It was not the birthday gift I was expecting. Two plane tickets to Lebanon is a pretty strange present! Usually, eighteen- year-old girls receive an iphone or a brand new car. In my case, I guess my parents wanted to surprise me with an unconventional gift. My name is Annette Laurent and I am from Lyon, France. I believe that France is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but I have always wanted to visit other countries and be acquainted with their cultures. I have never gone outside of the country in my life nor have I traveled in an airplane before. So this present came just in the right time! I asked my parents why they specifically chose Lebanon. The reply I got was,” There is a spirit in Lebanon which makes anyone happy despite all the problems there. Lebanon is different, and not a soul can feel lonely there.”So, I couldn’t wait to go to this country and find out myself. Besides, I cannot believe a fact to be true unless I see it. By travelling, we gather new experiences and new knowledge. We learn better through travel than through books. In books, I read the experiences of other people, but this time, I want travelling to be my teacher. As a million thoughts were filtering through my mind, I remembered that I had an extra plane ticket. Without hesitation, I instantaneously knew who I wanted to take with me. Brigitte Abdullah, one of my closest friends, is partially Lebanese. She has a few relatives in Lebanon. In addition to that, she speaks Arabic fluently. What a perfect travel buddy! I called her and told her to start packing for Lebanon. I could clearly tell she was overcome by exhilaration by the way she started shrieking on the phone. After that fanatical phone call, I did some research on Lebanon. After reading plenty of articles about how captivating Lebanon is, I was even more excited to go. With the warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, I suppose Lebanon is the ideal travel destination!
After two restless nights of thinking about my jaunt to Lebanon, my parents drove me and Brigitte to the airport. We said our good-byes, and I was totally ready to start my journey. Brigitte and I were the first on the plane. I wondered who will occupy the seat next to us. A snorer? A talker? Please, no! Just then, a middle-aged man put his bags in the overhead locker. He seemed like an amiable businessman. Brigitte asked him why he was going to Lebanon, which I thought was an inane question. He is a businessman for God’s sake! Of course he has some business to do there. However, he told her that he was on his way to see his mother. Brigitte and I couldn’t stop chatting. We were already making plans! In about four hours, we arrived in Lebanon. After we got our luggage from the terminal, we headed out the gates. Something really astonished me; the number of people waiting for the newly arrived passengers was incredible. I was overwhelmed by the sight of families holding signs and banners with the words ‘WELCOME HOME…’ on them, kids running up to their grandparents holding balloons; it was just so poignant. For a moment there, I felt home! Brigitte and I saw something amusing. Nearly twenty family members were eagerly waiting to greet the business man with whom we had a friendly conversation with. They were holding dozens of flower bouquets and a whole host of balloons .How sweet! While we were observing all this, we were interrupted by the sound of blissful shouts calling, “Brigitte, Brigitte!” It was Brigitte’s family. They were tremendously happy to see her. They greeted her in Arabic, of course, but from the looks on their faces, I knew they were expressing their joy. Brigitte quickly introduced me to every one of her relatives. “My dear Uncle Ahmad, my charming Auntie Mona, my lovely ‘Teta’ Rana, and Hiba my remarkable cousin”, Brigitte pointed out to me. They tenderly welcomed me as one of their own. Uncle Ahmad was about fifty years old, very tall, with pale blue eyes and light grey hair. Auntie Mona was petite, with hazel eyes and curly chestnut hair. Hiba resembled Brigitte a little. She was about twenty-two years old, short, with sea green eyes and jet black flowing locks. Her hair was so shiny that a diamond on my finger wouldn’t compare. She was strikingly beautiful. Teta Rana seemed like a kind old lady. Her hair was neatly tied up in a bun and she was wearing an elegant floral dress. On our way to the car, Brigitte whispered in my ear, “See, I told you that you will feel comfy with my family. Trust me; they will treat you very well.”
