Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘boarding school

Pretty late Mama, good evening.

A long time immigrant, bewildered how to erect a State in his country

A couple of poems that I wrote in Arabic in January 1991 and that I didn’t recall writing them in a letter to my parents.

Although I cannot claim that I was in love with my parents, I still recognized their dedication and care as they could master with their little education. I cannot recall, my brother, sister and I had any conversation with our parents. We were Not allowed to join visitors and share in the discussions.

Before 6 years of age, we were all shipped to a boarding school in Lebanon to save us from the deadly African diseases. They were strangers to us as they visited us one summer out of two.

Actually, I was the one who stayed with them till they passed away at very old ages, through mightily hard extended and debilitating illnesses.

Mother, late pretty mama, good evening.

I get furious when people just recall you as a chic woman

A great eye for fashion and designer fingers.

Mother, the cornerstone and guiding rod to father

In all his risky adventures, and later hopeless states of mind.

I know better,

You were afraid for me of people, of this harsh world

A world of no mercy.

Where to go and flee?

Mother, you freed me twice as I decided to immigrate.

Thank you.

I had far more hard days in foreign lands than relaxing ones.

I was one day away from joining the homeless, and feeling the cramps of hunger.

How I survived is the miracle.

The miracle of hundreds of people who felt pity on my conditions.

Free me once again mother.

I am Not complaining: I decided to liberate myself by my own volition

An immigrant who fled the civil war,

And bewildered how to erect a State in his country.

Twenty years out of his home country

In a welcoming country that refuses to be my second home.

A country that decided to liberate Kuwait and restitute it to its tribal Sheikhs.

Children born and Not recognized as citizens

So that oil money remain for its tribal Sheikhs and their descendent,

Their women and their colonial Masters.

Father, the good hearted husband

Who could never refuse to lend, even when he didn’t have any in his older years.

At the instigations of mother when they were in a well-to -do condition relative to the extended families.

But it is father who is remembered as the good Samaritan.

A father who helped generations of physicians, engineers, teachers

Who appreciated him for as long as their feathers grew into powerful wings.

Yes, father passed away, destitute and barely visited.

The same with mother who cried for being left isolated and ignored.

You will Not be ignored anymore.

Rest in peace.

Note: Julie




Consolidation of the kingdom. From Rainbow over the Levant

Note: Re-edit of a chapter of my novel posted in 2008 and set in the 15th century Mount Lebanon “Consolidation of the kingdom”

Antoun had a few rudimentary ideas concerning the organization of the social fabric but he lacked reprieves for consolidating his hold on power.

Fortunately, the new leader had good qualities of listening carefully to suggestions and delegating authorities for matters considered not to affect directly his grip on power.

Miriam Najjar was an excellent counselor and was motivated to enlarge her knowledge and participate in the decision units.  She suggested that one priority was to establishing elementary schools in every town and argued that without a learned youth the future of the regime would be totally dependent on foreign experts who would deplete the treasury.

She advanced the concept that relying on the know-how of other nations was the main reason why so many dynasties had died out or been replaced by dynasties elevated from mercenaries who did not care for the well-being and stability of the societies they governed.

However, there was the realization, experienced by most families living in high altitude of over 1000 meters above sea level, of the high mortality rate in extended families during the winter season that lasted five months.

Many kids died from suffocation, pulmonary diseases, and contagious illnesses.

Psychological disorders lead to brutal physical behaviors from close contact in unfit environmental conditions.

At the time, and for long time afterwards, homes were simply of a single room. The door was the only opening to fresh air.  Around ten people on average crowded that cloistered unique room for the duration of winter.

As was the custom, large families usually dedicated their second or third sons to the clergy’s institutions to become priests and a few daughters to turning nuns. Thus, to avoid feeding extra mouths and making more space for the other members of the family, many kids were lent to work for free in return for shelter and food and some education during the harsh season.

To return the favor for the outlawed peasants, it was decided that intern or boarding schools be erected for girls and boys, separately and where children of ages ranging from nine to thirteen would dwell in for 5 months from mid November to mid April.

Boarding schools

The first boarding school was established in Baskinta and demonstrated in its first year that mortality was drastically reduced in winter when the number of family members was cut in half within their reduced dwellings.

