Traveling down the highway from Beirut towards the south, you will find yourself in a large town called chouiefat. believe me, it wasn’t always such a large city and my childhood summers in the cozy village was always filled with natural scenery, families that knew each other for decades, and heaps of tradition. sit tight and grab a snack as I take you through an amazing journey to get a closer look at my village THAT IS KNOWN AS AL QOBBA.
Chouiefat in 1970
The one thing you can constantly see when you visit the village is the culture that we have on this side of our city. Chouiefat may have grown into a major part of Lebanon, but there are still many traditions carried out by our ancestors that are still living to this day. I could remember the vacations that I would spend in the country and every April, during Easter, we would gather around a field in the village and play a popular game called Backgammon, known to the Lebanese as ‘Tawle’. Even though I never quite understood the rules, it was a lovely experience since these tournaments dated all the way back to the 1960s. My parents would even tell me stories of how my grandfather would never miss a single game during that time and the board that he used still sits in the attic of our house.
What’s most captivating is that, the old ways can still be found here and there. Up in the hills of the village, some people grow their own food on what is left of the land, remained in the same house that their great grandparents have built, and still manage to create monthly family meetings with the entire village. I can speak with experience on some of these points. My family, Abou Fakhr, is quite a large family in the village who built a hall that would be used for those meetings, weddings, parties, or funerals. From our house, you have a very clear view of the airport and the entire city of Beirut. During the olden days, it was filled with a greenish ambiance that portrayed exactly how natural Lebanon was. However, the view today lost most of this appeal and now has buildings covering the lands. (Though we can agree that the lights at night are always a beautiful sight)
Next to the city, there is an area that is now known as Hadath where the Lebanese University is located. This was previously a big part of Chouiefat. The Lebanese University first started with only one building and nothing around it. Here is where tales of the good old days would begin, and they would tell us how they had to walk from one of the city to the other to get their universities or take a trip to Beirut. As kids, we weren’t going to retort to that but the plain fields were no longer there which would make a stroll through the city a tad more difficult. Now you can see the same faculty that they would walk to surrounded by one of the largest campuses in Lebanon and an enormous amount of buildings.
On the subject of traditions that never die, one of those actions is the making of molasses syrup. Personally, my family had dabbled more in the art of making olive oil picked from our own olive trees. Yet, Al Qobba is quite known for this delicious syrup. Since the early 1900s, the syrup was grounded by hand and boiled several times to get the sweet substance that is so easily made today with machines. Some prefer to stick to this method as they believe it tastes more natural when done by hand. Even when the village would host an event for the residents, we would get an interesting preview of how this is usually done.
Our celebrations and weddings in the community have not changed since then either. We would always see similar performers creating traditional dance routines with swords and the Debkeh, an Arabic folk dance. Even the nooks and crannies of the village have kept a similar ambiance with its stone walls, old staircases, and several mini-markets that are still carried on by the children of the village. One of those areas is known as “Tariq Al Snoubar”, translated to “The Pine Road”, which is massively covered with tall pine trees. This field has been kept as it is for as long as I could remember. There are barely any buildings there, the trees are left intact, and the giant field has been used for our family picnics or events. It was perfect for an afternoon stroll (if you don’t mind the lengthy walk) that we would take with the entire family every once in a while. We would see it as a hike, grab our boots, and take off. What I loved most about it was that there are still parts of the area that I haven’t fully seen yet. Granted, they might be too difficult to reach but I am willing to take that risk just to get a glimpse of what else there might be.
Chiouefat filled with Pine Trees in 1960
With all the recent changes and the growth in population, the hills of Chouiefat have never lost that touch of ancestry. The family remained close and our neighbors remained friends. Even as the generations go by, the children of the village continue to live up to this, adopt the old homes, and carry on the businesses their fathers have left them. One thing is for certain, I doubt I nor any child of the village would ever lose that special connection with Al Qobba.
Written by: Sami Abou Fakhr