I could not see the look on my face when I stood in the middle of the parking lot with an entire door in my hands. I may have some vigor, but the familiarity of tearing a door out of a car was new to me. I thought I was going to be inundated with a torrent of raging words which I did not understand, but instead, Brigitte’s uncle appeared calm. But I knew that he wasn’t pleased with the situation. After a couple of minutes, the ‘crime scene’ was surrounded by Lebanese people who were laughing themselves silly. What type of a teenage girl am I? I just ripped a car door! I felt helpless. Brigitte’s family definitely thinks I’m a weirdo. Apparently, the viewers were enjoying this outdoor event. Not only did I feel perplexed and helpless, but I also felt embarrassed. Suddenly there was a twist, Uncle Ahmad started laughing and he carefully managed to put the door back in place. This was somewhat odd, how did he…? Then he explained to me, “This Mercedes is one of a kind. It’s special. I’ve been driving this old thing ever since the eighties.” Brigitte laughed at this remark and then of course, she translated it to me. I felt greatly relieved.
Brigitte’s family resides in a town called Brumanna. Brigitte told me it is located east of the capital, Beirut. I can’t say I wasn’t slightly disappointed when she told me that we were going to be staying far from the city. I wanted to experience the Lebanese urban life. On our way to the house, my mood began to lighten up. Since Brumanna is a town which sits on a hill, it overlooks the sea. Seeing how mesmerized I was by the ocean view, Uncle Ahmad said “The sea is beautiful. It is hypnotizing. It is the engine that controls our weather, provides our fresh water, takes our sewage with few complaints, nourishes many of us, controls our carbon dioxide, isolates us, links us, and astounds us.” Auntie Mona added “Hey, I bet you have never seen anything like this back in France.” Indeed, the sea did look magnificent. I always wanted to go the southern of France to see the ocean, but my parents were always too busy to take me. This vast sea that I was viewing from the window of the car seemed in a competition with the endless turquoise sky. The blazing sun was casting shimmering golden rays on the sea. I could almost see the waves dancing lightly under the majestic sky. The turquoise sea fostered tranquility within me. I never saw anything like this back in Lyon. As I was watching the fascinating ocean panorama, I couldn’t help but smell the pine aroma. The scent was strong, just like the smell of fresh American coffee. It was refreshing. The sunlight that hit the buildings was also an exquisite site. Then, we arrived home.
Surrounded by the splendor of the landscape stood a picturesque stone abode. A row of trees and bushes grew in a curvature, like an arm reaching out to embrace the vista of the hilltop and the enormous swimming pool, whose water mirrored the azure of the skies and undulated in the zephyr. In France, this is what we call a ‘château’. Surprisingly, Lebanese inhabitants also call it chateau. Hiba, Brigitte’s cousin, told me that French is considered a second language by the Lebanese people. She also told me that they mix it with Arabic, which I thought was sort of funny. After Brigitte and I unpacked our bags, we sat outside on the patio. Brigitte’s family started telling me stories about Brumanna and how much I would enjoy my visit in Lebanon. They tried to teach me some words in Arabic, and the only words I mastered were‘marhaba’ and ‘warde’. Now, I could greet people by saying ‘marhaba’! Then we moved on to family photographs. Auntie Mona showed me some old photos of her husband in the army and of her children riding bicycles in the laneway outside the front door. She spoke too fast for me to follow; all I could understand were words of affection peppered throughout her harmonious speech describing her family. Afterwards, Teta Rana got up and asked me to follow her into the living room. Her walls were covered in these framed photographs. Her grandchildren riding the same wobbly bicycles in the same cobbled laneway. She beamed with delight. In the kitchen, Uncle Ahmad, in dark olive green cotton pants held up by brown suspenders, was skillfully preparing the customary ‘Turkish’ coffee. He told me that not only did Lebanese people love Turkish coffee, but the entire Arab world did. He took a minuscule silver spoon and mixed in an accurate amount of sugar to neutralize the bitterness of the thick, aromatic liquid. Uncle Ahmad then told me “This coffee will enthrall you.” To this day, I have to acknowledge that Uncle Ahmad’s coffee is the best coffee to have ever passed my lips. With each hot, saccharine sip, I marveled at the ability of the Lebanese to steal a moment of simple contentment. This tiny cup held their philosophy on life.
