My Grandfather’s impression of Lebanon

Before my family left Lebanon, I made sure to ask my Grandfather to write a little something for my blog.  I think his first impression of Lebanon was like mine in many ways.  People, by nature tend to shape their perceptions of a place based on their past experiences, so I was not surprised to hear that Lebanon reminded him a lot of Trinidad, where he lived for 73 years.  Over and over again, I kept hearing him say, “This is just like Trinidad!”  And in many ways, I agree with him.  Trinidadian society is made up of many different cultures, ethnicities (you have African, Indian, European, Asian, and Arab), languages (English, Caribbean Hindustani (a version of Hindi), French, Spanish, and Chinese) and religions (there are Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Christians and Buddhists) – not bad for an island of only 1.2 million people.  However it differs from Lebanese society in that while these groups are very aware of their differences, they have managed to not only co-exist peacefully, but celebrate their differences.  Despite this, crime is on the rise in Trinidad, and the economy has yet to rebound from the global crisis, while in Lebanon there is virtually zero crime, and the economy is surely experiencing an upswing.

Anyhow, without further is what he had to say..

“Our Lebanese experience was fascinating. In many respects it was as I had expected and in others completely different. The history of any country is interesting but I feel there is no comparable “space” that can have had a more tumultuous past or a more varied cultural inheritance. Being physically “present” in some of the areas where thousands of years of great civilizations have gone before is truly humbling. The relative proximity of the Mediterranean to the snow capped mountains and the Bekaa valley was hard to grasp until the experience proved it so.

My greatest interest was in getting a truer sense of the social and cultural reality of today’s Lebanon and its people. Not least to place modern Lebanon in its rightful context in the region as a whole. In that search I must confess that the time available was never going to be enough. I got some insights from those I met and enjoyed reading the local news and listening to television coverage that was relevant to the region and not obsessed by US electioneering. My learning from this will lead me to look and listen with a more open mind in the future.

The food we enjoyed was exceptional and the hospitality and welcome were incomparably warm. Still I am left with the most compelling impression being that Lebanon is, above all, contrast. So that there is opulence alongside destitution, antiquity alongside “glitzy” modern, sophistication alongside parochialism, tolerance alongside extremism, erudition alongside backwardness, grandeur alongside squalor. Similar contrasts exist in many small societies that are made up of varied ethnic, cultural and religious traditions and backgrounds. I got the feeling that the contrasts are deeper, and their resolution a greater challenge, in Lebanon than in many other places that I know or have visited. Hopefully the vibrancy of the education system and the evident confidence of investors in the economy will contribute to a future that fulfils the present promise.”



Filed under life in Lebanon

13 responses to “My Grandfather’s impression of Lebanon

  1. Mom

    To all of Danielle’s readers: now you know where Danielle got her gifts of perception and communication. It is in her blood. Great post.

  2. Great post! So happy that your family enjoyed their time in Lebanon. I hope your Grandpa will continue to post once in a while! He’s going to have his own fan club 🙂

  3. I enjoyed reading that and your family were lucky to have you as their guide. How about getting Mom’s impressions???? And “Mom,” it was a pleasure to meet Danielle on my last visit to Beirut. I hope she stays with us for quite some time 🙂

  4. “Lebanon is, above all, contrast.” … beautiful. ❤

  5. Marilyn Zakhour

    Had a smile on my face while reading this post. Thank you for sharing it.

  6. Youssef Chaker

    awesome post. it’s great to get a real and honest view of someone who visits Lebanon.

    Here’s a bit of history to maybe shed some light on why things might be different than Trinidad. I don’t know much about Trinidad unfortunately, so maybe a post about it to enlighten us would be great 😉

    The history of the diversity in Lebanon as I understand it is the following:

    Obviously the days of the Phoenicians brought some diversity to the area because of the trade which almost exclusively went through the Levant. And with the history of different conquerers coming through including the greeks and the romans, the area was bound to have mixed blood.

    But when it comes to the formation of the current population of Lebanon, the times that are the most relevant are the late 1800s and the early 1900s. At that time, Lebanon was still part of greater Syria but with somewhat of a differentiator. The area know as Lebanon at that time was a bunch of small ’emirates’ in the mountains with a population split between the Druze and the Maronites. The Druze were mostly the ruling class with ‘princes’ (like the famous Al Amir Bashir II) and the Maronites were in some cases the lower class. (side note: the Druze still keep their titles and I remember at one point when I was a kid when a rule, i can’t remember who was behind it, came out to stop referring to them by their ‘prince(ss)’ titles even though it still shows up on their IDs). So, this class distribution was bound to create tensions between the different groups of people. Like in any other situation, the lower class fought to gain more rights from the ruling class. So there were clashes.

    This was more prominent during the days when the Ottoman empire was known as the ‘sick man’ by the europeans, and naturally countries like France, England and Russia had interest in the area. So the french saw a good opportunity to ally themselves with the Maronites and help them in their struggle. And then the other european countries had to find their own group to ally with, in the name of competition of course.

    So this was a brief background, which you may already know. But I’m using here to highlight one particular point. At this time there was not yet a country called Lebanon. But there was already a struggle between two groups of people who inhabited the land that later became part of the country.

    Here’s where my interpretation starts. So if you disagree, please hold off on the hate mail.

    At some point, the powers that be (the europeans) came up with a brilliant idea. Now that the evil empire is dead, why not form a country to unify the people in the region. The premise is that if we give them something to unite about they will stop fighting with each other and start working together towards the same goal. What they didn’t account for though is the fact that by doing such a thing, you have stripped one group of people from their power and status and gave it to another group. Forgetting that there might still be resentment or personal vendettas in play. And also, lets just add a few more groups to the mix to make it more exciting, so lets expand to the coast and include some other ethnicities and see what happens.

    Well, what happened was the groups didn’t not dissolve into one big happy family. Instead, the groups got tighter and now we had emerging leaders who came to power on the promise that they will protect their constituency from the ‘others’.

    So Lebanon from its creation was an artificial grouping of people together in the hopes to unite them by dissolving the current social/economic/political hierarchy and creating a new one that gave power to those who were not suited to have it. This deepened the differences and the division instead of resolving it. The plan was bound to fail, but what made it even worse is that it never got a chance to really take its course and hope for a success. The problems kept on piling up with the introduction of the Israeli state and Lebanon inherited yet another set of issues to deal with. So there was no chance for an inherently flaw system to work.

    What makes the Lebanese situation different that the Trinidadian, one for example, is the beginning. Trinidad (correct me if I’m wrong) existed as an island and the different cultures fused into it by batches to form the current population. Whereas Lebanon was formed in the original purpose of fusing different cultures together and the hope of uniting them under one (artificial) boundary and country.

    (I hope this made sense, I’m trying to include as much information as possible in as few words as possible and in a short time before I miss my plane :P)

  7. I loved this post, especially the last paragraph. When I first stepped in Lebanon from Venezuela those where my exact thoughts, only your grandfather put it in words so much more beautifully.

  8. Sietske

    Your grandpa rocks!!!

  9. I love your grandfather’s outlook on Lebanon – I am glad you family enjoyed their time here 🙂 Visiting again soon I hope.

    And we aren’t perfect, we do have crime here, but not the severe cases on serial killings and such – theft and mugging but not at such a high rate because those caught face severe punishments during QUESTIONING, not even in prison yet. I am sure you have passed by Hbeish when they question someone… creepy.

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