Consequently, this facility provided during the winter season education and healthier quarters for children and lent longevity to the extended family members.

Nuns and monks would run these schools in the beginning until a new generation of trained and learned lay administrators and educators took over gradually.

The teaching was traditional the first two years until tighter administration and teaching procedures were enacted.

A single instructor perched on a cushioned flat stone faced half circles of students sitting on the ground and was responsible for all the beginners in the reading class, regardless of the students’ age and gender.

The master’s long-reaching stick would not discriminate inattentive heads. Heavy physical punishments were the lot of free spirits who dared stand for their rights or argued boldly.

A few families would even worry if their kids were not physically disciplined as signs of careless and apathetic behavior on the instructor’s part in guiding the learning progress of their kids.

Families would rather go and visit their children at school on Christmas vacation and stay with them for a couple of days benefiting from warmer lodging in barns and healthier food varieties.

Christmas was a happy period for everyone in the school where children would get busy building mock-up houses, trees, animals and figurines for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi kings and presenting homemade gifts to their parents in return for assorted delicacies.

A typical day at boarding schools started at 6 a.m. followed by house cleaning, chicken feeding, cow milking, kitchen food preparation, and carrying necessary supplies for the day. At 7:30 mass and breakfast.

Classes for reading and writing in both Arabic an Aramaic languages (language of the land) and basic arithmetic would begin at 8:30 and end at 12:30 for lunch.

A short recess, then off to working in the artisanal shops of carpentry, pottery, glass painting, iron forging, cloth making, glass blowing and farm tending until 4 p.m.  The children would then head to the supervised study lounge until dusk, followed by diner and Vesper prayer.

By 7pm everybody was already in bed in order to save on candles and oil consumption.

Children less than eleven years of age would sleep ten in a room on hay stacks with spreads of goat skin. The older ones would sleep seven in a room.

It was not the sleeping quarters that mattered for the kids but a larger freedom to move around and be outside during the day with three fulfilling meals.

Meat was scarce but the kids were frequently fed “kebbe nayyeh” for Sunday’s lunch and eggs with “kaorma” for Saturday’ breakfast and tabbouli or mjadara on Fridays.

The usual staples were cereals, beans, crushed wheat, lentils, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, soup and plenty of breads. Fruits were a delicacy, especially apples which could be stored. Sometimes, apricot and blueberry jams; and more often molasses and “rahat el halkoum”.

Most of the toys and game equipments were homemade.

They used to fabricate rectangular flat wood plates, mark a number of 3 decimals on it and a string to attach around the forehead.  They divided themselves in two groups and scattered in the woods hiding their numbers on tree trunks.  If the enemy guessed the hidden number attached to the front head then the opposite member was out of the game until everyone in one team was out.

With time, many of these masks would become marked one way or another and the unfortunate wearers soon found themselves guessed out immediately, no matter how tightly they hid their front head closely to a tree trunk.

They also made rudimentary balls and divided themselves into two teams:  the member hit by the thrown ball was “killed” and transferred to the opposite line unless he caught the ball and then the thrower was considered eliminated.

They fabricated backgammon and tic tac toe gizmos and the like games.

The most rewarding type of equipment were slingshots, wooden swords and arches. The kids would go out hunting rabbits and squirrels within a short range because wild beasts were commonly found such as hyenas, wild boars, and wild dogs.

This system of schooling was expanded to towns at lower altitude for a shorter winter season of only 4 months.

Somehow, a few of these schools constructed annexes around their grounds with the help of the military garrisons close by and were transformed into major production centers for army supplies and exported objects.

In the winter season, skilled families of the interned children would manufacture goods and help in the maintenance of the institution, while in the remaining of the year the school and its annexes would be invaded by skilled workers occupying the living quarters for 6 months.

There were cases of greedy administrators in tandem with local officials abusing children as slave workers and delaying the release of the able and skilled children.

Families got wind of these awful practices and stricter monitoring procedures of these institutions were established.  Families were encouraged to resume sending their children to the nearest parochial schools for a couple of hours during the busy seasons in return for preferential winter work facilities at the boarding schools.

