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.