LEBANON ::

Shirine Abdallah

Return of the native

16/03/2009

Lebanon

In the firdt picture on top left are Toufik Abdallah Nasrallah, Father Antoun, Salim Issa Ayoub, Faris Bou Khanjar, Issa Esber Nasrallah, Elias Shaker, Michael Elias, Elia Bou Nemer (Saikaly), Hajj Issa Nasrallah, Elia Michael Nasrallah. The three people with the fezzes are from Rashayya: Salem Malek, Ghantous Shaker and Elias Shaker, who was married to a woman from Kfarmishki.

My late grandfather, Toufik Mikhael Abdallah Nasrallah, born in Kfarmishki (West-Bekaa) in 1896, emigrated at an early age to Canada, escaping the famine that took place during World War I, when Lebanon was still under Ottoman control.

In 1925, he returned to Lebanon in search of a good wife, a traditional Lebanese woman who would travel back with him to Canada, bear his children and be his life companion.

After a short stay in Beirut, he traveled up to Kfarmishki, his beautiful green village perched in the mountains overlooking the valley below Mount Hermon, in the upper Wadi al-Taym, to again see his family, whom he had long yearned for. The Druze of Lebanon, from the Shouf and all the villages around Rashayya, had joined their coreligionists from Jabal al-Druze, in Syria, battling the French Mandatory authorities.

In the middle of this turmoil, some hoodlums from Kfarmishki (each tribe has its share) took advantage of the absence of the men of Bakkifeh, a neighboring Druze village, and pillaged the houses of its rich inhabitants. Once the guns fell silent, the Druze, led by Shakeeb Wahhab , decided to retaliate. They sent a warning to Kfarmishki. The embattled and fatigued French garrisons were in no position to defend the Christians of the village. The villagers, mostly hard working farmers and goat herders, innocent of the pillaging, had to fend for themselves.

It is at this crucial moment of the history of Kfarmishki that the tall, handsome, English and French speaking Toufik Abdallah turned up. He was greeted like a genuine protector by his fellow villagers, being the pioneer of Kfarmishki’s emigrants to Canada. He was looked up to for having helped families who emigrated after he did.

With the assistance of some Christian notables from Rashayya, he managed to procure some guns and ammunition. To commemorate the moment, this photograph was taken. In it, gunmen from Kfarmishki and Rashayya stand proud…

But there were no battles and no fighting. The elders of the village realized that they were no match for the Druze fighters, who had inflicted heavy losses on the French, and decided to flee. The villagers, carrying their belongings and herding their cattle, trekked to the larger Christian villages of Aitaneet and Saghbine for safety. Toufik returned to Beirut.

Kfarmishki was ransacked and its houses burnt to the ground.

In Beirut, Toufik continued his matrimonial quest and fell under the charm of Evelyne Bridi, a young lady from Ashrafieh, and the apple of her father’s eye.

She also, evidently, fell under his.

They wed and Toufik took Evelyne back with him to Canada. They lived in Hull, Quebec, just a bridge away from Ottawa, the federal capital, where they ended up by taking residence and raised their four children: Michel, my handsome, smart and funny father, Renée and Marcelle, the mischievous twins, and Elie, the eternal rebel.

In May 1934, Evelyne sailed back to Beirut longing to see her parents, sisters, brothers, and other relatives, not to mention her friends. It had been seven years since she left, and she was eager to show her family off (Elie, at 9-months, was now old enough to make the trip). A few months later, Toufik joined them, supposedly to spend a few weeks with the family and accompany Evelyne and the children home to Canada. Evelyne dreaded the long trip back. The outgoing journey had worn her out; she hated the sea, and now that she had found her family again she wasn’t prepared to leave them for a second time. Plus, the children were happy among their cousins and new friends, their summers spent alternatively in Kfarmishki and Beit Mery, which made living so easy.

Evelyne and Toufik were seduced by the idea of remaining in Lebanon. It didn’t take long for my great grandfather to convince them to stay, and soon, Toufik formed a partnership with his brother in law Camille Bridi and opened a hotel in Beirut named Le Savoy.

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