The first time I visited Lebanon, I made a vow to never return.
Hindsight being the beautiful thing that it is, I can certainly see now why the circumstances surrounding that holiday (I was 18, single, travelling with Dad, and spoke as much Arabic as a Spanish goldfish) garnered “Oh, she’s here for a husband” attention.
Alas, no suitor #putaringonit, and I returned to the land of my father’s family four years later – a little older, a little wiser, and with my best friend in tow. And I saw Lebanon for what it was: a land of incredible food, hazy Saturday nights (thanks, Taiga Sky), beautiful people, and home to a village I could not be more proud to trace 50 per cent of my DNA from.
Kfarsghab is actually divided into two settlements – a mountainous summer village in the heart of the Qadisha (Holy) Valley in North Lebanon, and a village about 30 minutes closer to sea level known as Merh Kfarsghab, which is inhabited during the winter months. While the winter village has charms all its own, the summer village is something special.
The village of Kfarsghab predates Christianity. Its inhabitants can trace their family tree sback to five founding fathers. Many original dwellings still stand after some 300-plus years; roofs still supported by strong, lacquered cedar trunks; stone walls scrubbed of their layers of dust and dirt to reveal the stories of the people who occupied the same spaces generations before.
Our family home isn’t large or five-star by any means, but it’s a place I wouldn’t change for the world, where old and new coexist in charming harmony. My grandmother’s dog-eared collection of Barbara Cartland romances sit stacked on a dresser in the upstairs bedroom, next to a candle and matches for when the electricity cuts out. An old oil lamp from when my ancestors – blacksmiths by trade – occupied the house sits on the bottom shelf of the TV unit in the abu – a sandstone space with arches and a tree-trunk ceiling, variations of which are typical in most old homes in the village.
Of course, a village is hardly a village without people. While Kfarsghab boasts several hundred permanent residents, the diaspora is 20,000 strong – Kfarsghabi stretched as far afield as the USA and Australia (where they’re affectionately known as “Frozzies”, because ‘Straya). Such is the Frozzie stronghold in the Sydney suburb of Parramatta, that Kfarsghab’s main street was renamed Parramatta Road back in 1995. For the record, it’s a far less congested and far more beautiful stretch of tarmac compared to its Sydney sister.
Despite visiting 10 times now (and counting), each trip rewards me with new friends (and, inevitably, new branches on the family tree), a few local words to add to my limited vocab, and a renewed sense of belonging. And that’s why I keep coming back. My Arabic may still be at a Spanish-goldfish level, but the sense of home is as strong as ever.