Michael Karam

The story of Esper Karam


Journalist, Lebanon

It is a story that we can pick up at the end of the 19th Century, when, like many Lebanese at the time, my grandfather, Esper Karam, left his mountain village of Zabougha and headed for Brazil, presumably to improve his chances of getting on in life. There, in the best Lebanese tradition, he established Esperadio Karam Trading and, by all accounts, prospered. He became a senior freemason in the Sao Paulo lodge, learnt Portuguese and married a Swedish woman.

In 1915, he returned to Lebanon with his young family, just in time to be caught in the blockade of Beirut and the ensuing famine. In Zabbougha, the people starved, with many resorting to eating radishes and even grass to survive. My Swedish grandmother took in needy children, children who would otherwise have died, cared for them and returned them to their families when things improved.

Esper still had the Lebanese pioneering spirit thundering through his veins and, unable to sit still, he headed off to Mali, where, with his brother Salim, he established another trading concern in Koulikoro. Working in Mali today would be no picnic; quite what it was like in the 1920s is unimaginable. But the heat, the malaria and the ever present threat of violence did not deter a man, who despite his habit of losing money at cards, was not afraid of hard work.

And he worked hard enough to raise six children, one of whom, my father, joined Lebanon’s national carrier, Middle East Airlines and was posted to London, where I was born in 1965, a year after Esper Karam passed away at the age of 86.


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