It’s a small world after all. Or is it?

I’ve become friendly with the guy who runs the garage where I take my car. I first took it there because it was conveniently located across the street from my employer. That was a couple of jobs ago. I still take it there because I can always talk to Sam about my car without him getting exasperated or patronizing. He always says, “Don’t worry. We’ll take a look”. When I pick the car up, he always smiles and offers me a drink or something to eat and we have a nice chat. Sometimes his wife and little daughter are there. Her name is Sam, too. He laughed as he told me the story of how he convinced his wife to name their daughter after him. They recently had a little boy. I saw him earlier this week and he told me he’d be going home around Christmas for a visit. He was looking forward to it. I asked where home was. He’s from Lebanon. When I got home, I got out my globe and searched for Lebanon. I had an idea it was part of the Middle East, but no solid idea of its exact location. I found it, right there at the apex of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Syria and Israel. Lebanon has mountains and beautiful beaches and a lot of cedar trees. There is a cedar tree on its flag. When I picked up my car, I asked Sam which town in Lebanon he’s from. He’s from Batroun, North of Beirut, south of Tripoli. It’s a touristy area and one of the world’s oldest cities. It has a population of about 45 thousand, which is about half of my town’s population. His family has a refreshment stand there, where they sell lemonade, beer, ice cream and what not. He worked there before he came to America to help his brother with the garage. His mom didn’t want him to go. He liked working in the family business, he liked the weather, but he came anyways.

If I had learned about Lebanon in school or from the news or a book, I probably would have glazed over and tuned out. It’s so far away. In fact, I probably did exactly that. I know that if  you had asked me about Lebanon I would have said it’s in the Middle East and If you had then asked me what I thought Lebanon might have been like, I would have said there’s probably war and refugees and human rights abuses and patriarchy because that’s what I hear in the news. It’s not a place I’ve ever wanted to visit. I’m not well traveled and I know I think of other places within the parameters of my limited knowledge, positive and negative. It makes those places small and one dimensional. Hearing about Lebanon from a homesick native son, about the old buildings, the beautiful beaches, the citrus trees, the weather and his family was enlightening and helped me to see that I’m not doing myself any favors. Hearing about Lebanon from Sam inspired me, it made me wonder what it would be like to walk the narrow streets between the old buildings, to swim in the sea, to experience the culture there. It’s so easy to dismiss or fear places you’ve never been and people you’ve never met, to assign everyone to a stereotype. The older I get, the more I’m aware that fear is a mad tyrant and fear of other people and cultures seems to be more of an issue now, not just in this country. I know I’m guilty and I know I can do better. Maybe the antidote to fear is curiosity, communication, and kindness.

  8 comments for “It’s a small world after all. Or is it?

  1. Doug in Oakland
    November 15, 2019 at 5:05 am

    I knew some Lebanese folks when I worked for Tumbleweed, the natural foods distributor. Apparently there is a thriving Lebanese community in San Francisco, and many of the families own small businesses there, which is how I met them while delivering to their stores.
    One guy was really a character, and was always behind the cash register wearing a black leather coat and smoking cigarettes. We had an animated conversation about US foreign policy the day that we invaded Iraq. Neither of us thought it was a good idea.
    The others were a family whose store was downstairs from their house in the lower Haight. A few days after 9-11 they called the warehouse to report the behavior of our delivery driver, who had gotten in their faces about being foreigners and called them terrorists and told them to go back where they came from.
    We apologized to them and fired the driver on the spot as soon as he got back, and I still remember the owner and founder of Tumbleweed telling him as he fired him that the family were Americans, now raising fifth generation San Franciscans and loyal customers for decades and that he had a lot of gall to denigrate them as citizens when he didn’t really seem to have contributed much to the country he wanted them thrown out of.
    Had I not met those folks, Lebanon would just be a place I occasionally read about in the news, but connected to actual human beings, it became more than that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 15, 2019 at 12:16 pm

      You totally get me, Doug. I guess fearing what we don’t know or what seems different is biological, like fight or flight, but in this day and age, it can either save your life or turn you into a world class racist. Sometimes, you have to fight against your biological impulses a little bit. I’ve never really been the stranger traveling in a strange land. Unless you count Canada. I don’t. I wonder how that feels.

