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Beirut after Midnight

Beirut is the capital city of Lebanon, the Middle Eastern country. Beirut during the day is a busy crowded city; from the early hours of the morning the streets fill up with people, rushing to schools, offices and wherever they might be going. Throughout the day it is always hard to get to an appointment on time; unless you leave before at least an hour from the scheduled time. Beirut after midnight though is a whole different world with all its contradictions and magic in some way.

The clock announces midnight, through the windows you can see lights turning off; one after the other, people are hasting to bed after a long working day.  Few lights are flashing out from a student’s room that is staying up late to study; some are just up finishing a movie on T.V, or just laying in bed finishing a book. Out it is all quiet, the neighborhood’s streets are empty except for flashing road lights and few homeless kittens and dogs out there.

In the parallel street laughter have risen above the silence of the night, the voices direct you into a small humble coffee shop. There a bunch of jobless guys gather every night, playing cards, smoking “Hookah”, laughing over a desperate wasted life. Those were not lucky enough to find jobs and opportunities they aspire. For a second, they are distracted from their game to salute their neighbor, the taxi driver, who works all night long till the early hours of the morning, as many others in this city.

He drives away from the suburbs neighborhoods’ of Beirut with its simple life; its citizens whom are struggling to live a regular life and fulfill their dreams. He drives along the streets reaching Cola intersection. A point where during the day is crowded with people, taxis, and buses; it is the starting point towards almost all the different regions in Lebanon. Now it is almost quiet except for few cars, there the first passenger for tonight hops in. The taxi drives away reaching the cornice.

The passenger gets out meeting his friends.  There upon the sound of the striking waves under the moonlight, on the scattered benches all along the sidewalk sat youth having late coffee. Spilling all their secrets and pain to the striking waves that would take it away to the deep of the ocean, others just wrapping up the day’s events and planning for a better tomorrow. The deep conversations and flying dreams are cutoff by a small boy, with his innocent features, and dreamy sad eyes looking up at them, “Flower” he says as he lifts a flower in their direction,        “ No, go away” they dismiss him and carry on with their conversation. Rarely any of the guys buy flowers; he walks away in disappointment when a man from across the street waves at him to come. He is an older man selling flowers as well at the traffic light, the small kid is by his side now, “the business is slow tonight, go try another street and we’ll meet here later” , the older man says as the kid walks away in the opposite direction.

The little kid carries his flowers as he walks through the dark passages all the way reaching Hamra Street. The stores on both sides of the street are already closed, the little kid walks under the sparkling street lights, stopping every now and then to offer his flowers to the passengers in the passing cars. He follows the sound of music coming from the nearest pub, he reaches the front door. The little boy stands there in front of the entrance, near the smokers, gazing at people inside drinking, dancing, laughing joyfully and singing along with the songs, their faces filling with happiness and their eyes sparkling with pleasure. He stands their imaging his future as one of those people drinking and singing freely and happily, he can hear his stomach roars from huger as he gazes at the food on the table inside. “Give me all the flowers” a voice comes from a couple standing just beside him, he moves his gaze from the food to their faces smiling at him as they look tenderly at his pale face, he hands them the flowers as they give him the money when suddenly his stomach roars again loudly, “Are you hungry?” they ask as he raises his head and nods quietly; “Come with us, we’ll get you something to eat”.

The three of them walk away from the music into the empty streets being interrupted by music along the way coming from different scattered pubs in Hamra. In a parallel street, they reach one of the 24/24 restaurants “Barbar”, the little boy stood aside as they adhered to order sandwiches. He stood there trying to guess the names of food placed behind the glass in front of him. “The delivery order is done” the employee shouts from behind as immediately a young man steps and grabs the bags from him. He takes it and walks toward his motorcycle, places them carefully in the bag behind him and takes off.

He drives his motorcycle all the way to the city’s downtown exactly to Beirut Souks. He hands the delivery to a security guard and takes off. The security guard, a young man in his twenties holds the bags and sits on one of the stairs, he takes his sandwich and coke out of the bag, he eats silently as he stares around at the fancy buildings surrounding him, and he thinks about all the branded stores in this place that he cannot afford, he cannot even buy a silly sock from it. He finishes his food and searches his pockets till he finds a piece of paper, he holds it up, and moves on walking around the alleys of the Souks. The paper has few notes for his exam later today; he reads it while he walks around stopping every few minutes to talk to other guards.

