Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Segou

 Julia recollects: “How I fell in love and selected my husband…”

In those days, people and future couples constructed a love story: they were unable to intimately meet, talk and express their feeling except through the eyes and a few gestures.

An older friend of father recounts that, once they were passing by my mother house, Geryes told father to remove his shoes lest Adel hear them. Adel was the aunt (sister of Eugenia, mother of Julie) and her house was across the street, and she kept an eagle eye on any intruder where the four sisters lived alone. Father found this advice pretty relevant and acceded to the request.

Eugenia and Tanios worked in Africa (current Rep of Mali) to eek out a living.

As WWII ended and travel lines were opened, Julie’ dad asked for her and her two younger sisters Maria and Montaha to join the family in the town of Segou, in West Africa. Segou is in current Rep. of Mali and was a French colony till 1962.

Apparently, Julia’s father had lined up two prospects for marrying Julia without her knowledge.

The trip from Beirut to Marseilles (France) took an entire month, and mother was so seasick that she couldn’t swallow anything. The Captain alluded that Julia will not make it to destination.

A month later, Julia and her sisters left on a rickety plane from Agadir and barely made to Dakar (Senegal)  and to Segou by train and cars.

About a month before Julia left Beirut, Georges had travelled to join his family in Segou.  Georges’ ship landed first in Cyprus, then to Alexandria before resuming the travel to Marseilles. Georges boarded a “bananier” or a cargo ship for banana to Dakar and then by cargo train to Segou.

Julia’s mother opened a shop for selling almost everything that could be sold and her 2 daughters Maria and Therese took over the running. Julia barely set foot in the shop.

There were deep enmities and animosity between the Georges and Julia’s  families: Julie’s father Tanios Gebrayel considered the other family (the Bouhatab) to be plainly a lazy lot and that nothing good will ever come from them. (These 2 families are from the same town of Beit Chabab)

Tanios was not far off the target in his assessment from facts and evidences: the father of Georges (Antoun) was known Not to care for business and his wife didn’t care for raising her children (Many died in childbirth or shortly after as was  very common). Actually, my dad worked hard in the next 20 years and then reverted to his genes. Same case with me.

Julie’s dad disagreed with any marriage arrangement with Georges, although he knew that “I loved him and will refuse any alternative arrangement”.

Julie said “Father brought me an eligible handsome and tall guy, but I faked to be busy and never met him”.

She resumed: “I asked Georges to rent a room in the hotel in front of our shop in order to distance himself from his family. The next day, Georges packed a suitcase and moved in a room”.

Georges crisscrossed West Africa for a suitable location to settle with his future bride but could find nothing but a shack in the town of Bouake, kind of 100 km from Segou and leading to Haute Volta (current Burkina Faso). You had to use a barge to cross the river since no bridge was available at the time.

Julia convinced her dad to meet once with Georges and he changed his opinion: “Seemed a nice and intelligent guy”

Georges’ family refused to attend the wedding despite several attempts by many people. And Julie’s father had to pay for all the expenses of the wedding ceremonies.

Note 1: Mother was 8 months in her pregnancy when two problems happened simultaneously. Georges had to undergo surgery of the appendix, which turned out Not to be the case, and all the saved cash was stolen in the shop at night.

I came to life in dire conditions. I was born upside down, feet first, and I was blue and barely breathing. I would not eat or take the tits and the physicians took me for a goner. Mother would lie to the doctors saying that “I managed to suck some milk”. I’m sure the physicians never believed mother’s assertions but they had to deal patiently with such cases of insane mothers under grave situations.

Note 2: Gerges passed away in 2014 on Christmas Eve after being bedridden for 2 years. Mother and I took turn to change him, clean him and feed him while on oxygen machine. and with frequent electrical interruptions. Mother suffered from back pain but Georges was relentless in following his routine to the minutes.

Note 3: Julia/Julie passed away in January 2020 and suffered constant pains for an entire week, and Not from from cancer.

Note 4: Julia https://wordpress.com/post/adonis49.wordpress.com/2659

Mon cher Ado/Edouard. Part 36

Autrefois , mon cher Edouard , voyager en bateau était une grande aventure .

Quand mes grands-parents maternels partirent pour la Guinée au début du siècle dernier , ils devaient s’armer de beaucoup de courage et de quelques grammes de folie aussi …

Ces voyageurs allaient chercher ailleurs ce qu’il ne pouvaient plus avoir chez eux : le bien être . Alors ils se lançaient a l’aveuglette , et profitant du départ d’un bateau de fortune , ils se hissaient sur le pont pour une première traversée qui les menait d’abord à Marseille , au sud de la France

Après une première escale à Alexandrie en Égypte .

(Ma mere ne savait pas qu’elle avait le mal de mer. Le Capitaine et les matelos comprirent qu’elle ne survivra pas se trajet de 3 semaines avant d’ arriver a Marseille. This tough cookie barely made it and still a fighter at 90. Apres un mois d’escale pour trouver un avion, elle due prendre un avion branquebalant de la periode d’apres WWII pour le Senegal, avant de prendre une voiture jusqu’a Segou au Mali. Elle accompagnait ses soeurs Marie et Montaha pour rejoindre les parents. Ma mere a fait cette aventure pour une autre aventure: elle voulait retrouver son bien-aime Georges qui l’avait devance’ de quelques mois)

Certains de ces aventuriers abandonnaient le voyage , ne supportant pas le mal de mer . C’est ainsi que des libanais ont survécu dans ces pays méditerranéens jusqu’à nos jours.

