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From Soup Kitchen to Feed Mill

A small village in Lebanon is resettled and re-established following the ravages of war.

text and photos by Marilyn Raschka

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Contented cows are a priority in the Lebanese village of Majdel el Meoush. They stroll the dirt roads on their way to naps in green pastures; they walk in two’s and three’s along daisy-scattered terraces and nibble greenery that is lush and leafy. And although they occasionally wander into forbidden quarters, namely vegetable patches, they are only mildly admonished. It could be that bovine heaven is located in Lebanon and not, as some thought, in Wisconsin.

Land for pasture and planting is at a premium in Majdel el Meoush. The mountain slopes are terraced; the wider ones are used for grazing and narrower ones for planting. Majdel’s cows learn to be as sure-footed as its goats and as dependent upon herders as its sheep.

Mornings, small herds of only a dozen cows skirt the village residences as the animals are led to the fields. Many of these houses bear the ravages of war, but they also show signs of repair. The happiest houses are those that carry proof of habitation. Playing children and laundry on the line are cheerful indicators that families have returned to this village.

Flourishing gardens are another good omen that commitment and confidence have returned. The cows themselves represent true faith in return. They cost a bundle ($1,500 each) and require daily attention.

Before their flight from the outbreak of violence in 1982, 90 percent of the villagers were employed in agriculture. There were numerous herds of cattle, chicken farms and an egg-packing plant in the area. Back then only 10 percent of the population made the 40-minute trek to Beirut for employment. Looking around the village today you can see that the numbers are reversed, with many families still living in Beirut where they made a new life for themselves. But new never replaced old.

While in exile from Majdel el Meoush, many families had to turn to charity. Meals at Beirut soup kitchens grew into huge luncheons where villagers met their former neighbors and even other family members who had found places to live in other Beirut neighborhoods. Charity was hard to accept for these once-independent, proud villagers, but with it came new bonds, renewed hopes and ultimately the chance to return to their village.

Commercial life in the village is also slowly picking up. In the saaha, or village square, bright red-and-white Coca-Cola signs catch the eye and a green umbrella shades crates of vegetables and fruits brought from Beirut or nearby market towns. This is Majdel’s mom-and-pop store, or dukkaan in Arabic. It has everything one could ever need.

The dukkaan‘s most important function, however, is to serve as a distribution center for the news, grapevine style. In the mid-90’s word got around that the Pontifical Mission, CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, was considering a project in the village with funding from the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID. The Pontifical Mission’s Beirut office already initiated its home-repair program there.

Although the Lebanese civil conflict ended in 1991, it took several years to rebuild residences and infrastructure and for the villagers to feel secure enough to return.

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Tags: Lebanon War Village life Farming/Agriculture