Beit-Chabab: Hometown of my parents and grand parents and mine….
The late Lebanese writer Youssef (Joseph) Habshi Ashkar did an excellent job describing my village Beit-Chabab, which is his village.
Youssef told stories of the numerous ancient people and traditions in a simple, heart wrenching language and these stories were very funny most of the time. My father loves these stories because many of them happened during his time in the village and he can figure out the real protagonists. It would be nice to have all the works of Youssef translated, even if it would lose much of its original flavor and meanings.
When you see Beit-Chabab coming from Beirut you notice that it is vast and opening her arms to hold all its original main four quarters. Every house is visible with its red tiled roof, distinct, and having a sight to the sea.
The government encouraged new buildings to have red tile roofs for tax deduction but it turned mainly a paper promise because dad didn’t get any benefit. Beit-Chabab is a far cry of those villages scattered along a main road or hidden behind a mount or a valley.
Beit-Chabab is 700 meters above sea level and climbs over 100 meters in altitude from its bottom, west to east, and it is expanding mostly southward because the north side plunges toward the Nahr El Kalb River valley (Dog River).
Beit-Chabab has mainly 10 family clans that gathered around specific districts; each clan who could afford it had its own “nawbeh“, sort of a club of youthful members who could play instrument, sing and dance the ancient ways during happy and sad ceremonies.
Almost each major church, belonging to a clan, has a club of ladies “akhawiyeh” that cares for the less fortunate members of the clan. There was a time when a single policeman designated by the mayor would suffice to keep the peace and the streets clean. Beit-Chabab grew bigger and clans permitted a few members of other family clans to purchase pieces of land in their own district, but out of town people still have hard time purchasing land.
Beit-Chabab could have been an ideal tourist attraction or a destination for summer residents but it blocked this kind of business by not allowing rental apartments or building commercial hotels and restaurants or movie theaters and thus discouraging outsiders to settle in.
Beit-Chabab used to be the main large town for miles around and it was called “The Town”. It cultivated varieties of fruits and vegetables and hosted all kinds of industries like clothes “dima“, silk factories, church bells, potteries, fowl and cow businesses and supplied Lebanon with its products and produces and even exported to France until artificial silk was invented and other alternatives to potteries and cheaper clothing were manufactured.
Most of Beit-Chabab’s current 14,000 inhabitants immigrated abroad during and after WWI to Africa and returned to rehabilitate their houses; the immigration is still going stronger with the new generation after our latest civil war and the incapacity of our political system to bring peace, security and work opportunities.
The new wave of immigration has diversified its destinations to the USA, Canada, Australia, Europe, South America and also Africa for the less educated. The worst part is that the new educated generation is not ready to come back, simply because the old ways of visiting and caring for neighbors are dying and Beit-Chabab is far behind with the amenities of modern life.
Youssef described his dad as a true ancient personality. His dad didn’t wear “al ghenbaz” (the traditional long tunic) since he wore European attire, and he didn’t cultivated his land since he commuted and worked in Beirut but he was an anciant. But Youssef lived the ancients did.
Youssef’s dad is ancient because as soon as he arrived from the Capital Beirut he would change into comfortable clothes and walk to the valley where he had a grotto which was supplied with the implements of a water pipe “arghileh” and coffee and candles. He would spend the evening contemplating nature and returning with loads of wild fruits and vegetables and greens like “3erkbanieh”, “zbeizbeh”, sumac, “za3tar”, “zaizafoun”, “kouwissa”, “khatmieh” and an oak stick to supply the winter reserve for fireplace, not because his house is not centrally heated which is but because he loves to see and feel the winter fire.
Youssef’s father is ancient because he eats meat only on Sundays and eats it raw like “kebeh” and “smayskeh“, because he loves to hear the pounding of the “mdakah bil jorn“.
Youssef’s father used to do his own coal and his own “arak” and he raised his own chickens and had always one goat for the milk and one mouton for the winter meat and fat. Youssef’s dad is ancient because he refused to pour concrete on his patio “mastabah” but would pass “al mahdalah” on the sand, mud, small stones and “kash”.
Youssef’s dad is an ancient individual because he kept the traditional ways for preserving food, oil, cheese and other condiments simply because it reminded him of the environment and climate in which his forefathers lived contented.
Youssef’s father lived the real life without discontinuity when his grandfather died and when his father died. He loved to narrate the ancient stories of people and stories of imaginary ancient heroes while sitting on the sofa and drinking Turkish coffee without sugar “sada”. His stories reflect the concepts that hell could be experienced on earth and the feeling of heaven is an earthly experience too.
I do currently live in Kunetra, a mile away from our original town called Beit-Chabab.
Kunetra is split among four municipalities of Beit-Chabab, Kornet Hamra, Kornet Chehwan, and Ain-Aar. Our building is within the municipality of Kornet Chehwan that Dad finished constructing in 1970 .
Kunetra was relatively a virgin estate; it is now expanding and becoming a favorite Real Estate development with modern villas studded all over.
Beit-Chabab is the hometown of my parents and their parents. I was an interned student for six years in its boys’ school affiliated to the Christian Maronite Order. From 1963 to 1975, I spent the summers in Beit-Chabab until I graduated from university
I am reverting to the ancient ways of life: I garden and gather all kinds of vegetables and greens; I love to eat everything natural without addition of salt, sugar, or peppers; my mother still prepares all kinds of preserves of jam and “kabeess”.
Unfortunately, I am not a narrator of stories and cannot sing and have no intimate friends to share the bliss of ancient living.