(Beaucoup d’entre eux croyaient qu’ils partaient pour l’ Amerique (USA), mais les capitaines les laissaient en Afrique)

D’autres ont poursuivi le voyage jusqu’en Afrique Noire et même jusqu’en Amérique , comme les oncles de ma mère .

D’ailleurs lors de mon dernier voyage aux États-Unis j’ai rendu visite à un cousin germain à ma mère , Silly Bejjani , professeur de théologie à l’univers de Washington .

(J’ai mainte fois rencontrer Bishop Silly et le pretre Dominique quand ont alle’ prier a l’eglise Maronite a Washington DC)

Aujourd’hui , mon cher Edouard , on embarque sur des géants des mers , des mastodontes de plusieurs étages , des hôtels flottants , pour une croisière qui vous mènent d’un pays à l’autre pour le plaisir de voguer sur les étendues liquide , profitant d’un farniente des plus doux qui soit.

(C’est une de mes reves: voyager sur une de ces hotels de luxes/casino sur mer)

Certains de mes amis sont devenus accros de ce type de voyage, à tel point qu’ils embarquent deux à trois fois l’année .
Il paraît que dans ces hôtels , on mange bien, on s’amuse comme des fous, on peut assister à des shows et même jouer au casino …

(Beaucoup d’entre eux prennent des loans des banques pour ces voyages)

De plus , on peut faire du sport, comme par exemple nager car on dispose de piscines olympiques …

À quand le prochain voyage mon cher Edouard ?

(A quand mon premier voyage?)

 

Mother Julia recollects: “How I fell in love and selected my husband…”

After WWII ended and travel lines were opened, Julie’ dad asked for her and her two younger sisters Maria and Montaha to join the family in the town of Segou, West Africa. Segou is in current Rep. of Mali and was a French colony till 1962.

Apparently, Julia’s father had lined up two prospects for marrying Julia without her knowledge.

The trip from Beirut to Marseilles took an entire month, and mother was so sea sick that she couldn’t swallow anything. The Captain alluded that Julia will not make it to destination.

A month later, Julia and her sisters left on a rickety plane from Agadir (Morocco?) and barely made to Dakar (Senegal)  and to Segou by train and cars.

About a month before Julia left Beirut, Georges had advanced her to Segou.  Georges’s ship landed first in Cyprus, then to Alexandria before resuming the travel to Marseilles. Georges boarded a “bananier” or a cargo ship for banana to Dakar and then by cargo train to Segou.

Julia’s mother opened a shop for selling almost everything that could be sold and Maria and Therese took over the running. Julia barely set foot in the shop.

There were deep enmities and animosity between the Georges and Julia’s  families: Julie’s father Tanios considered the other family to be plainly a lazy lot and nothing good will ever come from them.

Tanios was not far off the target in his assessment from facts and evidences. Actually, my dad worked hard in the next 20 years and then reverted to his genes. Same case with me.

Julie’s dad disagreed with any marriage arrangement with Georges, although he knew that “I loved him and will refuse any alternative arrangement”.

Julie said “Father brought me an eligible handsome and tall guy, but I faked to be busy and never met him”.

She resumed: “I asked Georges to rent a room in the hotel in front of our shop in order to distance himself from his family. The next day, Georges packed a suitcase and moved in a room”.

Georges crisscrossed West Africa for a suitable location to settle with his future bride but could find nothing but a shack in Bouake, kind of 100 km from Segou and leading to Haute Volta (current Burkina Faso) you you had to use a barge to cross the river since no bridge was available at the time.

Julia convinced her dad to meet once with Georges and he changed his opinion: “Seemed a nice and intelligent guy”

Georges’s family refused to attend the wedding despite several attempts by many people. And Julie’s father had to pay for all the expenses of the wedding ceremonies.

Note: Mother was 8 months in her pregnancy when two problems happened simultaneously. Father had to undergo surgery of the appendix, which turned out not to be the case, and all the saved cash was stolen in the shop at night.

I came to life in dire conditions. I was born upside down, feet first, and I was blue and barely breathing. I would not eat or take the tits and the physicians took me for a goner. Mother would lie to the doctors saying that I managed to suck some milk. I’m sure they never believed mother’s assertions but they had to deal patiently with such cases of insane mothers under grave situations.

Western Africa, Rep. of Mali, Azawat, South Sahara Al Qaeda…What’s going on?

What of the Niger River? Looking at the map of western Africa (former French colonial region and still under French economic dominion), the Niger River starts on the borders of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and progress northward, crosses Bamako (capital of rep. of Mali), Segou, Tombouctou, Gao, and slant down toward Menaka (splitting  Mali in half).

And the river resumes its descent to the State of Niger, all the way to Nigeria and flows into the Delta in Nigeria (the Niger Delta, rich in oil production, particularly offshore).

