Being surrounded by family all the time wasn’t really all it had been cracked up to be. One of my father’s 8 brothers, Samih, lived in the apartment across the hall in the building in Salim Sleim, another one of his brothers, Hassan, had the apartment downstairs. His children stayed there most of the time, though. They were in their late teens and early twenties.
It’s going to get complicated with family member names, I think, so I’ll briefly introduce my father’s family in a neatly bullet-pointed list:
- My grandparents, sitto (grandmother) and jiddo (grandfather);
- 8 older brothers, in order of descending age: Najeeb, Habeeb, Ali, Hassan, Zein, Adel, Samih, and Naji;
- 3 older sisters, Najeebeh, Sabah, Najat
Yes, my father was the youngest of 12. My mother has no brothers and sisters, and my grandma and her husband are tucked snugly in the middle of San Fernando.
Anyway, there was family around, but it was rather boring. Samih came over a lot and informed us of breakfasts from Barbar and introduced us to his cat, Cookie, and his wife, whose name escapes me. My cousins downstairs spent most of their time going out and playing games on their laptops and showing us around a few places. Mar Elias, Downtown, BHV/Monoprix in Jnah – the works.
My first weekend here was my first time going to my father’s village in South Lebanon. I actually came from there today, and I’ll upload some photos of the area later perhaps, because I don’t think people see and hear about that area enough except in the context of violence and conflict with our neighbors over the border. It’s really not as bad as you would believe. And I think that other areas in Lebanon get the spotlight far too much. There’s a Roman castle down there too, folks (Beaufort).
The first weekend there was shit. It was slow and boring and the first time I’d ever been exposed to a rural region outside of the Poconos and there was lots of dust and heat and octogenarians about. Meeting more of my relatives, including my grandparents, was underwhelming, although they seemed friendly enough I suppose. We stayed at Hassan’s family house there. It was the first time we were directly faced with the power cuts here, in the middle of the night and in the company of Lebanese mosquitoes and a largish marble house where noise echoes in the darkness. And the heat with no air conditioning. It’s been 7 years and I haven’t slept without proper air conditioning since.
I got told off for my negative attitude at everything, but the fact remained that those sorts of things made me more homesick than you would believe. It’s those little details that really get to you – things like 24-hour electricity and Trix cereal.
After that weekend I don’t recall going back to the day3a for any significant amount of time, but the experience with the World Cup finals is kind of unforgettable. My dad’s family had always been split up into three main factions: Brazil, Germany, and a small section was Italy. Nobody had any affinity to these nations outside of soccer.
But the patriotism was tangible! Flags and jerseys and face paint galore. Coincidentally, Brazil, Germany, Italy and Argentina are the most popular countries to support here. So the Khalils had it more or less covered. Interestingly enough, Trinidad also made it in, introducing a majority of the Lebanese population to a nation most of them would have never heard of other wise, and giving me a country to support quite reasonably (they tied with Sweden! Celebrations ran rampant) until they were eliminated. After which I mindlessly supported Brazil, jersey and all. And then Italy in the final because Brazil lost against France.
I realize this narrative seems choppy in some parts but that’s how it was back then. Life was disjointed and strange and it made absolutely no sense. You can feel an overwhelming nostalgia in the dead of night and scream your lungs out for people whose names you don’t even know playing a sport you aren’t even interested in at a time like that. Restaurants will be packed (back then the area of Downtown Beirut near the clock tower was the hottest spot for this kind of stuff) and television screens bright. Vehicles will be tearing up and down the Corniche, honking horns. People will cheer in the tongues of their preferred teams. Fireworks will ricochet, the power goes in and out, bullets fly. It was a strange month of backs and forths. Oh, and I also visited a ladies beach for the first time in that month, which was odd to say the least. Beach culture in Lebanon is really different from in the US.
Very shortly after Italy found itself victorious in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, bullets flew.