Al mashriq - The Levant
From: Rania Masri <>
Subject: summer in lubnan
Date: 9 Sep 1994 21:31:20 GMT (with adjustments of march 1996)


Whenever a friend of mine would go to Lebanon, I would want to know
everything from her/his trip - the details, their feelings, how they were
treated, what they saw.... So now, I feel it is my turn - to tell whomever
is interested, especially those who are homesick. 

(There is so much to share, and I am not commenting on all I saw now.)

Reje3et 3ala lubnan ba3d 8 seneen bel gherbee ... I went expecting the
worst, expecting the people to have truly sectarian views and to act upon
them, for there to be a communication gap between myself and the people
who had remained in Lebanon. I had expected to be treated as a stranger,
gharebee wa jayee ze3ara, el- amercanee, keel hal kalam kent khayfee
esam3oonee. And the country - I had expected it to leave me cold. I never
thought of the beauty of my land and its possible impact on me. I expected
the worst, so as not to be disappointed - and I wasn't. I was over-joyed,
surprised by everything. 

I arrived in Beirut and was greeted with the smells of food - food that i
had missed so dearly since coming to the States. ah! el-zaatar, wal
shawarma, wal jeij al-meeshwe, wal khebz men al-furn. And the land -
Beirut was a mosaic of buildings, some demolished, with only a wall
standing, or a roof, others newly built and very modern - but nearly every
house/building was occupied. The demolished ones had families living in
them, one could see the clothes hung by string from the remains of one
wall to another, and their beds and chairs and broken tables inside - all
was visible onto the street. I remember looking into one torn-down
building and seeing two men on straw chairs drinking their coffee and
looking into the street, as if they were sitting on some "ahwee" onlooking
the sea. 

The first week I was in Lebanon, everything I saw seemed to hurt, a
reminder of the pain my country had gone through. But seemingly overnight,
it changed. I was driving from el-Mreijat (near Zahle') to el-Barouk, and
felt in awe of the beauty .  The Beqaa was below me - patches of color,
the color of wheat and the soft green of "karam al-3nab", and the pine
trees all around me, the tall pine trees that seemed to want to stretch
and touch the clouds above, and the rocks, the sharpness of the rocks on
the slopes .. and those mountains - ah! 3@ jebal lubnan .. There are not
words that i know that can describe the beauty of Lebanon. I have never
seen a land so filled with beauty, majesty.  There are beautiful places
all over the world - the lakes in switzerland, for example, but they
didn't hold me like "ardh lubnan" did. And the reason is simple:  hadee
ardhna, bladnah - el-jamal elna. 

I spent hours, almost 1/2 my summer, with the cedars in jabal-el-barouk,
"bein al-arz"  (for my research on arz Ain-Zhalta, which i will talk about
next time :) Let it suffice to say for now that the cedars are not in as
bad a shape as is usually perceived ... 

Lubnan... keefah bladnah? Fragile.  Every day, I would be reminded of the
fragility of our country, for every day two Israeli fighter-planes would
fly over Lebanon, their sonic boom ehoeing in the valleys, on the mountain
tops, a powerful reminder that we truly aren't safe nor at peace. A couple
of times, they sent "light bombs down into the valley" - bombs that merely
light up the land so that they could clearly see what was going on below
(@endna nehna kanet al-kahraba ma'too@h, wa bel wadi taht kanet al-ardh
medaw-weyee).  And when the Israelis bombed Baalbeck, as they bomb our
dear South every day...  but you know of that... a day of mourning was
declared throughout the country (though not everyone adhered to that;
numerous shops in various areas were still open). But what does a day of
mourning do? ... 

And the people - most that I talked with were simply tired of politics and
political ideology - they were tired of "al-ahzab" - regardless what the
party was.  They were more concerned with every-day life - whether the
telephones were working today (if so, then where were they working - be
Beirut, wala be Zahle...), which roads were operational in Beirut - since
the gov't was fixing the roads in Beirut (and thought to fix most of them
at the same time). .... 

The weakness of our government I had known - but the people... An
acquaintance in the UNDP (a _Lebanese_ ) summarized our problem as a
people clearly. She said that we (el-sha3b al-lubnanee) have two faces,
one that we show to ourselves and perhaps to close friends, the one that
embodies our ideas, our beliefs - such as the equality between the sexes,
the eradication of the double standards, the elimination of sectarianism
in our society and our government; and another face - the one that we show
to others and, more importantly, the one we act upon - so that our
daughters and sisters are still kept under hand and foot while our
brothers and sons are free to act as they wish and 'fulfill their desires
for they are men', so that we continue to go to the sectarian leader and
continue to ask for "wasTahs", etc...  We do so all for basically one
reason: fear, fear of being the first to non-conform and thus pay the
highest price in society. 

