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SEHR, volume 5, issue 1: Contested Polities
Updated 27February 1996

searching for baba

personal notes on rights and responsibilities

Suad Joseph

February 5, 1993


"Sis, this is Violet. Have you heard about Dad? Dad died this morning. Su, he died alone."

My sister's story registers as abstractions. How? When? I ask. Violet's voice comes back over the phone, "Su, we're orphans now."

How can we be orphans? We are both adults, both parents, nearing or in our fifties.

I am still at my computer, working on a paper for a volume by Arab-American feminists. The paper reflects on my experiences as a working-class female immigrant from Lebanon, growing up in the 1950s in a large Lebanese, Maronite-Catholic family in a small town in upstate New York. I try to position myself in relationship to feminist, nationalist, ethnic, and class-based identity movements. The paper searches to make peace among multiple, conflicting, and powerful loyalties and identities, filtered through my relationship to my family(ies) and my culture(s).

Now I must arrange to return to Lebanon with my brother and face the complexities of dealing with the Lebanese state to settle Baba's estate. In the best of times, dealing with the Lebanese state requires an ability to maneuver brokerage networks, a financial capacity to pay bribes, a patience to deal with delays and inefficiencies. Eighteen years of civil war have exaggerated the worst features of this state system. Processing inheritance matters is inordinately complex in Lebanon, especially when families, such as Baba's, have not subdivided properties.

As I prepare to travel to Lebanon, I realize I am also undertaking an inner journey for my ancestry, my heritage, and a sense of identity. We're orphans now. But when I left Lebanon at the age of six, I also left my extended family -- the lineage, the history that gave me roots 300 years deep in our ancestral village.

What will it mean to search for Baba, my father, in our Lebanese patrilineal, patriarchal culture that channels people through masculinicized genealogies? It is a culture that embeds persons in familial relationships. Personhood is understood in terms of relationships woven into one's sense of self, identity, and place in the world. One is never without a family, without relationships, outside the social body.

Boundaries do not seal the self from others. To be "whole" is to be "part of," "connected," "related." Maturity, in Baba's culture, is actually an ability to invite the engagement of others and embrace the self in the other and the other in the self. Relationships may change, break, or mend -- boundaries and identities change, break, and mend along with them. One's self is always "in relationship to." My family in Lebanon keeps asking, "Is it true, he died alone?".

It is this self -- supported by a certain patriarchy -- that I have come to call the relational or connective self. I observed this connective self in Baba. Baba's connective self kept slipping through my hands until I began to develop a vocabulary to understand it.[1] My brothers struggled with it when they were trying to wrench Baba away from the influence of his brothers and nephews. This connective self left a legal nightmare for Baba's children to wake up to in Lebanon. Even the modern Lebanese state could not stabilize it.

Searching for Baba means searching through the maze of his relationality -- his family, his property, and his travels. He left a webbed trail which keeps rerouting onto itself, but each time through a different path. The search winds through a village in Lebanon where my father, his male ancestors, and I were all born; through Baba's patriline's joint property interlaced with a legacy of swindles; and through the Lebanese legal system where Baba left a trail of conflicting documents, mismatching names, dates, and histories. It will reach a dead end in the Lebanese state, which adjudicates names, identity, and property and is now claiming some of the land we inherited from Baba for its own roads.

The property brought my brother and me back to Lebanon. Baba left us land in our ancestral village and in our coastal home town. Since most of the village land had never been subdivided, we had become co-owners with my father's brothers' children and grandchildren. Despite my brothers' earlier struggle to distance Baba from these cousins, we inherited Baba's relations with the joint property.

Mama had tried for twenty years to persuade Baba to subdivide or sell the property. She had died three and a half years before Baba, not having made peace with his refusal or inability to resolve the issue of property ownership in Lebanon. A visionary woman living Lebanese cultural rules to perfection, Mama somehow molded matrifocal familial dynamics within our patriarchal culture. Mama's story is woven into Baba's. She struggled in and against his web of relationality to create opportunities of upward mobility for her children. She was the epitome of her culture, and yet paradoxically, she was able to transcend it to build her family in Lebanon and America. But extracting Baba from his familial relations to deal with the property was beyond even her power.

