THE BLOG

Forget the Explosions, Lebanon's Heart Is Intact

08/21/2013 04:53 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Hearing of the deadly violence tearing through Lebanon is heartbreaking. Just two weeks ago I was there taking in the endless Mediterranean beauty by the beach and visiting relatives in the secluded mountainside.

I rushed to my phone after hearing about the car bomb in Dahieh. My relatives faced it with resilience. "In Lebanon, this is normal," they tell me. They move around it as they would a roadblock. Lebanese don't take life too seriously; they have a strong faith in God, and an unrivaled reverence for fun.

The first thing I did in Lebanon was revisit the home where I stayed 11 years ago. The home is in Beiteddine, called so because it overlooks the extravagant summer palace of the President, as well as the endless green hills. The lower portion of the home where I had spent two months playing with cousins was now rented out to a family escaping the ongoing civil strife in Syria.

I saw the small concrete pool where we would swim. Once brimming with fresh mountain water, it was now completely dry and baking in the afternoon sun. This time I could only peer in the home quietly. A remarkably kind woman, Katia, and her four daughters greeted me. Katia's youthful face was framed by a violet hijab that complimented her bright blue eyes. Since the Arab uprisings sparked two years ago, I've heard horrific tales of the spreading turmoil in Syria, of deaths and displaced families, but one thing that shocked me was the untainted charisma in her eyes. With an unfading smile she showed me how she had transformed a part of the home that was left to shambles. She looked on with pride at her hard work to plant countless vegetables, fruits, plants, and to turn an abandoned area into a livable space for her family.

Lebanon may be small, but it is dense with diversity and stark divsion. Both physically and mentally the contrast reverberates through everyday life. Often, the change was nice. I would enjoy a traditional Lebanese dish while overlooking the quiet mountainside, and the next day I was down in the sweltering Beirut bustle smoking shisha before Lebanon's famed granite behemoths in Raouche. Other aspects required some adjustment. Religion adheres to life as firmly as the Beirut smog. The main groups consist of Shiite, Sunni, Christians and Druze, and the ongoing conflict between them seems unrelenting. Even the non-religious are religious, as my cousin would say. This is the simple undisputed fact of Lebanese life; you are born to a group and you belong to them from birth, until death.

Everyone in Toronto enthusiastically asked me if I stayed in Beirut, to their disappointment, yet my relief, I tell them no. Beirut traffic is mashed against the heat; passing through these thick knots will deplete you of energy. You are best off coming at night when the disarray dissipates and the world-renowned nightlife gets going.

I found relief in escaping from the chaos to make my way up to Deir El Kamar, the small Christian community where I stayed with my mom's side of the family. Quietly nestled in the mountains, bright terracotta roofs line the undulating hills. The temperature is cooler, the air is pure; it is a historic town preserved in rich tradition and endless family gatherings, and I mean endless.

The smell of Lebanon always stays with me, the aromatic spices stuck in the heat.The exhilarating frenzy and rejuvenating solitude are all at your finger tips; all you need is a car and the patience to drive through it. I went to Lebanon expecting the similar quiet routine of Toronto life. Instead, I was greeted by an unrivaled zest for life, amazingly fresh food, a clash of sounds, vibrancy, and the profound hospitality of a people who daily embrace and persevere through the cohesive chaos of everyday life.

Lebanon