Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Segou

Introspection: Mother Julia, and aunts

Julia, my mother

When single, mother (Julia) lived with three other sisters, alone in her home for several years: Her mother Eugenia left in 1939 to join her husband Tanios in the town of Segou (In current Rep. of Mali in Africa).  The four sisters were to join an intern school, but the WWII started and they had to skip school for the duration. 

My eldest aunt Josephine was 13 and mother was11 year-old at the time.  One of mother’s aunt (they were many) and her extended family lived across the street for the duration of the war. When Josephine eloped (got married “khatifeh”) at the age of 20 with late Asaad Ghoussoub, the other three sisters were interned in a school in Beit Chabab for two years.  The story goes that Asaad threatened to jump off the roof of the house if the wedding is not “facilitated”. Aunt Josephine had a harsh life: She had six kids who were raised mostly in Beit Chabab, in intern schools. I attended the male intern school of Beit Chabab for six years while my parents were doing commerce in Africa.

In the meanwhile, my grandmother Eugenia gave birth to many other children in Segou and at least three died in child birth or shortly after.  

Mother told me that she had scabies “jarab” at age 18, when she was in a girls’ school in Beirut.  This story came about when her niece Joanna called from London saying that her physician was uncertain about his diagnosis of her catching “jarab” as sign of the rash in her body after a trip to a British shore; the diagnosis turned out to be wrong. 

Mother said that “jarab” starts in the hand and is very itchy and very contagious; she secretly spent an entire week in an upper room at her sister Josephine’s who got married recently.  Mother 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 everyday.  

I really have no idea what mother learned in school, except cutting patrons and learning sewing and fashioning clothes. She always said that she got dizzy when reading. Nowadays, a girl of 18 is already in universities but the sisters did not attend school for 3 years during the WWII, because all schools closed, although our district in Lebanon was not directly affected.

Aunt Therese

I do not recall seeing my folks reading a book; dad read dailies and lately, when I specifically borrowed books for him.  Thus, we never had a library except what my Aunt Therese bought for me when I was a kid, because I was a voracious reader and still am; the books were French since Therese could not read Arabic. 

Aunt Therese was still single and lived with us in the apartment on General Chehab Street.  Therese could barely speak Arabic because her education was French.  Therese was patience incarnates (externally), teaching me my homeworks that were in French, like French history, French geography and plenty of “dictees” (French spelling). She used to take us to movies like “The sound of music” or “Doctor Zevago” or other French movies. 

Therese used to join mother on purchasing expeditions for the shop dad ran in Ain Rumani (three miles away from home).  She had many suitors who used to take the whole family out.  One suitor used to get drunk and sing and recite Arab poems:  These behaviors (of too much Arabic poetry) didn’t rime with Therese.  She finally eloped with Edward Fakhoury on the night that my cousin Aida Ghoussoub was consecrated nun. 

Edward was usually served whiskey by dad as he assiduously visited Therese.  Edward barely touched the glass; dad was under the impression that Edward does not indulge in alcoholic drinks, until we found out, after the wedding that Edward loved “arak”.  Therese spent the best years of marriage life preparing the “mezzeh or Taska” to Edward after a day work.  These sessions of slow nibling on a variety of dishes while drinking arak lasted for hours.

Thus, Therese married and has two daughters and two sons and grand children.  All her children got married except the youngest son.    

Most of my library was burned by my parents when I was away in the USA, even the benign French collections of “Livre rose” and “livre vert”….  My parents were apprehensive because the civil war targeted suspicious individuals who read specific ideological manuscripts.  There was this potential that the books may contain political and ideological lines not appropriate for the location and place of the strongest militias on the ground.  

Not an artistic family

We are not an artistic family by any stretch of the imagination; no singing, no dancing, no music, no laughing… Mother learned to cut “patrons” at school and was the designated sister in her large family who fashioned and sewed clothes to her remaining six other sisters, and their kids later on. Actually, in our larger families I cannot single out a member whom I could select as artistic, except maybe Bernard who sculpted on wood and later on stone and marble.

