An American in Lebanon

 

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Many years ago, my fiancee, Ranna was promised in marriage to the prominent son of a neighboring village’s leader in Lebanon.  However, fate intervened and she fell in love with a Braintree bad boy with Irish roots and terrible handwriting…me. In order for us to be wed, I had to travel to Lebanon to meet her promised husband in single combat. We would both wrap our hands, then dip them in glue and broken glass, and then fight on a top of Mount Rygar to the death.

Jussssst kidding. That was a story I told a few people to mess with them on why I was traveling to Lebanon last summer. In reality, Ranna’s sister Sofia was baptizing her son Jad (Juh-duh) at her husband’s family’s church in Lebanon and Ranna was to be the godmother. Ranna’s whole family was heading over and I snagged an invite (big mistake by them huh).

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People asked if I was scared to travel to the Middle East, but I was pumped. Anybody I met that had been to Lebanon raved about the experience. They said the country had a great vibe, the people were friendly, and there was always something fun to do. I was excited to meet Ranna’s extended family, experience a new culture, and broaden my horizons. Also, from what I had gathered, Ranna’s Baba (dad) Charlie and his family basically ran their village, Kaftoun, and I had grown close over the year’s to Ranna’s brother in law, Bassel and his brother Nidal, who would also keep me out of trouble in their homeland.

However, I did realize I was still a white boy going to a part of the world where I would stick out like a sore thumb. I have street smarts, but there’s not much you can do when a group of guys that don’t like your kind have AK’s trained on you for a kidnapping. But whatever, anything fun has a little bit of danger or risk in it. I agree that you shouldn’t take stupid risks, but you can’t live your life on far-fetched what if’s, so I was down to ride.

With that in mind, I departed with my love on our 10-day adventure to her people’s homeland. The first leg was an overnight flight to Turkey.  During the flight, we both noticed this creepy guy staring at us for long periods of time. He was traveling with four women in full Muslim garb, with only the eyes showing. I’m not sure if he was pissed Ranna wasn’t covered, or that my pale skin was with her, but dude was a weirdo.

After a long layover, we made our connecting flight to Beirut. We were scrunched in the second row of a section of the plane. The people in front of us had plenty of legroom but that didn’t stop the French/Lebanese guy in front of me from trying to recline all the way back and crushing my legs. I instinctively reacted and pushed his chair back up. He turned around and I said to him, “I’m sorry man, I just reacted, I don’t have any room back here please don’t recline, you were crushing my legs.”

He didn’t reply but started ice grilling me when he got up to go to the bathroom, staring right at me with a pissed off gaze. “Oh great, already in trouble,” I thought.

Later in the flight, he reclined all the way again and I pushed his chair right back up like a lineman doing a sled drill. “What a jerk,” I thought. He didn’t turn around again and was traveling with his wife and two small children, so I hoped that would be it, and the incident would be over.

However, when we landed I felt a hand on my shoulder and it was him. He got in my face and angrily said, “Next time don’t push my seat up! Just tell me not to recline!”

“The first time I just reacted, and I apologized, then I nicely asked you to not lean back, and you did it again,” I said.

“Oh you’re American,” he replied in a snotty French accent. “I should of known even in Lebanon, Americans are the biggest assholes in the world! You are Lebanese, he is not, why are you with him?” he said to Ranna.

I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Relax buddy, just calm down, you’re acting like a clown and embarrassing yourself in front of your family.”

“Don’t you ever touch me,” he said.

“Buddy you touched my shoulder first, relax, let’s just get off this flight and never see each other again,” I replied. At this moment I was getting death stares from Ranna and a male flight attendant came over to keep the peace. I said I was fine and just wanted this guy away from me. I could tell the French guy had a big ego and was the type of person that needed the last word like air.

After saying something in Arabic to Ranna he said to me, “Stupid American, I’m a clown huh, you got anything else to say to me asshole? Anything?!?”

At this point, an alarm had gone off in my head. An internal voice read me the riot act: Chris, you’re not even off your flight and your about to get kicked out of the country. They’re obviously going to take this guy’s side, just don’t engage anymore.