Hiba winked as she placed a weighty, warm blanket in my arms. It was a particularly chilly evening in the month of September in this little Lebanese mountain village. We started a pleasant ‘tête-à-tête’. She informed me more about herself. She told me that she had always wanted to become a teacher. “Doctors, lawyers, politicians, and engineers: How did they all get to where they are today? Regardless of the position someone may hold in society everyone has progressed to where they are in life because they had a teacher”, she said assertively. Later, she followed Auntie Mona into the kitchen to prepare supper. Brigitte was taking a bath and everyone else was in the kitchen besides Uncle Ahmad who was watering the plants out in the garden. I took a seat in a white plastic chair on the terrace and worked a little on my Arabic. I had flashcards full of indecipherable hints to jog my memory. I listened to voices on the street, people greeting each other and commenting on the cool weather. I figured out they were talking about the weather from their gestures. I tried to imitate their accents. I wanted to go back to France having mastered my Arabic, or at least having mastered a couple of words. As I was practicing my Arabic, all I could smell was the strong pine aroma. But then, the air began to fill with the scent of simmering garlic. I wondered what they were cooking. In her hands, Hiba approached me holding a pitcher of olive oil. “This olive oil is distinctive for its rich green color. Take this home to your family and let them appreciate this divine Lebanese oil!” Hiba said. These acts of generosity staggered me. I’m just their relative’s friend after all. These people barely knew me! It hasn’t even been a complete day yet and I already felt like family. Auntie Mona and Teta Rana were happily showing me family pictures, Uncle Ahmad was joking with me in an affable manner, and Hiba discussed her personal life with me! I could even hear the neighbors next door laughing and chatting. Moreover, I could hear the people on the street graciously greeting each other. All this was sort of new to me. In my country, there wasn’t this sense of family in my home. My father works all day and he comes back home late at night and my mother is a writer. She is always busy writing either in her journal or on her ‘blog’. My grandmother lives in Lourdes, which is pretty far from Lyon. We only get to see her on the holidays. I don’t know about the rest of France, but from what I saw in these eighteen years of living there, there was no such ‘thing’ as neighbors. French people really value privacy. These thoughts made me feel a bit downhearted. I joined Hiba in the kitchen to see what was going on inside. They were preparing an exotic Mediterranean meal. Auntie Mona was preparing a marinade for the grilled chicken and Teta Rana was preparing an appetizer called ‘hummus’. I was interested in the mouth-watering marinade, so I asked for the recipe. Auntie Mona took a break from squeezing lemons and sat down on the wooden dining table. She got a piece of yellow paper and wrote down the ingredients for this culinary delight. As she was scribbling down the required ingredients, I couldn’t help but notice the multitude of appetizers Teta Rana was preparing. I was certainly looking forward to this spectacular dinner! Suddenly, Teta Rana turned the radio on and starting singing. Although I didn’t really understand a single word she said, Teta Rana’s voice was beautiful. The music was very melodious. Then Hiba told me that the lady singing was a much acclaimed singer called Fairuz. Hiba also told me that Fairuz is commonly known as the ‘Jewel of Lebanon’ due to her success and eminence. Then before I knew it, everybody in the kitchen began singing along with Teta Rana. Only if I knew the lyrics to this song, I would surely be singing with the others. Auntie Mona then handed me the recipe. I thought the list of ingredients would be lengthy, but astonishingly, the marinade required only a few garlic cloves, fresh lemon juice, fresh thyme, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, ground black pepper, and of course olive oil. I don’t even think we have these items back in France. Anyways, I thanked Auntie Mona and asked her if I could give her a hand with anything. After a while, we were all gathered on the patio while Uncle Ahmad was busy grilling the chicken. The smell was amazing. My mouth was literally watering! Brigitte was telling her family about how things were going back in France. While they were busy talking, I was thinking about what my parents would be doing back home. My dad would still be at work and my mom would be writing on her blog or something. Just then, Hiba instructed me to ‘dig in’. The ‘hummus’ was absolutely delicious, as well as the ‘tabbouleh’ and ‘kebbeh’ rolls. By the time I was to start eating the grilled chicken, I was already full of the appetizers. After this superb meal, I said goodnight to everyone and went to bed. I wanted to leave Brigitte alone with her family. They insisted I stay, but I started to feel worn-out. As I lay in bed awake, a million thoughts crossed my mind. Indeed there was a major difference between France and Lebanon, and I don’t mean geographically.
