Return to Lebanon & A Short Story

It has been 10 years since I left Lebanon. I’ve been obsessing about an extended trip for a very long time and now it’s coming together. In June, July and August, I will be back in my village with my parents, though this time I have a wife and an 11 month old daughter with me. If you’re in Lebanon and would like to catch up, I’d love to hear from you.

The photo above is one of very few I have of my olive grove back home. I will take some decent shots this year. I miss that land and want to get to know it again. I wrote a short story about my olive trees a few days ago. I don’t think I’ll find a suitable publication for it, so here it is. Hope you like it.

An Opaque Life – A Short Story
Fouad Kassab, April 2011

My grandfather, Jiddi, planted two hundred olive trees in the land around his stone home in the small Lebanese village of Ain El Delb. The olive grove sits between two hills where it gathers the rainfall; in front of it stretches a large orchard, a shelter from the Mediterranean sea air. The grove’s position, its fertile soil and the attention Jiddi afforded it allowed the trees to grow and flourish more than any else in the region. “The trees”, Jiddi told my father “are a blessing from God”. He made sure that the fruit was picked with the greatest amount of care and banned anyone from shaking the trees or striking the hard to reach branches with bamboo sticks, as was and still is common. “Would you hit someone who fed you?” he’d rhetorically ask. The trees passed down to my father and Jiddi’s message passed down with them.

At five years of age, I was too young to help with any of the harvests by the time war reached our little village. We left our home and returned when I was 16. For their first season, the trees yielded little fruit, shocked by the effects of conflict and abandonment. My father had a good word with them, and they recognised his voice. They surely trusted him since, come the second season, they gave with such generosity that their branches bent down to touch the ground, heavied by abundance. Each year I would pick the olives delicately with my fingers, dropping them carefully below me on soft, woollen blankets. I climbed the trees with my brothers, stretching and reaching for the high branches, with not a bamboo stick in sight.

I was 20 the year before I left for Australia. I remember the first day of that year’s harvest clearly. It was hotter than usual, and much drier; the fruit were shiny and bursting with oil. I handpicked the best olives for my mother who preserved them in brine. My father took the rest to be pressed into oil, and eager as I was to taste the season’s offering, I accompanied him to the olive mill. The olives were crushed by a large millstone, then pressed and passed through a centrifuge out of which our oil gushed in brilliant golden green, opaque and unfiltered. Right beside the mouth of the precious oil spring sat an old woman baking paper-thin markouk bread on a seasoned saj, a searingly hot, convex metal grill. Perhaps it was the pleasure of being rewarded for a hard day’s work or maybe I was feeling especially sentimental knowing I’d be leaving soon, but that moment has never left me. Folding the crackling sheets of just-baked bread, dipping the crisp shards into the purest, most beautiful of olive oils and consuming them with my father in silent joy is, to this day, one of my happiest memories.

A few months later, I was in Sydney. I found myself a job as a tax accountant, and on one night I was out with some of my colleagues at a local pub. One of them asked me where I came from. I told him, and he exclaimed, “Oh? You don’t seem very Lebanese.”

 

11 Responses to “Return to Lebanon & A Short Story”

  1. Kavey says:

    What a beautiful post, I really enjoyed reading it.

    My husband and I are leaving in less than a fortnight for our first visit to Lebanon and cannot wait!

    And what an odd comment “You don’t seem very Lebanese”… what was he expecting.

    I have been reading a little about the rich and long history of Lebanon and cannot wait to visit for myself.

    I wish you happiness for your move back!
    Kavey´s last [type] ..Persian Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken Tahcheen-e morgh

  2. I did not know you were an accountant. I am an accidental one, although not for long anymore.
    Funny how life moves on. Ten years are such a long time! Also, funny that those who left Lebanon around that time romanticize it some. It is a common thing I found.
    I wonder if it is because of the long time or the period they left it in.
    I am sure you will find a lot has changed since then.
    I wonder also, since I would be moving to USA in June if I will feel the same thing as you in 10 years.
    Also funny how Lebanese food haunts you some. It is already happening for me and I did not even leave yet. I think perhaps the marriage of flavors in our cuisine, make it unique and delicious.
    Viviane@Taste-Buds´s last [type] ..Challenge 13- Knefeh

  3. cecile yazbek says:

    How beautiful, Fouad – your writing always moves me – thank you! happy and sweet reunion in Lebanon

  4. Beautifully written; you have a gift for writing and should do more of it. I think all Lebanese who have left have shared similar feelings and the feelings seem to intensify the longer you are away. I will be curious to see your reaction after. Mine was mixed.
    We also have some olive trees and make some oil; we should compare notes! :)
    tasteofbeirut´s last [type] ..Yogurt mini-cakes with kumquats and cranberries

  5. Lis says:

    Very poignant. You are blessed with a fertile land that grows one of the most treasured trees in the world. God bless on your way back home!
    Lis´s last [type] ..Video- Hvilken vaskemaskine skal du vælge

  6. mark says:

    i think your story is very golden ,in the essence of olive oil itself, and the love of life,being that the trees grow from the gorund and turn there berries into a luxurious champagne ,used in the context of qualiy rather than the drinking kind, the best of the best, fit for kings . living in handras most of my nieghbours have olive trees and i have gone to collect with them,The drive to sitia is a lovely and wonderfull experiance surrouned by olive groves all the way to our nearest town aprox 75 million trees are estimated to grow on crete. apart from the years my wife has been pregnant, just in case i was up a tree and the unmentionable occured .Being english this was a totally new experiance to me, but very enjoyable we stayed a cou8ple of hours it was hard work for me, but they took to it like hunters to hunting ,i did not know to much about the preparation of these little green berries at that time and at the end of the day i was given a bucket of them for my participation, i did try one as it was and it was as bitter as eating ground coffee ,unaware that you either take them to the olive oil factory, which you can see from the garden, or soak them in salted water then refresh etc It seemed that i had enough olives for quite a while .i put them in every bottle and storage container that i could find and put extra in the greek salads for the restuarant . Within a few weeks i was very pleased to find a water bottle filled with olive oil at my doorstepliquid gold the finest with a fantastic flavour good with many salads and meats dressings etc .We have found many things om our doorstep in the past 5 years all vegetables friuts and wine delivered when you are not looking or asleep all the fruits are made into marmalde and nothing is wasted left over vegetables are made into lovely rich soups which we all love and I have even cooked the olives with tomatoes and and put them hot on feta chesse to change the desighn and to get away from the common just greek salad.It seems to work and the customers always write good comments in our guest book .

  7. Beautiful writing, Fouad. And lucky you, 3 months away during the height of summer in Lebanon sounds like a perfect time to get reacquainted after so many years…
    Corinne @ Gourmantic´s last [type] ..The Victoria Room- Darlinghurst- Cocktails in a Bygone Era

  8. What a gorgeous story, thank you for sharing. Have a wonderful trip back to Lebanon.
    sara (Belly Rumbles)´s last [type] ..Trip to Dunedin &amp the Cadbury Chocolate Factory

  9. Jenn Brigole says:

    Beautiful story and forever worth to be passed on to your children and the following generation. And that picture just adds up to the beauty you painted with your words. Thanks for sharing, Fouad.

  10. Merryn says:

    Enjoy your homecoming reunion. You are from a beautiful country and paint a vivid scene of a father lovingly tending his olive trees. What a wonderful memory to share. Thanks too for mentioning how one must respect the trees and never to shake them. May you create more wonderful memories with your wife and daughter upon your return.

  11. What a beautiful story ~ I thoroughly enjoyed reading it ! *
    Food Fashion Victim *´s last [type] ..Tara Tea Room

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