But seeing as I’m a “stupid American” I replied, “Yeah I got something to say….nice braces.” He had a middle school metal mouth and that comment made him livid. He said something about seeing me when I got off the plane.

“Shitttttttttttt” I thought in Clay Davis from the Wire’s voice. This guy is actually going to try and fight me. He was muscular up top but had chicken legs, so I decided if he came at me to go for the double leg takedown and then ground and pound him into oblivion.

But then my internal voice returned: You’re not fighting, you’re 30, you’re with your fiancee,  you’re in the Middle East, you’re lucky if that guy doesn’t go crying to some customs official to not let you in the country. 

I got off my flight made my way to customs while fully expecting my French friend to tap one of the young soldiers on the shoulder, mutter something in Arabic, point at me, and then I get dragged away for some “enhanced interrogation.”

With anxiety coursing through me, we slowly made it through the huge customs line, we got our passports stamped and were greeted by Ranna’s uncle George.

George is one of Ranna’s father’s younger brothers. He is a retired Beirut cop, served during the civil war, sports a white beard, bald head, and has friendly eyes. Ranna told me he is a jokester and doesn’t speak much English. George and Ranna spoke in Arabic as we drove to her family’s mountain village of Kaftoun.

Note: Special thanks to uncle George for picking us up. Ranna’s family takes traveling to and from the airport very seriously due to past troubles (it got blown up once when Ranna was visiting and she had to fly out of Syria) and it was reassuring to have George on our side.

We made the trek through the mountains into the sleepy village of Kaftoun and arrived around 1am. I expected everyone to be asleep but to my surprise, Ranna’s entire family, extended family, and Ranna’s sister Mona’s boyfriend Alan were all still up to greet us.

Ranna told me not to mention the incident on the plane and I agreed. I was ashamed I helped escalate the problem, that I even got in that situation, and thought the 16 hours of traveling had maybe put me on edge. However, as soon as we joined the family on the patio Ranna announced, “Chris almost got in a fight on the plane!”

Her father and his family turned their attention away from their hookahs and looked at me. “Ugh,” I thought, “Not the first impression I was trying to make.”

Then her uncle laughed and said, “Chris not even in the country yet and getting in fights? You must be Irish! How much whiskey did you drink?”

I explained the situation and they said the French guy seemed like a jerk and Lebanese people are not like that.

With that, I decided to fulfill their stereotype of people with Irish heritage and broke out a bottle of Jameson for everyone to enjoy.

Later on Ranna’s uncle Iskandar (pronounced Skunda), gave me, Alan, Ranna’s brother Elias, and Iskandar’s 15-year-old son Alex, a walking tour of the village. He pointed out different family and friend’s homes. Neighbors drove by stopped and greeted us and asked how people that had moved to America were. The houses in Kaftoun were all good sizes and made out of stone with huge patios and balconies. Iskandar explained, many people like him, now lived in the US so many of the houses were second homes. I now understood why the Lebanese guys from Elm street mobile in Braintree liked going home so much, yes to see family, but also because they probably had huge houses in the old country (small world their village is near Kaftoun).

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I don’t remember if this was in Kaftoun but many of the homes have similar builds

Ranna and others turned in for the night. I was still a little restless and Ranna’s father invited me to come with him to his older brother’s Elias’s house right next door. I obliged and I soon met another group of Ranna’s extended family. Uncle Elias, I would come to learn, was a wise man of few words. When he spoke, he meant it. He also ran a sub shop, named Saco Snack, with his lovely wife Norma, that I would become a big fan of. Here is one of his delicious sandwiches:

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Charlie introduced me to his family as his future son in law. He then explained something to them in Arabic and made a motion in the air like a boxer. An uncle asked, “Chris you’re a boxer?

Aw, that’s nice I thought, making me seem cool in front of his family. I replied, “Yeah, not a very good one, I get punched in the face a lot” and made a motion of me getting hit. They all laughed and continued speaking a language that was still foreign to me. I walked back to Ranna’s family’s house and I had made it through my first night in Lebanon

All Irish are Drunks and the Picture that was Worth a 1,000 words.

