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240 Hours In Lebanon

  by Miriam Izzidine

Beirut is more than just one of the oldest cities in the world; it is an experience, a city unlike any other on earth. For most of its history, Beirut was a small fishing village on the Lebanese coast. When independence came in 1946, Beirut flourished and symbolized the hopes and aspirations of the Lebanese people. With a world class casino, a fashionable downtown and sunny beaches, Beirut is a sophisticated city that leaves other countries in the Middle East with “lifestyle envy.”

I had been waiting for 15 years for this moment. Finally my fiancé Josh and I decided to go back to my roots, my homeland, my Eden of Lebanon. Our trip had been planned since the day we met three years ago. Every night after the stress of the day, we sat over Ahwee coffee and discussed how to spend our 240 hours in Lebanon.

It wasn’t long ago that Beirut lay in rubble from countless years of civil war. With unrest behind them, the Lebanese have worked hard to return Beirut to its former glory. The downtown area, which was leveled during the war, has been completely rebuilt. All over the city, demolished buildings have been replaced with five-star hotels and fine restaurants. Today, Beirut is thriving, cosmopolitan and fashionable.

From Los Angeles International Airport to Beirut, Josh kept me busy recalling the things that make the Lebanese speak so highly of their land. All through the flight, I teased Josh about the anxiety he must be feeling over his first meeting with my father. In my mind’s eye I can picture my parents’ home in Raouche on Beirut’s seacoast with the waves hitting the shores every morning over espresso. I can almost smell the air. “The air?” he asks.

“Of course the air,” I reply. “The air overwhelms you. Like the fresh cut grass on the field on one of those big game days you always talk about.

“Yes, but the air in general? Air is…just air,” he reasons. Then he retreats to his book.

With 10 hours time difference and after a long layover in London, the anticipation builds as the pilot announces we are close to landing. You feel your heart beat. You are anxious, almost faint. Josh is so cute; I have never seen him so nervous. He is about to have the experience of a lifetime. The airport looks much different from the last time I was home. They have done an amazing job remodeling, and it really shows. The customs officer smiles at Josh. “First time in Lebanon?”

“He will be meeting my family shortly,” I tell him.

He seems pleased to hear it. The male bonding is instant, and Josh has his first friend in Lebanon.

"The average cab in Beirut is an old Mercedes, and if you are in Beirut for any period of time, taking a cab is unavoidable. "

Then, seemingly from nowhere, my family is running towards us. It was the loudest commotion I had heard in years. So many descending on us—cousins, neighbors, my brothers and their kids, old friends, Mom and Dad—over 25 in all. I was hearing enough Arabic words of endearment to fill a candy store:“Mommy, Habibi” (My love)“Ayouni”(The eyes of my soul)“Albee” (My heart)“Hayati” (Darling).

The avalanche of emotions swept over all of us...

 

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