I grew up in a village east of the Bekaa valley in Lebanon, where the majority of the villagers were farmers. They made their living mainly from selling apples that they grew in their orchards. There were a few who had other occupations, my father among them. He wasn’t a farmer and he had a small business of his own.
My best pastime as a child was during the apple picking season. Together with my brother we would accompany my maternal grandparents and uncle to their apple orchard and spend days with them picking apples. I would start picking a few apples here and there and then would take my book and toys and go to a corner where my grandmother would have spread a mat for me, and I would spend the rest of the day reading and playing, only to break for lunch or walk around picking apples whenever I got bored. At the end of the day we would beg our uncle to send us by donkey-driven cart to the village, while he would stay behind to inspect the day’s work.
But the memories of which I am especially fond are of the days when I accompanied my grandfather and uncle to another field a little farther from the village. My uncle would come in his car early morning to take my younger brother and I with him. He wasn’t married yet at the time and the field was across the main highway that connected Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, to Damascus in Syria. My uncle and grandfather planted vegetables in that field according to the season, and when the time came, they would sell the produce by setting up a kiosk at the side of the road. My grandfather would be the one in charge of the sales. In that same field my uncle had built a double storey shed. That’s where I would spend the whole day, while my brother helped my grandfather. I would go with a bag full of books and paper and pencils and pens, and my doll. While my brother helped my uncle and grandfather I climbed up the ladder to the second storey. There were no walls, no windows or doors on the second floor, just two divans and two chairs. It had a roof but it was open from all sides and you could see all of Bekaa from there. It was such a spectacular view. I would sit on one of the divans, with book in hand and would gaze at the open horizon in front of me. Then I would make up a story and scribble on paper. I would spend the entire day in a daze like this only to break for lunch.
Gone are those days, as gone are both my grandparents and my father, may they rest in peace. I had totally forgotten about those days until my friend Lena the other day posted a picture on my Facebook wall that took me back in time. They were such blissful and happy times that we had as children, that were unfortunately taken from us as we grew older. The civil war that ravaged the country years later made us forget everything, even our childhood.
Because in the words of Nayla:
“It’s as if not only your dreams and hopes are all taken away from you but also your memories; your past is wiped out in just a few minutes and you are deprived of everything except the need to stay alive and nothing else.”