Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Twenty years ago

It was a nice day at the end of March, the almond trees were heavy by the tastiest green almonds you can even taste. The sun was shining with a cold breeze. I remember Layla (my Khalo's wife) being preoccupied with packing the cookies she made for us. Ammo Jihad came, he's the one who drove us to the port. Also Layla's parents were there. I remember my friends writing to me words of memories and encouragement in this heart-shaped “souvenirs” booklet that my mom had given me as a gift earlier at Christmas. the kitchen was filled with friends, Najwa was the loudest of them all, expressing how much she's going to miss me. I remember neighbours and friends coming and going, some of them many times in the same day. I hadn't seen so much movement in the house since jeddo Barakat died in 1979. It was weird. I had a beautiful antique mirror in my bedroom that my neighbour Rita had painted a frame of flowers on it. I took a lipstick and wrote on it "Good Bye" and signed it, to wait for me. It was the only thing I could express... I can't describe my feelings that day. It was mostly a general feeling of numbness. I could hear the beats of my heart more than any other sound. I could feel that my mom was as numb but not showing it; or maybe it was obvious but I was too busy with my own shit. I was leaving my home, my village, a life I grew to love and cherish, friends who mean the world to me...

We needed to be at the port of Jounieh for 8pm. I insisted on going with Zouzou, and on the way, I insisted we pass by the club “nedeh el e7ya” to say goodbye to Tony who didn't bother coming over. On the way, Najwa wanted to pass by the house to get me something. So we stopped by the Tohme house, only she went up. I had already said goodbye to Tante Mountaha and Ammo Abdalla. I remember Ammo Abdalla meeting me on the road above my house, on his way up to Hrajel. He said goodbye and shook my hand. He didn't want to kiss me, he said “khalli el wada3 men doun koubal, 3alashan yekoun 3endi amal enno terja3eh”. I called him and Tante Mountaha my parents-in-law, ever since he gave me the nickname of seasonal daughter-in-law “kennetna el mawsamiyyeh” as much as I was part of their lives.... So Najwa came back with a cute tiny yellow teddy bear, the one that has springs in the hands to attach to jackets or book covers or something.

By the time we reached Port Jounieh it was night. I see mom, khalo, Layla, khalo's in-laws. I don't remember seeing Jacko and Nano, I think they were busy that night in some event. Ammo Jihad was organizing everything as he was in the Navy and knew Port Jounieh better than anyone. There, we met Teta Cloto, Tante Etta, and Christian (dad's mother, sister and kid), and I remember feeling a knife go through my heart and suffocating the minute I laid eyes on the stack of suitcases that were to our name. Imagine, 3 adults, a teenager and a kid (the only boy in the bunch) leaving Lebanon for good. FOOR GOOD! FUCK!! (I didn't swear back then, but it felt like that). I can still see the stack laid on the side of the wall, a multicoloured selection of 9 or 11 jumbo suitcases... This is when it hit me hard, and when my long depression started.

Ammo Jihad kept begging me to say goodbye and move. I finally did. I remember the hardest was leaving Zouzou. I think I was holding his hand like a kid at my first day of school, not sure though. He was my older brother, my best friend, my teacher, my secret keeper, my voice of reason, the person who helped me live through my teen years, he was everything! I can still hear Ammo Jihad telling me not to look back, to keep moving toward the boat, even after he left us at the boat, he kept telling me to keep moving and not look back. Such a wise man, I love him for it. (I still cry every time I think of that night, what a nightmare it was).

"Mais du bord du bateau qui m'eloignait du quai, une chaine dans l'eau a claqué comme un fouet"

On the boat, after carrying the ten thousands luggages that we had with us to the cabine assigned to the 5 of us, I went straight to the upper deck to see Lebanon before it goes away and I loose it forever. Sorry Ammo Jihad, but at this point of no return, it is safe to look back. I won't swim to shore in this cold. I kept staring at the familiar shore and mountains until the last light from the shore vanished in the dark horizon... Mom was there too at some point and then we went down together. She was worried we would catch a cold, after only a few days of getting rid of one.