I don't know how long that beam of sunshine had been peeking through the gap in the curtains before it found its way to my face; nor do I know how long it took me to become aware of it. I’d been dreaming of running with my mom in a wonderful yet mystical prairie. I felt happy and free. It was a sort of glee that I have never experienced with my mom. I fought to avoid that errant sunlight, to get back to my dream, but the moment had passed. I heard Teta Rana and Brigitte talking in the kitchen. I rubbed my knuckles into my eyes to drive away the ‘sleep’. I jumped out of bed and went straight to the bathroom to take a cool shower. While the ice-cold water was running on my skin, I mused about that dream I had. It was the first time for me to ever have a dream like that, since I don’t dream often. After my shower, I joined Teta Rana and Brigitte in the kitchen. They were having ‘manaeesh’ for breakfast. In France, Brigitte was always telling me how good ‘manaeesh’ are. There was an extraordinary plate of vegetables in the middle of the dining table. It looked like a fiesta of vegetables all mashed up on a blue ceramic plate! After breakfast, Brigitte and I went for a walk. While I was walking down the streets, I found myself immersed by the town’s serenity. Up till now, there are no words to depict the morning picture; not a single syllable. The warm orange glow of the sun flickered on the cobble-stone streets. The smell of the pine trees captivated me. I met many friendly faces along the way. To complete the scene, autumn trees of all kinds and colors crouched at the sides. The leaves have not abandoned the trees yet. When I heard the birds sing, they reminded me of happiness and life. Sometimes, we forget to appreciate nature's music. I watched the lively flowers sway in the light breeze. The sun glistened on my skin and blinded me from appreciating the lucid sky. As I strode forward, I took a deep breath, and felt a rivulet of purity cleanse my lungs. The word beautiful did not suffice to describe this new place. The new environment was poignant and I felt infinite. Growing up in Lyon, I had become accustomed to picturesque views but none had caught my emotions and thoughts as powerfully as the views in Brumanna. Right beside the mouth of a water spring sat an old woman baking paper-thin ‘markouk’ bread on a seasoned ‘saj’, a hot, convex metal grill. I saw children climbing trees and merrily chasing each other. When Brigitte and I felt lazy from all that walking, we plopped down on one of the benches nearby. I sat there and stared, shocked at the beauty of it all. Everything moved around me, while I was stationary, and the rest of the world continued ahead. It left me in a serene moment. A vegetable truck rumbled into the town square. Brigitte bought a kilo of fresh tomatoes. Then we went back home. We saw Auntie Mona out in the garden picking olives. The olives were shiny and bursting with oil. I handpicked the best olives for Auntie Mona. She preserved them in brine. While we were having lunch out on the patio, Auntie Mona told us that she, Uncle Ahmad, and Teta Rana were going to visit someone out of town and that Hiba would take care of me and Brigitte. Several minutes later, my mom called me. She asked me if I was comfortable with Brigitte’s family and if I was enjoying my time. I told her that I was overwhelmed with a sense of belonging in Brumanna. When I hung up the phone, I realized that I didn’t tell my mom, “I miss you”. I guess I felt so welcomed and cherished in Brigitte’s family that I didn’t feel the urge to tell my own mother that I missed her.
It was nearly eight o’clock and Brigitte and Hiba started to get bored. Not only was it really hot, but also there was no electricity. Typically, the weather at night is chilly, but this evening was quite hot. I didn’t really mind because I was working on my Arabic out on the terrace. Out of the blue, Hiba tells me to get dressed because she wanted to take us out. I told her the car is with Uncle Ahmad. How are we supposed to go out? “Don’t worry, we’ll find some good place to spend some time in, now come on, get dressed!” , Hiba said to me. I wore the pastel green dress which Auntie Mona bought for me as a ‘welcome’ present. We walked along the narrow, quaint streets of this snug town. It was a Sunday evening, and all the shops and cafes were closed at this time. However, there was one restaurant still open. It was far away from the town square though. As we approached the restaurant, we noticed it was deserted. It looked like it had been dropped out of the sky over a hundred years ago. It was covered in vines. The windows were broken; the shutters were off the hinges. The restaurant was as quiet as a tomb. Hiba and I were appalled at this sight, but Brigitte said she was starving and needed to eat anything. So, we went in. When we came inside, the waiter hadn't exactly greeted us with open arms. But the place was empty, so who was he to be fastidious? Oddly, this restaurant served Italian food. The three of us ordered ‘Fettuccine Alfredo’. The waiter gave us a cold look as he took down our orders. From behind the bar, the stout dark waiter looked over at us. The only other diners were three men