Travel to discover Lebanon
and its sunny beaches
15 days, 14 nights
from July 7th to 21st, 2017
FRANCE, OUR "DEAR MOTHER"
France is now a victim of the violence occurring in the Mediterranean basin, and the latest violent events, including the one of July 14, in Nice, are only the beginning. Since the end of WWII, wars have occurred in Palestine, Lebanon, Algeria, Yugoslavia, Libya, and now in Syria, causing destructions and reconstructions, and avoiding a war in France is an urgent matter.
The Lebanese people are directly involved in these events because whoever attacks France, our “dear mother” is de facto attacking Lebanon. Defending universal values such as pacifism and religious coexistence, is one of the objectives of the Franco-Lebanese youth, which is firmly grounded in France and very active in all professional domains.
The Lebanese experience is essential nowadays. It is a perfect example of a healthy dialog between Islam and Christianity which fosters mutual understanding while keeping fanaticism at bay. Working towards stability in France is now a priority for Lebanese communities throughout the world, which should, along with member states of French-speaking nations, develop a great solidarity movement before it is too late.
LEBANON ON TOP OF THE NEWS
Lebanon is on top of the news. Last week’s great event was the election of Michel Temer as president of Brasil on May 12th, after the Senate set aside Dilma Rousseff. Temer is the descendant of a Lebanese family that emigrated to Brasil in the 1920’s. He is now at the helm of the largest country in Latin America, which has the greatest number of Lebanese descendants in the world, while Lebanon is without a president since Michel Sleimn’s departure in May 2014, two years ago exactly.
Considering how well descendants of Lebanese families are doing abroad, it is ironic that Lebanon is going through so much trouble, with its hundreds of thousands of new Syrian refugees in addition to Palestinian refugees, and politicians causing disorders which result in the dismantling of the country’s institutions.
Five months ago, in Argentina (the second largest country in the area), Juliana Awada, who is also of Lebanese descent and first generation Argentinian, became Argentina’s first lady. Her husband, who was elected president, is Mauricio Macri.
In Mexico, the third largest Latin American country, several people of Lebanese descent are involved in their country’s development, including multi-billionaire Carlos Slim. Many other examples exist, such as the Saadé group in France (CMA-CGM), and the Chaghoury family which has a major construction plan in Lagos, Nigeria.
Lebanon will benefit from the positive consequences of the actions of its descendants abroad, who will help the country to restructure itself, considering that the links between them and Lebanon will consolidate in the coming months.
Beirut, Lebanon’scapital bordering the sea port, is in perpetual motion; when offices close, its dwellers enjoy the many restaurants and night clubs of this cosmopolitancity. The national museum boasts a large documentation on the Lebanon’s archeological past. Just next door is the extraordinary Museum of Minerals Beirut (MIM) inaugurated in October 2013.
Byblos, with its 7,000 years of history, is one of the greatest archeological sites in the world. During these millenia, it has passed through several civilizations. It faces the sea and has foundations of houses dating back to the stone age, Canaanite and Phoenician temples, walls surrounding the ancient city, as well as an imposing castle built by crusaders.
Tyr, Queen of the seas, was famous for its merchant throughout the Mediterranean sea. Its most glorious period was the 10th century B.C., during which King Hiram expanded the city. According to Greek mythology, Princess Europe was abducted from there to Greece by Zeus, and that is the event which gave the European continent its name. Her brother Cadmos followed her and brought the alphabet to the Greeks. The Tyrians then founded Cadiz and Carthage with the princess Dido or Elissa. It is in this region in Cana that Jesus made his first miracle.
The spectacular Grottos of Jeita were formed by an erosion which lasted millions of years. The result is a magnificent site of scupted stones. Its mysterious and supernatural beauty provides a great emotional experience.
The National Museum hosts over seventy sculptures. Their centerpiece is King Ahiram’s sarcophagus, on which inscriptions using the Phoenician alphabet are engraved. Thousands of objects dating back to prehistory, the bronze and iron ages, and the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Arab periods can be seen on the first floor.
