By Sonia Jalbout
Published on December 8, 2014

I was wide awake listening to the sound of car horns 12 stories below. I smiled as my 5 foot 1 inch body rested on a bed consisting of two couch cushions on my uncle’s floor.

I was in a town outside Beirut called Daoura, where my uncle and his wife have lived since before I was born. We had landed in Lebanon the night before, so my excitement this morning was immense. After living in Lebanon for a short two years during my early childhood and then growing up in Canada, I used to reminisce about Lebanon as a happy, loving place full of family gatherings, delicious food, and wonderful sights. I wondered if things had changed. But this morning, the things I’d seen since my flight were just as I’d remembered them. As soon as I stepped off the plane, the city’s distinct smells flooded my mind with memories.

I hopped off my bed and stood on the hot balcony in my pajamas. On the loud street below, cars were parked crookedly against the sides of buildings, and I watched as taxis dropped off and picked up passengers. I could see women in high heels gracefully walking along the poorly paved roads in the absence of sidewalks. Beyond the disorganized road, a large hill stood mightily over the neighbourhood. Gazing at it, I wondered if the people who live here still notice its existence. I also wondered if they ever notice the absence of sidewalks. Daoura did not feel so strange to me even though I had not visited in 10 years.

I remember being ten years old, standing on my family balcony, and watching a flood. I remember laughing and being entertained as our rusty Jetta started drifting away in the water.

*   *   *

During the first week of our two-week stay in Lebanon, my father and I visited as many relatives as possible along with my uncle. One trip a few days before our departure from Lebanon stands out because it disturbed me quite a bit. We visited a place called Khiam where my father’s parents spent most of their lives. They were forced to flee during the civil war of 1975 and find refuge in Beirut.

My grandparents have passed away and left behind a large house. Despite the end of the war, the house is still abandoned. Lack of legal documents and shortage of repair money sustain the abandonment. Overtaken by plant wildlife and cluttered with rubble, my grandparents’ lonely house stood in contrast to enormous villas nearby, well-kept with manicured grass and flowers. My grandparents’ house remained in ruins. What was once a home to my family for decades was now home to no one, but an eyesore to the neighbours.

Flood. Photo by Sonia Jalbout.

Flood. Photo by Sonia Jalbout.

Though not much seemed to have changed since I left Lebanon, my knowledge about the realities of Lebanon has changed. As child, I was never told about how terrible things used to be for my relatives before I was born. I never knew how much debt my parents took on after the flood to buy a newer rusty Jetta. I didn’t know that the soldiers carrying rifles that I used to pass by were ready for a new war to begin at any moment.

This time, however, I understood.

I asked my uncle why he visited the dilapidated house every few years. He stared at the house, then at me, and replied simply, “This is my childhood.”

***

Sonia Jalbout presenting her story at the Second Annual Reading of On the Move in April 2014.

Sonia Jalbout presenting her story at the Second Annual Reading of On the Move in April 2014.

Sonia Jalbout is a fourth year student at UTSC, majoring in geography and environmental science. She hopes to land a job with the ministry of environment & climate change. She enjoys learning about the world around her and hopes to visit many warm countries next year, especially Costa Rica. In her spare time, she enjoys exercising, shopping, and drinking tea (as a result of discovering a fantastic new tea store in her nearby shopping centre).

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