#TBT: Lessons Learned From Lebanon
I AM A LEBANESE AMERICAN.
I was lucky enough to visit Lebanon nearly every summer to date, and both of my parents are from Southern Lebanon. ✊🏼
my whole life, i felt as though pieces of my heart were scattered all across this beautiful country.
but today, with my father, my father's father, my father's mother resting peacefully beneath its southern soil, lebanon houses so much more than these pieces of my heart. i will forever be a proud daughter of my meditteranean motherland.
I spent the first week and a half of my new year there. during this time, I was able to have several thought provoking conversations about these roots. For the purposes of this post, I will list lessons that I have learned from my time spent in the South of Lebanon (Jnoub). while I understand that many of these testimonials may speak to identities other than my own, I merely wish to catalogue the ways in which my experiences in the south have shaped me.
1- HUMBLE BEGINNINGS CAN (AND SHOULD) LEAD TO HUMBLE ENDINGS
I have been begging my parents to tell me their childhood stories practically my whole life. I wanted to understand the moments that made them who they are, that in turn make me who I am. Baba told us how the soles of his shoes would rip because of his long, uphill trek to school every day, how he would fold pieces of cardboard to cover those holes because he didn't want to burden his father by asking for new shoes. My mother's family had more money, but she refused any financial support and moved to the states to earn her degree. her and my father started off practically penniless. after much struggle and hustle, they ended up considerably well off. and while their lives completely changed, their story will begin and end in humility.
2- SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY IS REDUNDANT: AL BAYT BAYTAK
being from the South assumes hospitality. We have a saying in arabic "al bayt baytak," which translates to "the house is yours." We have an open door policy, all the time, whether those doors are in Tibnine or Dearborn, MI. and the hospitality doesn't stop after we let you in. when you enter one of these homes, you have immediately signed up for snacks, food, more food, dessert, fruit, coffee and tea. and you have to have all of the above, or we will get insulted. I love this about my people. not just because it means I get to eat really good food at random people's houses, but because our generosity has nothing to do with our means. people who are struggling to put food on the table will do all they can to ensure you have a full course meal. to me, that is true generosity, and we do it hoping for nothing but your happiness in return.
3- WE DON'T COME FROM NOTHING; WE COME FROM EVERYTHING
I heard this sentence during a keynote speech and I fell in love with it. I don't know why people who come from poverty feel the need to say "I came from nothing." Yes, my parents came from little to no money, but why should they say they came from nothing? is money everything? is resilience nothing? I learned that you could have a lot and be severely unhappy, just as you could have very little and be truly content. driving through our village one summer, baba saw a family sorting through their tobacco leaves on their porch. he parked the car and told us to follow him. the father and his two young children immediately welcomed us to sit with them. it was really hot, and they had clearly been working for hours, but they were so happy. the whole time, they were so at peace. on the drive back home, I kept asking myself: what is nothing, and what is everything?
IMAD al-JNOUB: BACKBONE OF THE SOUTH
handwritten and posted before his burial by one of the young village boys, on behalf of our village community:
"to my precious, my life, we used to be so happy when we heard that you were visiting, like a child during the holidays. today we're mourning, no happiness after today oh Sayed (descendent of Muhammad), oh Backbone of the South, oh Sayed, oh Backbone of the Poor."
They call baba the backbone of the south.
I have always wanted to feel deeply connected to the people of the south in this way.
I used to feel so much urgency around LEARNING MY PARENTS' STORIES because I was terrified that I would lose them, that losing them meant I would lose ties to this part of my identity, that I would ULTIMATELY lose this backbone of mine. when my father passed away in March, I was devastated that I couldn't hear him tell me these stories in his beautiful accent, It pained me that my future husband would never get baba's special tour around our village, I was heart-broken that my personal liaison to the people of the south was no longer with us IN PERSON.
after my first visit to baba's grave in November, all of these fears were allayed. I felt so at home in our village. all individual pieces of my HEART were AT collective PEACE. I AM COMMITTED TO STAYING CONNECTED TO THESE ROOTS; i will SEEK OUT OPPORTUNITIES TO REDISCOVER THIS PART OF MY IDENTITY, to forge my own relationships with our village community. I, too, want to brag about my home that exists in this magical, mystical place, where i can enjoy my tea each morning between the moon and mountains to one side and the sun and the sea to the other. in baba's voice: where else?