Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘auto-biography

A few stories of regret?

There was a French girl student in my class of Physics/Chemistry at the university. We spent 2 years in that program and I don’t recall I have ever talked to her.

She was slim, slightly red-headed, hair cut a la garcon, rather flat-chested and elegant in her sober attire and wore the same flat shoes. I think she was pretty. It would have taken a forceful determination from any girl then to take the initiative and lead me to utter a few sentences.

Another regret. She occasionally paid her grandmother visits, from the other part of the continent. I occasionally wrote her letters in the name of her mentally handicapped grand mother.

One of the letter included a convoluted sentence that she picked up as a confession of love. And it was.
A couple of weeks later she showed up. She went jogging and rubbed her feet with lotion. She then asked me to go for a walk. She wanted a verbal confirmation.

I was in a rot with my PhD dissertation and lacked the spirit for such kinds of conversation. I couldn’t master enough craziness to blurt out: ” I find you a lovely, natural and compassionate woman. Take me with you…”
I didn’t see her again: I moved out to another old lady house whose son wanted someone to live with.

Another regret. It was winter of 1976. A Friday, and about 8:30 pm.  Alone, I am to watch a foreign movie, shown by the University Film Club at the Microbiology department.

She showed up with her girlfriend. She is blonde, blue/green eyed, not tall, not skinny.For my candid eyes, just the perfect beauty. I cowered. I should have made haste, join her, and say: “Fair lady, have a good look at my face.

A couple of days later, returning from the library at midnight, I saw her “studying” with my roommate. I had to piss badly and as I emerged, she was gone.

Another regret: When I first saw her I was mesmerized. She was wearing boots and a white shirt and looked gorgeous and stunning. I had to meet her in West Hollywood to convey her sister salutation who had a Lebanese boyfriend. She kept asking me about my friend, as if I was a mere messenger. She never knew that she made me walk on air the entire encounter

Note 1: I barely recollect a regret Not involving a beautiful girl whom I failed to engage with. The first lesson in classrooms for adolescent of both sex should be “how to engage a girl you think you like” and save a lifetime of accumulated regrets.

Note 2: You may read a detailed account of these regrets and much more in my category Auto-biography

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The road to perdition (Introspection chapter#49)

 

 My brother-in-law, Victor’s assignment, as military attaché of the Lebanese government, lasted barely two years and I had the opportunity to meet with many US officials, the Lebanese community, and Lebanese army officers on training missions.  I was living and working in San Francisco since 1992 and was invited to live with my family in Washington DC, before we relocated to Montgomery County in Maryland.

 

My sister Raymonde prepared countless dinners, all by herself, for dozens of invitees each time. Mother stayed with us for six months and was of great aid preparing dinners.  We toured the USA as a family, a few  Disney’s lands, New York, North Carolina and on.

 

Victor and Raymonde had wider opportunities to tour the USA as invitees of the US military to Hawaii, Colorado, Louisiana, and Niagara Falls and on. I went biking and walking with the kids in the forests.

 

The time came in 1996 for the Choukeir family to leave for Lebanon.  Every member of the family was distraught.  The kids were very unhappy because they experienced a new learning climate for investigative minds; they even learned music and playing musical instruments and tampered with computers.

 

Victor insisted on purchasing and shipping a large gas guzzling van that they used to tour Jordan and Syria in their first year in Lebanon, before it turned a relic, parked and taking space in the parking lot because the kids had grown out of family vacations as a group.

I refused to leave with them.  I had no earning job and I was practically broke; I was plainly conscious that the hardest period is ahead of me, but I refused to succumb yet to a “suicidal life” in Lebanon; I had to make a final push for financial stability.

 

Two months before the order for Victor to definitely return to Lebanon, I had read an announcement that a free course of 3 weeks in Real Estate was opening; this course would permit me to sit for a testing exam that may introduce me into this closed business.

