Do you remember your first best friend? Do you recall what you used to do for fun, what games you played, what made you happy? Do you remember your first day at school, your first fear, your first secret? Do you remember your first kiss, the first time your heart skipped a beat at the thought of someone?
All these early memories are hidden in Lebanon for me. The greet me each time I go back stirring a panorama of emotions that are soul deep. Going back is like stepping into a hall of mirrors, where you face yourself, all the different sides of you, your journey back into where it all began this time around…and it is not all butterflies and flowers.
photo: abandoned truck on the side of a mountain road in Lebanon
“Kadisha”, the name given to this valley and to the river that runs in its belly. Kadisha is ancient Aramaic for ‘holy’. This gorge has been used for burials and shelter as far back as the Paleolithic time. In its walls are thousands of caves that house monasteries, churches, thousands of meters high up in the cliffs and extremely difficult to reach. These served as a place of hiding for early Christian communities like the Jacobites, Melchites, Maronites, Armenians, Nestorians and Ethiopans who were escaping campaigns aiming to persecute and destroy them in the 13th Century by the Mameluks and other Sultans. Later it even became a place of meditation to the Sufis, historians, artists and clergy who settled in the valley. On its shoulders lies the village of Gibran Khalil Gibran.
One of my favorite churches as a child was a in the middle of a cliff facing our village in the valley and I remember the excitement every time a pilgrimage was planned to the church with family members and friends. The journey involved a very long walk down one side of the valley, pausing to have a meal at the cold fresh river to then hike up the other side on a tiny, steep, red soil track with the occasional olive tree, all the way up to the church, now a monastery. We all believed as children that the church was a place of miracles and we swore to seeing lights, visions and all sorts of magical things along the way.
The valley was and still is an enchanting memory that has a special place in the archives of my heart. I try to pass this to my daughter by taking her there whenever we can and telling her stories of what was, hoping that the spirit of the holy valley will choose to live with her too.
Have you ever experienced going back to a place you lived after years have passed? Have you gone through the stirring deep emotion that goes with such an experience?
This little street in a little village in North Lebanon holds so many life changing memories for me. It was along this street that I walked day after day alone but for my thoughts and a little stone I used to kick along the whole way from home to the little shop that sold anything, everything and my favorite 5 pennies ice cream cone; a 15 minute walk that took me more than an hour to complete. I remember walking along that road and letting my mind drift and dream in Arabic save for a single word that kept resonating in my mind strangely in English: ‘determined’!
It remains one of those mysteries of life, unexplained, strange and precious…
In a magestic valley that crosses the mountain ranges of Northern Lebanon runs a river all the way to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. It is called among other names ‘the valley of the saints’, because nesting on its sides and in its caves are hundreds of tiny monasteries and churches, each with its own story to tell. I was on a hike in the valley when out of the lush trees near the river an old man appeared. He carried his bag of green beans and told me his little story. He walks every day for hours from his home in the mountain village to the depth of the valley to tend his little garden; he does not know his age, but he remembers that he was born around the time a wonderful political leader lived. He carried on and on about his first love, the woman who has haunted him all his life and was the reason he never married again. He was on his way to take the ‘loubieh’ (green beans) harvest to her. It is the least he could do he said, because it makes her happy. He has nothing else to offer her, and to his embarrassment not even a car, and that breaks his heart. But he still manages to give her his best, the fruit of his hard work, his wonderful home grown green beans!