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Gail Chehab


Throughout my childhood, life was as exciting as the fog that rolled into the riverside town where I grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley. My life was the Girl Scouts, tennis lessons, and a good game of kickball. On my sheltered piece of earth, it would have been impossible to believe that one day I would venture to Lebanon and write a book about how war displaced two Muslim brothers. It would be decades before I could point to Lebanon on a map or know what Islam meant. Despite my ignorance and youth, the seeds of my curiosity sprouted when I was about ten years old. I interviewed a nun for a social studies project who was placed in a labor camp in the Philippines during World War II. With her broken teeth she sucked on hard candy and told me her story of struggle in an exotic land that fascinated me. From that point on, I thought being a nun was glamorous and I was determined to live a more interesting and meaningful life. My Girl Scout uniform, tennis racket, and kickball could be packed away in a box; I would never miss it.

Seventeen years later, I found myself heading off to Paris to complete my MBA. I thought I would fall in love with some Frenchman and settle in Paris. Instead, I married a man from Lebanon whose Arabic was as foreign as my small American town. I knew marriage would change my life. What I didn’t know was that another person’s past would become my future.

In 1998, I made my first trip to Lebanon along with my husband who had been away for enough time to become a stranger. Together, we saw a country under reconstruction. It was a land half in ruin, half in hope. My husband longed for a country now gone, but he realized truth can’t be found in nostalgia.

After our return, our dreams of one day living in Beirut seemed impractical. As an Arab and an American, my husband lives between two conflicting cultures. Perhaps this is why he feels more Lebanese when he is in America and more American when he is in Lebanon. We wondered if it was his destiny never to feel at home.

My husband had left Lebanon at nine years old, a few years after the civil war broke out. Despite his youth, he retained the terrible memories of war and the havoc it spread over his homeland. Whether watching the bodies of two headless men being dragged by a Jeep or waiting all night at a well for water—traumas my husband and his relatives had endured—these are hard truths that must be revealed.

We were living in New York where I was pursuing a career in international finance. Having the dream MBA job was not enough, and I yearned to do something creative instead of making gobs of money crunching numbers. Two children later and after a move across the country to Southern California, I found the courage to take a creative writing course and show my insides to anyone who would read my prose.

Our homework was to write a first chapter. I needed a story. I searched my heart and knew my husband and his country were inside. Like a child, The Echo of Sand was conceived and grew into one of my children.

If I look back on my own childhood and unpack my box, I will not only find my Girl Scout uniform, but my fascination with an exotic land, a world of contradiction and the challenge to create.

Titles by Gail Chehab
The Echo of Sand

 


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