The new generation is leaning heavily toward the new major of graphic design, which didn’t exist in our time, because basically personal computer didn’t exist or was not powerful enough for the requirements of that discipline.

I do not recall that I ever communicated with my parents, not around the eating tables or anywhere else for that matter.  Dad never shared his plans or any anecdotes with us, though he was voluble when in a gathering of adults.  Mother also is voluble in gatherings, but mostly at our expense, on account of our limitations and asocial behavior. 

Our crude verbal outbursts are symptoms of our lack of verbal skills and weak initiation to talking and expressing our feelings: We, the kids, were not permitted to join the adults when they were paying us visits. No wonder that the atmosphere at home is not that cheerful and we ended up, my younger brother, sister and I, dumb socially and never succeeded in being social and interacting like normal people.

I joined many bus trips with acquaintances in the village, of the same age range, during summer vacations, but I didn’t join in the singing or dancing or conversing or attempting making close friends, simply because I didn’t know how, and was not prompted intelligently and skillfully to befriend others.

Something about my folks, (continue 3)

George, my dad

My dad, George Bouhatab, was born in 1924 in Segou, in currently the Republic of Mali in Africa.  Mali was then under the French colonial power and was named “Le Soudan Francais”. Dad was repatriated to Lebanon when a child and lived his youth in Beit-Chabab; first with his mother Saesta and younger sister Millia for a few years and then in his grand dad Toufic’s house to the age of twenty.

Although dad finished only the “certificate” in his secondary school, he is well learned in Arabic literature and is good in math; he could easily be an educated professional if he was permitted to continue his studies. He could easily be a good lawyer though not prosper because I figured that he would be very selective with his clients since he is too honest to defend scoundrels.

Dad is a handsome man and about 163 cm tall and looked somewhat chubby for his stature ,but was never fat looking or carried a belly. He has good health and even at the age of 83 does not suffer from blood pressures or high blood sugar content or cholesterol. He never wore corrective glasses except lately for reading.  He had a surgery for appendicitis in Africa but it turned out to be a false alarm but had to suffer the consequences of the surgery.   The other surgery that I am aware of is the removal of his right salivary gland, the parotid; I think that my left gland will eventually have to be removed, but mine is the sub-mandible salivary gland (I indeed did that surgery last year and I was not comfortable for two weeks and wrote about it in my blog). The echo graph has shown two stones in the gland and the surgeon has decided to take out the whole gland because the stones are not located in the duct and thus, would eventually fabricate more stones; I wouldn’t mind be a quarry if not for the constant low-level pain.

Dad has excellent memory and his recall capabilities for names are fantastic; mine and mother’s are pretty poor, especially for recalling names, and I keep the fear that Alzheimer decease might be my lot. The physical weak parts of dad are his skinny legs and feet that I inherited; he has terrible bunions and does not take care of his toe nails (I take good care of all these foreseeable deficiencies).

Dad started smoking early on and still is a smoker. He started drinking alcohol regularly during the civil war before lunch time and before dinner; it was “arak” first (local or national alcohol drink extracted from grapes) and then he turned to cheap whisky on account that arak was the cause for his frequent falling down when getting up off his chair.  Last year, he stopped drinking completely because he realized that he no longer could handle drinks:   we (my mother and I) several times left him lying on the floor for him to sleep off his dizziness.

I used to borrow Arabic books in libraries for him to read in order to keep his mental agility and I subscribed to dailies for him; mother barely can read on account that she gets dizzy when reading; actually she gets dizzy in almost every movement, in cars or airplanes or boats.

I never heard dad singing except when he was inebriated in a gathering that was sharing in the inebriation; neither did mother sing.  In 1963, my folks brought a fancy radio and disc player in an enclosed wood casing and placed it in the salon (formal living room) just as a piece of decoration; I used that decoration to playing the Beatles and French current songs a year later.

