Lebanon! I left you in my late teens convinced that I would soon return. I never did! I left you then, war-torn and battered never imagining that I would stay away for long. It was thanks to you that my unbearable home life was made bearable, your beaches and mountains and valleys, your generous hospitable people. You were unique in your modern western outlook as if out of a Vogue magazine, not unlike the French Côte d’Azur, yet still holding on to your Phoenician heritage and Arab traditions. I grew up amidst mixed religions, playmates and fellow students from every faith imaginable, our schools respecting all religious holidays, Ramadan, Bar Mitzvah, Christmas, and so on, and never questioning it could ever be any different anywhere else.
You had a Greek Orthodox church down the road from a mosque, each showing off their beautiful architecture with their towers and domes.
How we enjoyed your beaches! We were members of the St George’s Club in downtown Beirut where we spent almost every day during our summer school holidays. On weekends we would drive up to the mountains and spend hours running across rocky hills and fields playing Robinson Crusoe. Just beside where we lived there was some hilly wasteland where we would pick wild flowers and sell them on street corners to passers by. The butcher a few doors away, the grocer, the hairdresser, the electrician, the garage, all down our street, like a tiny community where everyone knew everyone and all children from all backgrounds played together, the janitor’s kids, those next door and the ones in the fancy villas in the next block.
But then war engulfed you, bombs, guns and curfews ensued. We had to leave and finish growing up somewhere else. I wanted to go back many times, but poor you, still battered and drained. I was always afraid that if I ever did, the damage and devastation I would find would shatter the memories of you I held so dear.
Went off to build a new life in my new land. Sweden! You held me while I built up strength and you helped me recover from my childhood traumas and broken home. You taught me much about what I believe today. About diversity, human rights and tolerance for others. You gave me a glimpse into what a just society should look like where people are valued and children come first above anything else and where families are supported to safeguard their health and education, where the disabled and vulnerable are provided for, and where the old are looked after in return for years of toil. I didn´t see all that then. It was difficult. This was meant to be my true homeland, the land of my father. I held a Swedish passport and I was sure that once I learned my father’s mother-tongue I would finally feel I belonged. But that was not to be, something held me back. Instead, I felt you didn’t accept me, I was just another immigrant. Years later I learned it wasn’t you, it was me who didn’t accept me. Ten years on, I left you taking my three beautiful small children in search of a new homeland, but really still searching for me.
Chile came next. How I love you! You brought out the fight in me. Through your own struggles of social and political unrest, I saw how your people suffered and later reconciled. I saw how much they distrusted and then reunited. You reminded me of Lebanon in so many ways – narrow and long, the sun and the sea and always with majestic mountains in view. One could swim in the wild Pacific Ocean that brushes your shores and then go skiing in the magnificent Andes on the very same day. And yet when travelling the endless length of you between north and south, one realises how incredibly rich and diverse you are. The mixtures of your indigenous cultures from the Mapuche Indians down south to the Inca heritage in the north – and I almost always forget your Polynesian wonder that is your remote Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean – your vast Atacama Desert, the driest on this planet, and your fjords and icy seas in the Magellan Straights.
I did feel that here I was home. You were my homeland for many years, for longer than I have lived anywhere else, if not only on borrowed terms. And you did accept me as one of your own. Your language was now as native to me as if I had been born and bred there. At last now no one asked me ‘where are you from? I passed as one them, one of yours. But most of all, you were what my children would call home. They would follow in their Chilean Dad´s footsteps and become drenched in the sense of belonging that I never had. They would speak your language, learn your history, and identify with your people and share their patriotism; they would strive to heal your wounds and make you a better country than you already were. Unlike me, they would not have such a romantic view of you and would be allowed to hate you for your injustices and the way your governments treat your people. But they would relish in your folk songs and your poetry and feel proud of your achievements and they would call you their homeland. And they did, and they do. Through them and all this I somehow found my place in the world. Finally, finally I felt I belonged.
Then crisis struck and I was off again this time to save myself from myself. But that’s another story, another journey. I do return ´home´ to you whenever I can. And, you know what? You never fail me. You are my home but from afar. To all three of you, my borrowed homelands, places of pain and recovery, so exotic and so alive, I thank you. With love and affection, till we meet again!