My first trip to Lebanon was in 1968. I was the first of the children to go back home since my family had come back to the United States in 1949. (My parents and older siblings had lived in America in the 1920s and early 1930s but had returned to and remained in Lebanon because of the Depression and the Second World War.) At the airport, I had been overwhelmed by the fifty relatives, none of whom I remembered, who met me -- uncles, aunts, cousins. They took me in, claimed me, and said I belonged to them. For a euphoric summer, I reveled in relationships.

A few years later, in 1972, during my doctoral fieldwork, I hosted Baba's and Mama's return visit to Lebanon (after almost twenty-four years of absence). For six weeks, I saw my parents reimmersed in the relationships that had shaped their earlier lives. The invigorating impact that being enmeshed in family had on their health and well-being brought home the relative poverty of relationships in their American home. It also sharpened my recognition that it was being embedded in relationships that gave meaning to both of their lives. I wondered what I would find in Lebanon after the death of both parents.

Now, for the first time since 1980, I am going back to Lebanon. I make arrangements with friends to take care of my daughter Sara Rose (named after her Lebanese grandmother and great-grandmother). What does Lebanon mean to her six-and-a-half-year-old mind? Mama's stories about childhood; Sito[2] and Gido's[3] stories; pictures of her great-grandparents in Ottoman attire; Arabic songs, Lebanese food, a dirbakki;[4] hundreds of cousins she's never seen; others who mysteriously appear at funerals and special occasions and Mama introduces as "her cousins"? She responds "`a albik" [to your heart] when I say "sahtin" [good health] and considers herself fluent in Arabic. My blond, blue-eyed daughter, adopted on the day of her birth. What will Lebanon become for her?

From my journal. . .

March 12, 1993

4 pm

San Francisco Airport

My journey to Lebanon begins. I carry a suitcase filled with presents from my dead Baba and Mama and letters from Baba to his nephews in Lebanon. Baba had given me the presents that Mama had bought before she died to take to Lebanon on her next trip. Baba knew he could no longer travel and asked me to deliver them after her death.

I have only black and navy clothes with me. A Lebanese American friend tells me, "No one would expect you to wear black, because you've lived in America." But in returning, I feel I must honor the part of my parents that remained at home in Lebanon. The black at once veils the specificity of my journey and publicly signals my inner state of being -- my loss. It is a feminized state, for men are not expected to indicate their losses so visibly. I expect that my older brother, who will meet me in Heathrow airport, will not wear anything signalling Baba's death. In Lebanon, my cousin asks me why I wear navy blue.

"Mama, where are you?" Sara Rose asks when I call her

from the airport.

You are not lost, Sara, I want to tell her. Mama knows where you are. But I am not sure where I am. The British Airline attendant makes her announcement in English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian.

"Where is your final destination?" she asks.

"Bei. . . ," I almost slip. The American government still restricts travel to Lebanon. My Middle East Airlines ticket says Damascus. "Damascus."

"Do you have a visa to Syria?"

"No, I'll get one in London."

"How long are you staying?"

"A week."


I must make my pilgrimage in secret. I cannot say I am going to Lebanon, to this home. But my brother has told his U.S. senator we are going. Lebanon, my country of origin, has become a description. "Lebanization," "to Lebanize" has come to mean to tear apart from within. It has come to mean terrorism, fanaticism, militias, snipers, kidnappings, the kalashinkov generation. This Lebanon was once the center of the Arab world -- the intellectual, art, and music capital; the banking, finance, and transportation hub; the vacation and resort land. This Lebanon once represented all that was cosmopolitan, international -- a multiplicity of languages, religions, cultures; the embracing of differences, change, and the future.