The next morning I went out on our balcony and saw the valleys filled with olive trees (Kaftoun’s #1 export) stretched before me. “That’s fucking cool,” I eloquently mumbled to myself.

The actual view from the Sarkis compound:

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I could hear Ranna’s family gathered over at uncle Elias’s house. I made my way over and Ranna was having her tea leaves read by her aunt Salam. I was introduced to two of Ranna’s cousins Yaacoub (Yah-oob) and Mira, who were two of uncle Elias’s children and close to our age. They were friendly and informed us they would be taking us to the beaches and out this week. Cool.

Just then Uncle Elias’s lovely wife Norma, who doesn’t speak much English, appeared and handed me a beer. Hmm strange to have a drink this early I thought, but I didn’t want to be rude so I smiled and drank it.

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Just then Uncle George appeared shirtless on his ATV and motioned me to get on the back. Sure why not, I jumped on, and off we went on a two hour of Kaftoun. With our language barrier, when we would stop he would point to things and try to get me to understand their significance. I did understand some, the rest I just pretended to, he could have been telling me this is where he planned to beat me up and I would have just smiled and nodded.

Pictures from the tour:

 

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Sometime after the tour, we gathered outside as a group for lunch again. Norma again appeared with a beer for me. I looked around and slowly realized no one else was drinking. I asked Ranna what was going on. She spoke to her aunt and she said that she heard Irish like to drink all the time and she wanted me to feel welcome. That’s nice I thought. However, not wanting Ranna’s family to think I was a fall down drunk I politely declined to the next beer, even though it was very hot and I wanted it.

Enter Rawad

Ranna’s cousins, Yaacoub & Mira, took us a beach club where we met up with her aunt Rouba and her two children Aline and Alex, who were visiting from America for the summer.

This was my first time swimming in the Mediterranean. The water was warm and very buoyant, you could taste the excess salt that lifted you up.

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This was the Middle East but Lebanon was far from conservative. The beach was filled with women in bikinis, many smoking Hookah or enjoying a drink and a laugh. I was beginning to understand why Lebanon had a reputation as the fun country of the Middle East.

I thought the beach club was paradise but Yaacoub said he would take us to a better one later that week (that one was paradise).

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Ranna and her cousin Yaacooub

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We made our way back from the beach to meet up with another cousin Rawad. Rawad had gone to college in America but returned to the Middle East where he worked on Arabic singer’s music videos. He had previously worked as a club promoter and still had many connections. We were going out with him to dinner and then clubbing.

Rawad was a trip. He came in sporting fresh Nike’s, frosted blonde tips, and a nice smile. He told us to get in the car to begin the night. As we drove out of Kaftoun he told me he was going to take me to the spot where they abduct Americans.

I thought he was kidding but he took us to a dark deserted road on a side of a mountain. He hollered, “Mr. Terrorists I have an Amerrricannn for youuuu, comme get him.” Ranna yelled that she was freaking out and to go. I knew I would like Rawad because that’s just the type of dark humor I enjoy.

We went to a restaurant on the edge of the beach that also connected to a nightclub. The food is mostly served family style in Lebanon. They bring out tons of dishes like gibbi, grape leaves, hummus, French fries (Lebanese freaking love French fries), and other goods. Once you fill up on apps they bring out the meats.

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The prices were very reasonable. It’s not like Thailand where you can live like a king off $5, but you can eat at fancy restaurants, get great service, and not have to pay an arm and a leg. It’s like going to the Top of the Hub, but only having to pay Chilis prices. Also, you can get a hookah (they call em ih-geel-eehs) almost everywhere, even the beach, for cheap and have it refilled all night. The cheap prices & availability coupled with getting bored because of everyone conversing in Arabic made me develop quite a smoking habit over there (more on that later).

Back to regular timeline. After dinner, we danced the night away to a live Lebanese band in the club. Ranna’s aunts joined the fun and we all got cray-cray on the dance floor.

The Lebanese are very affectionate, especially with their family members. It’s not uncommon to be very touchy-feely and hug your cousin, brother, father, mother and kiss them hello and goodbye all the time. Being an Irish Catholic, who barely shook his father’s hand after age 12, this took some getting used to. However, I believe it’s a positive thing. They seem very happy to be around their family. I’m not ready to go full Tom Brady, but maybe I will start high fiving my Dad after Thanksgiving.

