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 4 years old 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 any time, 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).
All that Ehden had to offer in terms of excitement was al miden, which is the downtown square where people gathered on weekends. And since everyone knew each other in this small village, 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 while Arabic-pop music played on the stereos.
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.
And then there would be the big, lavish Lebanese weddings.
You’d know there was a wedding going on when you’d hear the rhythmic drumbeats and chants of a zaffe group on the street or cars honking in celebratory tunes as the bride and groom are escorted in their decorated cars.
Neighbours would watch from the balconies and cheering Mabrouk, 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 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.
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 instead of sitting in the living room 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.
As a teenager, it was 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.
Ehden invited you to take a break, to breathe its fresh air.
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.
Ehden had picturesque mountainous backdrops.
Ehden had the grandest of sunsets.
Ehden made you feel like you were flying.
Ehden had fresh spring water and vegetation in the backyard .
Ehden smelled like lavender, rose and jasmine.
For all the things that I thought Ehden lacked in the past, I now appreciate its richness that was actually there all along.
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.