Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Cedars of Lebanon

Sometimes, I think my thighs resemble the great cedars of Lebanon which is completely unfair for me being only a quarter Lebanese, don’t you think?

I’ve never had an identity crisis until coming to study in Cairo. People from school stop and say, “oh, so and so told me you were Lebanese,” and all I can do is inhale and get ready to repeat for the umpteenth time the limited story I know of my great-grandparents and a boat and something about everyone trying to assimilate; and what it really boils down to is that no one in my family speaks arabic, only three of us even know how to make waraq 3einab, and I look like the adopted red-headed stepchild at every Thanksgiving. I’m not bitter over the fact that my sister can tan,nope, not at all.

“You look Lebanese,” they say, which is funny because the guy running the spice stand in Khan Al Khalili just told me I looked Egyptian and in Spain, people literally stopped me in the street to ask me if I was German, ¿Es Alemana, no? I must have one of those faces.

“What? You’ve never been to Lebanon!?” they say with shock. I shake my head no. It tends to be kind of a long flight from Virginia and I’m pretty sure my fifth cousin, twice removed who may or may not exist, wouldn’t like it if I just popped on over. Especially if the rumor about some land we might own (that is currently inhabited by said cousin), that is supposedly just waiting for a Ramey descendent to claim it, is true. Because really, my whole family has been waiting to return and start an olive farm.

In America, everyone is a little of everything it seems. The only time I really think about my “heritage” is every May when St. Anthony’s Maronite Catholic Church roles out the plastic chairs and forces every kid in youth group to dress up and perform Dabke for the annual food festival. Don’t get me wrong, I love that minute amount of Lebanese-ness that makes me feel slightly superior to the masses of “non-lubnanee” (as we say in Arabic, er, mostly Arabic), because when I’ve finished inhaling kibbi, tabouli, and enough hummus to brick a house, I know that the correct pronunciation of that yummy, flaky pastry covered in honey is Baklawa.

But here in Egypt, I feel like the impostor. The little Arabic I do know is not in the Lebanese dialect, my kitchen is too small to cook any traditional dishes in order to prove my authenticity, and I just realized I probably can’t even locate Beirut on a map. I won’t even mention the fact that every time someone talks about the majestic shrubbery of Lebanon, all I can think about are those little blocks my grandmother uses to keep moths away from her fur coats.

All in all, this really makes me look forward to having kids and one day listening to them explain how their one-eighth Middle Eastern roots have an impact on their daily lives.


  1. LOL, Rachel I love it and look forward to many more readings! Cheers from Australia!

  2. YES!!! Love it love it! Just added you to my favorite blogs on mine.

    Miss you, boo.


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