Angie picks me up at Heathrow Airport. I will spend a night in England to catch my Middle East Airlines flight to Beirut the next day. For over two years, I saw Angie daily, as Sara's preschool teacher. She became a close friend and confidant. Now Angie has returned home. She talks of being finished with America. She's back home, in her family and community -- re-embraced. She has gathered the many pieces of herself. Her American husband, her son, and her soulful journey to America made her into something else. Yet she has a home to come to. I talk to her about feeling that no place belongs to me, about having no home to return to, about Lebanon being a symbolic home.

It was only with parenting that I began to feel that I had a claim to American institutions. I had to claim my rights for Sara's sake. Her first year of public education taught me that regardless of my sense of belonging, I had to stake out claims in the institutional structure of educational America to make sure my daughter's needs would be met. That meant being involved, volunteering, and creating relationships of accountability. Enacting rights on the local level, I found, was facilitated by creating relationships -- a resonance with what I had learned in Lebanon.

I begin to think about the connective self that I have been writing about in my work on Camp Trad, Lebanon, where I have done fieldwork since 1971. Connectivity gives persons claims in others. Moving and traveling, however, destabilizes relationships and entitlements. Each time I leave, a part of me remains with those critical others. I wonder what Baba lost and reclaimed in his many moves between Lebanon and the United States. He always tried to hold onto familial relationships, no matter what the cost.

The paradox of connectivity is its particular blend of autonomy and control. I have come to see how Baba's struggle to be a patriarch was constrained by the claims of his siblings and their children. Belonging, to him, meant relationships. Being a patriarch meant more claiming than being claimed. In this sense, Baba was always an uneasy patriarch.

"Individualist culture" rejects this connectivity and locates rights in the self. One has property in one's self, but not in others. Individualism is the discourse of mobility, autonomy, and uprooting -- of the contractual self, that self which claims freedom from the constraints of others, including the state. For Baba, this was a difficult transition to make -- one I think he never made.

March 14

8:15 am

Heathrow Airport

At Middle East Airlines, I barely believe I am seeing the familiar insignia again and hearing the familiar Lebanese dialect. I find myself repeatedly asking if I am in the right terminal, despite all the evidence. In the departure lounge, I finally find a familiar figure, standing with his back to me and searching for someone.

"Ray, Ray," I shout. I feel grounded in my brother, but nothing else around me.

Raymond talks of the storm that just hit the East Coast. I give him the watch he had given Baba that I had found while closing down our parents' home. I feel tender toward the signs of Ray's aging -- our aging -- this brother that I loved so much as a child, but hardly know anymore. After Mama died, Baba took on Mama's role of reminding us to call each other. Who will remind us now?

Ray and I tell family stories and reopen the familiar disputes of family birth dates. Baba was an American citizen when we were born but did not register us at the American embassy until he was ready to return to the States. His sense of dates and names was situational, embedded in memories of specific relationships.

We have talked our way to Lebanon. The mountains appear -- the familiar, beautiful Jabal Lubnan [Mount Lebanon]. "Wa irka' taht ahla sama wa usalli" [And I kneel under the most beautiful sky and pray], Fairuz sings.[5] I pray.

Inside the airport terminal, I realize that I had forgotten how many blue-eyed Lebanese there are. I find myself spontaneously lowering my eyes at the inspectorial gaze of men. How can I still have that in me? The always gendered, sexualized, hierarchalized dynamics of selfhood re-emerge in their Lebanized form. The airport brings me to the present. Pictures of Hafiz al-Asad, the president of Syria, abound.

