Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I have been back in Lebanon for over a day now. I am finding it slightly difficult accepting that I have left behind something very special in London. But I take great solace in the fact that we carry with us what is special in our hearts no matter where we roam - that we never leave something behind unless we decide to expunge it from our hearts.

This evening I spent a little bit more than an hour alone by myself with my maternal grandmother. I don't remember the last time I sat with her alone since her stroke and had a proper chat - more like she telling me stories from her younger days. I was quite happy to listen to her.

She related - for the first time to me - how she had applied to work as an air hostess at MEA in the late 1950s. She was even interviewed and almost accepted. "They told me that I matched all their criteria. They were pleased that I was fluent in both Arabic and French and were willing to teach me English" she proudly recounted. But her brother, who was a doctoral student in Paris at the time, wrote her a one-line letter that read:

هذه وظيفة لا تليق بفتاة شرقية 
[This job is not for an Eastern girl]

Like a good girl in our part of the world, she did not question her brother's disapproval. She instead applied for a teaching job in the public service. She got married a few years later and says that she never regretted her choice because it provided a comfortable and stable income - which is exactly what she needed as a working mother.

She loved (and still does as much as her legs and walking stick permit) walking and she would refuse to get a lift from my grandfather, who had a taste for both handsome suits and automobiles. She told me how she would even walk to school during the civil war, that there was always a sense of fear in her heart. "If I saw a huddle of people, I would worry. And if I saw no people at all and the streets were empty, I would worry all the same..." She would then pause and say "الله الحامي" [God protects]. She still took that twelve minute walk to school and then back.

Whenever we visited from Africa, we'd stay over at hers and granddad's. Sometimes she would take me with her to school - it was the last school where she taught because she'd moved between several schools including an Armenian school. She would get me my favorite, a croissant, from the bakery on our way and a bottle of juice. And she would let me make-believe I was teacher by allowing me to scribble on the blackboard. Of course, I don't recall playing teacher with her students. But, I'll take her word for it.

"Our times were better..." she said. Then grabbed her walking stick and stood up.

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