The recent news reveal that the Tuareg independentists, men wearing “blue”, (planning for an independent Azawat State in north Mali) have captured the main towns and cities in north Mali, north of the Niger River, such as Gao, Kidal, Menaka

And that the Tuareg Islamic extremists and others from Mauritania and especially from Algeria (wrapped under the veil of Al Qaeda) have captured the historic city of Tombouctou and starting the process of imposing Islamic Sharia (gone the good time of music, dance and bare women faces…)

Minor officers in the army of Mali grabbed on the excuse of the army failure to confronting the advances of the militias up north by carrying on a military coup d’etat.

No States in Africa was pleased with this sudden coup and the rebellious officers had to bow down and promise to restitute power to the civilians.  The head of the parliament of Mali is to take over as interim President in order to organize the election in its due time by the end of Mai.

Azawat State?  

This desert region would constitute 65% of the area of Mali and populated with only 10% of the total of 14 million citizens.

The Tuareg tribes are estimated to be about 3 million people and criss-crossing a desert the size of Europe, sending caravans from and to Mauritania, Algeria, Libya, Niger, Tchad, and even to Sudan (the Darfur region)

What’s the story?

After the disintegration of Qadhafi Libya, around 400 veteran Tuareg soldiers had to return “Home”, and Algeria was happy to let its radical Islamists cross the border to north Mali (Algeria military was in constant battle with the Algerian Islamists for three decades after they won the election and the military refused to acknowledge the radical Islamists “democratic” victory).

What do you expect soldiers and people carrying arms to do in a desert region that no investments were done in schools, dispensary, hospitals, or any kind of infrastructure…?

The successive central governments of the poor State of Mali in natural resources had invested in the most populous region, the south, and let the vast north goes to hell…

The Tuareg were demanding investment in their region for the last 5 decades, but France failed to contribute any major assistance…

First, the Tuareg started taking hostages, European NGO and tourists, and it was a lucrative and brisk business…

After hell broke loose, the region lacked in tourists and in any financial aid, and conquering power was at hand…

Second, there are no military alternatives in these vast desert region…at most a few drone attacks, just to implicitly tell the rebels that the de-facto on the ground status will not be checked, but negotiations are needed that would satisfy Europe and the US economic future interest in oil and rare mineral exploitation and production.

(The later French military intervention didn’t bring tourists, safety and security. In fact, the new elected President of Mali didn’t dare yet visit the northern parts. And the virulent factions have spread and disseminated eastward toward northern Nigeria (Boko Haram connections), Cameroun, and Central Africa)

Third, most Western Africa Sates have artificial borders drawn by France, Spain and Italy, and the people on the borders come and go at will.

For example, Mali has an 800-kilometre border with Mauritania, and about 1,200 kilometres with Algeria, and as many with Niger...

Time to let minority people live in peace and enjoy their own language and life-style: A few million can go a long way in peace time, for basic necessity of survival…and basic preventive health care…

Note 1: This week, Jan. 12, 2013, France decided to come to the “rescue” of the government and army of Mali as the extremist jihadists advanced and captured a strategic city close to Mobti (key city separating north from south mali).

France is bombing the extremist jihadists and willing to send in 2,500 troops to aid the West African States military contingents.

Fact is, unless serious resources are secured to north Mali and political reforms are done in Mali, all of west Africa is liable to fall to the extremist Moslem jihadists.

Note 2: Take a look at this map of where resources are coming from to help France prosecute its war in north Mali. Is it a WW3 on Moslem Jihadists?

Julia or Julie (May 1, 2009)

I happened to know Julia intimately: I was forced to observe her behaviors and sometimes succumb to her will.

Julia is the type of women who are always on alert; she is ultra prude and claims that she has never been on a beach or wore any kinds of swimming trunks.

Julie cannot sit down, relax, or let anyone relax.  She has to worry about everyone and everything.

Julia loves money but never handled money wrote a check or had a bank account: She is thrilled when she sees construction and buildings going up and sounds envious.

Yes, Julia has never set foot in a bank or wrote a check or withdrew money, I think.

Julia is an excellent cook, a talented dress designer (currently you say a fashion designer), and sew clothes to all her sisters, daughters… for every major event.

And loves to remodel the house when she can afford it, a gene that my sister inherited.

She wants her family members (especially the girls and ladies) to look as well dressed and as coquettish as she used to be; a tendency that forces her grandchildren and children to avoid passing by her when they have “sinned” against dignified fashion (like looking pretty nude).

Julia has humongous pride and she would not visit a patient or go to any anniversary when she cannot afford gifts (her unique daughter is taking after her in many ways).

If she receives a gift (and if she cannot afford offering a gift) then she has to rummage through her secret “depot” in one of the closets for a suitable counter gift.

Lately, cooking something for the returned dish is what she could offer. Julia believes that she knows something and has to offer her recommendations and guidance to people of professions, even if they are over sixty.

In 1939, Julia’s mother Eugenia left Lebanon to West Africa in order to join her husband Tanios in Segou (current State of Mali). The four sisters were left alone and joined a boarding school in Beit Chabab.

