My father had died last January leaving each one of us, me and my brothers, few parcels of his land in the north. I was in Lebanon for his funerals back then and I came back this summer, this time with my family, to visit his land.
My father worked hard to acquire and maintain his land. He inherited some of it and bought the rest. He had a spiritual connection to his land. Before the Lebanese civil war he was unemployed for two consecutive years and the land saved us. With the usual olive harvest, he planted tobacco and was able to pay for our private school and maintain our living standards. During the civil war, he became unemployed again and we lived from the land. Even though we were children, we learned to acknowledge the material security the land afforded us. In Lebanon's rural communities, the house and the land are what define persons first, no matter how much this person earns and no matter what her social position is. My father was proud of his land and he made us participate in the olive harvest every year. During the civil war he refused to sell and leave the village and Lebanon alltogether. He stayed in the village during its darkest hours while we were in safety away from him. He later sent my brothers abroad for fear of indoctrination by the militia. Even though we all ended up living and working outside Lebanon, we kept the land and the house, my father taught us to love the land.
I have vivid memories of my father's land. I remember accompanying him to the tobacco field and marveling at the sight of the morning dew hanging on the furry tobacco leaves. I remember the olive harvest, the delicious meals eaten under the olive trees, the itinerant seller of sweets wandering from one field to another and announcing his arrival with a bell and chansonnettes. I remember the donkeys carrying olive bags and children at the end of the day, the family meal of the evening with the Syrian workers who used to help in the harvest. I remember my father working late into the night after dinner to separate the olives from their leaves and the sight of olives rolling on a board to achieve this process. I remember the end of the harvest season, the goodbyes, and the sadness that settled afterward with the coming of the cold season, a sadness that would go only at easter time when the flowers came back to their trees promising another harvest. All these images were rolling in my head while we were driving from Beyrouth to the north this July.
It took some time to leave Beirut. The traffic was heavy and we were told that this was nothing. 'Wait until the gulfies show up'. Beirut was waiting for tourists from the gulf and unsure whether they were going to show up. And we learned that they did show up after all. Because of the traffic inside and around Beyrouth, the city keeps well its visitors. During our one week stay there we hardly left the city, only once for the Chouf area and another time for Kesrouane. Leaving Beirut for good this time was liberating.
The day we left Beirut, there were news that the long anticipated indictments of Hezbollah members were issued by the STL. These news appeared barely two days after rumours that the Hezbollah approved Mikati government had reached an agreement on its position of principle on the STL, and that the newly formed government was going for a confidence vote in the parliament. This positive denouement for the Mikati government was not anticipated by Hezbollah's political rivals, Hariri and March 14th. Nor did they anticipate before that Lebanon would find a Sunni politician to form a government, after the ousting of Hariri, and that Mikati would be able to form a government. The only thing March 14th and hariri could count on to cloud the political climate for their opponents were the STl indictments and here they came, divinely timely to throw suspicion at Hezbollah. However, the reality among Lebanese, relatives and non relatives, from all political backgrounds, would unravel in a different way. Nobody among Lebanese we encountered during our subsequent two weeks stay would care about the STL. The indictements, along with other measures taken by the US to criminalise Hezbollah and its members, are not affecting Hezbollah's standing in Lebanon. But then they are maybe targeting the wider Arab public opinion. This is the most relevant context within which to interpret the current campaign to criminalise Hezbollah as the battle is ongoing to control the Arab spring and transform it into a cold Sunni-Shia war.
On our way to north Lebanon, we stopped at my aunt in Kesrouane. Lebanese customs obligent, the conversation veered toward politics very quickly. My aunt and her grown up children are all for the general (Aoun). Past governments mismanaged the country, made Lebanese poor, bought Beirut downtown on the cheap, sold it to gulf money, estranged Lebanese from their city downtown by making it look like any gulf rich city center. They used the shock doctrine to implement neoliberal policies that wrecked Lebanese traditional subsistance economy and way of life. Before my two visits this year to Lebanon, the last time I was there was in 2005. And I could see that the economic situation of the people and their way of life have greatly deteriorated. Lebanon is far from being self sufficient for its energy needs. Every household pays for the electricity twice, once for the state owned electricity company and once for a private provider. The state provides barely 12 hours of electricity per day. Add to that the soaring price of gaz and you have Lebanese with good jobs scrambling to make ends meet. Only the super rich are not affected. Talking to my aunt, I realise how much Aoun's populist discourse has touched nerve among Lebanese. My aunt's household is an integrated economy, all inhabit the same building that they own, each one has a floor in the building and share everything from meals to transport to maids...They are four adults working good jobs to make ends meet, for a family of seven in total.
My parents' house in the village, a traditional white stone house, needs extensive renovations. We had booked two locations in the Qadisha valley for our two weeks stay in the north. During this time we were going to shuttle between the village and the two locations, visit the beautiful Qadisha valley, maybe Tripoli if all is well, Byblos, and walk the cedar reserves as well as small sections of the LMT, especially the ones that follow the old trails used to connect people and animals between the mountain villages of the north.
During my stay in the north I watched parts of the parliament sessions preceding the vote of confidence and an interesting interview with Dennis Kucinich on Al Jadeed TV after he had a three hours meeting with Syria's Assad.
Part III and final to follow...