I brought up the issue of double standards for that was the one that
caught me the hardest.  It is sickening, and deeply offensive to see the
differences between the "liberties" allowed to the women and the men.  For
the eight years that I have lived in the states, I was continuously told
that 1 in 4 women is raped and that perhaps the woman sitting next to me
in class is a victim of this horrendous crime - but i never met a rape
victim (i met assault-victims, but never a rape-victim) - and to go home
and meet her in Lubnan!!! ... The victim of rape in Lebanon has nowhere to
go. Rape in the old-sense of being kidnapped by a stranger and raped by
force and having physical wounds to prove it is less frequent, but date
rape - that is not so rare. 

Where is a woman to go? She had been raped by a man she trusted. She
cannot tell her parents that she is no longer a virgin. She cannot tell
her brother - for she fears he will kill the bastard and thus destroy his
own life. She has no center to go to, no person who will tell her on and
on that she is not at fault, that she is not guilty, that she is still as
pure as she was before. So, if she dares, she tells a close friend, and
then keeps the fury boiling inside her shut in her soul, and this anger
and hurt starts to eat her energy and her desire for life and her sense of
self. ... 

I don't know what more to say ... but I do not want to end on this note

There are problems in our country. You and i know that - we would be lying
to eachother to think otherwise - hard problems - inflation, economic
instability, an agressor neighbor and an occupied land, societal
problems.. but to think of them as just problems, would be to distant
one-self from them. 

For despite all this, there is so much energy in Lebanon, an undercurrent
of activity.  I am not referring to the rebuilding of Beirut nor the
"development" that is going on in the mountains, but to the people, to
their energy as individuals.  I worked with the environmental movement
while I was home Before i went, I hadn't even known we had an
environmental movement - but we do, and it is vibrant and strong and
resourceful.  In contrast to the environmental movement in the States, the
movement in Lebanon is composed primarily of engineers, computer
scientists, economists, medical doctors, and a few agriculturists. Their
uniting bond is their love for the land, the country, and their belief
that they can make a difference. 

 For example, the Reforestation Network (known as "el-shabaka"), is a
coalition led by The Green Line, an environmental group composed of
college graduates and professors, most of them with some ties to the AUB. 
This network is composed of groups from various areas in Lebanon, men
al-jenoob, wal al-beqaa, wa manadTe' kteere men al-jebel, wa men beirut -
each group works on reforestation in their geographical area and then they
all meet once a month and talk about problems and future goals etc.  One
such group is based in "el-ramleyee". 

  Several years ago, fires changed the mountain from one filled with trees
to one almost barren of trees.  One man, Mounir bu Ghanem, wanted to see
the mountain restored, so he organized got a small group of people (7 to
be exact) from his village, and worked to rally support - first among
others in the village (namely the older generations) and then among the
politicians (i.e. anyone who would listen) .. They worked, and now, two
years later, they have the F.A.O. paying for an italian consultant to work
full-time with them for 3 years, and they have a nursery that last year
supplied them with 15,000 plants (this year, they planted only 10,000
seeds in their nursery for they lacked the 'people' power to plant all
15,000 in the growing season).  All this by the doing of a group in which
only one has a degree in an environmental field (agriculture) - mounir is
a computer-scientist.  This is what is going on in Lebanon - small groups
of individuals making big differences, active minorities united by a
common belief and love for the land.  This is what is desperately needed
in Lebanon. 

At one of the environmental meetings, I met Madame Jaber, the wife 
of the
Lebanese diplomat to Canada. She told me how tired she is of the Lebanese who
 comes to Lebanon every summer, expecting to have a good time and leave. 
But, she told me, "our country is not a hotel."  Expect problems and work
to solve them. No matter what, this is our country - and it is a miracle,
"janat 3@ mad al-nazar!" 

The problems in lebanon just served as a greater reason to convince me to
return - for our country is in need. When a loved one is in need, one
doesn't turn one's back on him/her. 

I was treated like a human being - not a mere number, a social security or
driver's license number, but a person, from this village, from this
family, with these ideas.  More importantly, there, our actions will
amount to something precious and priceless - the building and
strengthening of a home so dear and beloved. 

Salamat le-ahl beladee