Here in Lebanon, the small Irish community became our family

Life can be chaotic and unpredictable here, but strangely freeing, like Ireland in the 1980s

Claire Redmond with her son and daughter in Lebanon.

Claire Redmond with her son and daughter in Lebanon.

 

I have spent more than a year in Lebanon. We were supposed to come out here in April of last year. The plan had been to follow my husband as he relocated for work reasons. Our original plans were scuppered as the pandemic took hold.

Having spent six months on my own with our two small children, I was beyond delighted to get here eventually, in July of last year. But coming into the peak of a scorching Middle East summer with my son, who is now five, my three-year-old daughter and our dog was anything but easy.

My husband was away a lot, and we had to adapt to an experience very different from what we expected. However, as we approach the final stages of our time here, I can reflect on what has been the most challenging and amazing experience of my life.

In Lebanon you don’t know what the next hour will bring. You have to grab the opportunities when you can. This may be boiling the kettle for coffee before the power cuts off, or organising that trip just in case there’s a lockdown

In the small town of Tyre, in southern Lebanon, we are the outsiders, but in turn, we have learned how to belong. Our culture, religion and language are different. Even how we dress, in a predominantly Muslim community, is different.

You know when it’s said that you don’t know what tomorrow many bring? In Lebanon you don’t know what the next hour will bring. Life here has taught us several things. You have to grab the opportunities when you can. This may be boiling the kettle for coffee before the power cuts off, or organising that trip just in case there’s a lockdown or other reason you can’t move, in this beautiful but troubled country.

We live in a small apartment here – very different from our spacious house in Ireland. But priorities are different in Lebanon: being safe and close to the small Irish community are our main considerations. As a result, we live in the heart of this bustling town. The pace of life is relentless and impulsive. The Lebanese people seize the moment and grab opportunities where they can, in a country where stability and permanence are rarities.

The absence of familiar relationships has highlighted their importance, and so we had to build our tribe around us. The small Irish community became our family.

We went through a loss as we said goodbye to those returning home. Now we in turn will leave. However, that is the nature of the expat life. There are beginnings and there are endings. They are the only certainties.

We relied on the support of our friends many times, but none more so than when we had a bereavement at home. The traditional funeral was not available to us or any of the mourners at Level 5 restrictions. Being 6,000km away, we were forced to watch the funeral online. Wanting to be there was insignificant compared to the loss of the familiar comforts for the dying due to the pandemic.

We hope we have given our children the experience of a lifetime and sense of adventure, as they headed to school through an ancient hippodrome and looked for lost cities in this corner of land reclaimed from the Mediterranean

Our Muslim neighbours have also been so kind – including us in their festivities and helping us navigate our way in their neighbourhood. The pandemic and life here were relationship accelerators for us. As we couldn’t leave, we had to belong in order to find some sense of normality.

I’ve discovered culture shock is a real thing. I had to move out of a comfortable way of living and embrace the unknown. I had to unlearn to relearn. I have gone to gym classes (even played football!) through Arabic. I figured it out and worked through the moves through what I saw others doing. A bit like a metaphor for life really: follow the lead, look at others, take the bits you understand and make it your own.

Life can be chaotic and unpredictable but strangely freeing. There are no traffic lights on the roads in Tyre: you battle though the traffic and concentrate on keeping you and your children alive. It comes back to basics here in a town that often reminds me of Ireland in the 1980s, when children were piled into cars and where microwaves, dishwashers, Dyson vacuum cleaners and child car seats were luxuries either rarely used or unheard of.

Boiling the kettle, air conditioning and wifi aren’t taken for granted here. In Lebanon you get used to innovating within constraints.

We hope we have given our children the experience of a lifetime and sense of adventure, as they headed to school through an ancient hippodrome and looked for lost cities in this corner of land reclaimed from the Mediterranean. They have learned to be resilient as they coped with numerous changes in their little world.

Above all, we are grateful to the people of Lebanon for the kindness shown to our children. The teachers who have given them a start in life that we could only have imagined – Arabic and French roll off their tongues and they can count Lebanese lire quicker than the euro.

We are so appreciative of the sports coaches who dedicated their time and energy to them, meaning they can swim like fish and have learned the training and discipline of Muay Thai. We will always remember the restaurants and cafes where they were treated like old friends and where they gave their orders to the staff who gave them all the time in the world. They have been treated like superstars here and we look forward to going over the many stories and the fun times with them in the years to come.

A little older and a little wiser, we now return home with a wealth of experience that takes pride of place in the annals of our family history.

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