My next four years to the labyrinths of Hell took off, especially for someone with a foreign accent, short, and ungainly, who posted his real estates signs “Dr. Adonis” .  I had a PhD in industrial engineering and was not lying with any title.

I can write a whole book just on my personal experiences in Real Estates business and thus, I would restrain my experience to just a sketchy section of my first two years.  The sign generated many calls from distraught people suffering of physical ailments, but I was of no help.

I have published on wordpress.com five pieces (poems) related to my attitude and feelings on my life in this business, and particular chapters describing my life and the real estates business.

I recall the innumerable hunger, humiliation and indignity I suffered in the first two years in the real estates business, and many more after I started earning a living.

I rented rooms in humid basements.  I finally purchased a decent 4-year old car with my credit card.  I paid the ads of my listed properties with credit cards.  I know how the US lived in the last three decades on just credit cards…

Once, I lost weight and my acquaintances believed I had AIDS.  I got scared and visited a community dispensary and paid $10 for the check up.  The physician sadly told me: “You are not eating properly.”  What can a broke person eat?  I hadn’t discovered any soup kitchen announcement in this ultra wealthy county.

Four years of hell, but I made it with many topics to write about.  Nothing else but frustration and abuse, and many listings generated mostly from 50 calls a day to unknown people, using the phone book, and asking “Do yo care to sell or buy properties?”.  I never liked calling and still don’t.

Washington, DC

 

            It happened that in 1992 my brother-in-law Victor was appointed military attaché to Lebanon.  Victor was in Washington, DC for more than a month before he contacted me in San Francisco; he was arranging for the transfer of his family to the USA.  When the whole family arrived I was urged to join them; Adrea was barely four months old and the eldest kid William was about 13.  I was asked to move with them in order to aid with the kids’ English, schooling and various arrangements. I wrote to Raymonde a letter stating that I preferred first to visit with them before I take a decision.

That was my first trip to Washington, DC and I used a map to initiate tours in the Capital; I took Joanna on several day outings because she was kind of depressed. Joanna was given the responsibility of caring for Adrea and she felt that she was not the preferred kid (read as much loved) among the five of the time; Chelsea was to be born five years later when Victor returned definitively to Lebanon.  Victor rented a small apartment in a building at walking distance from the Lebanese Embassy; the apartment was expensive, about $1,200 a month, and he was paying from his own saved money before bureaucracy arranged for his salary to be transferred regularly.  It was summer time and there was a tiny swimming pool on the roof.  I felt that the apartment was too small to accommodate another member and I returned to Frisco.

Raymonde urged me to join them on account that the schools are opening and she is not fluent in English and totally unprepared.  I re-joined them but they needed me briefly.  In no times, the kids didn’t need me in their English or schooling; they were fishes in a familiar sea; they quickly mocked my accent.

After 6 months we moved to Montgomary County at the limit of Washington D.C. and we settled in a rented large house on Brierly Road. There was a small forest in the neighborhood and tended by a bird association. We applied to the swimming pool at walking distance but the neighborhood association, mostly Jewish, denied our application. Thus, we had to swim at a Navy complex a couple of miles away, close to the NIH.  Victor purchased an old car and his official driver Sami rented an apartment close by.

            There are at least ten volumes of pictures and as many videos of my stay in Washington, DC and Montgomery County because Victor had purchased a camcorder in a visit to New York with the family of his brother Nicholas.  Nicholas’ family of three kids stayed with Victor’s for over a month and we toured many counties in the USA; we visited Disney in Orlando and the Jehovah Witnesses headquarters in the Brooklyn and upper New York States and their modern and large publishing business.