Outside, my friend Mary and cousin Rose wait for us. Mary has been my friend since my first trip in 1968. Whenever I returned to Lebanon, I always stayed at her house first. A sister to me, she has helped me in almost everything I did in Lebanon over the past twenty-five years -- finding a fieldsite, finding apartments, creating networks, finding work, providing emotional support. Her family became my family, and my family became her family. She gave me a home and made me belong. Mary's family, though Lebanese, had lost almost all their property in Palestine with the creation of Israel. She had to stop her schooling and work to help support her family. She never stopped working. Not even during the war. Not even under gunfire. The Lebanese government recognized her service with a national medal in 1992. Mary wears black for her mother who died a month before Baba. We look at each other in disbelief. We cry for more things than we can say.

Coming from the airport, I notice that Lebanon looks like a Third-World country. It had never seemed so before the war. Until the early 1980s, the Lebanese Lira (LL) had remained relatively constant, $1 to 3.25LL. Now it was $1 to 1,750LL. At points during the war, it had reached $1 to 3,000LL. "We pay for everything in dollars but get paid in liras," Mary says. The American dollar has become the daily currency.

March 15

2 am


I hear the beating of the drums, the call to break fast. It is the middle of Ramadan and observing Muslims will be fasting all day. Growing up in my enclosed Lebanese Christian community in Cortland, New York, I didn't realize that most Arabs were Muslim until I went to school. Religion has come to have new meanings in Lebanon. Religion brought me to Lebanon for my doctoral research in the 1960s and 70s. I argued that political leaders were using religious identities to build political bases. Yesterday, Mary reminded me of the argument we had when she visited me in California in 1976, after the war had begun. "You were right," she said. I had begun making my argument about the politicization of religious identity in Lebanon in the late 1960s and had predicted the collapse of the system in the early 1970s before the war broke out. But it was the brash confidence of a graduate student. I have much less confidence in predictions now.

Seventeen religious sects are formally recognized and represented in the Lebanese government. In the 1960s, some called Lebanon a political miracle. A disaster waiting to happen, others prophesied. Too many states had stakes in the pieces that made up Lebanon. I was born Maronite Catholic, a cultural minority in the Arab world but the political elite in Lebanon. Critical of the politics of many Maronite leaders, I was a minority in this powerful minority. I think how much easier identity politics must be when you can embrace the majority politics of an identity group. Maybe that's why I have been troubled by identity politics: often authoritarian, essentializing, fixing, and mandating what one must be in order to belong, to be a member, to have a home.

Later that day

Mary abruptly shifts between laughter and tears to tell me stories about the war. "You can't know what it was like," she says. One night her mother, Um Nazmi, saved their lives by refusing to go to the shelter during the bombing. Mary and her sister stayed with Um Nazmi. Minutes later, a rocket hit the shelter. As I listen, I know there will be many stories in the coming days. We all mourn -- for our parents, our loved ones, our parentage, our heritage, our culture, our selves.

I stand on Mary's balcony. When I first stood here in 1968, there was an unobstructed view of Beirut and the Mediterranean. I remember days of sharing our histories over early morning coffees. I feel the familial bond with these friends of twenty-five years. The friendships took in the whole family. Mary took me along on all her family functions; indeed, I was expected to be there. Her family took me in, claimed me, made claims on me, entitled me to make claims on them.

I have both longed for and fought against this belonging. But making a home means belonging to a tribe. Tribes fission and fuse -- family tribes, family-like tribes, Maronite tribes, Christian tribes, Lebanese tribes, Arab tribes. There are new world tribes, too, I have come to realize, as voluntary groups play out similar dynamics of loyalty and betrayal: gendered tribes, class tribes, religious, racial, ethnic, political tribes.

"La tunkirri al-asil, aslik. . . ." [don't repudiate your origin, your origin is . . . ] we sang as children, filling in at times "Haddadiyya," Mama's maiden name; at times, "Awwadiyya," Baba's family name; at times "Lubnaniyya"; at times "`Arabiyya." There was never a single origin, a single identity to forsake. The identity was plural, fractured, contradictory in its roots. The struggle was misplaced in trying to unify, make the multiple whole into one.