Something about the origins of my grand parents

Antoun (my father’s dad)

Antoun (Antony) is the name of dad’s father.  I have the impression that I saw him once and very briefly. He is sitting on a tiny balcony; he looked rotund with a jovial face. I never saw a photograph or a picture of Antoun.

By the way, my Christian name or patron saint name is Antoine since my first name is derived from an Antique “pagan” God Adonis. Mother told me that she was the one who insisted on calling me Adonis because she liked a girl at school named Adonis! And I was under the impression that this name was plainly a male name referring to the Phoenician male God of beauty Adonis.

I lately discovered that my name in my birth certificate is typed Adouis, most probably because the typist in the Capital Bamako (Mali, west Africa) confused the hand written n with u and nobody deigned to double-check for correction.

Antoun died in 1958 while on a brief visit to Lebanon. He succumbed from infection after the surgical removal of his gall bladder.

This minor surgery has harvested many victims, even in the best hospitals at the time.

Abou George, as Antoun should have been nicknamed, was born in Beit-Chabab and immigrated with a bunch of other young people to Africa as it was the custom in our locality.

George Tannous, husband of aunt Marie, recalls grand dad sitting most of the day outside his small shop in Segou and fingering his worry beads.

There is a custom to nickname the father after his eldest son by affixing Bou or Abou to the first name of the eldest son.

Thus, Antoun or Abou George started work in Guinee and then moved to Segou (Mali) where he ended up working in commerce and barely visited Lebanon.

I never heard anyone calling my father Bou Adonis; I figure you cannot have a father for God!

Fact is my father barely saw his dad: He lived in Beit Chabab with his grandparents (his mother side). The first time he met Antoun was when he joined him in Segou around 1947, a year before he got married with my mother Julie.

Dad’s mother: Saesta or Sabat (Elizabeth) on the birth certificate

Saesta is the name of dad’s mother.  She was short with a jovial face that dad inherited.

She is acerbic.  A story goes around during Lebanon’s civil war that the representative of the Phalanges “kataeb” militia in town came over to collect the monthly kickback on ground that this militia is a State within the State in the Metn district.

Saesta told the representative that she has no money, which was the case from her rundown home that dad had restored 10 years ago after vacating the long-standing tenants at the expense of a protracted legal battle that stretched for years.

The representative of the “kataeb” asked Saesta not to mention that she would be absolved from any kickback and  she replied that she would not be silenced “moush rah eskout“; he then begged her not to propagate the story and she again refused saying that she will talk “baddi ehki“.

In 1939, Saesta traveled to Segou to stay with her husband and took her eldest daughter Millia with he.

Saesta had the Lebanese passport, although Lebanon was under French protectorate.  Dad was left to live at his grand parents’, from his mother’s side, and the house was rented out to the Je3ara family.

It was a period when Maronite families married close cousins.

For example, my mother’s grand father and his brother married two sisters.

Families conceived almost yearly, and many children died still-born or shortly after, and still ended up with over six living offspring.

For example, Saesta got pregnant a dozen times and seven lived. My mother’s mother also conceived a dozen times and seven survived.

Toufic (Father of Saesta)

The father of Saesta, Toufic Bouhatab, lived in the USA in his youth and was considered “zeer nissa2” for chasing after girls. He was rich at one time and had several shops on the main street of Beit-Chabab (7aret ta7ta) and was a member of the municipal council for ever.

He ploughed and worked the vast garden till an old age (over 90). He suffered from an acute pneumonia and I said farewell to him while in bed before I left for the USA for graduate studies in 1975.  Toufic died within a month of my departure.

Dad used to aid in his grand father’s Toufic shop when a youth; the shop sold almost all kinds of items.

I recall when in boarding school I used to pass by on Sundays and Toufic would give me a handful of sweets.

Toufic hand-wrote in Arabic a voluminous manuscript, his diary in the USA, and I have to get hold of it to translate a few of his opinions.