Denver

 

During my stay in San Francisco I took the bus Greyhound to Boulder because my adviser sent me a letter that he was to deliver part of my dissertation to the convention of Human Factors Society and I wanted to attend it. It was a long trip of two days and we passed through Salt Lake City and I visited the temple of the Mormons.  There was snow and the University of Boulder was lovely. During the second day of the convention my advisor failed to show up and I had no copy of my dissertation and I felt frustrated for not being prepared to deliver anything even though I was invited by the chair person of the session to do it.  I had the opportunity to tour Denver by night and boarded the spacious and large bus that crosses Main Street.  

              The return trip was long. A week later I was to battle a discrimination case.  There was this girl who claimed that I harassed her sexually and the case was dropped after weeks of hassles; she had no one to testify on her behalf.  The girl was pissed off that I got the position of assistant to the manager. I had no hints of the power struggle that went on before I arrived to this hotel.  I wanted to resign but the manager convinced me that when I finish the whole year then I would be eligible for unemployment benefits of around $450 a month.  I finished the year and started to look for a steady job commensurate to my education.  I thus joined an office on Van Ness Road and funded by the City that aided with unemployment cases, such as writing CVs and how to tailor make your resume, and checking on the latest openings for work.

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.

Introspection of a middle-aged very confused male (Started in May 17, 2008)

Note:  this is a general framework of an ongoing project.  I will add many sub-chapters to keep my published sections within 1000 words.

Table of contents

Introduction

1. Habitat in 2004

2. Something about my grand parents’ origins

3. Something about my folks: My parent’s love affair

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

5. Something about my primary and secondary schooling

6. Memory failures

7. My university period in Lebanon

8. My university years in the USA (first period from 1975 to 1979)

9. My stay in Lebanon from late 1979 to mid 1985

10. My second university period in the USA (1985-1991)

11. Something about the period after my PhD (1991-2000) in USA

12. My life since I returned to Lebanon in 2000

13. My profession (Industrial and Human Factors engineering)

14. “Why am I how I am?” (March 8, 2006)

Appendices:  Love stories

How it all started?

I formally started my introspection on May 17, 2008 after reading an Arabic book by Kanaan recounting his childhood and his father’s and I said “why not?” 

I went ahead and even interviewed dad during morning coffee setting for a couple of minutes on his early childhood. Actually most of my poems and, especially my file “songs for women”, were serious introspection and autobiographical in nature.

I inserted temporary chapters to facilitate the process of further additions and pasting of paragraphs.

Habitat in 2004

I felt that my days were monotonous enough for my activities to be concatenated  into a typical day. Remembering the dull events of the days, I realized that they are a little more complex and could withstand a few more typical varieties. 

These seemingly boring events were intrinsically tied to my extended close family, which is relatively restricted in one locality, mainly my folks’ building of three stories.  The concept of typically branched out.

These typical days meshed into several pretty loose realities of every day living. On the first floor live my parents and I, the second floor houses my married brother Ghassan, his wife Diane and his three grown up children Murielle, Pascal and Christoph (only Murielle is living with her folks, the guys are in universities in Canada), and the third floor crams my married sister Raymonde, her husband (a retired army General) Victor and their six kids (William, Joanna, Ashley (Phoebe), Cedric, Adrea, and Chelsea) spanning from age 11 to 29. 

Joanna is living in London for a PhD in graphic communication, Ashley has graduated in animation and has been working for two years now, Cedric is spending a year in Italy on a grant (he graduated in hotel management); William graduated in graphic design and refuses to work on his final architecture project to graduate in two majors.

The roof gather my sister’s grown up children who are supposedly doing time-consuming projects requiring two computers, a Macintosh and a IBM, a scanner, a printer, a sophisticated digital camera.  

All these tools and equipments have been updated with costly performing gadgets. William brought home a female dog that he named Misha. That was four years ago; William relocated to the basement two years ago and is planning to rent in Jounieh to be accessible to his clients by bike.

The ground floor is basically a depot for surplus furniture and one room converted to my private study, where I spend the best part of my days and evenings.  We used to have tenants for the ground floor most of the time until I arrived from the USA in 2000.