"Je revois son sourire si près de mon visage, il faisait resplendir les soirs de mon village"

The cabine was narrow, with bunk beds, too narrow too uncomfortable. I decided that sitting on the long chair outside the cabine was much better. I didn't sleep that night. I couldn't! I walked and looked at people shift from side to side with the boat. I made my way back to the deck eventually hoping that the boat will be on its way back for some reason. And a guy in a white uniform joined me, introduced himself as captain. We talked. My English wasn't that good, he was Greek or Cypriot Greek rather. He offered to show me the boat and took me on a tour ending at his cabine. I was going to throw up the minute I saw the pictures of the naked women on the walls of his pad and excused myself to go back and join my mother. In my mind I was like “iza ba3d ma wsolet 3al Kanada w heyk?” I made it safely back into the cabine. They had provided us with another one so we had one for mom and me, and one for my aunt, teta and my cousin. In the morning before we got to shore, the captain came back to check on me and gave me a straw hat as a souvenir, which I kept until this day. Not as a souvenir from him, but as a hostage that I will get rid off once I make it back home for good.

Cyprus was ok. It was weird to see the sun rise from the other side of the water. Doesn't the sun rise from behind the mountains? I was wearing home-style bleached jeans, and in the back pocket I had a letter that Zouzou gave me before I left and made me promise to open only when I reach Canada and get settled. For sure I read it on the boat the minute Lebanon vanished. Did you think I could wait? Although it wasn't the romantic letter that every 17-year-old girl dream to read, it was the most beautiful sincere and caring letter. One day I shall type it up and post it. Now I'm sorry that my life here turned out different from what he wished I do with it. I didn't stand up to what he believed me to be capable of, bass I know he forgave me already :)

Yes ok, so once we were at customs in Larnaka, the woman asked us where we were coming from and when we said “Lebanon” she went behind the security arch and did something. The precious arch buzzed at each of us the minute we went under it, even my poor Teta. I had my jeans on, a t-shirt, no belt, regular comfy shoes, nothing to make the machine buzz except for the Lebanese blood in our veins. My turn to make the machine go nuts, the lady took me into the “changing room” where I was asked to remove my shoes and socks. She touched me everywhere and stopped at the back pocket of my jeans. “What is this”, she asked. I took the letter out, and said “Letter” She took it, opened the envelop unfolded the paper and gave it back to me, and let me go... See??? I had to open the letter before a stranger does that!

On our way to the hotel, I had fun reading the signs with the little Greek I knew (I could read the capital letters not knowing what words they make up), which gave the taxi driver the impression that I knew Greek and started a conversation... with himself LOL I was out most of the day on Saturday, walking and looking behind the horizon maybe I could see something familiar out there. It was weird walking on the road side seeing the cars coming my way. They drive on the wrong side of the road! I remembered Jeddo Barakat so much that day when he used to say that the greeks are born upside down. Alla yer7amak ya Jeddo! The shore was covered with some sort of fine leaves, it smelled awful. The song “rouddani ila biladi” wouldn't stop playing in my head and on my lips all day, like a broken record.

Sunday early morning, we left to the airport. The phone rang to wake us up, Mom had asked for a wake up call. I was impressed, having never been in a hotel in my life before (Dweyk here lol). The flight in Sabena was pleasant and eating meat was the highlight of the trip out of Cyprus. I remember writing about that in my first letter to Zouk. In Europe, the stop over was a nightmare! I had to carry my bag, my cousin's bag and my teta's and run from one side of the airport to the other following Teta and the woman who was pushing her wheelchair. We had too little time between planes to the point that I don't even remember in which country of Europe we were.

Sunday March 29, 1987, sometime early afternoon local time, the captain announced that we were close to Montreal, the weather was 17 degrees and sunny. he said that we were lucky because it was freezing the days before. I looked outside and there was a lot of white. Before we left Cyprus, I prepared myself with wool tights under my corduroy thick pants, three layers of shirts and sweater, and a heavy jacket... all prepared for the winter of the eskimos. The officer at the customs, when we landed, took me and mom alone in one office. My aunt her son and teta were taken separately. The man was nice, a bit older, a bit round, always smiling. I was relaxed. His French was weird, and his english, or actually mine wasn't that good so I was embarrassed to have him repeat himself in both languages every time he's addressing the questions to me, and mom helped on top of that. I remember him telling me that since I am not 18 years old yet (2 months and 3 days shy), I can renounce to my Lebanese identity and adopt the Canadian one, becoming automatically Canadian. SHOU????????? Is he out of his mind? I'm staying here for ONLY 5 years mister, not one day more... SHOU FHEMNA? Thank God this came out of my mouth in this form “No thank you, I wait with my family”.

