A few years ago, following a couple of hours on the road, I woke up in a backseat of a car to the sounds of bustling streets amid both bullet-ridden buildings and brand-new skyscrapers. I heard televisions project their tunes of Fairuz and Turkish soap operas for all of their neighbors to hear. I looked to skies that appeared as blue as blue could be. I was not in Damascus anymore. I was a 16-year-old boy in Beirut.
With the heights of city’s nearby mountains juxtaposed to the sea level of the Mediterranean, I witnessed the most beautiful arrangement of rock and water. The only other place that could compete with such earthly beauty is Malibu, California. I had also never been a part of such a convivial atmosphere in the Middle East. I was welcomed into shops and cafes as if I were a family member; I exchanged kisses with the cheeks of oncetotal strangers, and I keep in touch with most of the people I spoke to during those few days under Beirut’s roof. Beirut led me to study geology at UCLA; it led me to lifetime friends amid millennial times, and it led me to the tip of the iceberg of Lebanon’s narrative.
Two years later, I sat with Hamza Dervišhalidović, a Bosnian student at Boğaziçi University, near the shores of the Bosphorus. Hamza, upon hearing about my Arab background and studentship at UCLA, showed me an Amazon listing on his phone. “It is Rabih Alameddine’s book, The Hakawati,” he said with the phone directed towards me. “You should read it. You remind me of Rabih.”
I did not read that book until three years later. I first opened it in Beijing, China, where I studied China’s geology in the midst of China’s majestic, yet contrasting culture. I also read the book in Hohhot, the capital of China’s Inner Mongolia, Harbin, a Chinese-turned Russian city, and Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Autonomous Uygur Province. Among different languages and architecture, I found a home in Alameddine’s The Hakawati. Osama Al Kharrat, the protagonist in the book, is a Lebanese character who is a near-reflection of me. He ends up being slightly removed from his Lebanese past as a student at UCLA and a resident of California. To make a long story short, I found myself in Al Kharrat, a man who is most likely similar to many other Lebanese Americans.
Since then, my longing for Lebanese knowledge has grown exponentially. I still have more to explore, for there is more to Lebanon and Lebanese Americans than just Beirut and The Hakawati. With time, Lebanon will become a bigger part of my life so long as it continues to be a vehicle to express myself.