<![CDATA[By Sonia Jalbout Published on December 8, 2014 I was wide awake listening to the sound of car horns 12 stories below. I smiled as my 5 foot 1 inch body rested on a bed consisting of two couch cushions on my uncle’s floor. I was in a town outside Beirut called Daoura, where my uncle and his wife have lived since before I was born. We had landed in Lebanon the night before, so my excitement this morning was immense. After living in Lebanon for a short two years during my early childhood and then growing up in Canada, I used to reminisce about Lebanon as a happy, loving place full of family gatherings, delicious food, and wonderful sights. I wondered if things had changed. But this morning, the things I’d seen since my flight were just as I’d remembered them. As soon as I stepped off the plane, the city’s distinct smells flooded my mind with memories. I hopped off my bed and stood on the hot balcony in my pajamas. On the loud street below, cars were parked crookedly against the sides of buildings, and I watched as taxis dropped off and picked up passengers. I could see women in high heels gracefully walking along the poorly paved roads in the absence of sidewalks. Beyond the disorganized road, a large hill stood mightily over the neighbourhood. Gazing at it, I wondered if the people who live here still notice its existence. I also wondered if they ever notice the absence of sidewalks. Daoura did not feel so strange to me even though I had not visited in 10 years. I remember being ten years old, standing on my family balcony, and watching a flood. I remember laughing and being entertained as our rusty Jetta started drifting away in the water.
* * *During the first week of our two-week stay in Lebanon, my father and I visited as many relatives as possible along with my uncle. One trip a few days before our departure from Lebanon stands out because it disturbed me quite a bit. We visited a place called Khiam where my father’s parents spent most of their lives. They were forced to flee during the civil war of 1975 and find refuge in Beirut. My grandparents have passed away and left behind a large house. Despite the end of the war, the house is still abandoned. Lack of legal documents and shortage of repair money sustain the abandonment. Overtaken by plant wildlife and cluttered with rubble, my grandparents’ lonely house stood in contrast to enormous villas nearby, well-kept with manicured grass and flowers. My grandparents’ house remained in ruins. What was once a home to my family for decades was now home to no one, but an eyesore to the neighbours. [caption id="attachment_730" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Flood. Photo by Sonia Jalbout.[/caption] Though not much seemed to have changed since I left Lebanon, my knowledge about the realities of Lebanon has changed. As child, I was never told about how terrible things used to be for my relatives before I was born. I never knew how much debt my parents took on after the flood to buy a newer rusty Jetta. I didn’t know that the soldiers carrying rifles that I used to pass by were ready for a new war to begin at any moment. This time, however, I understood. I asked my uncle why he visited the dilapidated house every few years. He stared at the house, then at me, and replied simply, “This is my childhood.”
Sonia Jalbout is a fourth year student at UTSC, majoring in geography and environmental science. She hopes to land a job with the ministry of environment & climate change. She enjoys learning about the world around her and hopes to visit many warm countries next year, especially Costa Rica. In her spare time, she enjoys exercising, shopping, and drinking tea (as a result of discovering a fantastic new tea store in her nearby shopping centre).
Further reading and viewing suggestions
- Abdelhady, Dalia. 2006. “Beyond Home/Host Networks: Forms of Solidarity Among Lebanese Immigrants in a Global Era.” Identities 13 (3): 427–453.
- Elkoury, Fouad. 1994. “Traces of War, 1994-1997.” Fouad Elkoury – Permanent Collection.
- Hage, Rawi. 2006. De Niro’s Game. Toronto: House of Anansi Press.
- Haugbolle, Sune. 2005. “Public and Private Memory of the Lebanese Civil War.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 25 (1): 191–203.
- Sabra, Samah. 2008. “Re-Imagining Home and Belonging: Feminism, Nostalgia, and Critical Memory.” Resources for Feminist Research 33 (1-2): 79.
This was a moving story, in many different ways. First, the nostalgia of returning home, and being able to relive your childhood memories is one of the greatest feelings. It was also moving how you described the innocence of your childhood and your perception of what you saw as a child compared to understanding things, as you got older. It shows as we get older we are more aware of reality, and the reality of war and poverty, but we still hold onto our childhoods despite what happens, and all these experiences shape us to make us who we are.
This story was a great read. Sonia shows us a connection she has with place through different emotional experiences, such as nostalgia. She also mentions that when she arrived in Lebanon years after she left, the city’s distinct smells flooded her mind with memories from her childhood. Sonia’s childhood experiences also shaped the way she perceived Lebanon when she was younger, until she visited grandparents’ home in Khiam. There, she learned about the realities of Lebanon which altered the ways she remembered her home. My visit to my parents’ home country, Guyana, is very relatable because when I was younger I had peaceful memories but when I visited when I was older my father explained to me the harsh realities of their country.
Sonia describes her experience about her trip very vividly. I can picture her walking through the streets of Lebanon just like myself going back to Pakistan, also after about 10 years, and walking down the streets in fascination. At a younger age I feel as though we don’t realize the background or the politics behind our parents old towns. We visit after years at a time and think of it as a vacation but what we don’t realize our parents have a history in these places and when they go back to visit, they see their childhoods, the good and the bad. Sonia describes these exact emotions and expressions through her story.
Your story brought me back to when I visited Trinidad and Tobago at 17 years old. Majority of my family lives in Trinidad, from the houses in the hills, to the shacks on the mountain side, every piece of Trinidad holds one family member that has told me stories of violence, drugs and poverty that they have lived through. As a teenager who had never been to my island of origin, the city and the trees, even the way of living seemed so beautiful to me when I came off of the plane and into my uncle’s vehicle. He took us to the suburbs, out in the country and I felt as if heaven had been brought to earth. All the stories I had been told didn’t connect until he showed us what the inner-city looked like. I was shocked to see the way people had been living, not realizing that the place I had glorified in my mind based off of the way a small percentage of people lived were like rose coloured glasses, keeping me ignorant to the way majority of the island lived. Being shown the reality of things, seeing the way my grandfather, aunts, uncles and other family members lived in comparison to the vast majority of the population definitely opened my eyes and gave me a new respect for the soil of my people.
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