Mary stayed in Lebanon during the war. Her family had lost almost everything in Palestine, but she refused to lose Lebanon. She stayed and worked for this home, risking her life in her daily crossings of the Green Line between Muslim-controlled West Beirut and Christian-controlled East Beirut to get between home and work. These boundaries were not metaphors. They were barricades creating safety and danger. Mary refused to leave her home. I wonder if I have one.

March 16

11:30 pm

Raymond and I spend our first days in Lebanon talking to lawyers and government officials about Baba's property. I am struck again by the necessity of relationships in the Lebanese political arena. Without wasta [contacts, brokers, relationships] you get nowhere: there is little access, few rights in practice, and almost no belonging. I guarantee my rights in the Lebanese state by investing in family and friendships. My belonging, my home, and my entitlements flow from neither birthright nor citizenship, but from my relationships -- my relationships with my family and friends and their relationships with others.

We learn that settling the estate is even more complex than we feared. The lawyer tells us that it would be easier if we were Lebanese citizens. The Lebanese state, like the United States, now honors dual citizenship. One does not lose citizenship by migration unless one actively chooses to do so, we are told. I had learned earlier, however, that Baba's name had been scratched from the citizens' rolls for reasons that were unclear. Our lawyer and his brother claim that we will be able to restore Baba's citizenship, even though it will be complicated -- it is only a matter of finding the thread in the bureaucratic web that will lead to the solution. I read that to mean wasta.

Children receive citizenship only through their fathers in this society. Mama had retained her Lebanese citizenship, having never become an American citizen. We learn that the Lebanese parliament is considering allowing children to gain citizenship through their mothers, which should then make our case straightforward. Whether or when such a law would be enacted, however, remains unclear.

I contemplate what it has meant to me to not have citizenship in the country in which I was born, in which my parents were born, in which our extended family remains, in which all of Baba's and Mama's landed property resides. What would it mean to gain citizenship through Mama? We became American citizens through Baba's citizenship. We lost Lebanese citizenship through Baba's loss. In patriarchal societies, paternal heritage weighs heavily in descendant lines. Baba's gains and losses live on in the lives of his children.

Like many of his generation of Lebanese, Baba never subdivided the land he and his brothers inherited from his father. The land in our ancestral village is almost all registered in the names of a number of persons, making it impossible to sell to anyone but those family members who collectively own it with us. Whether we like it or not, whether we like them or not, we must communicate, negotiate, compromise, with our families. Relationality is a structural, economic, political condition of social life in Lebanon. But modern states like to fix families, properties, and personhoods.

Baba eluded the state's fixity constantly. He used different names and ages in various government registries -- both for himself and his children. In some he called himself by his father's term of address.[6] In some places, Baba registered property as Salim (his first name) Yusif (his father's first name) Abu Mrad (his father's term of address). In other places, Baba shortened the Abu to Bu (the colloquial for father). In other registers he dropped Abu altogether. In one registry he identified himself by his mother's maiden family name. Only in the American embassy was he registered as Samuel (English for Salim) Joseph (English for Yusif, his father's first name), the name he used in the States. I wonder whether Baba ever felt a need to be one name, one identity, a congealed self. Did the multiplicity give more options, maneuverability, elasticity? Could he have passed a unified self on to us, even if it had occurred to him?

I find in the records two different birth certificates for myself, one showing that I was born in our ancestral mountain village, the other showing our coastal home as my place of birth. Even now, my oldest brothers argue that Baba registered me as having been born a year earlier than my birthdate. One of the forms explains that Baba did not register me in the American embassy when I was born because he did not realize he was an American citizen. Other government records explain that he did not realize that he was not a Lebanese citizen. Some records indicate that he was living in Lebanon at the same time that other records indicate that he was in the States. I am tempted to think of this as a problem of Third-World peasant classes until a friend tells me that her upper-class father, a leading member of parliament, did not register her birth until she was in high school. My father's brother's sons recently registered themselves under three different family names, even though they are brothers.

