This is a homage to the victims of the Ethiopian airliner that crashed off the coast of Beirut on January 26, 2010
We Lebanese are everywhere. Go anywhere on the globe (I’m not sure about outer space) and you will find a group of Lebanese living there, usually owning a business and making quite a decent living. Much like the Greeks, Italians and Spaniards, Lebanese are migrating people. For three and a half million living in the tiny country, there are an estimated ten million living in the rest of the world. We started with ships, we had to invent a vessel that would take us into the open sea, to seek adventure. So in the ancient city of Byblos, the first sea-faring ships were built by our Phoenician ancestors, and since then, we voyaged-nonstop. We were traders, we took our ships laden with wares to trade with neighboring islands in the mediterranean. We left our languages and influence in some, like Malta. We have never stopped traveling since those times, forever roaming the big heavenly rock we live on, by land, sea and air. Lebanese to me are like a group of hyperactive ants. God must have put them as a bunch on the side to keep them out of his way while creating their country, and they wandered off, as ants do. Now they are all over the planet, making money, crying every time they hear Fairouz, our diva, sing and keeping the cuisine alive.
I read a book by a Lebanese author entitled “Roots do not grow in the sky”. The title was fascinating to me, as it described what Amin Maalouf – a Lebanese author living in France – recounted in a number of his books, the story of the Lebanese identity and migration. Our ancestors used to voyage on ships where the destination was not really clear. One friend of mine whose dad became a huge entrepreneur in Manila, was originally going to Argentina with her grandfather, a carpet salesman. The ship made it as far as the Philippines, and this is where they opened their business and amassed their wealth. They are nothing if not entrepreneurial, the Lebanese. They make money out of anything, and they can sell water to the water salesman, as we say. Another proverb we use is that a Lebanese will take you to a river and bring you back thirsty. I think their ability to outsmart others is what is stressed here.
Because the Lebanese are so dispersed in the world, the odds of them being caught in disasters and major accidents involving travel are great. In the September 11 attacks, I knew one childhood friend who was on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower, and another who was going to LA for his engagement party on the plane that plunged into the North tower after flying from Boston. In Paris, when a part of the roof at Charles De Gaulle airport fell a few years ago, I was surprised to learn that one of the four people killed was a Lebanese girl. In many disasters around the world, there are Lebanese victims and it is understandable as we are always flying somewhere. Not only are we a migration country, but we also do a lot of business with other countries. We are the major workforce in a lot of Gulf countries, in Western Africa, and our countrymen are often doing business in every country across the expanse of the globe.
What makes it sad is that with so much travel, we belong nowhere in particular. When we go back home, we feel like tourists who speak the language and when we are in our adoptive home, we feel like going home, always treating our stay as a temporary one, for business reasons, or for the war reasons, or for better education for the kids. We are all in denial about why we can’t live in Lebanon anymore, and why we can’t be happy elsewhere. So what do you do?
We keep traveling, and in the case of the many people who perished in the plane crash in Beirut, we sometimes die in the process. Lebanon has a history with death and dying. We have a history of inter-confessional wars, vendettas among families, the war with Israel, our civil war (don’t like ‘civil’ and ‘war’ in the same sentence, but this is what it was sadly called), and now our proxy wars on behalf of Syria and Iran. We seem to have a lot of black-clad women around the country. We usually have a funeral or two to go to when we visit. People die a lot in Lebanon. Dying is easy when you had so much of it. A very good friend died yesterday, along with many Ethiopians, Lebanese and others on that fateful flight. He was going to Addis Ababa to open a new restaurant. He was 38. His parents lived for him, he was their only child. He got married quite young, and had three daughters. And now he’s gone, because he was fulfilling a destiny of travel, very much a part of his Lebanese genes. I am certain that he is in a good place, as he was such a decent, polite, beautiful young man. Where else could he be?
For all the victims of this and other accidents, where many lives are taken so suddenly and without warning, I give you my heartfelt prayers and this song by Fairouz, our most famous singer, who is singing the words of the Lebanese poet, Joseph Harb, written for Beirut during the war years when Beirut was suffering, like it is doing today.
May all their souls rest in peace.
(thanks for reader Khalil Murad for providing the correct information about the song)