And the WWII started and they had to skip school for the duration.  The sisters did not attend school for 3 years during the war because all schools closed, although Lebanon was not directly affected.

The eldest sister Josephine was 13 and Julia 11 years old at the time.

Julia’s aunt and her extended family lived across the street. When Josephine eloped (got married “khatifeh“) at the age of 20 the other three sisters were re-interned in a school of Beit Chabab for two years.

The summer before the non-married daughters had to join their parents in Segou, they lived alone a mile away from Beit-Chabab (to what is now called Konetra) so that they don’t emulate their eldest sister in eloping.  In the meanwhile, Eugenia gave birth to many other children and at least three died in child-birth.

Julia once believed that she had scabies “jarab” when she was in a girl school in Beirut and aged 18 years.  Scabies was pretty common and when her between hand fingers  were itching she tried to cure herself secretly.

Julia told me said that “jarab” was very contagious; she secretly spent a whole week in an upper room at her sister Josephine’s who got married recently.  Julia said that nobody in the village knew about her ailment, a convenient assumption for this dreaded disease at the period, and she washed her clothes and bedding almost everyday.

This story came about when an overseas grand daughter called saying that her physician was uncertain about his diagnosis of her catching “jarab”; the diagnosis turned out to be wrong but it generated a secret story that Julia told me.

I really have no idea what Julia learned in school except cutting patrons and learning sewing and fashioning clothes. She always said that she got dizzy when reading.

Julia joined her parents in Africa by sea. The captain of the ship heading toward the port of Marseilles never believed that she’ll make it alive: Julia spent a month in her cabin unable to eat, drink or move because she suffered sea sickness.

Julia was as thin as a stick with a tough will for survival.

Any moving object makes Julia dizzy; heights make Julia dizzy; tree climbing is out of the picture.  Hell for Julia must be a rotating platform; worst, a wobbly, jerky, and seesaw habitat.

In fact, Julia never played games in school or anywhere else.

Physical games, especially for girls, are not dignified. Reading is extremely dizzying to Julia; watching someone reading intently must be giving Julia grounds to believing that the reader is “dizzy” in the head.

Julia married in Africa a handsome, loyal, over generous and devoted husband whom she fell in love in the same town in Lebanon before she travelled to Africa.

George must have sensed that he is marrying a handful of expectations and constraints.  Youth always turns a blind eye to potential troubles because youth can handle anything and never ages.

This valiant couple worked hard in harsh conditions as the sole white people in remote African villages.  They were robbed of every dime several times; once, in the town of Koutiala (Republic of Mali) and what they had saved was gone overnight; Julia was on her last week of pregnancy (of me) and George suffered kidneys problems out of grief.

Right now, when any neighboring house or shop is stolen Julia plays the investigator; everyone is suspect until the culprit is discovered: she does roam her house after every robbery story, checking exits and entrances; mouse and cats should no longer be susceptible to be entering the house.

Those 15 years in Africa must have been the best and most glorious years for this couple. They were the first to purchase an electric generators in the town of Sikasso.

This undaunted couple resumed their joint adventure to above average fortune.

Julia knew how to combine business with charity; she would offer every poor pregnant woman a “trousseau” for the new-born for free. Thus, she retained life-long customers and the competitors could not match her business acumen.

Julia sewed and altered dresses that she ordered by catalog from Paris.

When Julia returned definitely to Lebanon, her unique daughter among the other 2 boys, (well spaced them out in age, an advanced serious family planning), was never seen wearing the same dress twice in any ceremony.

Since two identical dresses take as much time to sew as one, then her niece Joelle was observed as a replicate twin, regardless of whether Joelle liked the dress or the color.

This couple was the first to install a generator for electricity in this remote town.  They transferred their three kids to boarding schools in Lebanon for fear of African diseases  because the eldest son barely survived Typhoid. And the couple would visit them one summer every two years.

Julia spent a month in Paris in 1980 to care for her first grandson William who had an open heart surgery at the age of 16 months.  William had a hole that mixed the blue and red blood in the heart and an artery that was twisted. The hospital offered a makeshift bed for Julia to sleep on for 23 days in William’s emergency room.

Julia also cared for Joanna, her favorite grandchild, for over 6 months when Joanna’s parents were in the USA on military training mission in 1985.

Joanna likes to return the favor and she volunteers to driving Julia to shrines such as Mar Charbel, Mar Rafka, and Harissa of the Virgin Mary; these are occasions for Julia to confess her grave sins for caring too much and doubting occasionally.

Julia spent 6 months in the USA in 1990 when I lived with my sister Raymonde’s family; Victor was then appointed Military Attaché to Lebanon for two years and Julia enjoyed that reprieve from war torn Lebanon and the constant blackmailing of the militias for more money when there was nothing to pay. She had to pawn her few gold rings or necklaces to appease the frightened husband.

Julia recalls that it was the hardest trip ever when she visited in the US: Victor had a terrible backache and she had to carry Victor’s bags which were packed with heavy gifts.

Julia is suffering from arthritis and a whole gamut of blood problems but she forces herself to work hard everyday as means to letting pain forget her.