The legacy becomes a legal nightmare in the modern state, which formally understands each person to have only one name, one identity. Baba defined himself in terms of the relationships and events that mattered at the moment; as relationships shifted, so did terms of address and identity. The culture of Baba's Lebanon allowed for and even encouraged situationality, but it was the culture of a pre-modern state. In some ways, Baba made only a superficial journey to the modern state.

Mama was also ambivalent about the consequences of living in a modern state, but she understood the consequences more deeply, perhaps, than Baba. She urged him for years to straighten out the property problems, the citizenship problems, the name problems, but he couldn't or wouldn't, or, at least, didn't. I think of the consequences for his children. It will take us years to straighten it out -- as if what was there before was false and crooked. Baba's property is embedded in familial relationality. The modern state must straighten, unwrap, and unravel the self from its relationality to construct the fixed, essentialized, individualized, autonomous citizen. Why is it so difficult, then, to subdivide property, so essential for the autonomy of the individualized self? In this patriarchal culture that traces genealogies through male lines, the lines are not straight.

"Don't romanticize relationality," a Lebanese friend cautioned me recently. "Mughtaribin[7] romanticize Lebanon as a home." Only the one who is able to stand apart and be alone can accomplish something, she maintained.

"You might be romanticizing individualism," I had pointed out. I suggested that one can be relational and still have agency.

March 17

Raymond and I hired a driver to take us to Intilias, our coastal home. Raymond had been there in October 1992, but is not sure he can find our house. I think I will be able to, even though I have not been there in thirteen years. We turn too early off the autostrat, but are still heading in the right direction. I find the store my cousin's husband used to own in the adjacent village, but it is closed down. We approach Intilias. I look for cousin Asad's gas station. I recognize it even though it has changed from Esso to Distral. His worker tells us the mukhtar (Asad is a mayor) is not there. I direct Raymond to Uncle Joe's house, my first cousin who is the oldest living member of our family. Uncle Joe's aging wife answers. She recognizes Raymond before me, having seen him in October.

I had always been afraid of Uncle Joe as a child. He traveled back and forth from Lebanon to the States. We never knew when he would appear. Although he was Baba's nephew, he was one year older and claimed considerable authority for himself. He had the largest house in the family and more political connections than anyone else. Dressed in his pajamas and bathrobe, walking so slowly that Raymond jumps up to help him, he now sits before us. He says he had not known that Baba died. "I loved him," he says. "He was a brother to me." I give him the envelope with the gift from Baba. His eyes tear. I try to take in as much as I can of this man. He is one of the few links left to a passing epoch.

March 23

8 pm


Raymond wanted to go to the palace of Beit Eddine. Cousin Rose took us yesterday. Her son's friend, Roger, drove. Roger has become like a son to her, dropping by every Sunday to see if she needs anything, calling her, taking her places.

Syrian and Lebanese soldiers man barricades on all the roads. Roger says, "`atikun al 'afi" [God give you health, strength] to the Lebanese soldiers. He does not acknowledge the Syrian soldiers. Occupiers, he calls them.

Occupiers in Beirut, in the mountains. Israel occupies the South. Lebanon is fragmented. No one now, however, is talking of taqsim [division] of Lebanon into different ethnic/religious states. I sense some hope that Lebanon will be reunified. Roger says everybody wants a piece of Lebanon -- the Syrians, the Israelis, the Americans, the French. On the way back from Beit Eddine, we stop at Rose's daughter's house. Rose's teenage granddaughter sings Whitney Houston songs for us and dances hip hop. She is fluent in Arabic, French, and English. Her father, mother, and grandmother adoringly watch as she sings. It is the family that holds together the pieces of these globalized Lebanese.