These boarding schools became popular and families from afar trekked their children to Baskinta until new boarding schools were available and mushroomed to every district in Mount Lebanon.

This system of boarding schools developed into more professional institutions :  Overseas parents inscribed their children for a substantial sum of money in return for lengthier educational periods and better accommodations for housing different age groups of students.

In the newer more professional boarding schools with diverse ethnic and religious affiliations there occurred a few religious frictions among the adult students without any repercussions to the children who found happiness and joy in being together, energetic and secure in their daydreams.

Like most institutions in the Levant, the boarding schools experienced traumatic and feverish times but never took roots to grow and then suffered sudden death.

After lengthy discussions, Antoun agreed with Miriam that it would be an excellent decision to offer incentives to municipalities for arranging educational facilities.

Instead of villages constructing more churches, the central government offered to incur half the expenses for constructing schools, the wages of the instructors and lunch for all the students.  In return for free education for a 4-year period, the graduates would refund part of the expenses after securing better employment.

This edict would be formalized so that no State investment would be contemplated without local and regional investments and participation.  The rational was that if investments were shared by the well-to-do inhabitants who tend to mind a return on investments then, proper and timely execution of projects were more secured since it is founded on individual interest.

Within a year Antoun appointed Miriam Najjar as his education counselor. Mariam encouraged many visiting scholars to settle in Mount Lebanon and more opportunities for various disciplines sprouted in education that required specialized higher educational institutions.


It must have been 1955.  I was less than 6 years old and one hour from death of thyphoid desease. The French military commander in the town of Sikassou was gracious to extend me and mother a lift in a small plane to the Capital Bamako: The Republic of Mali was then a French colony.  Two weeks in the cold chamber and three months later I had to be trained to learn to stand and walk.

My parents decided that a transfer to Lebanon, with much better “healthy” climate, was best for me.  I was thus confined for 6 years in a mountenous boarding school.  The school was run by the Maronite church.  My 3-year old brother joined me:  It was wiser not to play odds for another deadly desease.  Close cousins of mine (parents working in Africa) were also in the school:  Mainly for the same reason. 

A nun working in the school, who was a close relative to mother, received the injuction to protecting me from “dangerous” activities.  For 6 years, I was protected from “dangerous” activities:  I was not to join boy scouts, to join my schoolmate during summer time for two weeks vacation outside the confinement of the school, group games, or even undertaking games that were potentially dangerous like rollerskating or mounting on “echasse”.  I was a healthy boy though much samller and tinier than most boys my age.  I didn’t know the Arabic language (formal or slang) and ended up being two years older than my classmates with shorter stature.

My schoolmates felt and understood that I was a protected student not to be beaten or chastised lest dire consequences befell them; this implicit order applied to teachers and supervisors .  Yes, I was hated and despised for my unique situation.  I was saddened and outraged for my unique “favorite” condition and the shunning of classmates; it showed in occasional outbursts; angry conditions when I could not even hear what I was being told .

By the age of nine, I somehow was entitled to receive small cash allowances every month that I had no use for:  I barely ate or cared to eat; I had no “feasible dreams” in order to plan or to train any of my luxury tendencies.  I assimilated my fate that it was useless dreaming and being part of my schoolmate collective activities that were normally classified as potentially dangerous activities.  I think that satisfying my dreams by procurement was a normal reaction.  More than one students approached me to borrowing money in order to purchase rollerskating or other products.  Money had no meaning to me and I gave away whatever I had saved.

At school end of year ceremonies and activities, that I was not part of except standing as an angel with white wings, I clapped hard to the dangerous rollerskaters rolling down a harsh incline at vertiginous speed, jumping and crossing a circle on fire.  Was I clapping for my procured dreams?  I strongly doubt it.  I had no dreams by now to even consider procured dreams.  I think that I was clapping for enjoying the “moment” by default. 

I was living life by the moment: I had no plans and forgot how to plan anything.  You would think that these 6 years in boarding school must have been an eternity to me; not at all.  These 6 years could be wrapted in a single day: I don’t recall much; mostly a few instances related to physical matters.