She has excellent memory of ancient events.  Currently, she barely can recall names and I barely can come to the recall rescue.

Julia is currently prone to letting two casseroles burns and barely save the third: she cannot waste time and has to do several tasks simultaneously.

Julia cannot believe that she aged and has a wrinkled face. All mirrors must be destroyed but Julia would never break anything consciously.

George neither cannot believe that he aged; he just want to be left alone and not be immersed in problems that should not be of his concerns, especially that he is no longer a provider and almost destitute; but to whom are you chanting your psalms George?

George is happy to realize that his hearing is not that sharp and gets terribly frustrated when he has to repeat muted answers to Julia’s unending queries and requests.

Julia barely sleeps at night because in the solitude of the night her brain is working full-time inventing all kind of catastrophic events that might befall on any one of her extended family.

Her dreams are of the cataclysmic kinds, though one individual at a time, one dead person after another parading in succession in her dream.  Apparently, nights are more exhausting for Julia than charged days’ work.

When Julia walks out now she is constantly observing changes in her environment; such as the progress in the construction of the villa next door, the new design for neighbors gardens…

There was a time when Julia walked straight ahead and never deigning to turn her head:  She must have been convinced that she was the center of attention; she stepped out in utter elegance and vigorous gait.

Julia’s nemesis is death: when she gets upset from any member of the family she tends to ward off this fatal enemy by threatening: “This winter would be my last and you all would be delivered from my trouble making”. She has a white fancy gown stowed away for that occasion.  I hope that Julia has let someone on the proper location of the dress.

Julia is the strong type of women. Julia cannot be circumvented.

Julia is every bit on alert, the “mustanfara“, even at 83 years of age.  She is totally broke financially but that would not constitute a valid reason to let down her purpose in life: Keeping everyone on his toes.  Julia is my mother.

Note: Four years after writing this article Julia is unchanged: She is in much pain, more forgetful, and taking all kinds of medication, but Julia is undaunted. I realized that Julia is chatting far more than usual: She is thinking aloud, kind of her thinking keeps the right track if accompanied by words.

Julia wakes up at 6:30 am and begin her day, working non-stop till after 1 pm as her back aches and her fingers are crippled. Her husband, only 3 years older, doesn’t take any medication but his health is deteriorating fast and George is almost bed-ridden.

George is in  care and recovering. Julia refuses to go home to rest even for a couple of hours: She has to stay and sleep in the hospital room of her husband. The nurses tell Julia not to feed George what the hospital does not bring to eat, and I tell Julia not to feed George, and Julia believes she knows George better and what is good for George…

I tell Julia that George enjoys loneliness and would not recover as long as she never leaves his side and keeps chattering. Maybe I am wrong: I was showing George how to ring the nurses for emergencies and George chuckled softly and replied: “Why would I ring anyone when Julia is around?”

Julia is saying: “It was a good tradition to marry a husband at least 5 years older than you: So that the wife can care for him in old age...”. Joanna flew from London for a weekend just to give Julia  a boost. The moment Julia receives a boost, it sounds trouble for the extended family.

Note 2: Julia passed away at age of 92 on January 31, 2020 at 2 pm at the hospital of Beit-Chabab. Except for her heart, her vital organs started to fail. She endured unthinkable pains for an entire week, every minutes of it. She was Not feeling good before she fell in the bathroom trying to undress: there was no one at the time and I found her lying on the floor in great pain.

My tour in West Africa

Note: Re-edit of “Touring West Africa (Introspection, continue 30) January 19, 2009”

I stayed with the Lebanese  company CAT about less than 6 months, all in all, before the company decided to transfer me to Cyprus.  

Actually, I never received a formal transfer order of what I should be doing in Cyprus.  And frankly, I believed that Cyprus would be a brief stage before official dismissal, fired and sent to Lebanon. 

 

I had a mind to tour Africa, to visit with my brother the dentist in Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and a few relatives in neighboring States before going to Cyprus, but my tour extended for over 6 months and I lost my “position”. 

I did visit my brother Ghassan without a visa; he must have bribed officers at the airport to let me out of the airport. I visited a couple of friends in Abidjan, was invited to a night out and a day at the beach. 

I was not impressed with the “Paris of Africa” Abidjan.

 

I visited my cousin Joseph and his wife Silla in Burkina Faso (Haute Volta at the time) without a visa, but I am not that sure. Later on, Joseph told me that once his brother Nassif came to visit without visa and he was turned back on a chicken train.

 

I boarded a somewhat comfortable train for long hours.  Years later I was reminded by Silla that I taught her to drive  I met with the little Sa7ar (2 year-old).  Joseph gave me once a ride to the Capital Ouagadougou, hopeful to find  job.

After three weeks Joseph gave me a ride in his Peugeot 604 to Segou in Mali, without a visa, I think.  

 

I spent over a month in Segou at my cousin Samira’s.  Her husband Sessine drove me to Bamako to apply for a work permit and I took advantage of the trip to retrieve a copy of my birth certificate.  (I was born in Bamako in Mali). 