They also stay up very late in Lebanon (or maybe it’s just the summer). We rolled up after the club around 4am and Mr. Sarkis and his brothers were still up playing cards and enjoying Hookah.

The Picture Heard Round Kaftoun

After staying out so late, we woke up the next day around noon. I decided to go for a run to work off my hangover and not just be a slob the entire vacation. I did a lap of Kaftoun and then decided to spice things up.

There was a road leading out of Kaftoun and up a mountain. I thought I would run up it. It was very hot out and the sun beat down as I began my climb. I saw migrant workers on the side of the road quarrying rock. I tried to have a serious look as I ran by that conveyed, I’m too busy to be abducted. They probably just thought it was weird some white guy was running by the mountain in a tank top with a silly look on his face.

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Yeah Let’s Run Up a Mountain in a Foreign Country and Disregard Our Own Safety!

 

I made it up the mountain and into the next village. Once I hit 3 miles, I turned around so I could complete a 6-mile run. I had my phone with me that I was using for music. If you told me when I was younger I would be running through villages in Lebanon while listening to Lil Wayne rap about slanging crack in Holly-Grove, I would have called you a monkey’s uncle. Life does sure come at you fast.

I wanted to tell Mr. Sarkis where I had been so I took a few pictures of my surroundings including this sign:

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I got back from my run and his family didn’t believe I ran up the mountain so I showed them my pictures. They started scrolling through them and got to my picture of the sign. They spoke to each other and then asked where I took that picture. I said in the next village. They said no I didn’t. I assured them I had and they talked some more.

At least two times that day, when people would stop by the house they would ask for me to show them the picture. I obliged but started to get curious/concerned. What the hell did I take a picture of? Was it the sign? Something in the background I didn’t even notice?

I was a little spooked because I had already gotten in trouble with uncle George for taking pictures of their family house. I had taken them to show my family back home, but he was concerned about them being on the internet or he was just messing with me, but it left me uneasy so I deleted the photos.

I asked Ranna what the big deal was with the camp sign photo and she gave the explanation that they thought they knew the whole area and it was strange to them they didn’t recognize the sign.

That seemed a little too tame to me. Lebanon had recently been flooded with Syrians due to the civil war. Kaftoun had suffered house break-ins by Syrians looking to loot and rob. This led to the formation of the KPD the “Kaftoun Police Department.” It was headed by Ranna’s uncle Fadi, her cousin Yaacooub, and another that took turns on patrol and guarding the town’s main entrance. Mr. Sarkis and his brother had sent over a truck that they tricked out with police lights and KPD paint. The KPD had a heavy arsenal for any criminal that wanted smoke and had already foiled robberies and serious situations.

We were hanging out in Ranna’s driveway and a group of Syrians walked by and it looked like just a family out for a stroll to me. But her uncle said they took their kids on walks to case houses so you would leave them alone and then come back and rob it. But not on KPD’s watch.

It was pretty badass that they had literally taken the law into their own hands and formed their own police department. They had a problem and solved it themselves. Also, her uncle pulled up in the KPD truck one night with a few beers for me (“I heard an Irishman was in town you must want some beers”) and it was the coolest thing a cop had ever done for me.

Back to the photo. In my mind, I had obviously stumbled upon a Syrian training camp where they were staging the robberies from. I was sure I would be deputized by the KPD, told “Regulators Mount Up”, and we would ride out to solve the problem.

That never happened. What did happen is Ranna told me to stop acting so serious with her uncles. “Chris they’re trying to joke with you but you’re taking them too seriously. You got to lighten up and start messing with them back.”

Alright, mess with people, I can do that. So a few nights later after a few drinks, I said to her uncle, “Hey remember that picture I took on my run that you were all talking about?’

“Yeah what about it?” he replied.

“I got it off the internet, never took it”

“WHAT?!?”

“Yeah sorry, it was a fake, I was just kidding!” I said.