After I wrote the dozen typical days, I started the monthly summaries for my diaries…By the beginning of  the devastating July War of 2006 (Israel preemptive war), I embarked on the war diary, and I continued this practice after the war ended until my computer broke down.

Novel:  Rainbow over the Levant (A historical fiction)

Introduction

In 14th century Levant, an Arabian stallion was a Cadillac symbol among the noblemen in Mount Lebanon; horses primarily meant a Panzer tank for the forces of the viceroys governing the provinces on behalf of the Mameluks’ Sultan in Egypt.  Luca Antonius, nicknamed “Al Fares” (The Knight), begot Youssef Luca who begot Antonios Youssef Fares.

Luca Fares served in his youth as a knight in the personal guard of the Emir in the county Capital Mtein in the Metn district in central Mount Lebanon   He was a Christian Orthodox with religious allegiance to the declining Byzantine Empire and was a hot headed character and got entangled in many brawls that finally discredited the good judgment of the Emir.  The Emir had no choice but to fire Luca from his entourage and sent him packing with a small fortune and an admonition never to return to Mtein.

Luca bought himself a piece of land near the current village of Khonshara, less than ten kilometers from the Capital Mtein, but never stayed long on his land.  The peasants cultivating his land had field days during his many peregrinations outside his fief until his eldest son Youssef took over.  Luca was killed mysteriously on a hunting trip and Youssef set his mind to take roots on his land, cultivate it stubbornly, forget about horses and knight ship and then married a strong headed, down to earth wife.

Geography of Mount Lebanon

The current Metn County as the other counties of Mount Lebanon are naturally bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the West and the western chain of mountains in the East; the small river of Nahr Kalb that dries up in summer time separates this canton in the North from neighboring Kesrouan with the Sannine Mountains on the East.  At the time of the story, the Metn was separated from the coastal shore administratively and juristically. The mountainous Chouf region formed the southern borders where the Moslem Druze sect, a Fatimide splintered schism from the Shiite Moslem religion, had taken roots a century and a half ago.  The Druze sect had just been created and was small, weak, and facing serious persecution.  Across the eastern slopes of Sannine lays the major town called Zahle in the Bekaa Valley; this is the largest valley in Lebanon rich in wheat and cereals.

The Bekaa Valley running between two chains of mountains north to south about one hundred km long and twenty five km wide on average was the main region to grow wheat and cereals.  Caravans to and fro that valley passed through the Metn to trade wheat and winter stocks of goods such as potteries, olive, olive oil, cutleries and silk cloth. The journeys were long, arduous and dangerous in these unpredictable and lawless periods. Thus, the caravans were guarded by trained fighters and their leaders were familiar with the various fief lords and gang lords.

At the time of the novel, the Metn did not extend to the sea and its total superficies was no more than 800 square kilometers, 40 kilometers from east to west and 20 kilometers from north to south.  Mount Lebanon is naturally divided in counties separated by deep small river valleys running east to west and emptying in the Mediterranean Sea. The religious affiliations in Mount Lebanon at the time were from north to south: Christian Maronites in the Bshari and part of the Betroun regions, Christian Byzantine Orthodox in the current Koura, Byblos, Kesrouan and Metn regions, then the middle part under the Druz sect concentrated in the Chouf region and the southern part of Jabal Amel of mostly Moslem Shiaa.  The Moslem Sunni were primarily entrenched in the littoral.

The Metn, as all Mount Lebanon regions, is an area of hills and valleys with many streams of fresh water. The inhabitants conquered the hilly lands by structuring the parcel of lands in a cascading step design for planting and growing fruit trees, olive trees and green vegetables.  This was hard work since the walls of these parcels of cultivated lands had to be built of stones removed from the land itself.  The Metn was under the rule of the Viceroy of Tripoli, more than a hundred kilometer to the north on the seashore.

