Achieving your ambitions, dreams, and having a suitable life in a country like Lebanon is not an easy thing. You find yourself struggling to overcome the social, economical, and political barriers, all of which integrated in a manner that you stuck in the middle and eventually find yourself escaping to a total different country. Immigration is then the only solution to an ambitious independent person in a search for a suitable fulfilled life.
The immigration phenomenon from Lebanon towards the massive countries of the world is not a new thing. It has always been there as ugly as the truth might be that this country fails in evolving and providing the minimal needs for a suitable life. In the 20th century a large number of youth got in ships and left towards Mexico, El –Salvador, America, Brazil, Australia, and other countries in chase for a better life.
In approximately 1922 a young man, “Hassan Fayad Ismael”, accompanied by his brother “Ahmad”, got in one of the ships leaving behind a wife and three little girls “Fahima, Kamillah, and Mariam”. He left like many others in chase of the unknown.
The three girls never knew their father, they were very young when he left and he was never able to come back. Time passed and each of the girls grew up and got married and had her own family, by then they knew little about their father through letters brought by a friend of his.
Fahima Ismael always spoke about her father mentioning how he left them when they were very young and how her mom suffered in raising them up. Despite everything she hung a picture of her father, which he had sent with the one of the letters, accompanied with his second wife and fourteen kids in her house. In her turn she had nine kids (4 girls and 5 boys) and their elder is Ibrahim Noureddine.
Ibrahim Noureddine happens to be my grandpa from my mother’s side, and the story of his grandpa whom left to Mexico long ago in the past century, is one that you never get bored with. We were raised with this story and mystery of our great grandpa whom left to Mexico and never came back despite the letters that the family received up until his friend who used to bring it died. Each time our grandpa retell the story, saying that he has fourteen Aunt and Uncle in Mexico, we wondered how they looked like. It became to an extent that whenever a Mexican Series was aired on Lebanese channels we would joke that one of the actors might be our relative.
It was always a mysterious story, somehow a missing root in the great family’s tree. We grew up and scattered around this world and my grandpa still dreams of getting to know his extended family. Time passed and on new year’s vacation back in 2008, and while my elder brother “Ahmad” was visiting Lebanon from USA, with his family, the story was brought up again and this time my grandpa brought up some papers that showed how the great grandpa’s name was written in Spanish; it showed that the family name was changed from Ismael to Fallad (Fayad in Spanish) , and there the promise was made by Ahmad and his wife Erica that they are going to find the rest of the family.
When in Dallas, TX, Ahmad and Erica started their online search for the extended family members. They came across a name and an address within the same area where they lived, they called the number stated online. Well here luck strikes because they were able to get another number which happens to be to one of the Uncle’s kids, Uncle Miguel, Miguel was actually visiting his son that day and so Ahmad and his family paid them a visit that night and there the first encounter with the extended family was made.
A few was revealed about the great grandpa’s mysterious story, other than the fact that a connection was established again. Ahmad kept on communicating with the cousins, well actually my grandpa’s cousins, but not with the other members whom happen to be in Mexico due to language barriers; they only speak Spanish.
By March 2016, Ahmad decided to visit Mexico, with his family, there the Fallad family was more than happy to finally meet one of their Lebanese relatives. There during two days visit the mystery of our great grandpa was revealed and my grandpa’s dream was somehow becoming real.
The mystery unfolds and here is what Ahmad found out from the family in Mexico. It turns out our great grandpa was 23 years old when he arrived to Mexico. The first stop though for the ship was in another country which might be El Salvador, he didn’t like the country and he went right away to the ship. Then he landed in Mexico in Veracruz, a port city in Mexico, where he stayed for a little while before moving to Torreon; where there is a large Lebanese community.
When he first arrived he didn’t know a word of Spanish, according to his daughter Fatimah and he had suffered a lot. He didn’t even know how to ask for a glass of water. Back in Lebanon he owned a lot of lands in his hometown but in Mexico he had to start from null, at first he sold gum on the street to make a living. After that When he moved to Torreon, he learned from other Lebanese about business and became a trader.
A while later he wanted to move somewhere else where he could start his own business away from the competition. Accompanied with his brother Ahmad, who is known as now as Manuel, they took the train, got off in Nuevo Ideal. Nuevo Ideal the current village where most of his properties are and the one Ahmad visited with his family in search for the missing story.
There he started as a textile merchant selling door to door. That is how he met his second wife who lived on a ranch. Then he opened a store for all kinds of miscellaneous stuff he named it: “Manola Miscellaneous” and he opened a hotel as well.
His store and house where in one large building that consisted of three parts; his house, a large store in the middle, and then his brother’s house. That house is where he lived with his family until the day he died.
The store was opened before he got married, after getting married and being in business for a little while, he built a fortune and bought a very large piece of land with his brother where he started a ranch; the farm had cows, sheep, goats, chicken, and pigs and he planted Apple trees, fig trees, and all other kinds of crops.
He built a house on the ranch/farm and started splitting his time between the ranch and the original house with his eastern mentality girls were not allowed to sleep at the ranch. He preferred life on the ranch and spent most of his time there and every night at 11 pm in Mexico timing the radio in his room would be turned on Arabic news as he listened to the morning newscast according to Lebanon’s timing.
In the municipal office in the city, he is listed as the first outsider to the village to come as a merchant. He was very successful, build a fortune in the town, had a lovely family 14 kids from his wife, plus 3 others from another woman in a nearby town. He was known for his generosity as he donated land to the city where they build a large space that is the center of the village besides a land to build a church. He was loving, caring, and stood up for the poor although he was very strict with his family as he used to pick up his grandchildren from the school and take them straight home. He didn’t eat out or allow his kids to eat out. His father was poisoned (from what they’ve heard) so he didn’t trust to eat anywhere. He taught his wife how to make Lebanese food from Kibbeh, Malfouf, Mjadarra and other dishes. He was a very hard worker, owned many lands that he marked with Palm trees.
Despite everything, despite all his success he never felt that he could fit in. His Spanish was choppy and he couldn’t communicate very clearly. He was very private and didn’t talk a lot.
He kept his Arabian roots by keeping a drawing of a mosque or something like it in his house. A large one from what the family remembers which could be Mecca or al Akssa, and he kept his own Quran. He told his family but being originally Lebanese and most of his kids hold Arabic names which extended to their kids as well.
His family is not sure why he never came back since he was very private, but they said that his last memory of Lebanon is that of his mom standing at the port praying with her hands up when he sailed off; He talked about her a lot!
In 1974, he renewed his Lebanese passport and was going to come back but the Lebanese Civil War took off and he wasn’t able to. After that he got sick; suffered from problems with his throat and esophagus for many years, had multiple surgeries, and at some point the food would go down the wrong pipe. His lungs filled with water from all the issues which caused his death
and when he was on his deathbed he told them that he could see his mother coming to get him.
He died on 18 Feb 1978, with a total of 20 kids (9 boys and 11 girls). He couldn’t be united again with his family in Lebanon; ironically generations had passed until the family was reconnected again due to his grandchild’s grandchild effort and the mystery was solved for both parts of the family in Mexico and Lebanon. He lived a stranger and died a stranger in a strange country, like many others who left and were never able to come back.
This isn’t a story of one man; it’s a story of a nation, a story of separated families, and a common story in every Lebanese house in search for an identity and in chase of a dream….