He turned red, “Did you take the fucking picture or not? Tell me right now” without a hint of any joking in his tone.

“Oh whoa, yeah I took the picture, 100% real picture. I was just messing around.”

Just then Ranna came over. “What were you doing? Why would you mess around with my uncle?”

“You told me to”

“Well not like that,” she replied. I was also restricted to just running in Kaftoun the rest of the trip.

The Most Baller Christening of All Time

The main reason we were in Lebanon was for the Christening of Ranna’s nephew Jad.

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Ranna & Jad

Christenings in Lebanon are a big deal. Everyone was dressed to the tens.  They hired a team of photographers and videographers to capture Jad joining the Christian faith. The church was packed with Ranna’s & Bassel’s (Ranna’s brother in law and my bff) families. Norma was nice enough to come over and help fix my outfit. Interestingly enough in Lebanon, they button only the lower button of the suit jacket and not just the top like we do in the states.

My beautiful Ranna was to be the godmother and she did a great job. Jad is lucky to have her as a godmother. My godmother is also a nurse and she is wonderful. I know he’s in for a lifetime of awesome gifts from Ranna.

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My favorite part of the ceremony was the crowd participation. Bassel’s nephew Andrew was really cool and asked if I wanted to help ring the bell. Once Jad was officially team Jesus, it was time to let the world know, by ringing the church bells. And to do that we had to go outside grab a rope and bring it down with force to make the bells ring.

We all took turns ringing the bell and it was hilarious when the rope lifted one of Bassel’s younger nephews off the ground. I would definitely have liked church better as a kid if I got to jump up and down ringing the bells.

Jad may not remember it, but he had the most baller Christening party of all time. Bassel and Sofia rented out a nice restaurant’s top floor. There was a bottle of Johnny Walker Black on every table, (the Lebanese love Johnny Walker. Scotland’s must make a fortune off Lebanon), a live band, Lebanese drummers, and lots of food.

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Ranna’s cute niece Tala.

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Ranna’s cousin Alex being lifted by Alan and Yaacooub

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Little kid was the man. Earned his tips.

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Ranna dancing with her Baba

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Andrew and Rawad tried to teach me the Lebanese group dance, that involves holding hands a step and a stomp. I got it down a little bit, but will definitely need to improve before my wedding.

There was also these drummers from the mountains they hired that play for tips. They follow you around and keep playing awkwardly in front of you until you tip them. However, there was this one drummer that wouldn’t leave me the hell alone. I had given him over $20 and I wasn’t going to give him any more, but he wouldn’t take the hint to kick rocks. I then found out that Rawad had been paying him to follow me around and annoy me.

We partied late into the night again and everyone had a great time. I danced with Ranna, her parents danced on top of the drum, everyone held up Jad, and Alan and Yaacooub picked up people on their shoulders and in chairs (stole that move for Jimmy & Jane’s wedding).

Ranna’s fun aunt Rouba and her husband Iskandar gave us a ride home. Rouba asked if Lebanon was how I thought it would be. “Yeah, well from everyone’s positive review I knew it had to be great, but I didn’t know it would be this beautiful.”

“Yeah most of the country is beautiful, but they don’t like to portray that in media. Every time they do something about Lebanon they show one destroyed building and not the beaches, mountains, or anything else, ” Rouba said.

“Yeah the media has an agenda, but this place is awesome.”

ATVing into the Clouds

 
Once Jad joined us on team Jesus, the Lebanon vacation really took off. We linked up with Bassel and his brother Nidal. Now I had known them for years, and for years, I had heard stories of all the fun things they did in Lebanon, snowmobiling in the mountains, ATVing above the clouds, hunting, clubbing all night, and all type of cool stuff. Now it was time to get in on the action.

First thing on the agenda was renting 4 person ATVs and taking them up the mountains of Lebanon and above the clouds. I didn’t sign one waiver, just gave some guy some money, and off we went in a caravan of ATVs through the streets of Lebanon.

There was about 20 of us in different ATVs accompanied by people on one person ATVs that acted as scouts for traffic. We whipped it through villages and into the mountains. I like doing things that make me feel alive and letting the ATV rip on the side of the mountain when it felt like we might tip, was as thrilling as it gets. I had that “holy shit” feeling a lot of the ride as we climbed up into the clouds. We were living the lyrics to kickstart my heart.