April 2

7 am

It's our last day in Beirut. Yesterday, we visited Umti Marion, Baba's last surviving sibling. She looks so much like Baba, I just stare at her. We go see the khuri [priest], the son of Baba's oldest sister. He and Raymond recite poetry to each other and reminisce about things they did together as children. Cousins Rose and Nakhli have come with us on this round of visits. I tell Nakhli that he's begun to look more and more like his father, khali [my mother's brother]. "Ka'inni ibnu" [It's as if I'm his son], he quips. He shows me his picture before his last heart attack. He looks shockingly like Mama. I know there is a part of my parents that remained in Lebanon -- a part of them they left with their families. They planted a part of me here, too.

Earlier Nakhli had introduced us to a neighbor of his who sits on the government commission that determines values of properties that the government has claimed for public uses. He tells us that a decision has been made to put a road through our property in Intilias. The road will take the entire property. The government will compensate us. He will do the best he can for us, he says.

This is what we had feared. Nothing is official. It is not public information. Baba's property, our legacy from him and Mama, will be taken by the State. It will become public property. It will be fixed as a road, a straight road. The State controls citizenship. The State controls property. Property, like relationships, is central to selfhood in village Lebanon. Property, citizenship, relationships, selfhood seem to route us into the state.

June 6

7 pm

Cortland, New York

I've come home for my last pilgrimage to Baba's and Mama's last home. We've sold the house to my cousin. I want to be in it one more time before they move in. I intend to spend only one night, but my flight is cancelled because of Chicago weather. I think Mama must have sent the weather. One night was not enough.

Cherry meets me at home. We've known each other since a year after my family arrived in the States and bought the house next to hers. She's the first person I want to see. She knew Mama, Baba, the family so well. We called her maternal Russian grandfather "Dida" and her Russian grandmother "Baba." Part Russian, part Native American, Cherry married her high school sweet-heart and stayed in Cortland. I treasure the continuities she brings to our friendship.

"I've made up a bed for you in case you change your mind about staying alone here," Cherry advises me as soon as she walks in.

I tell her I feel I really need to be in the house alone that night, to make my peace.

"You always did the tough thing," she reminds me.

I visit the cemetery two to three times each day. I visit my brother-in-law, my cousins, my old professors and talk to my fifth-grade teacher on the phone. I learn that one of the older Lebanese women has just passed away and talk to her son, my boss in my high school part-time job. I meet a childhood friend who now works for the local college, SUNY Cortland. As I enter her office, I realize that her desk is exactly in the same spot, the same room, that I sat in for three years as a work-study student putting myself through college. "Education was my father's friend and foe," my oldest brother had said in his eulogy for Baba. Education brought advancement for his children but also took us away from our home.

I meet with the chair of the department. On the shelf in his office, he has only two college yearbooks, and one is 1966, the year I graduated from Cortland. We leaf through the pages, reminiscing about people we know in common. I reclaim something from Cortland -- I feel a coming home.

Previous Next Up Comments


I am indebted to Etel Adnan, Najla Hamadeh, Aida Kaouk, Smadar Lavie, Judith Newton, Nancy Lindesfarne, and the editors of this volume for their insightful readings of earlier versions of this paper.

1. Suad Joseph, "Gender and Relationality Among Arab Families in Lebanon," Feminist Studies 19.3 (Fall 1993): 465-486; Joseph, "Connectivity and Patriarchy Among Urban Working Class Families in Lebanon," Ethos 21.4 (Dec. 1993): 452-484.

2. Sito is Lebanese colloquial for grandmother.

3. Gido is Lebanese colloquial for grandfather.

4. A dirbakki is a drum made of clay and sheep skin. It is a central instrument in popular Arabic music.

5. Lebanon's foremost female vocalist.

6. In Arab culture, men and women are addressed as the father or mother of their eldest son. My grandfather's eldest son was named Mrad, and so Gido was called "Abu Mrad" [Father of Mrad] and Sito was called "Um Mrad" [Mother of Mrad].

7. Mughtaribin is Arabic for immigrants, Lebanese who have gone literally to the West.