Dana El Batal
Corédactrice en chef du "Le Cèdre"
Seven months have passed, and I still vividly remember the first day I came to the Fondation Maison du Liban at Cité Internationale Universitaire. The night before flying to Paris, I had packed my luggage, and bid my friends and family goodbye. I had no idea what was awaiting me. All I knew was that my childhood friend was picking me up from the airport and dropping me at my so-called “new home”. It never occurred to me that I would ever be able to attribute the noun “home” to a place lacking my family and friends, who are the main reason I’m staying in France to pursue my master’s degree.
It was the 4th of September at exactly 19h35 when my plane landed at Aéroport Charles De Gaulle. After picking up my luggage and getting my passport stamped, I met my friend who was very excited to see me. She hugged me tightly, helped me with my luggage and drove me to my “new home”. Except that my “new home” felt nothing like “home”. Everything was so strange to me: the plain room, the common spaces and the new faces welcoming me. Although the Maison du Liban and I are defined by the same country – Lebanon –, I never felt so homesick, I wanted to go back to the warmth of my mother’s and father’s arms. At that moment, I knew I wasn’t going to spend the night alone in such an unfamiliar place, that’s when – thankfully – my friend proposed that I would stay with her for the night.
The next morning, I had already grasped the idea that in order to embark on this new chapter in my life I had to face my fears and head down alone to Maison du Liban, the place where I will be living for the next year or more. At my arrival, Zigor, the receptionist, greeted me with a warm smile and showed me around the Maison: my room, the kitchen, the bathroom, the basement, the laundry room, the study area, the hang out area and finally the patio. “Indeed” I thought to myself, “this place isn’t that bad after all!” Later that day, I decided to pass by Mrs. Atié’s office, the vice-manager of the Maison du Liban, for administrative procedures. I was greeted and welcomed warmly, but one thing caught my eye other than Mrs. Atié’s amiability and soft voice: Her office is a living proof of her love and loyalty to Lebanon as well as an evidence of students' admiration for her, especially through paintings, pictures, gadgets and teddy bears they've gifted her throughout the years. I suddenly felt relieved and knew that I was in safe hands.
Days went by and I became accustomed to my room and to my new life. I started attending classes and made new friends at university. I even roamed Paris’ beautiful streets endlessly - what a charming city! Back at the Maison du Liban, I kept meeting a lot of students coming from different regions of Lebanon as well as international students. Ironically, I actually learned a lot more about my country meeting these amazing and diverse people than I ever did in the 25 years I spent in Beirut. I slowly started developing some habits, which is a clear consequence of familiarization and adaptation. Whenever the opportunity arose, I made sure to strike a conversation with the Maison du Liban’s staff, be it with Marguerite, one of the lovely housekeepers, Khalifa, or even Olmedo. I even had the chance to speak with Mr. El Ghoul, the manager of the Maison du Liban during several events organized by the Administration or the Comité, a very pleasant and charismatic man, who’s very open alongside Mrs. Atié to every idea we share and to every project we wish to implement. In fact, Dina Al-Ahdab (the adorable Founder and Co-Editor in Chief) and I wouldn’t have created the Revue de Presse - Le Cèdre if it weren’t for their continuous support.
Although Maison du Liban started slowly feeling like home, I still wasn’t convinced that “home” can be a place far away from my family until I met three amazing people: Amir, Oussama and Tracy. One thing is for sure, they’re making my stay at Maison du Liban very memorable. They stand by me whenever I feel homesick, and I’m certain that the memories we’re creating will be forever engraved in my heart. That said, it is only natural then for me to feel at home, surrounded by people who are all honest, light-hearted, passionate, and intelligent.
My stay at the Maison du Liban is teaching me valuable lessons, among them: Home is not merely four-square walls. It is somewhere where you are loved, respected, and cared for. When you look at it from the outside, home is just a house. A building. But on the inside, it’s a lot more than wood and bricks. The saying “Home is where the heart is” says it all. And my heart is definitely at Maison du Liban.