Do you think adults can rejuvenate ancient dreams when they lost hope for dreaming in childhood?  Who would buy a pair of stupid rollersakes in an advanced age when he never learned the skills in childhood?  He must be mentally debil.  I think that I decided that, if I manage to save enough for a pair of rollerskates, I will buy a pair and then break a leg!  It is a stupid decision but it is better late than never to defying destiny.

If it was not for my aunt nun I think my folks might have incarcerated me in one of France boardingschools; I would not be the same person by simply joining collective games. 

I don’t think mankind is naturally capable of enjoying the “moment” (focusing on a thought or activity at every instant) and planning for their dreams simultaneously.   You either follow a plan or are forced to live the moment.  Schools institutions proclaim that their purpose is to prepare students for the future; implicitely, schools want to teach students to plan ahead and receive the necessary skills to fulfulling “future” plans.  There are institutions that disseminate this lie that they are encouraging individual reflections and training students acquiring individual confidence in their potentials.  Mostly, institutions are established to graduate cogs in the institutional machine system, regarless of the implicit philosophy of the system.

Student are not trained to enjoying the moment; schools implicitely believe that “enjoying the moment” is the main characteristic of children and thus, children do not need any conscious effort or training to be happy at any single moment.  I would be thrilled to hear a school claiming that its goal is teaching students to enjoying the moment: children are smart enough to feel that institutions are explicitly preparing them to plan through tightly programmed curriculum no whatever they claim otherwise.  It would still be a great breakthrough when any schooling institution becomes conscious of the necessity of teaching students of the skills of enjoying the moment.

Nonsense: it is better being normal; (July 20, 2009)

I don’t recall much of my childhood.  I know I was in a boarding school for six years. I don’t recall feeling cold or hot. I have no idea if I had spare change of clothes or where and how they were stored. I don’t recall pissing or shitting.

I can feel splashing my face with the coldest water at 6 a.m. I recall vividly wetting my bed in the cold winter season, in a dormitory of over sixty bed-wetters. I reckon that I assumed I was the sole culprit; thus, my shame was the more intense. I recall getting busy hiding my crime: my crude versatile methods enhanced instant discovery of the maid for trying hard to tamper with evidence. 

            It is a truism that all boarding school “detainees” are constantly hungry; except me. I don’t recall feeling hungry or even eating anything. My aunt of a nun tried in desperation, and many times, to force feed me with disgusting raw eggs by squeezing my nose shut, until I swallowed the content in the shell. I longed for Saturday breakfast: fried eggs with tea.

            One summer, the students managed to slid in a tiny opening in the foodstore, and ransacked the reserves of chocolate, crackers, cheese,  and anything that didn’t need cooking.  Mass punishment was declared and the students lined up to receive four resounding slap of a venomous stick. The principal, after a split second hesitation, skipped me: I was innocence incarnate; I was the tiniest sickly student of my age, but I could endure suffering and pain without crying.

This event of being spared punishment was an instant great relief and the bitterest feeling of shame the moment after.  Even the most naïve kid that I was, I could sense that I will submit to the wrath and despise of the masses of “detained students”.

            Before that affair, I was already shunned and isolated, but then the indictment was final with no possible recourse to contemplate.  The mass of students conjectured, by common accord, that I was a sneak to the administration. I could have rather die than telltale on others. Heck, I don’t recall speaking too; I just played.

The administration demonstrated that it did not encourage telltale, by adopting mass punishment instead.  The mass wanted an easy and convincing scapegoat to release its bottled up anger.  The irony of it all is that I was not conscious of being isolated; I was told by innuendos very much later; and it dawned on me like a thunder.

            This shame is reinforced in a variety of forms and intensity, everytime I experienced preferential treatments because of my limitations; I cannot withstand privileges.  When the masses clap you had better clap; when they shout that they are hungry then you better feel hungry. 

My nun aunt made it her privilege to protect me from harms, reinforced by my mother letters from Africa to seek for my safety: I was not to join boy scout, no rollerskating, no joining the other students for the two-week vacation outside the confine of the school…The ultimate sheltered “frail kid my ass” who don’t recall ever falling sick and kept running during breaks, like a toy supplied with a mega-battery.

