Adonis Diaries

The house, brother, and sister: Introspection

Posted on: December 21, 2008

The house in Beit-Chabab, (continue 8)

My grand dad had a house in Beit-Chabab but it was been rented for over 30 years, and the house was rundown and needed major repairs.  After the death of Dad’s father Antoun, and the definitive return of my family to Lebanon in 1961, and the children about to join universities, my father had to start a lengthy legal ejection proceeding. 

Father spent plenty of money to repairing this crumbling house.  We enjoyed barely two summer vacations in it, before dad’s mother and his younger brother Jean decided to return to Lebanon and stay in it. 

I used to watch one of my grandmother’s father Toufic (about 80 of age) plowing the large garden, but mother never encouraged me to walk and care for it because of probable snakes and other insects that she was terribly scared of:  Mother had close encounters with snakes in the house in Africa.  

Yes, extra safety is not complementary to happiness and natural development. When Jean and then grandmother died ten years later, one of dad’s sisters decided to return to Lebanon and she stayed in the house.  The whole lot cannot be sold because of the many inheritance problems with a large extended family; two of dad’s sisters are still alive and they are refusing to dispose of the property when we are in great need of financial support.

Something about our childhood, my brother Ghassan, sister Raymonde, and I

I read auto-biographical accounts of Edward Said and Carlos Ghosn and I found similarity in our upbringing and I said: “why not?”  I was born in Bamako, the Capital of Mali that was then under French mandate or colony, and mother breast-fed me for at least 3 years and mother never let me off her sight. 

I started schooling in Africa (Sikasso) when I was five, with the French White Brethren for 3 months and I was doing great and mother told me that I had memorized the multiplication tables in such a short period.  The deaf black boy used to take me on his bicycle to school. 

Shortly after, I suffered from Typhoid fever in 1954 and almost died. The French commander (Mali was still a French colony) flew me and mother to the Capital Bamako and I stayed for weeks in a refrigerated chamber.  When I got up from bed I had to re-learn how to walk and talk.

My parents decided to whisk me to Lebanon where the climate is more favorable.  My 3-year old brother Ghassan, three years younger than I, and I were enrolled in an intern school (boarding school) in Beit-Chabab belonging to the Christian Maronite brethren.

I didn’t know a single word of Arabic and it was a completely new world for me who lived at home for the last 6 years.  In the same year of 1956 Lebanon experienced a major earthquake and I remember someone carrying me in his arms at night and depositing me in the open parking lot where everyone converged.  Dad once lambasted the government for exacting the “earthquake tax” for over 20 years.

It seems that I was bright, but mostly I was much older than my classmates, and the next year the school decided that I could skip a year and that was my downfall.  In Lebanon, most kids start schooling at the age of three.  I cannot remember a thing of my first year in Lebanon; maybe I was too traumatized and my brain decided that burying my memory of this year is beneficial for my mental health.

My parents used to visit us every two years during summer and we had to re-learn that they were indeed our folks.  We used to flee the rented summer-house and walk up two miles to school, taking shortcuts.

School used to take us on walking trips on Sundays and when we passed my grandfather Toufic shop in Haret Al Ta7tat (the lower part of Beit Chabab), I used to stop at the shop and I was handed a handful of sweets and “kdameh” (dried cabanza beans).

My much younger sister (6 years younger) joined us in Beit Chabab and was “incarcerated” in the nuns’ boarding school of Sacred Hearts.  My sister had a rough time there…

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December 2008

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