Fifteen years ago, my 2 year old daughter and I joined my husband who was then posted at Lebanon. Things were packed , house taken on rent at UNIFIL HQ Naqura, tickets booked and with a lot of enthusiasm as well as inhibitions regarding the [eople ,place and me flying alone for the first time with a two year old, I took my maiden flight to the Mediterranean land.
To say that the journey was tiring is an understatement. There were flight delays, bomb scares and after a gruelling eight hour stoppage at Kuwait airport we finally reached our destination. Upon adjusting my watch to the new time zone I realized we had boarded the flight exactly 24 hrs back. However, seeing my Fauji husband after months in crisp combat uniform with a blue beret and a binaca smile washed away all my fatigue. After a two hour drive from Beirut to Naqura we finally reached our temporary home..
The very first person to greet us in our house under the porch and the shehtoottree was our beautiful and young landlady Naheeda, the only one from a family of 10 to speak a little English. We hit an instant friendship not realizing then how it would transform our lives and bind us in a relationship stronger than blood. Catalyst here was my daughter’s Arabic name, Yasmin, which they all loved and was soon transformed by the entire family to Yasmeena. The bond grew stronger with us learning bits and pieces of Arabic, wishing everyone with the pleasant Lebanese greeting, marhaba, and the amazing Lebanese food at Naheeda’s place. Special efforts were made by the entire family to keep it pure vegetarian keeping in mind our food preferences. I cooked rajma chawal for them.
These Lebanese people taught us the actual meaning of Atithi Devo Bhava which was followed by them in word and spirit. Language was no barrier when Naheed’s mother in law would come every day to take my daughter to her place so l could finish with my household chores. We would sit in their lawn sipping black coffee. We tagged along as the entire family would sit on Wednesday afternoons to watch a Hindi movie relayed on the local television channel.
Eight months passed in a jiffy. It was time to fly back to our motherland.
Same house, same porch, me and Naheeda! However the only thing varying now was that Marhaba had turned to Khuda Hafiz.
With a promise to keep in touch, a hope to meet again and tears in my eyes I bid adieu to this beautiful young lady who by now was expecting her first child. A few months in India and the news came of Naheeda being blessed with a daughter. I managed to send cute little baby sets for her little angel named, Tanya. As promised we did stay in touch but only till the time Lebanon and Syria were plagued by war. There were bombardments and we lost all means of communication. Years flew by with me fondly remembering the happy times and showing memories captured in print to my daughter who equally loved listening to all the stories. Hope of getting in touch rekindled when a unit Officer got posted to the same place. Giving him as much information as we could, we requested him to get me Naheeda’s number. As promised he sent me a number yesterday but was not sure if it was the same lady. Having plural identical names in a family is a tradition in Lebanon. So a lot of names are common at home as well as town.
However, without giving it a single thought I just dialled the number. When a female with a deeply Arabic accented voice said “Hallo”, I enquired, “Is it Naheeda?” Pat came the reply, “Yes, is it Benu?” Upon asking how she knew, she said, “Your voice is still very clear and vibrant in my ears, despite the years passed by”.
Words can’t express my feelings as my joy knew no bounds. With tears streaming down our faces and broken voices impairing communication, we spoke for hours. Every single detail of our families, memories of our stay, the war times, how she wished to speak to her Yasmeena, the additions to our families, Yashvir at my place, Mariam and Muhammed at hers, the laughter we shared over my Arabic and her Hindi, we went on and on. Reminded me of Paulo Coehlo in Alchemist that if you want something from the bottom of your heart, the entire universe conspires to give that to you. Truly it did give me another chance and strengthened my belief that all notions of barriers caused by religion, distance and language are baseless if the will to connect is strong. We disconnected the call with hearts elated, a promise to send each other our family pictures (thanks to the technology advancement) and a hope that one day we shall meet again….