 

I had the opportunity to visit Niono (up north and close to Mobti) with a Lebanese merchant living in the open air there. I guess that it barely rains in that flat and vast town that was denied asphalt and you had to endure dust hanging in the air.  I guess my hosts were getting short on ideas of how to fill my time

 

I met a US Peace Corp girl from Boston and had the opportunity to dust off my American slang and I learned a little bit more of how this organization is aiding Africa.

At a certain level in my subconscious I wanted to visit Sikasso where I lived my first 5 years, but it was not to happen because I didn’t ask. I guess that if I inquired of any acquaintance there, then I would have managed a ride to Sikasso.

I still want to visit my birth place, where I almost died of Typhoid fever at the age of 5, an illness that precipitated my sending off to Lebanon and changed my life.  

 

Uncle Asaad, father of Samira and Joseph and married to my aunt Josephine, had the only bakery in town and was doing well. He used to have acupuncture sessions for his back and leg pains. I tried a session out of curiosity but it had no effect on me: I suffered of nothing in the first place. 

 

I was and felt practically redundant because I was not that needed in the bakery or the shop of Samira. I was in a very confused  situation because I had Not decided to return to Lebanon and had no idea what to do in Africa. I had no idea of what I wanted to do next after I overstay. 

My decision to leave was forced upon me by a mean procedure that I think was not necessary.  I was shipped in a Taxi to Banfora where I spent a few days at Joseph’s.

 

My return to my brother’s in Abidjan was not a cheerful occasion: my brother’s wife Diane alluded that her apartment is not to be considered a hotel, simply because I turned in around 11 pm. 

I slept at a friend of mine and in the morning, waiting for a taxi to the airport, my two suitcases deposited on the street were robbed.  I stupidly followed my friend to his shop across the street to retrieve a gold necklace as a gift to his family in Lebanon. Actually, I am pretty sure that this friend assured me that it is safe to leave the suitcases for a minute.

 

I arrived to Lebanon with nothing but my handbag and the cash in my pockets.  Among the lost items was an expensive local ceremonial robe that Samira hand ordered for me. I had to endure days of humiliation; the guy that came home after a year with just a handbag!

Something about my stay in Lebanon from late 1979 to mid 1985

 

We had a large apartment in Beirut and it was almost vacant for the duration of the civil war. One day, I passed by for a couple of minutes, for no reason, and the phone was ringing. A secretary for a local company was summoning me to an interview the next morning. I had no recollection of submitting a resume to the CAT Company. Next morning, I was meeting a high level representative, who came from Cyprus for a couple of days, just to hire new engineers for their expanding business in Nigeria.

 

Nigeria

 

The hiring representative did not ask me questions. I did not ask him questions. I needed to be off and out of Lebanon. At the airport in the Capital Lagos, two agents from the company met me and facilitated my entrance. I flew the same day to headquarter in the district of Benin and was lodged temporarily at a motel. I met an American young man at the dining room and ended up sleeping with a very young girl, sort of she was sent to me in my room.  I stayed in this motel for maybe 10 days and I realized that my hidden money was dwindling everyday; the cleaning woman didn’t confirm or deny but I carried al my cash with me.  I gave ample details on my stay in Nigeria in my piece “I could break your eyeglasses”.

I spent four months in a field compound, out in the nowhere, at a poor town lacking television transmission, called Okitipupa, and at 5 hours from headquarter.  The engineers, I was one, were supposed to wear regulation tall brown boots for discrimination purposes. Within a week I had malaria, even though I was taking the quinine pills regularly; an Egyptian physician was sent for me; I had a harrowing four days.  I lived with a civil engineer and we had a “boy” to clean our boots and prepare the table. I think that we had no cafeteria for the compound; as far as I recall, the menu of the “boy” was roasted chicken; the “boy” had a peculiar smell that made feel like vomiting and I could never get used to that smell; I should have thought of offering him soap and discover the difference but I was not an imaginative person.

The golden rule, as a member of the higher staff, was never say to subordinates “I don’t know”.  That rule was whispered to me by an English mechanics foreman; I had many occasions to verify the rule. Our plant engineer in Okitipupa, a Palestinian by origin called Sami, never handled anything; somehow, he once was in the mood of showing off his dexterity; he ruined three expensive pairs of fitters without succeeding and then got up as if of nothing; I tried my gentle touch at it and did it from the first time; I think that this person didn’t forgive me for taking over the task.  The next day, Sami assigned me a heavy duty vehicle to “fix” all by myself; I had never before touched any mechanical tool; I am an industrial engineer and had nothing to do with mechanics or mechanical engineering; a notion that it is hard to dissipate due to the wrong connotation given to industrial engineering which is basically managerial and not into mechanical design by any long shot.

The Lebanese and Syrian mechanics used to bring me, in secrecy, voluminous maintenance books to read sections and explain details; I had this feeling that management was very reluctant to instruct workers through manuscripts; as if the engineers were assigned to be the sole “priests” for the interpretation of the written manuscripts.  A Syrian foreman mechanics had an objective of opening his own heavy duty maintenance shop after he ends his contract period and was eager to purchase the appropriate expensive tools of the trade and the precision processes.  Obviously, management was not happy with my smooching with the workers: I used to go out with them after work in town and meet girls.  There was nothing in town for entertainment and the compound was a vast prison camp where I had to wear long brown boots of the bosses in that blasted hot and humid country.

