BEIRUT: Amid tutorials on petunia pruning and best bouquet arrangement practices, roots of an altogether different nature are being nurtured at the Beirut Garden Show.
As part of an effort to revive tourism and breathe new life into Lebanese traditions, the Garden Show highlighted a number of local artisans, craftsmen and food producers from less-known corners of the country.
Some, like Omran Makari, who makes chairs with seats woven from Lebanese grasses, say their trades are alive and well.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years,” Makari said from his stand at the show. “I learned it from my father, who learned it from his grandfather. For 130 years, four generations of my family have practiced this craft.”
And the tradition will continue, at least for another generation. Makari’s imposing son sat near the entrance of the family stand, intently weaving the seat of a chair.
Salam Khalife agreed that it is becoming increasingly important to revive Lebanese heritage. As a member of the Lebanon Mountain Trail Association, she helps lead hikers along a trail that runs from the country’s northernmost reaches to Nabatieh in the south. “This is a path that our ancestors used to travel,” Khalife said, speaking over the sound of an oud projected from a nearby stage. “It’s our history, it’s a collective memory.”
Leading tour groups along the trail has helped generate income for some of the small, often underserved villages situated along the ancient mountain pass. Hikers stay in the guesthouses of local families, eat locally produced fare, and explore archaeological sites along the way, Khalife explained. “Since we started in 2007, we have raised $44,000, which has been directly reinvested into these villages,” she said proudly.
Others, however, said that Lebanon’s ancient artisanal culture was bound to disappear. Jihad Esber said he was the last remaining potter in the town of Rashaya al-Fakhar. “Before, all the people worked in pottery,” he said, explaining the origin of the town’s name Rashaya al-Fakhar, which derives from both Aramaic and Arabic origins, roughly meaning masters of pottery.
“But now, nobody is learning it,” he sighed. A nearby town called Aita al-Fakhar, meaning temple of the potters, is now just referred to as Aita as the local craft has died out. “After five years, I’m sure we’ll be called Rashaya without Fakhar.”
Still, as he gave a pottery demonstration, customers crowded around his stand, keenly perusing Esber’s earthenware candleholders, water jugs and oil vases.
Elias Chahine, however, was more optimistic that the country’s heritage could be preserved and showcased for locals and foreigners alike. With the tour group Vamos Todos, he introduces eager wayfarers to Lebanon’s hidden gems.
“When people hear about Lebanon, they think about war,” he said. “So we’re trying to give another image of the country, a beautiful image that shows the untapped beauty alive in the rural areas.”
“We also try to help the communities by buying their products.”
Others, like Tony Fakhry, are working to keep local traditions alive while still enjoying an urban life. While he runs a trading and contracting business in Beirut, he travels each weekend back to the family’s farm in Deir al-Qamar farm, where they grow produce and cedar seeds. “This is something that I learned from my father,” he said. “Tomorrow, my kids will learn. These are our roots.”