Masses need to select scapegoats at every occasion. A few of these scapegoats are labeled “leaders”. The masses elect a leader to dump over his shoulders all their responsibilities and expect to reap all the gratifications.  The mostly lazy masses that refuse to get organized, never attempt to shoulder a tiny bit of the responsibilities: they want their leaders to fail. 

The leader must fail and go into exile to escape lynching.  A leader’s only good exit for the “masses interest” is to fall a martyr: he was selected for that purpose.  Only martyred leaders are inducted in pantheon.

            Democracies are the ultimate systems for perpetrating the rituals of human sacrifices: that was done in all City-States that opted for democracy. The offerings are not done to an angry God; no, not to angry Gods.  Human sacrifices are a recognition of our awareness of our total impotence in this wretched, limited, and “unbearable lightness of being”.   Societies would have been far tolerant if life expectancy was continuously decreasing: No time for the blame game, just getting on with survival.  

Nonsense, it is far better to have been born normal and live among normal people.

Life at the boarding school, (continue 10)


We lived, my brother Ghassan and I, six years as interns (boarding school) and I don’t remember much how I spent these years; maybe we internalized the reality that we are in a prison and we had to make do and accommodate with this fact.  Other intrepid souls understood that they are just in a detention center and they felt they could leave or bust for a few days. Only once, a new French priest used to take us out into nature for his class to initiate us with botanic and we never saw him again or experienced outdoor classes, not in this intern school or other schools. I did enjoy greatly this outdoor class. I cannot recall that we ever listened to radio or TV; as if these machines didn’t reach Lebanon at the time.

Three years later, my little sister Raymonde joined another intern school in Beit-Chabab, managed by Maronite sisters and she suffered a lot because she was very attached to mother and she felt a total stranger. Raymonde didn’t eat and she was constantly sick and crying.  I didn’t know that I had a sister at a school 400 meters away until my cousin Aida introduced me to her, years later, when I had to go there and receive my pocket-money every two weeks.


I liked to play and run and jump ten stairs with “echasses” or wooden long stick legs.  Obviously, Ursula was not working at the school at the time; she might have been transferred to a convent.  We used to have real battles with the echasses trying to knock down off the opposing team.  We played balls, volley balls, basketball and catching balls.  My favorite game was played in the nearby forest called “numero”; two teams would be wearing 3-number plaque over their forehead attached with a string and we were to hide the numbers against trees and peeking out the enemy’s number; again Ursula was not working there at the time.

I must have a lot of pent-up anger within me which materialized when I blew off my top on few occasions and could not hear anything then and kept shouting like a madman. Jihad was my sole supporter when I ran into fights.  I recall once that students forced a fight on me with my Muslim friend (the only one in school), a red-headed boy of the same age and whom I had defended against everybody; this sole Muslim student was aggressed by older boys, a scout leader among them, and was treated as an enemy because he belonged to another religion; I defended him and his religion though I had no idea what Islam was; I just felt that it was unjust and unfair to isolate a little boy and harass him so blatantly and harshly without any support or help. In the fight I was on top of the red-headed boy but the students kept hollering that he is stronger than me and that I was defeated!


Life in family


When my parents finally decided to stay in Lebanon to care for us personally, mother cried her eyes out when she saw me in shabby attire and baggy pants and skinny and not well-developed.  Mother said that I was a very stubborn child.  Each time I overheard that my parents were going someplace and felt that they decided not take me with them then I would cry for hours until they relent.  Most of my stubborn crying were about going to movies with the adults; I recall once in intern school that the adult students were to watch a movie at a nearby local eating place and I stayed awake till they started off and I insisted and cried till I was allowed to join the group.

I recall that one day I shouted against my aunt Therese and dad ordered me to apologize; I would not apologize and he removed his belt and started hitting me until his hand felt tired but I refused to apologize or even cry; mother and Therese were crying asking dad to stop it but I was too stubborn to admit any wrong doing. I think that was the first time that dad belted me and he never hit me again realizing that I am too hard-headed for these strong-arm methods of intimidation. Even now, when I see a movie where the actors constantly utter “I am sorry. Please forgive me. Give me another chance” I feel like vomiting to constant apologizing verses. 

