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Famous Reporter # 33



BLOG:                     'PERPETUAL REFUGEE'

19th May, 2006

           Mi casa es su casa

Tel Aviv, this past week.

A couple of days back I was running late for a meeting. I had made a detour to my hotel room to freshen up. I’d already had a full day in the office and it was approaching 5:00 pm, the time of my next meeting. As I made my way to my hotel’s front entrance, a feeling of dread came over me. An American lawyer had just flown in to meet with me and my local law firm. I knew I had a long night ahead of me full of boring corporate habibi-habibi chit-chat. I’m good at it yet it makes me miserable.

He was in a hotel about 15 minutes away. The plan was to meet with him at his hotel and discuss strategy prior to moving onto the local law firm. I took a cab from in front of the entrance. A new Mercedes, black leather, car phone in the back. Nice, I thought to myself. This is the way it’s supposed to be.

Just as soon as we started our drive, my lawyer called me. "Where are you? How long do you need to get here". An American, used to meetings starting on time and going according to a set agenda. "5 minutes" I told him. Hung up. The taxi driver, without hesitation, looked me straight in the eye through his rear-view mirror, laughing mockingly.

"Your accent is American, but I can tell you my friend, you are no American!", he said authoritatively.

"How did you know?", I replied, knowing full well what the answer was.

"You know as much as I do that his hotel is 15 minutes away. You’re working on Israeli time". Israeli time. I thought I was working on Lebanese time. But I’ve learned that in this arena, we are one and the same.

The inevitable question came. The question that I hesitate to answer honestly when I’m unsure of my own personal security. "So then, where are you from my friend?".

I gauged the situation. He didn’t seem like a fanatical person. He seemed friendly. His eyes spoke softly. He cared to know. I told him.

"I’m Lebanese."

I felt that he wanted to lurch to the back of the car and grab me. But not in an aggressive manner.

"Inta Libnanae? Ana Libnanae" (You’re Lebanese. I’m Lebanese.)

I was stunned. Speechless.

A Lebanese Jew. A Lebanese citizen who practiced Judaism. I’ve never met one before. I should have known he was Lebanese from the beginning. It was after all the nicest Mercedes taxi I’ve been in since coming to Tel Aviv. We have a weakness for brands.

He went on to tell me about his father and his grandfather before him. His youth in Lebanon. How his family still owns a house in Baabdat*. He talked warmly of his family’s business partner, a Lebanese gentleman, whom they still have relations with in Lebanon. This man who opened a bank account in Cyprus after they fled so that the financials can be shared by all shareholders. This man who ensures that their house in Baabdat* remains untouched by intruders. The man who saw beyond the politics of the day and did the right thing.

We arrived at my destination. 20 minutes late. And I didn’t care.

He turned around to me, gave me his personal mobile number and said "I always tell my son that one day he will return to our house in Baabdat*. He must. It’s his country".

His country, I pondered. This country that forced his family out. That looked down on them for nothing more than their faith. Then I realized that he was no different than me. I too was forced out, due to the civil war. I too was categorized by my faith. I too wanted to return to my home in the foothills of Lebanon’s mountains.

I wanted to say something smart. Something eloquent. But I couldn’t. I was still dazed by the short experience. I felt guilty, since my government doesn’t. So I smiled, and he understood.

He understood that as long as we maintain the dream, we maintain that hope.
And he understood that this Lebanese man of a different religious faith sitting across from him also identified with his longing. And that I didn’t categorize him by his faith.

My God is his God. My country is his country. My land is his land. And my house is his house.

May I live to see the day his son returns. And greet him.

*changed for privacy’s sake


                       The blog 'Perpetual Refugee' is at http://perpetualrefugee.blogspot.com/


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