Tripoli,the main city of northern Lebanon,has cnserved its past better than all other ancient Lebanese cities. Its middle–eastern atmosphere is reinforced by its mosques. It fhas many « souks » (ancient markets), with an interesting and complex mesh of narrow streets. The city is dominated by the castle of Raymond de Saint-Gilles’ crusaders.
Anjar is a unique vestige of the presence of the Umayyad dynasty in Lebanon. It is located in the Bekaa valley, near the Anti-Lebanon mountains, and is perfectly symmetric. It prospered under the reign of Caliph, then became a commercial and leisure center, due to its advantageous geographic location.
The holy valley of Qadisha is home to hermits and patriarchs. It extends from Bcharre village to the Cedars of Lebanon. Its ancient monasteries are carved within its rocks. Its beauty is enhanced by its flowers and by the aroma of its plants.
The Cedars are the historical symbol of Lebanon. Its trees are famous for their wood, which can withstand high temperatures, humidity, as well as age. King Solomon ordered great quantities of this wood from King Hiram of Tyre to build his temple in Jerusalem. The ancient Egyptians used it to built their ships and sarcophagi, as well as its oil for mumification.
Baalbek is one of the world’s most visually attractive Roman archeological sites, with its three main temples: Jupiter, Bacchus, and Venus. Visitors of this monumental sanctuary usually begin their path with Jupiter’s temple (largest of the three). It was built during the reign of Roman emperor Augustus in the Christian era. Fifty-four of its original columns remain standing.
Sidon is an ancient city which is mentioned in the tablets of El-Amarna, from the XIVth century B.C. Like other Phoenician cities, it was dominated by Persia, Greece, Rome, and the Arab conquests. Its castle, which stands out proudly on the sea border, was built and used by the crusaders, then further used by the Mamluks.A few miles away from Deir el-Qamar, Beiteddine’s castle is a major work of art of 18th century Lebanese architecture built during the reign of Emir Achir Chehab, the IInd. It is a marvelous site with an immense patio, splendid ochre color fountains, and geometrically perfect arcades.
Living It, Remembering It, Loving It
We are feeling nostalgic. Weeks have gone by since our trip to Lebanon, and we who were in the land of our grandparents, El Bled, continue to enjoy remembering our days in this wonderful country. We continue to share the experience through Internet and Whatsapp messages, as well as phone calls, between those of us who visited Lebanon in the Summer of 2015, thanks to the NGO RJ Liban.
We seven Mexicans, among over seventy people, had the opportunity to visit Lebanon during three weeks, and shared this experience with people from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, France, Ireland, Norway, and Uruguay. Most of us were of Lebanese descent, and the others were friends of Lebanon, as evidenced by their interest for the culture of the old Phoenician country.
It all began with an invitation by RJ Liban and its founding president Naji Farah, to visit Lebanon free of charge during three weeks, after participating in a contest on RJLiban’s website. Thanks to Nabih Chartouni, president of the association Al Fannan, we heard about this invitation, which was the starting pointof one of the most beautiful experiences for those of us who won the contest.
RJ Liban is an association which was founded in France in 1986 by a group of young Lebanese professionals and students. The acronym stands for Rassemblement de la Jeunesse Libanaise in French, in other words Lebanese Youth Gathering. Its mission is to promote and preserve the cultural heritage of Lebanon, to allow Lebanese people and their descendants and friends throughout the world to get acquainted in order to strengthen their love of their country of origin.
To reach this aim, RJ Liban engages in various social, touristic, and cultural programs in Lebanon for people who have emigrated and their descendants. This trip was a perfect example of its mission ; it promoted the return of Lebanese descendants as well as the search for and reuniting with their families. Among those who met their distant families were Laura and Mario, both from Mexico City, José Luis Elmelaj from Argentina and Antonio Abdo from Bolivia.
These encounters resulted from long searches and were highly emotional!
The trip began at the Beirut airport where we were received by Joseph Athié, a friendly collaborator of Naji Farah. He kindly met us again at the hotel, then invited us to dinner at a pleasant restaurant in a garden with pine trees and oak trees in the Broummana area.