Once, in my class of “septieme” (seventh grade in French schools, going in ascending order from grade one…), the teacher Anselm hit me on the palm with a ruler and it turned blue; he never attempted to hit me again.  In the USA, a group of four Lebanese Phalanges ganged up on me and I faced them and fought them hard and never cared to run away; they wanted to stop the beatings but I would resume the fight once I recovered my breath; they had to give up and leave me alone all bruised up but they never dared to beat me again or even come close to me.

Note: I heard recently a story by Aunt Montaha.  The oldest of the sisters, late Josephine, was teaching Arab grammar (Kawa3ed, E3rab) at school, the second year after she passed her Brevet. Montaha happened to be a student in Josephine class; once and as was the custom, Josephine stroke Montaha’s open palms with a ruler; when Montaha complained Josephine turned her face and smiled.  Montaha claimed that Josephine wanted to send a message to class that she is not about to show biases; more likely, Josephine smiled at the funny face that Montaha must have hanged at the moment.

Ursula, my nun aunt (continue 9)

An aunt of mother, Sister Ursula, was working at the boarding school in Beit Chabab, and mother sent her plentiful of money to provide special care for my younger brother Ghassan and me, but I do not recall seeing any money coming my way as pocket expenses.

Ursula forced us to swallowing raw eggs in the mornings and it was Calvary moment for me.  Ursula told this story countless times that I would shout at her “May you die instantly“, though I do not recall having said this sentence (maybe someone else said it?).

My colleagues in class resented this “special treatment” and they avoided me like the plague thinking that I should be a potential snitch or a sneak and would foil their stealing endeavors for extra food from the canteen.

I do not recall eating much, either out of lack of appetite or not liking the cooked food; I believe that I loved best fried eggs served on Saturdays’ breakfast with plenty of tea.  

Around 4 p.m. the school served us a sweet stuff “halloum” which I never cared for.  Most probably I never tasted milk at school or it was never offered to us because too expensive: the first days in family, mother made us drink powdered milk and I would vomit the milk after drinking it.  Mother never gave up on me to try keeping drinking milk. Right now I eat almost anything and I love eating and I am not picky on any ethnic cooking.

One summer, students broke into the reserves of food and everyone was lined up and received several whips on the hands except me; the Father Director Athanasios could not gather enough heart to punish me because I was scrawny, tiny, and didn’t have the look of a naughty boy.

Thirty years later, this director became the head of the monks and I sent him a letter of congratulation but didn’t fail to remind him that his special favor exacerbated the hate and resentment of my colleagues.

I do not recall ever having a conversation with anyone.  I used to wet my bed and feeling frustrated how to hide my night’s mischief.

We slept in a dormitory, spacious enough to hold over sixty pupils. There was a teacher sleeping in a room attached to the dormitory. We were wakened up at 6:30 a.m. and we attended Mass and then had breakfast.

Entertainments at the boarding school

Every summer, the remaining interns whose parents failed to come to Lebanon from abroad were treated for two weeks vacations in the town of Falougha where they stayed in a convent and enjoyed a change of scenery.

Ursula refused us (brother and I) these luxuries on account that if anything happened to us then mother would blame her. Thus, Ghassan and I would be the sole residents remaining in school.

I don’t remember what we did in that interval, but seeing everyone gone was an acute suffering and a wrenching humiliation for me and I never forgave Ursula. I also never forgave Ursula for denying us joining scouts, for the same excuse. I never forgave Ursula for forbidding me to do roller skating.  

The school was famous for its team of roller skaters and it performed marvelous “tour de force” at the end of the year descending like bullets from a steep incline.

At the time, mother sent money to my cousin Aida for our pocket money and I saved 17 LL, a real fortune then. I handed over all my savings to my cousin Jihad to buy a pair of roller skates because he was not subjected to Ursula dictate.

Sister Ursula never missed a religious ceremony to make us, Ghassan and me, wear white angel wings with our hands clapped in front of our chest in a sign of prayer.  I served the priests in countless masses and I remember my first communion as if I was about to lift to heaven.

Frankly, I suspect that Sister Ursula was following the directives of mother and didn’t dare take any chances.  I should confront mother on that subject, but will refrain to utter any kind of jeremiads.




June 2023

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