The region was not densely inhabited and the Christian Maronite sect did not yet make any major inroads in that part of Mount Lebanon and was based mainly in the northern Mountains, east of Tripoli.   It can be conjectured that less than 60 thousand souls lived in the Metn at the time. The language was a mixture of Arabic, Byzantine and Aramaic slang (the main language during Jesus Christ period and for many centuries to come). Female dressed with several layers of colorful garments very similar to the nowadays customs in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Cherkessk. The male wore the traditional colorful vests with a large band of cloth, black or red, wrapped several times around the waist and pantaloons, black or white, tight at the ankles and oversized around the crotch.

The Roman Christian missionaries had barely made a dent during the last two centuries and had closer relationship with the Maronite sect than with the other Christian sects who did not recognize the infallibility of the Pope.  The Crusaders’ clergy were more intent on fomenting troubles every time a bishop was to be elected or consecrated than promoting enlightenment.  It might be surmised that a few small religious schools were instituted and artisan shops catering to the war efforts of the crusaders prospered.

This story starts in 1346 when the Mameluks’ dynasty in Egypt had already captured every Crusader’s strongholds in Lebanon and Syria’s coast line and pushed back the Mogul invaders beyond the Euphrates River in 1262.  Holako the Mogul had entered Baghdad in 1258 without resistance and devastated this glorious city, spread havoc and plundered it for 40 days. The Mogul hordes emptied the vast libraries of books and manuscripts and drowned them in the Tiger River, and then executed the last Arabic Caliphate Al Mustaesem.  A flourishing Arab civilization that existed for five centuries was annihilated.

Part 1:  My Sunny Levant; Antonios (1346-1381)

Chapter 1: Genesis of a Metnit family

After his wedding, the minor landlord Youssef Fares spread the word that his first born boy would be named Antoun.  His wife Jamila was a proud and steadfast person but made her young husband promise to expand their one large room home to include a private bedroom with door by the time she gives birth to a child; she also wished not to have to step outside for bodily needs and washing, as was common, because she had a deep sense of privacy and propriety.  The stone house was a tad larger than the neighbors’ but resembled them by the lack of modern amenities; at night, beddings were removed from a special drawer to replace the cushions spread around the room while the tiny kitchen was located on the north-west corner.

Eleven months later, Jamila gave birth to Latifa, a girl.  It was too early for Youssef to despair and his immediate second attempt produced Youmna, a girl, thirteen months later.  Within fifteen days of Youmna’s birth, Youssef went ahead with his project and was stopped dead in his track.   The strong headed and shrewd Jamila sent him packing to the fields to work harder and give priority to feeding his growing family. A year went by and Youssef’s male friends and relatives smirked at him and nicknamed his eldest daughter Antouneyeh which precipitated Youssef in a state of isolation, shunning friends and acquaintances.  Jamila sensed that business was deteriorating and the atmosphere in the house darkening and so she decided to give the nod for Youssef to resume his cherished project of producing a boy and crossed her fingers that destiny would turn more clement: Jamila did not believe in large families and mocked the traditional economic viability that feeding more mouths is the panacea for riches and life’s security in advanced age.

Jamila hired a helper to salvage the energies of Youssef and economized in everything except on substantial breakfasts and suppers, understanding that destiny had to be catered to if enterprises had to be successful.  Jamila would boil water in cold weather to warm Youssef’s feet after a day’s work and rub his back and shoulders with a warm wet cloth; everything had to contribute to begetting a healthy boy that should be called Antoun.

Youssef Fares was a wreck when his wife was pregnant for the third time and could no longer appreciate the jokes of his close friends, attributing the successive birth of females to his weak virility and the dominance of his wife in family affairs. The whole community knew that Youssef wanted to call his first born son Antoun and so he was nicknamed Bou Antoun (father of Antoun) immediately after his marriage.  Youssef had driven Jamila to the walls in the last nine months, ordering her to pray more rosaries than needed, spending plenty of money on religious donations and making her submit to all kinds of traditional requests that would guarantee giving birth to a baby boy this time around.