sitting in the booth at the far end corner. Hiba, Brigitte, and I agreed on one thing. The three men looked like they were from the Sicilian Mafia. They had sinister, dark faces and they were wearing ‘mafia-style’ tuxedos. They were slurping bouillabaisse loud enough for us to hear. After the soup, they were hunched over platters of spaghetti. Each one of the men was guarding his plate as if afraid someone would steal it. I was a little scared. Were these mobsters planning to murder a fellow hoodlum? Were they going to corrupt this town? I certainly hoped not because I was having the time of my life in Brumanna! As we were enjoying our delectable ‘Fettuccine Alfredo’ platters, the waiter grimly asked us if we needed anything else. Although this restaurant looked ghastly, the food served here was scrumptious. Then I saw the waiter shake his head and go back through the swinging doors into the kitchen. What was wrong with that waiter? Does he have anything against foreigners dining in this restaurant? While I started feeling a bit apprehensive, I realized that Brigitte was having a good time. I guess the girl likes suspense. After a while, the waiter came out like a man with a mission, holding plates heaped with meat. He brought them to the men at the back, bowed, and served. The thin one in the middle nodded at the waiter and slipped him a bill. The waiter bowed again, but his facial expressions were as grim as a ‘grim reaper’. Why was the waiter being polite to the men but unkind to us? He had a bad attitude, especially for a dingy place this dull at dinner time. It’s not like he had to serve lots of people. Not to mention the stale smell and what passed for décor: worn lace curtains drawn back sloppily from the broken windows, dark wood varnished so many times it looked like plastic. The booths that lined the beige-colored walls were cracked black leather, and the tables were covered with tartan tablecloths. Seriously, this place needed a complete alteration. I didn’t notice that I was staring right at one of the men busy with eating the meat on his plate. I thought that I was going to get a glare in return but instead, I got a friendly smile. I was scared of him, but I barely smiled back. The waiter was still wiping the bar top. After we finished our meals, we left the restaurant. On our way back home, all we could think about were the Mafia men. Were they really involved in the Mafia? Should we be alarmed? Trust me, I’ve seen dozens of movies about Mafias, I know what kind of trouble they are capable of causing. We didn’t tell anyone what we saw at that ghastly eatery earlier this evening.
A few days passed by, and I spent them cooking with Auntie Mona, strolling along the quaint streets of the lovely town of Brumanna early in the morning when the sun is too shy to show her whole face, and shopping in the wonderful town plaza. I bought plenty of souvenirs for my parents. I just hope they like them because my parents are a bit finicky concerning presents. My comfort level in this town grew over a couple days. I learned when the vegetable truck came. . The man who drove the truck would make customers wait as he perfected my pronunciation of ‘jazar’, or ‘banadoora’. Hiba would sit back on a bench during these interactions with her signature smile. I learned where to get fresh bread, and even which butcher to buy good meat from. I liked this local routine. I am actually enjoying my visit in this town away from city life. I am fed up with shopping malls and fast-food restaurants. Besides, Brigitte’s family was incredibly nice to me. They treated me just like Brigitte, if not better. Yet, I was still thinking about the three men we saw at the restaurant days ago. They were rather suspicious. One morning with a bag of vegetables in hand, I was walking around the town square alone when I saw the three men. They were inside the town bakery talking to the owner. They must be blackmailing him! Obviously, these guys are up to something, something fishy. I thought about tracking them to figure out what wicked scheme they were up to, but I didn’t have the time to play Sherlock Holmes. However, my curiosity got the best of me. I valiantly entered the bakery and stood there, pretending to look at the pastries displayed at the front counter. I didn’t know Arabic, but I could tell from the facial expressions what was going on. All I could understand was that the men were ordering a special cake, a gigantic cake, shaped like an Italian flag. So they were from the ‘Sicilian Mafia’! But why were they ordering a cake? I left the bakery quickly. I didn’t want the men to recognize me. I went back home and told Brigitte everything. She told me that they were probably con men who wanted to rob the baker but changed their minds when they saw me. Afterwards, Brigitte and I went to a very popular shop in ‘Brumanna’. Hiba told us that before we go to France, we ought to check out this store. The shop was stacked with clothes, shoes, scarves, jewelry, handbags, and home accessories. Brigitte and Hiba were busy trying out outfits while I was sitting on the floor. I was really tired and there wasn’t a single empty chair I could sit on. The store was bustling with people. I was still