Every one was at the airport. Uncle Loucy and his family, cousin Gigi and her husband and 6 months old first born, uncle Adi and his family, and some other people I don't know. The big hype was Teta's arrival and meeting her sons and grandchildren that she hasn't seen in a very very long time. And there was Papy, and Tony who grew up so much since I last saw him, he became taller too. Dad and my brother left in December '86, a few months before mom and I did. Dad found a job, put Tony (13 at the time) in school, and prepared everything before us. He even bought a car, a white Phoenix, not sure which company used to make this car, some American company akeed. So we left Mirabelle Airport with him...

So much to talk about, 4 months we've been apart. Tony had a million new things to tell me about the new life in Canada. I was amazed at how freaken flat the country was, all white and ugly naked trees on the side of the road. But the road itself was huge. Dad has stories about missing exits on the highway and having to tour the globe before he finds his was back LOL The trip was long from Mirabelle Airport to 212 Anselme Lavigne, Pierrefonds... I was suffocating in all the layers I had on and couldn't wait to remove a few. It was warmer in Canada that day than the night we left Home.

Uncle Loucy had a beautiful house, with a pool in the backyard, and a huge dog that occupied the garage. I hate dogs and this one was simply scary. Everyone was there, a lot of movement in the house, a lot of new faces, familiar faces that I haven't seen in a long time or have seen only in pictures... Too much to take in after an already heavy weekend. I was still numb but a different kind of numbness. In my head I was reciting the letter that I had already memorized, my heart was trying to beat normal but it felt that it was skipping a few beats here and there. I think I managed that day to hide any emotions and put on a face that was happy to see my uncles and cousins (from my father's side), some of them whom I was meeting for the first time...

At the end of the day, we left with dad to "a hotel" where we were supposed to stay until we find an apartment, because my uncle's house was already full with his own family, his father who has been living with him for some years, and now his mother, sister and son. Dad drove us to a bulky rectangular brown huge building of 4 floors, not far from my uncle's house. It looked like a warehouse from the outside but it had lots of windows and tiny balconies. He parked the car underground, and we went up in the elevator to the third floor. Ok so this is how hotels look like in Canada, the only other I have been in was the one in Cyprus, what do I know! He opened the door to what was our first apartment in Canada, for two years. He had found this apartment and furnished it with the help of his bother and sister-in-law before we came, so mom won't need to worry about a thing. It wasn't ya latif, but mom, being the humble woman that she is, didn't complain about anything. I shared a bedroom with my brother, it was half the size of the room we had in Zouk. Mom and I stayed home for the first 3 months getting rid of a nasty cold. That night on the deck in the sea breeze was not good after all, but what would have you done if you were in our shoes? Eh?

Life in Canada has been interesting to say the least. A lot to tell but it'll be longer than the 7 books of Harry Potter. A lot learned, a lot lost, a lot of happiness and a lot of grief, lots of experiences, lots of pain, lots of friendships gained and lost, lots of failures and lots of successes. Look at me now writing English and practically living in the Internet world, 20 years later masalan :) What is interesting and what amazes me as much as all the people who know me is my utmost love to my Lebanon that grew with me a bit each day. Nothing else mattered, nothing else matters.

20 years later.. I survived... Canada gave me too many things, bad and good, and I appreciate all of it because it shaped me into the woman that I am today. The hard working sincere woman who knows what she wants and what makes sense to her; a woman who can make her life a happy one against all odds.

This anniversary is a bit different than the 19 that preceded. It's a happy one for a change, although the memory of that weekend still brings tears to my eyes. I now see the light at the end of the tunnel. I see myself growing old in my beloved country with a man I respect and cherish, and hopefully children. I see the real happiness that I have been longing for all my life. Call me crazy, but I see this happening; I just have to go get it.

Thank you Canada for an interesting 20 years and for the woman I have become.