Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Life in Lebanon

During our last visit to Lebanon we had stayed at the ancestral house of Joseph where his father and mother live. His house is in a village called Chekka with a population of about 21,000 and 60 kms from the Beirut airport.
Life in Lebanon is very different. Every house or family has one person working abroad to support the family at home. The way Kolkata is used to bandhs, rallies and power outages, the Lebanese are used to the sniper gunshots in the streets and periodic bomb blasts from the conflict with Israel.
In fact the house where we stayed was once bombed. While walking on the streets of Beirut I saw bullet marks all over the walls of big buildings and gaping holes on the road caused by bomb blasts. House owners repairing their balconies or putting up new glass panes every morning due to the previous night’s blast is as common a sight as vendors delivering newspapers across Kolkata.
Joseph told me that there is nothing to be scared of as the attacks are so meticulously planned that only the person who is targeted is killed. Joseph gave the example of a recent killing of their senior minister who was shot dead in his car while the whole cavalcade, including his chauffeur and security personnel, were not harmed. While travelling in a place like Lebanon I learnt a lot about many historical fact thanks to the then Indian ambassador to Lebanon Mrs Nengcha Lhouvum.
I had also met some prominent Indians and visited a Gurdwara. I was shocked to hear the history of the head of the Gurdwara who told me that he had come to Lebanon as a labourer and when he saw that there were no Gurdwaras in Lebanon despite the presence of a modest Sikh community, he went back to Punjab, learnt Gurubani and became a religious man. He came back and became the head of the Gurdwara in Lebanon.
At present, there are over 10,000 Indians in Lebanon who are mostly labourers. There is a strange social equation. Men from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh marry the women from China, Philippines and Thailand as they all are immigrants on work visa and many of them have their life partners as well back at home.
T
he well-to-do Indians are the African Indians who came here after the turmoil in Africa. One person I had met told me his story on the condition that I wouldn’t disclose his name that how he paid money to the personnel in the US diplomatic mission and some UN officials to get 30 of them out of Africa in a ship bound for Lebanon.
During my visit, I was mesmerised by the beauty of the place. I also met the members of the Indian Army deployed by the UN out there.
Joseph’s father and mother spoke Lebanese only and we communicated through gestures. Their hospitality was full of affection. The Lebanese vegetarian food that they cooked for us is still I think the best Lebanese food I have had in my life.
The house of Anna’s mother was 30-minute drive from Joseph’s village. We met her mother who ran the most prestigious upmarket furniture shop.Two months after my visit I heard that the shop had been bombed and now no longer exists.
While driving to the Lebanon-Israel border we were stopped 16 km from the border. Foreigners were not allowed beyond this point. 
The places that I had seen in Lebanon are amazing and it is my personal view that it is such a loss not only to the country but also to the global tourists who have a taste for visiting beautiful places of great historical interest.
(File pictures top to down: Pre-historic Jeita Grotto caves which has the largest stalactite in the world;
 Qana of Galilee, the town where Jesus Christ performed his first miracle turning water to wine; 
Memorial of the Fijian Soldiers who died in south Lebanon. Site of the 1996 Qana massacre when Israel bombed the UN compound killing 106 Fijians;
 Baalbeck, Unesco World Heritage site, has the most preserved Roman ruins in the world;
Baalbeck in a museum underneath the Temple of Jupiter;
Remains of ancient ruins along the way).  
ess bee

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