The visit was inaugurated by a ceremony attended by the ambassadors of Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay, the consul general of France, as well as a representative from the Lebanese ministry of tourism. Naji Farah memorably took the opportunity to make a speech in which he said that every Lebanese emigrant has the right to return to Lebanon.
This declaration made me think and realize that many of our grandparents were sad not to be able to return. Now, the opportunity was given to their descendants.
The visit included the north, south, east and west of the country. It included great cities, small villages, the countryside, mountains, grottos, the seaside, archeological areas, and old neighborhoods. All those places are filled with history, beauty, and color. It is impossible to mention the names of all of them in this small space.
These experiences enriched our lives. Living with people from nine countries and realizing that we had the common aim of going back to our roots was a great factor of unity. We shared our expectations of the trip with the entire group in Hamana, where we were invited to a splendid dinner hosted by the Maronite bishop of Mexico, who was visiting Lebanon during this period. We heard the stories of our trip companions and in certain cases, their sacrifices to buy their airplane tickets (the only requirement of RJ Liban). We had Lebanese Arabic lessons in a playful atmosphere and during which our teacher, Samira El Jorr, made our learning process as easy as possible.
We savored delicious food which reminded us of that which we had known in our childhood. We watched young Argentinians expertly dance the dabké and joined in with minimal practice, stimulated by the music which awakened many emotions. We admired the sculptures of Mario Athié. We met members of the Lebanese Army, as well as children of soldiers, many of whom were orphans, and asked about their interests and desires. We visited the border with Israel, and treaded a land which speaks of the painful experiences of a fight for a nation and for its honor.
We went to the wedding of two young Argentineans at Tyre’s cathedral, Paula Gattas et Federico Montes Chantire, who lived their dream of returning to their ancestors’ land to be united and begin a Lebanese life, then participated in an unforgettable celebration according to the country’s customs. We visited the sanctuary of Saint Charbel Makhlouf and prayed at a mass celebrated by Abuna Yaacoub Badaoui, also from Mexico, in this place full of mysticism.
We visited the wonderful national museum of Beirut, guided by the very competent Nada Mitri. We went to the ancient wall built by the Phoenicians in Batroun. We visited the millennial cedars and admired their greatness and majesty. We toured the old streets of many cities and villages, and discovered the customs of their inhabitants. We explored archeological areas and were stunned by the beauty of the photos of professional photographer Mauricio Yazbeck from Brasil. We enjoyed hours of talking with other tourists on the bus and started interesting and warm friendships.
At all those sites and at all times, we were accompanied by the constant hospitality of Naji, Joseph, school teachers Nada and Joseph Rizk, ambassador Fares Eid, our public relations manager Rosarita Tawil, and the Lebanese-Argentinean Vanina Palomo, also a member of RJ Liban. I could continue to write many pages, so how could we not feel so much nostalgia?
This is a very brief summary of the richness we experienced during this trip. It was a great gift, a dream that we lived out, which brought us a love for Lebanon, with a better understanding of our ancestors and what they left behind because of Ottoman domination, searching for liberty and the possibility of a new life. We now feel motivated to work for the “lebanism” and spread our love for Lebanon from where we descendants were born. Above all, we are delighted to have made many new friends from various countries.
With this trip, RJ Liban completely fulfilled its mission, and for this great opportunity, we thank RJ Liban, Naji Farah and his team, as well as the president of Al Fannan. Without ceasing to savor the memories, we can claim what was said by the Bolivian-Lebanese youth: “We may not live in Lebanon, but Lebanon lives within us!”
Bertha Teresa Abraham Jalil
Text published in Spanish in the fall edition of 2015 of the quarterly journal "Baitna" edited by the Centro Libanés of Mexico City
* Masters degree in history with a specialization in art history from the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
* Honorable mention of the Miguel Covarrubias Prize, organized by CONACULTA-INAH, in the category masters thesis in museography .
* Honorable mention, 1986, delivered by the UAEM.
* Her work includes over 50 courses in art history, human resource training, human development, teaching, research methodology, tourist projects, cultural heritage management, and museology.