Morning lights start to appear the security guard sleepily walks down the street, over there at the corner of the street stands a young beautiful girl. She is in her twenties as well; she works as a receptionist in one of the hotels around. They attend the same university, she looks glad to see him. He stands there by her side smiling at her when another young man interrupts them. He is the bartender in a pub around, just finished his shift as well; he is the guard’s friend and neighbor.

The fellows walk together to catch the bus, while the late pub and nightclubs attendees pass by them in their cars. The attendees are heading to have an early breakfast before going home to sleep the whole day before the next party. As these three barely get time to rest before getting to their universities while others are just waking up to start a new fresh working day.

The bus arrives and they get in and slide beside a young woman. She smiles at their sight, she is a nurse they met in the bus a while ago, and they ran into her whenever she is on night-shift. “Good morning” she says to them in an attempt to sound normal, but she looks very tired, must have been a really rough night.“What’s wrong?”They ask and she answers as pain appears in her eyes: “I just hate night shifts, awful things happen!” she shocks “last night a very sweet old man passed away, he was so nice and none of his family was by his side the moment he died” ,she stops looks at them, she wipes an escaping tear going down her cheek, “ I’m sorry, I ruined your morning , but he has been in the hospital for months now, I guess I just got used to have him around”.  “It’s okay, you don’t have to apologize”, said the girl.

 For the rest of the ride, they sat silently; they were too tired to talk. First, the nurse got out, and then the girl, as the guard gawked at her all the way until she was out of sight. “Just tell her you love her already!” snaps the bartender, he raise his eyebrows at him “No, too soon”.

“What are you waiting for, Till she falls for someone else?”The boy said as the two of them step at the corner street down their neighborhood.

“Till I have something to offer for her” says walking ahead of his friend.

You have your love to offer!” he snaps back.

Not enough, end of story” the guard says as his face turns serious now.

A car passes by them slows a bit and a young man strikes his head out the window “Bye Guys, I will miss you, take care okay”. They look up at him shouting back at him, that’s their neighbor, he is on his way to the airport, he is travelling away to chase after his dreams and ambitions. The driver shouts at him to get his head in as the car moves further from the boys.

The ambitious boy gets back straight in his seat and rolls the window up. They- the boy and his parents- drive towards the airport; the place of the city that never sleeps. All around the day and night, people moving around crying for the departure of a person, and smiling at the arrival of the other accompanied with some tears of joy. Airplanes going forth and back, teams changing but the lights are never off. The car drives into the parking lot, the boy looks around and out of the sudden he is overwhelmed by all this.

He steps out of the car with his parents by his side. They step towards the entrance as he drags his bag by his side this is it, this is goodbye. As they walk out the parking lot he notices people gathering around to place the luggage in the car, laughing with tears of joy in their eyes. While his mom grabs into his arm with teary eyes that express all her pain for letting him go away.

It is time for goodbye for real now; he waves for his parents from behind the glass, and disappears behind the doors. Within minutes, he boards in; he finds his seat besides the window. He thinks to himself this should be the happiest day of my life, it is everything I have ever wanted, I am flying away, I am leaving this city, but actually he is unease. The only thing he could think of is Beirut, the beautiful Beirut, the nights he spent in it with his friends from the drinks they had in a cozy pub, the crazy nights they spent dancing till the morning, the nights they spent on the cornice aspiring and dreaming, dreaming of this moment in specific, the moment they’d leave, but now it is all mixed up and he can’t comprehend it.

It’s around 8:30 a.m. when the plane takes off, flying above the city as it fully recovered from the darkness of the night. The streets are crowded with hurrying people, workers and students. It is Beirut this magical city that enchants you into loving it in everything in it. It is the city of extreme contradictions, Beirut with its beauty and ugliness. It makes you laugh and cry at the same time. You can’t run away from its love, even the ugliness and brutality of it you love. It takes away your dreams and gives you much space of an imagination to escape from it and aspire freely away from its interference.

Life in Beirut is an everyday adventure, it is an everyday story, it is the crushing of a dream by day and the reborn of another after midnight under the moon light and twinkling stars of Beirut. It is the reborn of a dream upon the sound of the waves, upon the clinking of the cups, under the sparkling of the traffic light, and over the ticking clock announcing the end of a shift.

This is Beirut and you can’t but love it as it is….


When a Mexican Series Becomes Real

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.Marcoplatefront

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.

storyThis 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….