There are a few places in the world that feel like home to me. When the plane touches the tarmac in these cities, I am not immediately filled with the excitement of exploring a new city but more of a sense of safety and relief. Or even return. The first two are understandable: Kuwait, where I was born, where I belong and where I currently live and then Muscat (Sultanate of Oman), where I spent 11 years of my life.
And then there’s Lebanon. I spent a summer there when I was in high school, with my family. Then I went back a couple of years ago to visit my good friend Lama. That’s it, two trips! But I love that country with a passion. And here is why I love Lebanon so much (in no particular order):
1. The fierce nationalism
Yes, the sense of nationalism has gotten out of hand in Lebanon before, but for the most part it got the country through wars, poverty and civil unrest. I grew up watching my Lebanese friends don their colorful costumes, join hands every Liberation Day and perform the dabke
. It was beautiful.
I recently read this blog post
which I thought was hilarious. As a Kuwaiti, I can totally relate to the writer’s confusion. Must I applaud everything that is Kuwaiti simply because it’s Kuwaiti
? Of course not! But healthy nationalistic pride is rare these days and I find it particularly endearing in my Lebanese friends.
2. The Food
I really shouldn’t have to say more. But if you’ve never been to Lebanon, then I’ll have to tell you that no matter where I eat, I immediately compare it to the freshness and simplicity of a meal in Lebanon. I don’t recall any spectacular international cuisines/restaurants in Lebanon, but why would I eat sushi in Beirut when the local food is marvelous and aplenty. Here’s a picture of one of the many local produce stands that line the mountainous roads.
3. The chaos
Yet there’s some sort of harmony in all the chaos. The roads may be a danger-zone of potholes and the taxi drivers may be suicidal but everything sort of comes together. I’m not sure how! One minute people are hurling insults at each other on an eight-way intersection, the next minute they’re asking each other about the a little café on some side road. I’m not sure how this car got there or how many years it sat on that mound, but it’s kinda charming, non? In a bizarre-only-in-Beirut kinda way.
4. The geography
It’s a Mediterranean country and I have soft-spot for those (my affection is not exactly based on experience but mostly on romantic novels, songs and my overactive imagination). I do love the greenery, the proximity to the sea, the rugged mountains. I love the changing scenery and climate from one part of the country to another.
5. The history
How many civilizations have not left their stamp on this land? The prehistoric settlements in Lebanon date back to 5000 BCE, starting with Byblos
and falling under the rule of the Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians and even the Romans. Lebanon was part of the Byzantine Empire before the Arabs took over the Arabian Peninsula and the Dead Sea at around 637 CE.
Here’s a photo of the Sidon Sea Castle, built by the Crusaders in 1228 CE.