A few thugs entered the compound one night; they killed three guards and threatened the manager to open the safe. We were awakened at three in the morning by the Lebanese manager, from the district of Koura, and we lodged a complaint at the town police quarter.  We drove by the slaughtered watchmen.

 

I was recalled and ready to be shipped out to Cyprus, supposedly the mother maintenance headquarter or something of that nature. I was somewhat reluctant for this sudden transfer even after this harrowing experience. I had to stay for another month redundant at headquarter.  This old English “personality”, supposed to be the official writer of letters, and from whom I used to borrow books from his private library in his allocated rented house, enjoyed repeating “Are we redundant today?” thinking that I didn’t know this word and wanted to impress me with his flatulent language.

The company accommodated me at a house with a private driver and a house male servant.  At night, the Nigerian driver would take me to a dancing place in the open air that was surrounded by a few huts.  It is from there that I was introduced to paid girls. (I wrote about this experience in my file “songs for women” under the title “I could break your eye glasses”). We were paid in Sterling pounds to an account overseas, mine in Lebanon; they had a complex money mechanism that served two purposes of avoiding taxes and keeping us under strict control financially. I had to borrow cash from my manager which was offered as gifts.

 

During that month I had the opportunity for several “adventure” trips.  I recall one particular trip that was truly an adventure in the nowhere.  I drove with a Lebanese foreman at a very remote tiny project site; after four hours of land driving we had to board a canoe to cross a murky river where people lived on the river; I think National Geographic would have made me rich if I had a camera; I am pretty sure if I fell overboard I would have been eaten by an alligator or piranhas. Well, after seven hours of crossing lands and rivers we reached destination; I looked around and found nothing of a project.  We did nothing; I would like to believe that we left a piece of tool and we were back and arrived by midnight.  My friend had another well hidden project, somewhere in Alice Wonderland: I declined. Nigeria is a vast country and that adventure trip was an eye opener to the extent of miseries. 

 

My return trip to Lagos airport was not a happy one and I was not accompanied by any agent from the company.  I boarded a ten-seat small plane; I thought that they have mistaken me for a parachutist.  The rickety plane was noise of hell and we experienced several air pockets and free falls; I was not perturbed: I had seen Nigeria.  At the airport I was searched four times, my suitcases completely ramaged through, until all my little alcohol bottles were accepted as gifts.  You need company agents to go in and go out of Nigerian airports; it was true then and true even more so today.

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…

My early years (Continue 7)

I don’t remember much of my first five years in Africa; maybe the trauma of my typhoid disease erased most of my early memory.  Mother BREAST FED ME FOR THREE years, as she did with my brother later, and she was very protective and kept a close watch over her first-born child. I had a hard birth and the physician didn’t expect me to live more than two days; I would not breast feed and in desperation, mother forced milk into my mouth.  Mother told me that I was made to spend my days on the counter top of the shop and I used to drill holes in the Nestle milk cans.  I tend to corroborate Amelie Nothomb hypothesis that lack of palate sugar voluptuousness is a main factor for slow brain development.  Most probably, mother didn’t indulge me with chocolate or sweet condiments; thus, I took my revenge destroying valuables or maybe to licking the sugary Nestle.

On the other front of verbal development I had a “boubou” or a very young African mute as personal friend or “body-guard”. I have a picture with Boubou sitting on his heels while I am riding a small tricycle.  It is natural for babies to learn easily all languages, including sign and eye languages; I assume that I communicated well with “boubou” and we had great friendship and affection since maybe my first fully developed language was the mute related language.  I can assume that verbal communication in three other languages simultaneously might have been very hard; Lebanese/Arabic, French and “Bambara” (the main language in Mali).  Not that comprehending multiple languages is difficult for babies but the people are difficult to understand for the contradictory meanings they convey.  Not that homonym and synonyms and all the “yms” in languages are serious obstacles to a baby’s flexible mind, but the minds and emotions of mature talking people are insurmountable barriers for clear directions.  I guess that I have set the grounds for plausible sources of my verbal unintelligible adventure.  I went to school at the french Brethren for only three months before I fell dangerously ill and managed to learn the multiplication tables.  An African helper would take me on his bicycle to school.

Why my parents decided to leave Africa?

My parents had a very prosperous business and were very liked in Sikassou; they had to sell their business and house in 1961for cheap after the Independence of Mali from the colonial power France:  Dad was too afraid to end up in prison if he were caught smuggling out his hard-earned money.  They sold their properties to the White French Brethren who paid the money but my folks never received a dime.  It seems one of my “uncles” who received the money on behalf of my dad invested the money for his own benefit and lost his money again.

The English language uses “uncle” to represent any older relation to the family but Arabic has special names to discriminate the sort and relative side in the relations. For example, my mother has five sisters “khalaat” and their husbands are called “3adeel” (the number 3 is used in Arabic internet to represent a special Arabic vocal close to aa); dad has five sisters “3amaat” and their husbands are “sohor”. Thus in Arabic specific names differentiate among these uncles; even the real close uncles, from the mother and father sides, have words of their own.

