martes, 9 de agosto de 2011

On things we have in common

A dear Lebanese friend lost a relative this weekend. Not knowing the "protocol", I called upon my Lebanese friends to understand what was appropriate in terms of dress code, what to say, etc.

We decided to go as a group with some friends, since the funeral was going to take place in the village where my friend's family is from, and there was no chance that this clueless Mexican was going to make it up there (my friend later explained that funerals take place in the villages because in Beirut apartments are smaller and there is no room to accommodate visitors).

We arrived to this beautiful village in the mountains, and I noticed because of the religious symbols in front of the houses that we were in a Maronite village. As we entered the house, we were invited to the living room, where all the women were gathered. Later someone explained to me that the biggest couch is reserved for the people who were the closest to the deceased, the immediate family. So when visitors enter the room, it is obvious who to give the condolences to (felt a little silly with my "I am sorry for your loss" by the way, realizing that most people didn't speak English...)

We then proceeded to the balcony, where the men were gathered. Since it was much cooler, I was about to sit down there when my Lebanese friend told me "We go inside". Until that point I had not realized that men and women were in separate rooms. Thank God my friend was there. That would have been awkward to say the least.

We started chatting and the topic of what is traditional in Lebanon around funerals came up, for obvious reasons. It was very interesting to me to realize that people do different things depending on where they from (i.e. their religion). This is something I always forget, that in Lebanon you don't think in terms of "what we do in Lebanon" (as I would in terms of "what we do in Mexico), but you think along the lines of "what my family does" or "what we do in the village".

So my Muslim friend who comes from Baalbeck was telling me that over there, people get buried in the Muslim tradition, with absolutely no jewelry or anything other than a white cloth, to symbolize the humility of the person as s/he goes back to God. When I told her that in Mexico we cremate people she looked at me very surprised. Apparently this is a very foreign concept to them (and reading online, it is actually forbidden for Muslims to cremate the death).
She also mentioned that a huge banquet has to be offered (almost 700 people went the last one she attended) and a respected member of the community is invited to give a speech. She mentioned also something about having horses present during the ceremony.

Something interesting that came up was the hiring of women to cry during the wake. This is something I had heard was done in Mexico, and my friend told me that in Lebanon they do it to.
I was sharing with her that in Mexico funerals are usually very solemn, in funeral homes, with people barely speaking or making noise. This event at my friend's house was somehow more convivial and lighter.

A woman came around offering coffee and water. I gladly accepted since I was hot and thirsty. I soon realized that my other friend, who happens to be Muslim as well, didn't take anything, as it is now Ramadan.

Suddenly it dawn on me: here I was, this Mexican girl, seating with a Maronite, a Greek Orthodox, and two Muslims, having a quiet conversation in a Sunday afternoon. We were all there to support our friend through a difficult time. We were not different.

So next time I hear about Lebanon, about how divided and sectarian it is, I will make sure to remind myself that there are loads of people who aren't like that. That there are decent, loving people no matter where I go. I was honored and touched to be able to be part of this moment and to witness Lebanese with Lebanese, as members of a community, no matter where they came from or which religion they were.

2 comentarios:

  1. Lebanon is indeed rich in the diversity, only if people would realize how beautiful and cultural that is.

    I was at a funeral this week too, the guy was only 36, and his family was devastated.
    One of the old traditions, mainly among Palestinians, is wailing and singing to the dead person. This is their way of expression. It is very sad and tear-shedding if you get to know what they are singing. its unlike what you see Americans do (in movies since i haven't seen them in real life)
    This tradition is a little dying in the city, but within villagers it is still there.

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