Do you believe in angels? I definitely do, because I recently met one in London Heathrow’s Terminal 2.
Here’s how it happened.
In late September, I was transiting in London Heathrow, en route from Beirut to Toronto. I had just spent two weeks visiting family and friends in the beautiful mountain villages of Lebanon — something I hadn’t done in a couple of summers.
The Lebanon trip was my second in 6 months, and it was a trip with a purpose: my brother and his wife had just had preemie twins and I wanted to see the babies and lend any support given the babies would be in the neo-natal intensive care unit for the foreseeable future. My mother had fractured her back and had been going through a hard time. And, selfishly, I wanted to visit during warmer months of the year, versus my annual trip in March.
Because I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and because my biggest trigger is travel-related, this long trip from Canada takes a lot out of me and it takes a lot of preparation on my part. I see my family doctor and my therapist regularly before I leave. I visit with our priest. I watch the news like a hawk, assessing the political and economic situation in Lebanon and supplementing my understanding by consulting family members who are closer to the action.
In the last month, I’ve visited with family in two very different parts of the world, and I wanted to share with you why I loved these two family visits. In early March, I went to Lebanon to visit my parents, brothers, and extended family, and, in late March, we went to the US to visit my husband’s family. Although these trips were in places far apart from each other, the reasons I enjoyed the visits are very similar.
As part of being mindful of how I spend my time, I really paid attention to the visits I had and why they were so important and meaningful. Visiting family seems like something you do because it’s associated with a certain holiday or milestone. Sometimes you feel like you need to make these visits out of obligation or expectations. Sometimes you love making the trips and taking the effort. And, sometimes, you’re just so darn grateful for the opportunities and savor each moment. The latter is how I felt in the last month.
Here are the 7 reasons I loved visiting with family recently. I hope they inspire you to plan more visits!
Reason 1: My family is a part of my history
This sounds so obvious, but it’s really deeper than having people who are related to you. I’m talking about the family resemblance, the common cultural background, a country’s understood traditions, and the feeling of connectedness. When you’re around your immediate and extended family, you see where some of your mannerisms and points of reference come from. For example, in Lebanon, we’re a bit of loud family. We yell from room to room or outside to someone in the garden. The neighbors pretty much know what we’re up to! In my family in particular, we are bitterly honest with each other and we tell it like it is. For spouses and in-laws, this may seem harsh at times, but it’s what we’re used to and how we grew up. It’s done lovingly, really. Engaging in this banter made me understand that growing up like this was normal for me, but that it might not seem so normal to my nuclear family of my husband and two teens, or for my in-laws. Continue reading →
Many of you know that I’m Lebanese and that I try to go back to Lebanon at least once a year. Last year, I posted two blogs about my visits: one about my March 2016 trip and one about the Feast of the Assumption, which falls on August 15th. You all enjoyed my posts so much that the former post appeared in the Aramco Expats online edition and the other one resulted in my getting more emails than any other post!
Given that it’s August 15th today, the day of the Feast of the Assumption, I thought I’d show you, in pictures, how much the Virgin Mary is celebrated in Lebanon. It’s a national holiday there, and everyone named Mary is celebrated! I drove my dad crazy when we would go for walks as I stopped to photograph every shrine we passed. Making it a challenge to find unique and hidden shrines added to the fun.
In these photos, you’ll find shrines dedicated not only to the Virgin Mary, but to other saints that are important to Lebanese Christians. These include Saint Sharbel (also spelled Charbel), Saint Elias, and Saint Thecla. You can read more about the saints specific to Lebanon here.
This post is meant to give you a glimpse of what it’s like to walk and drive around the small Christian mountain village of Broummana, 20 minutes east of Beirut, in the Mount Lebanon Governorate. You will hear church bells ringing all day on Sunday and on other days of the week. Going to church is a daily activity for many. Outings to visit churches or larger shrines are common all year round. It would be an understatement to say that people in this small village are religious because they are very religious! Many activities revolve around the local churches. Check out this huge church square overlooking the beautiful mountains of Mount Lebanon:
Today is August 15th, The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It sounds like quite the esoteric topic for a post, but I wanted to share this day with you in the form of pictures and anecdotes because it’s a big deal in my family!
In Lebanon today, it is a statutory holiday and it is highly celebrated. You go to church, you visit and spend time with everyone named Mary, and you even give them presents. And, because my name is Mary, today is my day!
