in history.
My mother is from Bintjbail, a city in the Mountains of Amel in South Lebanon, 300 meters above ground, embedded in the beautiful valleys of olive, fig, and almond trees, and orchards of grapes and tobacco.
When we went to Lebanon in the summer, it was only 2 hours away from Abu Dhabi airport. Dubai airport did not exist at that time, and when it was found, it wasn’t that popular yet. There was one airport in UAE, which was Abu Dhabi. I still remember the smell of humidity, sea salt, and the sweat of my father mixed with the finest French colognes. When we get to Lebanon, it was always hectic. The beeping, the chaos, the worry, the fear, the warmth, the multiple military presence, and the complication of everything, mixed with the complications of people.
Depends what year we visit, there would be different portraits in the airport, celebrating different personalities, and there would be a different uniform dressed forces. Also, it will make a difference in the number of check points, and their kind.
From the Syrian army, to the Syrian secret service, to the Lebanese Army, to Hezbollah, to Amal Party, to Alansar (who are fans of Jamal Abdulnasser), or Palestinians, to Lebanon Southern Army (the traitors), to the Israeli army. That is if you are going south. If you are going north, or up to the mountains, or down to Baalbak and the valley, there will be a different sequence of militias and armies, in a country that you can cross from North to South in about 4 hours if unobstructed.
I remember in one of the trips, we had to stop by 17 check points in a trip that is supposed to be 45 minutes from the airport to Sour. Every checkpoint has its own inclinations and questions. Some were on “our side”, others we were weary about their questions. Some needed a bribe, and others needed to search the bags.
At the end we settled with my family. My paternal grand mother was always the warm chest that received us. Charafeddines are very emotional family, and the amount of emotions shown to us in reception was over whelming.
To be continued …