      Like

  2. Joanne Noragon
    November 16, 2019 at 12:15 am

    It is good to trust the continuity of your car to someone you trust.Mine has been in the same shop for thirty years, and I even get the “employee discount.”

    Like

    • November 16, 2019 at 5:24 pm

      Hi Joanne, I know! When my husband gently nudged me to start handling my own car maintenance issues, I was really worried because I don’t talk “automobile”. I’m glad I found someone I trust.

      Like

  3. jenny_o
    November 16, 2019 at 1:15 am

    What you’re saying about “curiosity, communication and kindness” applies to anyone who’s different from ourselves, actually. A product of a country upbringing, I had preconceived ideas about town-dwellers until I became one. I still have those ideas about city-dwellers, fer cripes’ sake 🙂 Meeting people up close is the only way to truly KNOW how much alike we all are, even given our superficial differences.

    Like

    • November 16, 2019 at 5:23 pm

      Hi Jenny, yes, I agree. Are we biologically wired to fear what we don’t have any knowledge of? I think we must be, which, in the globalized environments we live in, seems unhealthy. I don’t really have the vocabulary to say what I’m thinking but it’s something like, a hundred years ago or more, we didn’t have a lot of knowledge about what was going on across the world or even across our own country…We lived with less fear because our worlds were smaller and we knew less. On the other hand, cruel, evil people probably found it easier to carry out their deeds because there were fewer eyes on them. I can’t wrap my head around what scenario is better….the global one where the unknown causes a constant feeling of anxiety, or an isolated one where we only know what goes on in our own communities and if those things are bad, we may not know that they are bad…Okay, I’ve talked myself through this and I think the past is the past so no use dwelling on it and having less fear of the unknown would be a good thing in the world we now live in. Fear is limiting us and the powerful use fear to control the weak. What do you think?

      Like

      • jenny_o
        November 16, 2019 at 9:48 pm

        I think you laid out the conundrum well. On a personal level, if we all try to learn about those we fear, that would help. Like you did, asking your car guy about himself and learning about his life. On a bigger level, maybe all we can do is try to speak well of the “others” to those who still feel fear. Drag them along with us on our voyage of discovery, so to speak. We may not have opportunities to do that as often as we’d like, but we can seize what chances we DO get.

        That can get complicated, though, when you’re an introvert. We have a multicultural festival in our little town every year now, and do I go? No. I’m too shy, especially to go on my own, and my husband is even shyer than I am, so he wouldn’t go with me either. (Also, the festival revolves around food from different countries, and I have to eat quite a strict diet due to GI issues, so not partaking might look like I was being a food snob also…)

        I think you’re also right that the past is the past. The world is a much smaller place than it used to be, and I don’t think there’s any retreating on that front. We must adapt.

        I have a nephew who loves to travel. He’s been to many countries around the world, a lot of them by himself, and more recently with his wife and baby girl. I try to do my part by cheering him/them on, asking lots of questions, and looking at all the photos he takes. It helps that I’m genuinely interested and that he’s a great talker and photographer 🙂

        Like

      • November 17, 2019 at 3:15 pm

        Hi Jenny, I tend to avoid crowded places, too. I just don’t really like crowds much. I’ll bet you are great one on one or in small groups of people you enjoy. Your nephew and his family are really brave. Do you ever watch those shows about people who move to a foreign country and have to find a new home? I watch them all the time. Quite often they are about young couples with children and they are trying to expose the children to other cultures and languages. I think that’s fascinating and not an easy path to take-it’s so much easier to stay home lol. I admire them. My dad had a job offer on the other side of the country once. I remember him discussing I it with my stepmom. They decided they couldn’t uproot the kids but I was in the background thinking Puhleeezzze, let’s move to California. Even at 13 I knew I didn’t like Maine winters, but here I am all these years later still in New England. As a young adult, I could have gone anywhere-why didn’t I hightail it somewhere warmer at least for a little while? I don’t know. Afraid to be too far from my family, I think, even though I never would have admitted it!

        Like

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