In 1346, the big three kilograms baby Antoun showed up in his entire splendor.  Many exhaled a deep sight of relief, especially Latifa his eldest sister.  Jamila was drained from every ounce of energy and experienced a period of baby blues that lasted two weeks; she directed Youssef not to receive visitors while she was sick and to delay any major celebration until she could be ready to participate fully in the baptismal ceremony.

For the first time, scared to see his strong wife in such a state of depression and weakness, Youssef reluctantly postponed the grand celebration and sent word to the neighbors to temporarily guard his house from well wishers until Jamila was up to the task of honoring guests.

Jamila tried to breast feed big baby Antoun for two days and gave up this arduous and ineffectual endeavor, so that Youssef had to find surrogate mothers for the frequently and ever so hungry Antoun.  The house allowed only breast feeding females to enter in the first week and then Bou Antoun had to carry his new born son to different houses, at least four times a day, and suffer accidents and the humiliating caprices of little Antoun until a permanent deal to breast feed the gluttonous Antoun was arranged.

One night, Youssef confided to his wife his apprehensions about the baby boy; it seems that while he was carrying his boy to a feeding mother the baby constantly tried to rummage through his chest, proving that he was unable to be discriminating in a hungry state.  Youssef failed on the spot to describe his own embarrassment but when he realized the purpose of baby Antoun,  in a weak moment, he revealed to Jamila that he felt his neck independent of his body, his head revolving in all directions for signs of any witness to Antoun’s behavior, his face scarlet hot with shame.  These two weeks of personal tending to his baby son’s needs proved a wealth of direct attachment and close bonding that not many fathers experience in their life time.

Bou Antoun threw a grandiose banquet for the occasion of baptizing his son and he entertained his audience as the supreme king sneering at his friends and threatening them for dire consequences if any of them dared any worn out jokes about virility and lack of authority.  During the festivity, Bou Antoun would dart flaming glances at Jamila and the only responses received from her steel cold eyes he correctly interpreted as saying: “Forget it.  Wipe it out of your mind.  You got what you wanted and do not expect any further special attentions.  Just sit tight and wait if and when I give any new signals.”

Youssef spent his energy expanding his business and planning for Antoun’s future who grew up comfortable among women; a great deal of self esteem sharpened his mind under the watchful eyes of his strong spirited and hard working mother.  Antoun was officially weaned within 18 months but he knew his surrogate mothers and felt at home attempting to breast feeding from anyone he was familiar with. The next four years opened many neighbors’ doors to the growing Antoun who used to help himself to double and three portions at each meal when food was being served, his being most welcomed as a member of the family.  Jamila was obliged during the many special occasions to cook extra portions of sweets to be offered as gifts to the multitude of surrogate mothers in order to repay the favors of her neighbors and as compensation for the ravages done to the neighbors’ depleting pantries.

At 8 of age Antoun was sent to a nearby religious school to learn reading and writing in both languages of Arabic and Aramaic, and some elementary arithmetic. He was also introduced to the rudiments of the French language from a learned monk.  In the afternoons, Antoun helped on the family farms and ultimately was responsible for the accounting.  During religious holidays his sisters and he used to memorize whole sections of the Bible and then act scenes to entertain the family and guests assembled before dinner.  Since girls were not to go to any school outside their homes, his eldest sister Latifa would hang out with Antoun and share his school lessons on pretence of keeping an eye on his scheduled school assignments.

One day, Latifa overheard a disgruntled man cursing saint Anthony because he donated some money for the Saint in order to recover a precious lost object to no avail. Latifa put a twist on the saying and her mom heard her chanting: “Mar Antoun of Mrouj, big thief and far gone senile.”  Latifa was to ask forgiveness on her knees in front of the saint’s statue and wear a male St. Anthony frock for a month.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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