Lebanon, Home Sweet Home

I carefully placed one foot in front of the other, making my way through the rubble. Big, ugly grey, slabs of concrete that had once been homes, lined the narrow deserted street; thousands of bullet holes scarred the walls.
Suddenly, a wave of anger and bitterness swept over me, angry that there was nothing left for me to return to. Nothing that held a fond or joyful memory, I had hoped to return to my village and find something, anything that would trigger some sort of happy memory of my childhood. The smell of coffee brewing broke me away from my thoughts, as I spotted three elderly women surrounding an old plastic table, enjoying a cup of coffee. One of the old ladies looked up at me, smiled, nodded and gestured to me to sit down with them, offering me coffee. I declined politely to which they instantly insisted, “No, no, come please, sit!”
Not being able to resist the insisting nature of Arabic hospitality I finally accepted her offer. After a few awkward moments of confused conversation, my broken Arabic only just sufficing as we discussed names, parent’s names and finally what I was doing here, “Visiting my old village, I grew up here” I explained to the elderly women who nodded knowingly, “Come let me read your coffee cup” said one of them, at first I hesitated, not believing in the superstitious traditions of coffee cup reading, but once again they insisted and I couldn’t decline.
I watched as the woman stared intently into my cup, mumbling, and every now and then chuckling to herself, nodding. I glanced around me at the makeshift house they had built for themselves, a small, square block of concrete, barely any possessions, yet strangely it had a warm, welcoming feel to it. The rich aroma of Arabic coffee mixed with the sweet smell of incense burning underneath a statue of Mary placed in the corner brought about a sense of nostalgia, the smell was typical of any Lebanese home.  The woman spoke. “Ahh…” she exclaimed, as if she knew something I didn’t “You come here, looking for something… a loved one… your home…?” I shake my head “There is nothing left here…” I say looking around and gesturing to our surroundings “It’s all gone, no home left” I say, pronouncing my words carefully.
She shakes her head “No, my girl, you are wrong” she says smiling, I frown “But there is nothing here, can’t you see the ruins around you? Doesn’t it make you angry that you have to live like this?” I exclaim. She looks at me intently, and smiles; “My dear, if you have come here looking for buildings, houses, and roads, and beautiful towns, then you are in the wrong place.” I shake my head and begin to disagree “But you’re wrong! The Lebanon I once knew was beautiful and rich with culture! From the mountains to the beaches, this country was stunning!” She cuts me off mid-sentence – “And it still is beautiful. My dear I have seen the country I love torn to shreds, our loved ones slaughtered before my eyes, I have lived through it all, and you know what I discovered? We may hate, and resent, and take revenge, but what good would that bring? Do you know what keeps us going? The belief that no matter how many roads they destroy, and how much land they take, they will never be able to take away Lebanon, Lebanon is here – in the families we raise, in the homes we build from nothing, in the food we eat, the songs we sing and the God that we pray to. Of course it is hard to live this way, no one wants their children to grow up without a proper home. But we make do with what we are given, and for now we are thankful, thankful we have food to eat and that the children can go to school, that they can play and learn to read, that we can still hear their laughter- How can we complain when so many are buried beneath the rubble and will never laugh again?”
I nod silently, her words leaving me speechless. Instead of seeing sadness and ruins I saw perseverance, strength, and hope. Lebanon is known for its resilience, it’s ability to rebuild again and again, war after war, the people still survive. The fear of war does not urge these people to live in fear, on the contrary it urges them to appreciate every moment and thank god for their blessings. I thought back to my life in Australia, my steady and secure routine where we sit safe in our homes, miles away, complaining about not having the newest iPhone. I came here expecting to see people living in poverty, depression and resentment, yet it puzzled me to see that these people ultimately seemed happier, and more content than the people I was surrounded with back at home.

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