When my grandmother was alive, this day was her day, too – basically like a birthday celebration. August 15th was bigger for her than any other day of the year because her name was Marie and she was very religious. We would go over to her house and exchange gifts and have lunch with the extended family.
Two weeks ago I was in Lebanon celebrating my dad’s birthday and spending time with my family. It had been almost 4 years since my last visit. A lot has changed but the most interesting difference for me was the ability to document my trip on Instagram!
First, a few personal comments on #MyLebanon:
Lebanon has never been my home for longer than a few weeks on vacation, but it is where my parents and family are from. It is my home and native country. A country of about 4 million people in an area of 10,452 sq kms, Lebanon’s history has included Romans, Phoenicians, Ottomans, and a Civil War. The most important features of Lebanon for me are the 3 languages most Lebanese speak (almost every spoken sentence includes Arabic, English, and French words), Beirut’s once-nickname as the Paris of the Middle East, the many religious sects, and the undeniable joie de vivre of the Lebanese.
Lebanese people like to live, period.
For me, Lebanon is a beautiful country where mountains jut up from the Mediterranean Sea much like some of the California coast. The sea and mountain views are stunning. Most mornings, people can be seen sitting in their pajamas on their balconies, sipping coffee and enjoying the views. It’s what they live for.
My Lebanon is a Christian village called Broummana in Mount Lebanon, about 20 mins east of Beirut. Village living is peaceful, traditional, family-oriented. Aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors drop by. Falling asleep to frogs croaking and foxes howling and waking up to roosters crowing is inevitable. Cicadas sing all summer long and can be annoyingly loud. Churches, tolling bells, and religious ‘nooks’ (blog post soon on this) set up with Virgin Mary statues as well as other local saints can be found outside many homes.
Memories of summers spent in Lebanon swirl in my head almost all year long. I absolutely love visiting my home country. I leave with my batteries recharged from all the family love. And, my suitcases are full of roasted nuts, baklava, pistachio nougat, and many other Lebanese sweets. Oh, and did I mention shoes? Lebanese-made shoes are still my favorite, made with love, style, and genuine leather.
I hope you enjoy this blog post which highlights my Instagram photos. I’d love to hear your views on what you thought of Lebanon before and after these posts!
On my first day in Broummana, I went for a walk with my dad. It was the clearest day of my trip. This is an infinity pool looking south and west onto a range of mountains. You can see the mountain villages sprinkled across the valley:
This house is a modern home that is built to look like it’s an old house. Note the arches and the yellow stones used as well as the wooden shutters. It has a red tiled roof that you’ll have to take my word on:
One day my aunt and uncle took us to the Shouf mountains and the home of two palaces dating to the early 19th Century. The first is Beiteddine, the home of Emir Bechir and the second is the Mir Amin Palace, now a hotel. I love the tiled carpet at the bottom of the pool. The Shouf region is the prettiest, most peaceful place I have visited outside of Broummana:
Zaytouna Bay is a ‘waterfront promenade’ in Beirut near the Beirut Souks shopping area. The Beirut Marina is there as are restaurants such as Paul and Pinkberry. We went for a ride out on the Mediterranean from Zaytouna to Jounieh Bay. The weather was unseasonably warm for this time of year. No complaints here!
On the day I went to Beirut Souks, there was a demonstration going on so I couldn’t see what I wanted to see. The pink flowering trees against the yellow stoned buildings were so beautiful. As I had never seen spring in Lebanon, I was quite happy with this compromise!
There are Roman and Byzantine ruins in several parts of Lebanon. One site is in Beit Meri, the village next to Broummana. We went at dusk. Here I am with my brother on a mosaic tiled carpet.
Mount Lebanon has blankets of pine tree forests. Cicadas hide here as do goat herds, frogs, and foxes. When you look closely, you can see that these pine trees look a bit like broccoli!
Driving around Broummana, you can see both mountain and sea views. I must say that I’m partial to the sea views because I like the peaceful mountain living while being able to see the excitement of city living a few kilometers away in Beirut:
My last photo was taken on the flight out of Beirut. You can see how big Beirut is and get a feel for what the summers are like in the beach clubs like the Movenpick Hotel Beirut in this photo:
So, that’s my trip in photos as seen on my Instagram feed.