The sufferings of the immigrants
Emigration has always been like a safety valve for the lebanese economy. Its aspects also characterized the lebanese with patience and an amazing ability to face the unexpected and overcome obstacles. He imposed himself wherever he went as if he were saying: I am here!
Emigration is very old. It goes deep into history, to the beginning of 1860 when the "Unknown World" seduced lots of the mountain people because of the poverty, constraints, hunger and huge sufferings that they went through. Under the despotic ottoman rule, poverty and constraints increased, people starved, children died in front of their parents. Sometimes, the latter used their corpse to feed themselves and searched for barley in the droppings of mules and donkeys. Hunger hit and locusts ate all the green that was left in that dark period!
Necessity usually creates ideas and emigration is an idea that came and established in the minds of many escaping from a sad reality. Nevertheless, what you want is not always what you get and the lebanese weren't able to afford the expenses of the travel. Hence, they borrowed money and mortgaged their houses to ensure the "fare" and the necessary expenses... Many waited for the first opportunity and took the first boat that dropped them anywhere in the five continents!
Poverty, hunger and constraints followed the first lebanese emigrants wherever they went. However, like they used to do in all ages during hardships, they didn't give up and kept looking for the smallest hope behind the closed doors. They found in their new countries the freedom that was missing in their Lebanon and the lost hope and peace...
The torture of moving and transportation was huge. The countrymen gave away all the money that they got through mortgage, selling and bartering to facilitate their passage from wooden boats to sailing boats that took them to the country of their dreams... They endured a lot... The promises were delayed and the dreams slowed down with the late arrival of the expected boats. Thus, they were obliged to pay more and more while waiting.
They progressively replaced the traditional clothes with foreign ones. They also exchanged their savings in the turkish currency with foreign currencies. They took shipping or cattle transport boats. They experienced adventurous sea trips. The lebanese mountain people weren't very familiar with the sea and didn't know how to float and face the waves... they stepped on the boat carrying advices and indications from hither and thither such as avoiding to carry heavy luggage and taking precautions not to become sea sick by abstaining from drinking liquids and replacing them with a little bit of cognac to ease the pain whenever something unexpected happens and being very careful from thieves, crooks and immoral people...
Troubles, advices, steps forward and backward, dreams and realities... are many other contradictions that the lebanese underwent to have a decent life abroad. The escape trips to the dream world carried heartbreaking scenes. The lebanese slept on the deck of the ship, in the narrow corridors, among the shipped merchandise, side to side with cows and sheep emigrating to their new slaughterhouses! They bore patiently, dreamt honestly and faced courageously. Their difficult moving conditions continued for weeks in sea trips launched from the Beirut port towards Yafa in Palestine followed by Port Said in Egypt then Alexandria where the ship stopped for a few days before sailing again in a week long trip towards the city of Marseille in France or Napoli in Italy. In those European cities, the immigrants' convoys waited once more for boats that took them to the american continent... the lebanese were exposed during their long escape trip to fraudulent operations and some of them couldn't choose the right direction because the brokers neglected them after having exploited them! For example, they traveled to Argentina then found themselves in Brazil! Nobody waited for them, nobody cared for them and they had no one to guide them and advise them! They cried and suffered but they persevered and of course succeeded.
Despite all the exploitation and challenges, the emigration dream stayed alive in the mind of the first lebanese emigrants. They often feared during their hard journey to be refused and be deported to Lebanon because of a medical or political problem or even because of some trouble with the name and its pronunciation. Under such excuses, entire families were held for days and weeks... The immigrants always recalled those difficult episodes in their life very precisely which denotes the psychological, emotional and physical obstacles they faced.
Whoever stood still could go on and whoever was lucky succeeded. Many crossed to the american continent from the port of New York in the United States and the ports of Rio de Janeiro and Santos in Brazil. The first problem that many also faced was the language. Very few knew how to read and write and spoke the foreign language. Money was scarce. They didn't have relatives nor acquaintances in the new country... They arrived but what was their new destiny? How could they interact with the new societies? Where could they sleep? From where could they eat? What work will they do...? It was really a difficult new period!
The language problem was very big. They were asked their names and whoever was writing off and registering failed to pronounce them. Hence, they replaced them with new ones, added to them or crossed out a part with a dash. That's why names of lebanese families changed or were modified. Instead, they were given nicknames that didn't suit them and identities that set them apart from their origin.
You might ask: What did these countrymen do to overcome their new obstacles?
Did they beg on the streets?
Did they sleep under the trees?
Did they starve?
Did they work in agriculture? Industry? Trade?
How did they move from a village to the other?
How did they earn money?
The lebanese chose peddling. They became famous in it and moved from one village to the other walking or on donkeys and mules. They learned simple foreign words, knocked at the doors and exposed the merchandise they were carrying. Some doors were shut at them. They didn't give up. They suffered but they continued. They underwent the cold, the rain, the heat. They persevered and reached wherever their business interests took them.
Ambulant trade played a major role in spreading trade and flourishing it. They sold, bought, and transported the merchandise to villages that were quite isolated. They had their clients, they sold in installments, they bartered... Peddling still echoes in the present days and it became an example and a lesson about the struggle of a people for life. And if the people wanted life, destiny better respond.
The doors started to open. Good and beautiful relationships started to be built among the first immigrants and the new countries' people. Peddling grew and progressively evolved into a shop...
They - the paternal cousin, the maternal cousin, the person from the same village- started to group in the same streets. Most of them married relatives. An example of this new reality of the Baabdati people who emigrated to Argentina is the village of Guemes in the province of Salta, north of Argentina where Baabdatis lived together and the village became known among the Baabdati immigrants as "la pequeña Baabdat" i.e. the small Baabdat.
The first lebanese immigrants were called "Turcos" i.e. Turks and this was certainly to their disadvantage since they escaped from the turkish transgressions and injustice towards the world. Nevertheless, the authorities in the new countries counted on the cards they were given by the turkish ottoman authorities... Hence, they were enlisted in the turks section! Some syrian and lebanese community members are still called this way. A number of turkish and syrian foods were also demanded based on the popularity of the lebanese foods. The lebanese who got rid of the turkish designation was considered a syrian or lebanese-syrian!
Immigration was so difficult in the old days. The world wasn't as small as it is now. Whoever packed his bags and left, did it for good! Those people left leaving behind them families, children, relatives and a country... what we can say about them today is that they gave, sacrificed, suffered, endured and triumphed. They became known as faithful and loyal and the following phrase was repeated about them: When the lebanese starts as a peddler he is known as a turk, when he opens a shop he is a syrian and when he becomes rich they say he is lebanese!
They are our family, pride, struggle and reputation all over the world... Those who were the first immigrants set the strong basis that allowed Lebanon to slowly fill the best positions in the world. They suffered, despaired, stayed up at nights, lost, gained, felt pain and fatigue, got sick, cheered and cried... All these stages might have established them more wherever they went and they opened the doors wide open to the ones who followed them. They constituted the economic security of Lebanon during hard times.
With pride we write about them, read their heroic stories...
With awareness we follow their steps in building the roots of Lebanon wherever we go...
We bow to them through our website, their website, your website...