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 ado..here 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.”