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We stopped at the top of the mountain and Andrew pointed out to me the Syrian border. I gave a quick “Fuck you” to Isis and we started down the mountain. I drove the way up so Alan was doing the ride down. I had my headphones in, so I couldn’t hear anything, but I guess Ranna and Mona were doing a lot of backseat driving and stressing Alan out (as it would anyone). There was a lot of sharp turns and we took one a little too wide. We started going over the edge and Ranna and Mona started screaming. Alan went forward a little and I don’t know where my moment of Zen came from, but I quieted everyone down and said loudly but calmly, “Bro stop, alright cool, now put it into reverse, nice, back up it a little and we Gucci.” I knew screaming at someone in a stressful situation never helps and for some odd reason, I was in a very calm mood, even when going over the edge.

I got to drive the rest of the ride down and it reminded me of Bad Boys 2 when they are riding through all the barrios in Columbia. We were whipping it through neighborhoods and back alleys, taking tight turns and narrow dirt roads. Thank god 1,000s of rides on Boston’s one-way streets had prepared me for this moment. We stopped for a nice lunch on a lake and we made it back in one piece. An awesome experience.

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Roca Beach…my favorite place in Lebanon

When Mira and Yaacoub said they would take us to a better beach club, they were not kidding. Roca Beach is my paradise. There’s a high dive, waterslide, the ocean, different pools, food, a swim-up bar, music blasting, and jet skis.

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If this was big bad Middle East I was supposed to be afraid of, pffffff, sign me up. The water was warm, the service fast, and the music blasting. I didn’t think I would hear 50 cent or SnitchNine (Tekashi sixnine) in Lebanon, but Roca was bumping it (funny story I kept hearing “Just a lil bit” by 50 in Lebanon and slowly realized it was because of the Arabic beat in the background).

Ranna and I tried to make it back to Roca as much as we could, I think we went three times. We had the same waiter each time, Jimmy, and he was on point. By this point I basically had a hookah going 24/7 and I tell ya what, drinking a beer, smoking a hookah in Lebanon staring off into the ocean with your beautiful fiancee by your side is a wonderful feeling.

One day at Roca we were joined by Bassel, Andrew, and Nidal who urged me to rent jet skis with them. I planned on just chilling but they talked me into it. Again there was no waivers or contracts, I just gave a guy a twenty and took off. I had never been on a jet ski but there’s a reason people are always smiling on jet skis, they are awesome. I was absolutely whipping it across the Mediterranean and felt truly alive. Flying over the waves, I felt grateful for the trip and grateful for being alive.  Life can be cool.

Pooping All Wrong

Short but funny and gross story. When we went ATVing and stopped for lunch, I may or may not have clogged the toilet and delayed us all from getting back on the road. I told Ranna’s brother Elias about my ordeal and he told me I was using the bathroom all wrong.

I wasn’t supposed to be putting the toilet paper in the toilet, that’s what the little trashcan next to toilets were for. Crap, I thought, I had been flushing my toilet paper at Ranna’s family’s house all week. I’m an idiot, I could have ruined their plumbing.

With that in mind the next few times I used the bathroom, I made sure to do it correctly. Then one morning while Mrs. Sarkis was cleaning I heard a scream. “Who is putting crappy toilet paper in the trash! This is disgusting! We have good plumbing just flush it!’

Uh oh. I confessed and they couldn’t believe that I fell for what Elias told me. Again, I’m an idiot.

Getting to Know Ranna’s Family

The adventures we went on in Lebanon we’re great, but I also loved just spending time with Ranna, her family, and learning their history. Hearing stories of what they went through during the civil war was deeply impactful.

Ranna’s dad and several of his brothers served during the war. One night Mr. Sarkis and his brother George took Alan and me on a tour of Kaftoun and told us about how it was like during the war. Mr. Sarkis served in his hometown during the war and he pointed out that their enemies were just a village away (I think it may have been the town I ran to).