thinking why the men ordered a big cake shaped like the flag of Italy. After a couple endless hours of shopping, Brigitte and Hiba were done. When we went back home, Auntie Mona hadn’t prepared lunch. She said that we were going to have lunch in the finest restaurant in Brumanna. As we entered the restaurant, I realized how crowded it was. The waiters were very courteous and welcoming, and they ushered us to a table outside in the garden. The weather was marvelous. The air was fresh and crisp. We wanted to watch the sun sink into the ocean as we eat. While we were eating, I was watching the happy people around me. I was watching the beautiful deep-blood red sunset. All cares of the day would vanish as I realized how beautiful the world really is. Just then, I saw the three men sitting at the table to the left of us. I felt uneasy. Were they going to rob the restaurant and shoot people? Unfortunately, one of the men caught me looking at them. He got out of his seat and approached our table. I definitely didn’t expect this. The man politely asked us, “Good evening. My name is Marco Ashkar. My friends and I own a chain of restaurants in Italy. We bought an old restaurant here in town and we want to renovate it. It will be the best Italian restaurant in Brumanna. I believe we ran into the three ladies back at the restaurant we bought. We want to have a good staff in our restaurant and we would like to know if any of the ladies is interested in helping us run the restaurant. I hope I haven’t bothered you.” I was flabbergasted. So, they were only business men who bought a restaurant in town? I could not help but laugh! And I actually thought they were mobsters. What an absurd thought. I realized Uncle Ahmad and Hiba were exchanging looks. Then he nodded to her. Hiba told the man, “I would like a job in order to pay for my college tuition fees. So yes, I accept your offer. However, my mother here is an excellent cook and her food is delicious. It would be nice to have her as the restaurant chef. Believe me, you won’t regret it. In fact, I want you to come over tomorrow for lunch and see for yourself. What do you say Mama?” Auntie Mona hesitated a bit, but then wholeheartedly agreed. The man hired both Auntie Mona and Hiba! We thanked the man, and congratulated Hiba and Auntie Mona. I guess the waiter who served us at the restaurant was bitter because he thought he would lose his job when these men would run the restaurant. And the men ordered an Italian flag shaped cake because they were celebrating their new business. After several minutes, another man joined the triplet. He was very tall, and he seemed very friendly, perhaps due to his jolly face. I’ve seen him before! He was the business man we met in the airplane. He said hello to Brigitte and I. Brigitte told him that her aunt was going to be the chef at his restaurant and Hiba was going to be one of the waitresses. He was very pleased with the news.
It was my last night in Lebanon. I was quite sad. I didn’t want to leave this family and go back to my normal monotonous life in France. Brigitte’s family was tremendously kind to me. They made me feel like I was one of them, even though I nearly broke Uncle Ahmad’s car the moment I arrived in Lebanon. Teta Rana taught me tricks for choosing the best produce. I spent afternoons watching Auntie Mona cook the finest meals in the kitchen. I learned many new recipes and I couldn’t wait to try them out myself back home. One afternoon when Auntie Mona saw me hanging laundry, she shook her finger at me, pointed at the sun, and brought the heel of her hand to her forehead. I was confused until the hour when the sun went down and I dragged soggy clothes back into the house. After a couple of days, we were both hanging laundry at 9 a.m. as the sun peeked over the mountain. Once again a smile engulfed her entire face—I had learned a lesson. One finger shake and I was surely never going to be faced with damp laundry at the end of the day. Certainly, I will never forget the three supposedly creepy Mafia men. What an experience that was! Brigitte’s family indirectly taught me the value of having a family. We don’t choose our family, they are God’s gifts to us, and we should treasure our family. I promised myself that when I return to my family, I will try to have a much closer relationship with my parents and do more things together. I want my family to be as close as Brigitte’s family. As I was standing out on the patio, I was watching the sky darken, the lights of all of the houses glimmer and twinkle across the hillsides, the stars begin to light up the increasingly indigo sky...and the sounds of dozens of muezzins across the town reciting their evening calls to Muslim prayer...jumbled together with the piercing peals of Christian monastery bells...it was a multi-sensory experience. My visit to Lebanon not only allowed me to realize how beautiful Lebanon is, but also taught me a few valuable lessons. Lesson one: to live everyday to the fullest. Lesson two: to cherish everything around us, most importantly, our very own family. Indeed, my father was right when he told me that there is a spirit in Lebanon which makes anyone happy, and no one can ever feel lonely there.