Inheriting My Mother's Fate

I never thought I’d relive my mother’s plight.

My intention in moving to Lebanon some five and a half years ago was really to be an anchor. An anchor that would gravitate my parents back to their motherland. An anchor that would reunite my mother to the family she abandoned in the height of the Civil War when she wed my father. An anchor that would take me back to my heritage and deepen my roots in the nation of my ancestors. An anchor that would transcend the artificial charm of a vacation for a gritty and real presence year-round.

Growing up in the US, I was conscious of my mother’s split existence. Her body was in California, but her heart, mind and soul were firmly entrenched in Lebanon. Sure, she’d willingly left her mother and siblings to start a new life with her American-nationalized husband, but not for a second did she live mentally unshackled for having done so.

She wrote long, lyrical letters to her sisters. She’d wait from week to week to make a quick, rehearsed phone call through the New York central operator – back then a call overseas had to be routed and queued, and the first three minutes of talk time commanded a whopping $15! When she went shopping, she constantly picked out items for her family in Beirut and stashed them in a suitcase in the garage.

In essence, Mom got through the year by living vicariously through thoughts, memories, letters, phone calls, and an earnest anticipation of the summer, when we would make the grueling 24-hour journey from LA to Beirut to reunite with relatives.

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I along with my brothers echoed Mom in our passion for Lebanon. Summers here were packed with nonstop excitement: frolicking with cousins, working a sweat at the country club, frequenting the movies, eating out, touring the country from North to South. Compared to our mundane, study-centric lives in the US, Lebanon was absolute paradise.

Which is why I promised myself I would come and settle in Lebanon once my educational objectives were fulfilled. Quite honestly, I pined to attend the AUB as an undergraduate, and I applied, even scoring a rare full-merit scholarship. But my parents weren’t too keen about leaving me, at 17, to fend for myself.

Years later and three academic degrees wealthier, I made the colossal leap of faith. I’d already attempted employment in the UAE and detested it, so the least I could do was give Lebanon a chance. It was now or never. And in my mind, I would be building the bridge across which my own parents would traverse, incenting them once and for all to make Lebanon the permanent home they dreamt of for close to three decades.

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Alas, reality seldom sticks to the plan. Mom and Dad came, for several months at a time, but never one-way. Their visits were invariably capped, one reason being my brothers’ continued presence in the US. But if you really probed at the depths, if you brought a magnifying glass to the inner machinations of their minds, you knew that for them, Lebanon had changed. 

Family had changed; folks in general had changed; values had changed; heck, even air quality had changed. And with my grandmother’s passing away in 2014, the glue of the family had totally dissipated.

My mother didn’t return to Lebanon until four months ago, after a year and a half's absence. In years past, she'd come to see her mother, but now, she comes to see me. The source of her agony all those decades – being so far from her mom – has renewed its ugly face with me as object. 

After all is said and done, after my valiant attempts to reunite Mom with her mother and motherland, I instead fostered our own sad separation. I am in the country of her dreams, while she remains in the country of my birth and childhood. Just as she had moved thousands of miles from her mother, I have moved thousands of miles from her.

Is this the world’s weird way of completing the cycle, of balancing the scale and making amends for what has gone before? 

Alanis Morissette sang it best: "isn't it ironic, don't you think?"


  1. It sure is ironic...I really do think! Halas, this is the plight of most Lebanese families. My kids are still young but I know they will go and leave us behind one day (not too long from now) to pursue a better education and wider job opportunities. And when I think of this impending day, my heart breaks a little each time although it's a few years from happening but still. I do hope by that time, this country would have pulled its shit together (excuse my french) and becomes a decent place to live a good decent life.

  2. It's time for you to go back!

    1. Maybe it is, I just wish it were as easy as it sounds.

  3. Is this not a call for you to rejoin your mother? Be closer to her? The bridge your tried to build was, to quote the movie title, "a bridge too far"....

    1. There's a small hitch, Tarek, and it is that I got hitched two years ago. Luckily he's also Lebanese-American, but as you can imagine, it's not as simple as upping and leaving. But yes, it is in the plan.

  4. As cliche as it sounds: follow your heart. Would you rather be chasing problems and document what might be the worlds worst problems. Or do you want to get a secure life in the efficient and capitalistic country were you would negotiate with your neighbors about the appropriate lawn grass length. Consider your tradeoffs. Long bridges exist, they're just complex and harder to maintain.


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