Edna Yaghi’s Column
When Sam was a small boy, he and his parents emigrated from a small village in the mountains of Lebanon to America. Before he left, his grandmother baked some fresh bread and carefully placed it in white linen in case Sam and his parents got hungry on their way to the boat. She also picked some fresh green mint leaves from her garden and packed them between some clothes, giving the suitcases a sweet smell of home. Just before they left, Sam told his grandmother good-bye and wrapped his small arms around her frail figure. He then grabbed her withered hands for the last time and looked at her anxious black eyes. “Don’t worry, grandmother, I’ll come back to see you some day!”
He was both afraid and excited when his boat finally reached Ellis Island off the shores of New York. There, a gigantic figure, the Statue of Liberty, loomed over him. It held the torch of liberty in one hand and silhouetted a rosy sunset in the background which Sam thought looked almost as beautiful as any in Lebanon. When he approached the statue, he saw some strange words in a stranger language inscribed at its feet which read:
Eventually, Sam’s tired and poor family settled in the midwest in an industrial town called Dodge City. His father had once been an Imam and he dreamed of someday building a mosque in America. But first, he had to provide for his young wife and son, so he got a job at the steel works and learned English the hard way. Sam and his parents were foreign in every sense of the
word, and it took many years for them to fit in with the American society. Such different customs and culture had they carried with them from so far away and so long ago. Now, Lebanon seemed like just a distant dream of a remote paradise across the sea.
While he was growing up, Sam was not only tormented by scenes of his former home, but also by images of his old grandmother with her black-coffee eyes, her snow white hair, her homemade bread and the mint leaves she had so carefully packed the last day she saw her son and his family before they went off to discover what was behind the “golden door” of the “new country.” Would he ever see her again?
Every once in a while, there would be mail from home and Sam would notice how his father ran his fingers over the curled letters that carried news from the old country. After some time, his father started a commercial business and became quite successful. Too, Sam began to fit in more and more with his American peers. But he never forgot his Lebanon. His father kept Islam alive in his home and regular hours were observed for prayer. The family fasted every Ramadan just like they had always done in the mountains of Lebanon and his mother made every effort to preserve an atmosphere of their native country.
mosque he built one Autumn afternoon, basking in the shade of his trees and smelling the crisp pre-winter breeze. Without warning, a bullet struck him in the chest and he fell off the stairs on his face in the mud of his miniature orchard. When Sam raced home from school after hearing the news, his father had been removed from the pedestal of the mosque and spread out on the dining room table in his house.
“No more letters from home, Dad. What can we ever tell Grandmother? At least now you are free to wander around the mountains and waters of your beloved homeland,” the son whispered to the frozen form.
After his father’s death, Sam tried not to be bitter, but how could he ever forget how his father was wrenched from life because of hate and prejudice? Sam wrote his first real poem on the day of his father’s funeral. Later, he obtained a Ph.D. from an American university and published several volumes of poetry. The first poem in all his books was the poem that he had written about the assassination of his father. During the American siege of Lebanon, Sam again felt hate and bigotry fill the air. By this time he was married and had children of his own. His grandmother had passed away not long after learning of her son’s death. Sam had never kept his promise of seeing her again.
“I must go home!” Sam shouted to himself. “I must go home and see my people!”
After the fighting died down, Sam took a plane to Jordan and from there, he traveled by car to the mountains of his former home. For the second time in his life, he saw death. But he had never felt it on such a large scale. Everywhere he looked, the rich dark earth was torn and bleeding, houses were either demolished or pieces of them jutted out in gruesome columns
like ghastly ghostly figures. The reality of war sunk heavily in his mind. When Sam went to his village, he searched for his grandmother’s home. He was horrified to find nothing standing. It was a treacherous rubble. His whole neighborhood was like a huge graveyard. Not too far form his old house, he noticed some books scattered about. He went to look at them and being curious, he probed a bit in the ruins of the house that had collapsed. Half buried in the blood-streaked dirt, lay a baby shoe next to fragments of a mortar which bore the label, “made in the U.S.A.
“Who does this shoe belong to? Sam wondered. “What ever happened to the father and mother of the baby that never grew up? And what would this baby have been, a handsome bridegroom, a beautiful bride? Is this baby now an angel in heaven? No one knows!”
He stayed for two weeks in the mountain village. He talked to many people and they told him their stories of the horrors of the war that they had suffered through. Above, the sky still seemed the same, so calm and peaceful and the birds still sang in the trees as if there had never been such devastation and people moved forward with their lives because they had no other choice, but war was written on their faces and recorded in their hearts. Just before he left, Sam didn’t pack any green mint leaves in his suitcase or take fresh loaves of bread with him in case he got hungry. Instead, he brushed the dirt of Lebanon off the baby shoe and placed it gently in his luggage between his clothes.
After he returned to America, he wrote a new volume of poetry in dedication to the victims of the war in Lebanon. He was asked to present his poems at a poetry recital as an honored guest. As he spoke to his attentive audience, he tried to control his anger and his face grew red when he read the line of his latest poem called, Nobody’s Child.
When he read those lines, he remembered his assassinated father and the many dead babies and their lost shoes. He remembered the carnage and horror of war. He remembered the hate and the torn bodies and lives and the injustice of the continuing conflict in the Middle East. What good did this never-ending slaughter of Arabs do for the progress of mankind and what destiny was man to have when innocent people were consistently slaughtered, he wondered. Sometimes to Sam, the lamp lifted beside the golden door seemed mighty dim.