Once, father gave Toufic money to purchase a piece of land adjacent to our house and Toufic went around and registered the deed in his son’s name Tanios (Tony).

Dad was never “lucky” in his dealing with his relatives and compatriots, but he was loved by the blacks of Mali in the town of Sikasso for his decency and largess.

Tanios (mother’s father)

The father of my mother, Tanios Gebrael, died in Lebanon at the age of 48 of a heart stoke, as his unique son Michel did later at the same age.

Tanios died one year before I was born.

Tanios also worked in Segou and he did well after many years of toil, but was robbed by his brother when he died in his brother’s Beirut home in Gemaizeh, Beirut, Lebanon: Tanios had a fortune in cash and had plans.

His wife Eugenia, six daughters and son never saw a nickel of cash inheritance.

Mother used to say that her father was irascible, strict, and conservative.

In his youth, Tanios used to chase away with stones any male contender to Eugenia, his potential sweet heart and later his wife. No boy or adult would dare talk or approach Eugenia.

The four sisters Josephine, Julie, Marie, and Montaha lived in Lebanon, alone and across their aunt’s who kept a watchful eyes on any male approaching them. The girls didn’t see their father until they also immigrated to Segou.

Mother told me that her father was pretty angry when the eldest Josephine eloped married (khatifeh) and in punishment forced the other 3 girls to study in a nun’s boarding school.

Tanios knew that mother and dad were in love, and when dad joined his father in Segou, Tanios refused that his girls in Lebanon (particularly mother) join him in Africa, as it was planned.

His only surviving son Michel was bright in school but the psychiatric system in Lebanon diagnosed him as emotionally “not normal” and ended up taking high dozes of tranquilizers and anti-depressant that reduced Michael to a dependent person and spent his short life on medications.

Michael was living with his married sister Therese, and filled many hand-written notebooks that disapeared. Why?

Michel used to hand write abundantly and somehow the extended family has decided to make his scattered booklets disappear; I never can forgive them for that act of insensitivity that prove their ignorance and small mindedness.

I am not sure if Therese (one of my aunts with whom Michael lived) read any of his writing because he lived with her. I once asked Therese of what happened to Michel’s writing and she refused to answer me.

Eugenia (mother’s mother)

Eugenia suffered many stillbirth and ended up with five living daughters (Josephine, Julia, Marie, Montaha, Therese) and a unique son (Michael).

She joined her husband in Africa in 1938 and left her four girls in Lebanon at the guard of Adel, one of her many sisters, living across the street. Actually, Adel was married with Tanios’ brother (okhte selfteh)

She lost her husband Tanios at the age of 48.

Eugenia lived mostly with her married daughter Marie and could never forget the mental state of her unique son Michael who lived close by with his married sister Therese, when not confined in the psychiatric ward Deir al Saleeb.

Eugenia lent her wealth to one of her nephew lawyer who was supposed to invest the money by lending it.  This lawyer made plenty of money working other people’s money, including my dad and many of our relatives.

For example, when my dad and one of my relatives were shown deals to purchase lands, this lawyer would fake to have re-invested the money and then ask one of his brothers to purchase the lands.

Eugenia died the day mother was getting ready to fly to Paris to attend to William’s (first grandson) heart surgery.  William is my eldest nephew and he was barely 16 months when he had the surgery.

Why about this wave of immigration to Africa?

There are evidences that most of the immigrants at the turn of the century paid dear money to go to “America” (read the USA).

Many scoundrels of ship Captains tried to increase their turnover rates of customers; thus, they dropped many travelers in Africa and told them “Here is America“.

These Captains did the same things and many Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinians ended in Cuba, Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere.

Then those established immigrants sent for their relatives.

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.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

November 2020
M T W T F S S
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  

Blog Stats

  • 1,439,984 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.adonisbouh@gmail.com

Join 782 other followers

%d bloggers like this: