Daniel, Ibn Bahija: An Open Letter to Lebanon.

Looking out from my balcony; Ras En-Nebaa.

Looking out from my balcony; Ras En-Nebaa. (Photo by Mayda Freije Makdessi)

Seest thou one who denies the Reckoning? Then such is he who harshly repulses the orphan…. —The Small Kindnesses, 107:1–3

  النسخة العربية: دانيال، ابن بهيجة: رسالة إلى لبنان

We remain the repulsed, splinters, expelled from the body; the corpus surrounds us, englobes us, drives us out; it then returns to a state of “as if” we had never existed. Should we attempt return, we do not notice that the immune response starts yet again, only at this point we are incapable of understanding its reasonings and explanations. Ô Lebanon! Shall I be sorry that I wished not to return as an “American”? Had I done so, I know I would have been embraced with open arms, as the colonized greet their oppressors. There is no comfort here. No, I sought something more from you: an origin, a sense of source, an acknowledgement of belonging, a claim to place—a wish shared by many also discounted as not being “of” this place, none of which you deemed worthy of offering. In this regard, I was naive to an extreme, no doubt. Things have changed as they are wont, though it took much of a lifetime: After a decade of search, a DNA test, and reunion with extended family, a great unblocking took place as word got round, as the who and the what and the why made the rounds; and an elderly man plagued by his memories of a child absconded with half a century ago came forward, and revealed a secret to the only man he trusts with such information, my cousin Jamal’s father. And with that the Sisyphean task, twelve long years later, is accomplished.

Of the two scenarios I had whittled things down to, I perversely preferred the one involving kidnapping; such an act absolves kin of any crime, of any complicity, and reunion might thereafter be imagined to be a joyful occasion. Quite the other scenario has borne out. There was a woman in trouble, and a paternal denial; there was a choice, and a determination, and there was a familial verdict: Her life, or mine. One reasoned voice prevailed and saved both our lives, forbidding the doubling of sin; then followed a forced sequestering, and a calculated banishment. Despite unmatched balances of familial power, my grandfather sought a reprieve, requested a stay, asked for a paternal registration so that I might be raised by maternal family—this was refused: Not once, but twice. My mother fought to keep me an extra month to nurse me; to prepare me for the journey literally out of her hands. She resisted other pressures, never marrying, and never bearing other children. She sought refuge in her faith, the family being mushayakh[1]; this is a comfort to me. The question now remains: Who dares fathom such grief? Who will atone for such suffering? Jamal recounted the narrative, and before I could even formulate the question, he informed me that my parents had passed away some time ago; an infinite pause followed, and a chasm opened its maw before me. Her name, in Arabic, means “happiness”. What I would give now to have seen her eyes gladdened by my return; her name thus restored as well.

To those who propose the “win-win” of adoption, I ask you now: Do you feel no duty, no compulsion, to take on this, the grief of a mother for the child she hardly knew? Now compounded by that of her son, grieving the one he never met? I visited her grave two days before I left Beirut, and there, at that time, I placed this crime on your shoulders, just as I placed candles at her resting place. Will you, at long last, include us in your horrid calculus of valid humanity? Do you imagine, after all this, I will continue to suffer gladly your sidewise glances, your sneers, your judgments, your backstabbings, your underminings, your euthanizing musings? Above the crypt door was placed a mirror engraved with the words of the Prophet: “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers”: a succinct condemnation of your arrogance and disdain. Her story, of patience in the face of incalculable adversity, is one shared by millions of others, her narrative of standing up to you is a comfort you cannot deliver and an agony you cannot assuage with your despicable adoption, its baleful marketing, its woeful mythologies. To note: I have nothing if not my mother’s resistance, and I say to you now: You have failed miserably, on a global scale and on a universal level, and the displaced, and the dispossessed, and the disinherited now hold you to account. You are the inculcators of an intolerable misogyny; the doctrinaires of wretched misery, all in the name of “family”. What is your answer? How do you plead?

Upon return to source we are obliged the word “repatriation”, as for bones, for relics, for bodies returned from war. I rather prefer the Indigenous term: rematriation.[2] For evidence I present umm and umma, the Arabic words for “mother” and “supranational community” both sharing a similar root. From these selfsame Moorish roots arose Spain as well as its outcroppings, Argentina and Guatemala among others; lands where the matriarchs and the grandmothers and the matrons endlessly seek what was taken from them. Their sisters perform the backbreaking work that aims to rectify, annul, and renegotiate the writs of ownership that deny the ability to re-establish Motherhood; they demand accounting for their “disappeared” children; they march and protest for their sons and daughters gone missing; they requisition the return of progeny adopted out of their hands; they fundraise to keep children with their mothers; they are the daughters of those mothers in the foundling hospitals of a century past who sewed scraps of clothing to their children’s swaddling in the hopes of eventual reunion. Village rumor reports that my mother was sickly her whole life, supporting the pain of separation as best as was possible in those days; and yet, she resisted banishment, and much worse. I thus rematriate for her, and for those like her, the women of “al-bilad ash-sham”[3] who claim me as theirs. The mothers who forego adherence to patrilineal duty, reaching out to protect me; the village women chastening powerful sheikhs demanding I desist in my search; the neighborhood women ignoring the potent proscriptions concerning veils and non-family members, like the hajjeh upstairs from me in Beirut reducing me to tears in our stairwell with the words: “Daniel, enta ibni.”[4] Rematriation is popular, not political; a spiritual bond, not a legal contract.

Goodbye, Lebanon. May you treat more kindly those who follow. And may they find something other than the harsh rebuke suffered by those who have the great misfortune of finding themselves within your bogus borders. May you be haunted eternally by all of those you have disappeared, in ways as diabolical as iniquitous; those who have gone missing to preserve your fascistic notions of reputation; of purity; of patriarchy. I survived your immune response for 12 years, and what I know now, what I have learned about myself, in terms of my sense of place and family and belonging, will undoubtedly inoculate me for however long a future that might remainder me in this realm. You can no longer sap my soul, nor will I allow you to foment my nightmares; you are bereft of power over me, you are exorcised and extirpated in turn. And my name henceforth shall be: Daniel Ibn Bahija[5], grandson of Hussein and Latifa—may God rest their souls. You cannot deprive me of my right to origins. And there is one final statement to make before I close this chapter of my life: know that I will return. My place is secured; the mountain winds are at my back; my journey is as on the plain[6]; my people have been informed of your doleful crime. And now I state I have survived you twice; returning stronger each time; and it is my great pleasure knowing that my expulsion will be forever marked by a scar, and I am honing my skill at further flaying your woundings. For I have learned the meaning of patience, and steadfastness in the face of adversity; and my very being, let it be known, is noble testament to my mother’s fortitude.

Two days before I was to leave Jamal and his father drove me up to the communal crypt where my mother was laid to rest; they pointed out my father’s lands, as we discussed the rejected attempt to contact my five half-siblings, fearful of a trespasser usurping their inheritances. I came armed with a poem courtesy of my friend Zeina; it recounted the words of a mother of one of the disappeared during the Civil War; the mother, realizing she will not outlive her son’s absence, states: “Should my son come back, let him knock on my grave three times; in this way maybe I will find peace.” At the door to my mother’s crypt I completed my journey, I came full circle; I keened, my tear-streaked visage mirrored in the reflection of the Prophet’s reminder. The steep valleys and enormous pines stoically reverberated an arrested time come to an accomplished halt; with the little energy left me I knocked three times on the crypt door. I informed my mother I was back and I begged her forgiveness for my tardiness, I pleaded she overlook our paths that had not managed to overlap, I assured her that my American mother’s care need obviate any lingering worries about my upbringing in her absence, I beseeched her to realize, as my friend Omar assured me, that the answer to her lifetime of dowaa[7] had, at long last, come to pass: I had returned. And I made her a promise, and I declared it out loud: “My story is your story; and my existence is your resistance.”

[1] Druze religious family.
[2] Term coined by Steven Newcomb, Executive Director, Indigenous Law Institute.
[3] Damascus Country, the pre-colonial name of Levantine Southwest Asia.
[4] “Daniel, you are my son.”
[5] “Daniel, son of Bahija”.
[6] An expansion of the common greeting, “Ahla wa sahla”, literally “[Your] people and plain”.
[7] Prayers/supplications.

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
This entry was posted in article/paper, literary, resistance and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Daniel, Ibn Bahija: An Open Letter to Lebanon.

  1. eagoodlife says:

    Daniel, I’m so very glad that you now know and have discovered your story. I noted immediately your change of name and wondered what it heralded – a great deal for you it seems. Very best wishes. <3

  2. Pingback: Daniel, Ibn Bahija. | The Life Of Von

  3. Lara/Trace says:

    Daniel, I am reading your words with grief and sorrow. I honor your courage and sacrifice insisting the truth. You are a warrior who carries the scar. Your mother is proud of your resilience and is relieved you found her, at long last, at long last.

  4. Dana says:

    I would hug you if it were physically possible and if it could possibly do any good. :(

  5. Saba Sadr says:

    “…and my very being, let it be known, is noble testament to my mother’s fortitude. And my existence is her resistance.”
    Daniel, you have proven to me time and time again that you can stand against the most unimaginable adversity and scrutinize even the most painful aspects, and express it to others without wavering or want of courage. Countless. Times. I cannot even express how much I admire you for this alone.
    I am distanced from, no, I cannot FATHOM what it is to be an adoptee with your background and having to realize it comes with a heavy and tragic story, having circumstances that exist even today and cannot be fixed. And then I read this blog post and, AGAIN, you have made me realize how much I value your place here. I can only say this (besides the above), that I am so glad I met you, have read about/from you, and learned from you.
    I’m really sorry I’m getting emotional NOW.

  6. Mary says:

    You are so brave, and I am so sorry-

  7. How eloquent and moving! At the same time a loving tribute to your mother and an indictment of the voracious adoption indu$try that has no shame, no regard for the families torn apart, the lives shattered forever. And, sad to say, a very astute assessment of many of the countries who send (inconvenient, embarrassing) children away to be swallowed conveniently into new families, new cultures, and falsified identities. They are being forced to face these children, now all grown up into adult sons and daughters, whose DNA is revealing the truth that was indelibly stored away all the time. I hope you will write more about Bahija and her sister mothers of loss all over the world who were so badly mistreated by men, families, churches, and communities. Thank you for your kind and loving respect, especially for not demeaning Bahija with the odious, dismissive “birth” label.

  8. Arlette says:

    No words here, just tears .. and so many questions.

  9. Robyn Volker says:

    Powerful and eloquent. xo

  10. lynellelong says:

    Daniel .. you are a warrior, a true soldier who fights for the truth! Well done but how sad to find your parents have both passed away! I’m so sorry! This must bring up your loss for a second and such a final but incomplete time! I wish it had’ve been a different outcome where you could experience that reuniting but alas, it is not to be. Her spirit lives within you and I’m glad you have found what you needed to know. I hope peace will one day find you but in the meantime, know that you are not alone. There are hundreds and thousands of us kindred spirit intercountry adoptees around the world who share the same fate! Let’s hope they continue to rise up and think critically and act to promote change in a way that helps preserve families instead of splintering us apart!
    Best wishes, Lynelle

  11. jan says:

    Daniel, I am sorry for your loss. You are in my thoughts as I imagine it is now Friday in Lebanon and you are visiting your mom’s grave, inch’allah.

    Saba Sadr said it all very beautifully in her response above, I completely agree.

