I think it’s common to feel a sense of pride when we talk about our country of origin or birthplace, especially when we no longer live there. Reminiscing about our hometown ties us to our identity and our culture, and explains a lot about who we are, no matter how detached we may be from it in our day-to-day life.
I was born in Ehden, a mountainous town in northern Lebanon. This is where I’m from.
As much of a Torontonian city girl that I am, I will always have a soft-spot pride for my small town origin. I think Ehden’s natural beauty is one of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to nature, and its village charm is why I can relate to quaint small town life. To me, that is home.
I was four when we moved to Canada in the late 80s, but I’ve had the privilege of going back home seven times to visit family, get re-connected with my roots, and enjoy a sunny Mediterranean vacation where our big extended family spoiled us with love, and delicious authentic Lebanese food. Oh, the food. So much glorious, fresh food.
As a child, we had a blast spending our summers in Ehden. We played with our cousins and neighbours all day, keeping the front door open for them to swing by anytime, whether to recruit us for a game of “foot” (soccer), or to cool down with a glassed bottle of Mirinda orange soda. At a young age, my parents took us to the nearby heritage sites to learn more about our Lebanese history, like the Cedars of Lebanon, or the house-turned-museum of internationally renowned poet and artist Khalil Gibran.
Spending summers in Ehden as a teenager was a different story. It was still charming to me, but I got bored very quickly because there wasn’t much to do (note: this was before the Internet and Smartphone days). Our cousins, and most teens and young adults our age, lived, studied or worked in Beirut, and they only came up to Ehden on the weekends (think of Ehden as the Canadian equivalent to Muskoka, it’s basically a summer cottage town). This made our weekdays pretty quiet and uneventful, and my brother and I often lamented to our parents that we’d rather spend time in the shopping and entertainment districts of Beirut, or hang out at the beaches in Byblos.
All that Ehden had to offer was al miden, which is Ehden’s downtown square. People gathered there every evening, and since everyone knew each other, it was the town’s main socializing ground. These social gatherings often lead us to sit and enjoy some meze (appetizers) or helu (sweets) in the surrounding cafes, restaurants and hotels. To my parents’ disapproval (but I’d still do it anyway), the miden was also the place where you could sit and smoke narguile (hookah) which is a staple social activity in the Middle East.
It was all fun at first, but it got pretty repetitive after the sixth time in a row. To change it up, we’d also spend time at the popular Ehden Country Club, where we would hang out by the pool during the day and enjoy Arabic-pop songs over dinner and dance on their terrace in the evenings.
And then there would be weddings. Big, lavish weddings always occurred in Ehden during the summer. You’d know there was a wedding going on when you’d hear cars honking in celebratory tunes as the bride and groom and their wedding party drove by in their decorated cars on the way up to Ehden’s iconic church, Saydet el Hosn, or when you’d hear the rhythmic celebratory drumbeats and chants of a zaffe group, gathering the bride out of her parents’ home to meet her soon-to-be husband at the altar. Neighbours would be watching and cheering Mabrouk from their balconies, expressing congratulatory well wishes to the family of the aroos (bride) and arees (groom). It was quite the village affair.
But that was pretty much it. For the most part, visits to Ehden in the summer meant you’d just lounge around in your family’s summer home to keep cool as the mountain breeze swept in through the open windows and bounced off the cooling marble walls. Afternoon naps were common, and so was watching Arabic-subtitled telenovelas (Lebanese people love Mexican soap operas).
But even TV time was interrupted frequently since the electricity would cut out pretty much every evening. When that happened, we’d resort to playing cards by candlelight, or chat with our neighbours on the front steps under the mountain stars while the generators hummed in the background.
Time just always seemed to stand still in Ehden. The days would laze by, and the nights were tranquil. To my teenage-self, that was a recipe for absolute boredom. But as an adult, I would gladly soak it all up.
I was 25 the last time I went to Ehden, and my perspective of it had changed, even though Ehden did not. My last visit was when I really started to appreciate my hometown for what it did have, instead of focusing on what it lacked.
Sure, even after all these decades, there still wasn’t much to do in Ehden, but that’s when I learned that maybe the only thing you could really do in Ehden…is just take it all in. Ehden invited you to take a break, to breathe its fresh air, and it challenged your mind to comprehend the beauty that your eyes were capturing. The ordinary, unchanged surroundings were compensated by a spectacular landscape and fascinating history. Perhaps, I think, that is part of Ehden’s mystery and charm.
For all the things that I thought Ehden lacked in the past, I now appreciated its richness that was actually there all along. One thing is certain now: these are Ehden’s traits I could never get bored of.
Picturesque mountainous backdrops
The grandest of sunsets
Feeling like you’re flying
Fresh mountain water and vegetation in your backyard
The charming stone and marble antique architectures of the summer homes
The scent of lavender, rose and jasmine surrounding you
It’s these simple things, those views, those aromas, and that comforting feeling that make Ehden special to me. This is the Ehden I remember and miss, and I know that this is the Ehden that will always greet me whenever I return. Insh’Allah.