All of us, kids, were born in Mali and were transferred to Lebanon in order not to be exposed to the numerous tropical diseases.  In actuality, we were not saved physically or emotionally or mentally from other kinds of diseases that plagued our development and we had to suffer the consequences of hard decisions that our folks were faced with.

When dad opened a shop in Lebanon then he had to close it within three years because clients would not repay their accounts.  Mother used to go with her sister Therese to Downtown Beirut to shop for dad and she enjoyed that part in the business very much.

Introspection (continue 6)

My parent’s love affair

Dad fell in love with my mother in his tender youth and mother eventually followed him to Mali when she was about 19 with her younger sisters Montaha and Marie to join their family in Segou. An older friend of dad, Jeryes Chebabi, once joked that when they were passing by mother’s house he told dad that her aunt, across the street, is keeping a tight watch on him and suggested that he removes his shoes; dad obeyed and walked bare feet on the main street.

Mother left with her younger sisters by boat to Marseille and then to Senegal and then by land. My mother Julie told us that the captain of the boat said that she won’t make it to Marseille because she was sea-sick all the time and barely could eat anything.  Montaha and mother had to wait in Marseille, France, for several months to locate a boat heading to Africa because the war had disturbed all travels and communications.  They finally and  reluctantly had to fly to Senegal on a horrific loud small plane and then take ancient trains to Bamako. In all, the trip to Segou lasted more than two months.

My parents got married against all odds because their parents were competitors in business in the city of Segou.  The first village my folks opened shop in was Koutiala.  There was a river to cross when going to Segou and my parents had to load their car on a makeshift ferry. By the time I was to be born the shop in Koutiala was completely robbed along with the saved money.

My parents worked together for over 15 years in the poorest villages of Mali and settled in Sikasso, a village on the border with Ivory Coast.  They moved to three other shops in Sikasso before they bought a house, in cash as usual, from a French family.  There were about four Lebanese families in Sikasso and few others joined them later on; Khalil Nakhleh came from Bamako and opened a shop next to dad for better competition but my parents were the best in the business because of their honesty and readiness to trust selling on loans.

Mother says that she had to leave dad alone for periods of a month to have her teeth done in Bamako.  My parents were the first family to generate private electricity in that poor and desolate region.  My folks were robbed several times of everything; the first time when I was about to be born.

Business was brisk in Sikasso and mother ordered clothing from Paris through fashion catalogues and fashioned some dresses too.  Mother used to give a “trousseau” as gift for every mother who had a new-born. They were honest and hard-working people and not fit for business in Lebanon.

Financial troubles

Dad is free with his money and does not refuse any financial requests; he is now penniless.  My parents had a successful commercial business in Sikasso until Mali obtained its independence in 1961 and dad was frightened that he might be jailed if discovered exporting his saved money; thus, they decided to leave Africa for good.  Mother purchased her merchandize out of catalogues from France and sewed fancy clothes and offered free “trousseaux” for the newly born.  Dad gets scared easily and instead of taking a summer vacation to rethink his decision to staying permanently in Lebanon he sold everything hastily and for cheap. He could not do any business in Lebanon because people would not pay back their accounts.

My folks lost every penny during the civil war that started in 1975 and lasted 15 years.   In 1980, I warned dad from Nigeria to change his Lebanese pounds into Sterling pounds but he never listened to my suggestions, out of laziness most probably; or maybe, he had nothing much left to exchange.  The Lebanese pound devalued to nothing and mother had to pawn her jewelry in order to survive and pay the militias.

My parents had to sell the apartment in Furn el Chebak when they realized that I didn’t save much at my return from the USA. Dad got around $45,000; this sum lasted 6 years.  Dad gave a flat for Raymonde when she got married in 1979, and another flat for my married brother Ghassan.   Instead of renting to them to keep a flow of money coming to him monthly, he just gave them the above flats in the building that he used to rent.

I remember that dad gave me $5,000 in 1975 when I first left for the USA and when the Lebanese pound was strong; the exchange rate was two LL for one dollar instead of 1,500 LL right now.  Basically, that’s the sum I got so far from my folks; I recall that I asked for $1,000 in 1991 for graduation expenses and for my PhD ceremony;  dad had to ask my cousin Patrick to lend him the money since he was completely broke and I was not aware of my parents’ financial predicaments.

My parents have spent a lot on the education of their three offspring; they spent lavishly on the weddings of Raymonde and Ghassan and furnishing their apartments and contributing to the purchase of their cars; they gave a flat to Raymonde and Ghassan and they should have asked for rent because my parents are flat broke right now and have no sources for financial help.  We cannot count on a government in Lebanon for the old citizens.

I guess that, besides the expenses of my education prior to entering universities, I cost my parents just $6,000; all my expenses were from my sweat and hard work to survive and continue my education in the USA.   My actions with money demonstrate that I don’t consider money as my own and could easily dispense with as long as I secure the bread of the day regardless of how I am perceived as cheap or tight or whatever.  Anyway, I never earned enough to save more than $5,000 at any period in my life so that I have no idea how I would react if I come into big bucks.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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