    Peace and blessings. Jan

  12. So happy you finally have your story at long last. So sorry you didn’t get to meet her. I am more sorry she didn’t get to meet you – she would be so proud.

  13. Rosine says:

    So much above has been said so well. Daniel, I am glad you know your story. You have worked long and hard to find this out. Certainly it is very raw and tender. Your grief is very real and very well written out.Thank you for honoring your mother and for stating so eloquently the plight of womyn and children in such situations. Thinking of you as you go to her grave side. Her love for you is what brought you back to her and her love for you will also move you forward,…in time, and as you grieve, again, this loss. May you find yourself reaching forward to those who continue to love you and who are present to you. Peace, in whatever form and shape it takes in your heart and being.

  14. Daniel, may I send a virtual hug across the ocean and sea? I feel your losses (as my mother died when I was a few months young), yet cannot feel the totality you face. This is a very difficult journey, to find your mother and to visit her grave. For you to shoulder this burden, and that of your history, is a crime that should not go unpunished. As we castaways mourn with you, please know that our collective souls seek justice for needless separations everywhere. One by one, we march with you.

  15. Pingback: Daniel, Ibn Bahija. – FORBIDDEN FAMILY

  16. VegHipMama says:

    Dear Daniel, keening is the only sane response. You have found them….you have lost them….you are now one with them again. You know your name. You know your kin. You know which gravestone you will visit. This is adoption. Be well, and keep being true to yourself.

  17. Andrea says:

    So sorry for your loss. Amazing writing, thank you for sharing it with us.

  18. yussef961 says:

    hi david thx for your very beautiful written story, i have a similar one cause both of my lebanese parents conceived me and had me in Paris even though i’m lebanese by blood and “You cannot deprive me of my right to origins. And there is one final statement to make before I close this chapter of my life: know that I will return. ” is perfectly true … i didn’t feel it too much that way cause even seen as a foreigner but also as someone who has ancestors there…. i could find my mum though a dna cousin and we have a very loving relationship…. sorry for your loss

  19. christopher munz says:

    words like stones in a wall still cannot contain nor keep out that emptiness, infinite sadness. carry on.

  20. lesliepatemackinnon says:

    Keening is the vision that crossed my mind as well. Know that many who have followed you for years are keening with you and for you. We all wail for the losses that adoption has caused us to
    endure. Thank you for your exqusite words.

  21. yeahbanana says:

    Daniel, I wish had words of solace to offer, words that have the power to lessen your pain and grief. And I can’t think of anything except for hoping that you feel our support. Support of people who, likewise, have been separated, displaced, alienated from their original families and who have survived. I can’t thank you enough for allowing us to follow on your journey; we all benefit from your honesty and wisdom. Peace and love to you Daniel Ibn Bahija – may your newly discovered original name provide you with inner strength and resilience.

    • NADER DAOU says:

      Daniel, I salute you for your courage & steadfastness. You didn’t give up despite all the odds & insisted on finding out the truth no matter how harsh it was. I am sure your story will inspire many people to follow suit & will draw attention to those innocent persons who were forecfully put on a such a misfortunate path. Everyone deserves a closure no matter how harsh it is. I wished your story ended up in a more favorable outcome, but at least now you can have some peace of mind.

      God bless you & I wish you all the best.

  22. Marcy Newman says:

    Daniel, This is so beautifully composed. It’s the starting point for a moving memoir, I believe. I hope you will continue writing. xoxo

  23. WidGha says:

    I’m very happy that you were able to find answers, but at the same time my heart breaks for you and your mother. I’m sorry for your loss

  24. Pingback: Daniel, Ibn Bahija. | Terre Libanaise

  25. It’s been a year. And the grief is still palpable. May God rest her soul.

  26. Nancy says:

    I’m just a fan, who is very glad you found your mother. You’re such an incredible writer-you are a son to be proud of. I wish you all the best.

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