It was surreal. When I thought of war, I always saw it as going off to some far off land to fight Nazis or terrorism. I couldn’t imagine serving in my hometown, where my family lived, and basically fighting the towns next door. It would be like serving in Braintree and the enemy was Weymouth. A real-life Red Dawn.

They pointed out different important sights, including their bases, and also where their leader was assassinated during a ceasefire. It was very solemn. I felt for my future father in law and deeply respected how he and his family had lived through all of the craziness and built such positive lives through it. The Sarkis’s are a strong family.

Final Night, Final Walk, And Farewell

Some of my favorite memories in Lebanon, like most trips, were the small things. I only learned two words “Kifak” (what’s up) and Mhenh (good) but I couldn’t pronounce Mnenh and Ranna’s cousin Mira would die laughing every time I tried.

I enjoyed playing soccer with Ranna’s cousins Alex and Yaaccoub. I found it hilarious how Mr. Sarkis would get pissed off when I tried to put hot sauce on everything and then mutter under my breath “Doesn’t matter, when I sneak down to the kitchen tonight, that’s getting covered in hot sauce galore, muhah.” How we stayed up til 5am, slept until noon, and it was normal. How I developed a smoking habit (don’t worry, didn’t bring it back). How I would meet a new family member every day. How we would get crazy ice creams at 2am and it was normal. How we happened upon a very extremely intoxicated girl, Rawad announced she had no pulse, Ranna said she had a very strong pulse, and then took care of her until the medics arrived (my babe the nurse). How everyone’s air conditioner worked except mine and Ranna’s, so I would go and sleep on the couch in the living room next to the baby’s crib. How rolling blackouts are normal in Lebanon so you can be in a fancy restaurant and for 5 minutes it will be pitch black and no one will bat an eye. How we randomly took an old school Lebanese photo. How good Saco Snack was. How I got over my fear of playing with children. How we ate on rooftops, explored caves, and took cable cars up mountains to see shrines. It was a trip of a lifetime.

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Like all good trips, you want to go out with a bang. Rawad picked us up and said he wanted me to try this local drink they had. We pulled up at some side road mart, a guy came out and gave me a drink. 5 minutes later we pulled through a military checkpoint, I had a drink in hand, my mouth dropped, we pulled right through and Rawad told me to stop being a baby, they weren’t looking for me having a girly drink.

We met up with the rest of Ranna’s family and balled the heck out. We had table service at a roof deck club until the power went out and we were forced to take a tiny food tray elevator down. I stole a line from my friend Dave and kept screaming, “We’re all going to f**ing die,” Ranna got pissed, but several of her family members were peeing themselves laughing.

We went back to the beach club for a short while. I challenged Nidal to an arm wrestling match. He was a Lebanese arm wrestling champion and it felt like absolute crushing iron when he slammed my fist down. I had a better match with his brother Bassel, but lost that too, beta night for me, need to hit the gym.

We went to the after-after club until 6 am and then got breakfast at B2B. We finally drove back to Kaftoun, me and Ranna with Rawad, bumping Queen “We are the Champions” as the sun rose over the mountains in Lebanon. That was a memory I will take with me the rest of my life.

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The next day I took one last solo stroll around Kaftoun. I waved to the older gentleman that had waved to me each day I went running. I watched the sunset by myself and felt very peaceful.

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We went out for a final meal with Ranna’s family and the mayor of Kaftoun, mayor Mike. I lobbied to Mike to make the Patriots the official NFL team of Kaftoun. We then said goodbye to Ranna’s family and uncle Elias asked me to protect Ranna. I said I would and I meant it. If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to fight, and Lebanon taught me the importance of family and protecting what is good in your life, and for me that is Ranna.

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The flight back I felt like a new man. When the guy in front of me reclined and crushed my legs, I didn’t freak out. I just simply took out my new Lebanese prayer beads, held them in my hand, said a prayer, and then pulled out the choke wire in them, reached forward and took care of my problem (Just kidding, Just Kidding!!!).

Thank you to my beautiful fiancee Ranna and her family for giving me the trip of a lifetime. If any of you ever want to come to Nantucket, I will return the favor :).

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