The wonderful life of friends of mine who live in Beirut. A tender and affectionate essay from Rula Asfour
I knew Rula Asfour, her husband and two daughters when they were part of the St. James's, Cambridge MA Episcopal Church, and I was the Rector. It was a sad day for the congregation, but a great day for the Asfours when they decided to return to the Lebanon. In about 2003/4 I was privileged to visit them, only to have a most wonderful two weeks during which I met many members of their wonderful extended family (Rula's mother made the best Tabbouleh I have ever eaten), and to visit places such as Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, Baalbeck etc, and up into the mountains from which we could see the then peaceful Syria. Lebanon is a small country with a storied history (Phoenicians, Greeks,Romans, Ottoman Turks, Crusaders, French etc etc) and a bewildering (for European minds) mixture of Christians, Muslims, Druze & c. Most of all I will never forget the enjoyment of the fabled middle eastern hospitality, and the gorgeous, gracious and good opportunity to meet many members of Rula's family. I even made a "pastoral call" on Rula's father who was very ill and in a Beirut Hospital. Here is Rula's recent essay.
BEIRUT: After thirteen years of living abroad, my husband and I took the decision to move back to Lebanon. Our move coincided with the birth of our third child. We left good posts where we were empowered decision makers, and despite the shortage of career opportunities in Lebanon, we headed back to a place we call home knowing that the salaries in some of the best institutions were one third or even one fourth of what we became accustomed to in the States.
With all its problems, Lebanon, in our minds and in our hearts, is a blessing. The African saying 'It takes a village to raise a child' is absolutely true. In Lebanon, the extended family is that village! For us, the family is the first and foremost reason why we moved back to Lebanon. Strong family ties provide a healthy atmosphere for our children to mature and grow in.
It fills the children with unconditional love and gives them a strong sense of security and self-confidence. It is also gratifying for our parents to be around our children, and to partake in their nurture. Sharing regular meals with the extended family on a regular basis is priceless. Over the summer, when the weather is beautiful in the mountain, we try to meet at the family home, in the remote village of Douma.
Moving to the United States more than 20 years ago, we had to adjust to a do-it-yourself way of life. On a typical day, my husband and I would return home from stressful jobs and have to take care of our children and their needs and activities, as well as cook, clean, do the laundry, complete backyard chores, not to forget snow plowing in the winter. That lifestyle affected us as a couple.
We argued quite a bit, typically on Mondays about whose turn it was to throw the garbage, and had little quality time to spend together as a couple. It was simply overwhelming! In this context, our move to Lebanon was a major upgrade. Not only is family support readily available, but services such as childcare, housekeepers, and concierge are within financial reach providing us with more quality time to spend together as a couple and with our children as a family.
We decided to live in Ras Beirut, when we returned to Lebanon, for its convenience, where we and our children walk to work, university and school. Traffic in Lebanon is an absolute nightmare. However, in Ras Beirut, one rarely needs a car. The proximity of things is unparalleled. Good schools, universities, health care, hospitals, movie theaters, seafront promenades, playing fields, concert halls, and a rich variety of restaurants and cafes are all within a 10 minute walking radius. As if to escape the hardship, the Lebanese have developed a knack for living life to its fullest. Delicious food is abundant at marvelous Mediterranean settings. Travel and Leisure recently named Beirut the Best International City for Food.
This is not to say that life in Lebanon is relaxing and comfortable. Far from it. Tenacious security, a missing state, outrageous traffic and driving, rare career opportunities, noise and air pollution, astronomic real estate rates, daily power outages,inexplicable water shortages, combined with a relatively high cost of living, a garbage crisis and dismal Internet are but a few of the daily challenges we have to deal with.
Yet, I genuinely believe that it is faith that brought us back to Lebanon, our homeland, to a caring and loving extended family, to a wonderful support system, to a haven of good food and to magnificent year-round weather. We saved our marriage and raised our children within the value and safety net that matters to us most, regardless of the hardship that surrounds us, and we constantly thank God for the many blessings including the heartstrings that led us back to Lebanon: our home.