KFAR MESHKI, Lebanon: In a small village situated in the southeastern Bekaa, a mass was held in a local church Sunday to pray for the souls of 13 Lebanese young men who died on board the ill-fated Titanic in 1912.
The Titanic, built in Belfast in what is today Northern Ireland, was sailing from the English port of Southampton to New York on its maiden voyage when it hit an iceberg.
Out of 500 inhabitants of the sparsely populated village of Kfar Meshki, only two people are left of those directly related to the men who drowned when the Titanic sank.
Kamal Seikaly, 45, says his great-grandfather Assaf was among the 125 Lebanese on board the ship.
He produces from his pocket a scrap of paper with information he jotted down from an issue of "Al-Khawater" magazine that he dug up in one of the libraries of the American University of Beirut. The May 16, 1912 issue of the magazine reported the tragedy, referring to the Lebanese as Syrians given that at the time, Lebanon had not yet become an independent country.
According to Seikaly, the magazine article states that only 23 of the 125 Lebanese aboard the Titanic survived. Although it omits the name of his grandfather and two others, the article lists 10 people from Kfar Meshki who perished on the voyage: Elias Chahine, Asaad Rizk, Elias Tannous, Sleiman Khalil, Karam Yusef and his wife Maria, Katrine Barbar and her daughter Saida, Assaf Tohmeh and Mansour Hanna.
Seikaly also recounts a haunting yet paradoxically uplifting bit of Lebanese lore. Upon realizing the extent of the calamity with which they were faced, the Lebanese men on board the ship locked arms and held an impromptu Mass -- to the surprise of fellow passengers, including survivors who later recounted what they had seen.
The mayor of Kfar Meshki, Nasrallah Nasrallah, is another resident of the village with information on the Titanic. He tells the story of a woman called Zad Nasrallah, a relative of his, who threw herself on a wooden door from the ship’s wreckage, gripping it with all her might until she was rescued by a lifeboat.
The jump broke Nasrallah's leg and she suffered a lifetime disability as a result.
When Nasrallah visited her in Canada, she could not recall the events with clarity due to old age. She and much of her story died 12 years ago.
Residents of Kfar Meshki also directed The Daily Star to a woman, Georgette Naufal Anbar, 80, whose maternal grandfather was the aforementioned Mansour Hanna, one of the 13 men who drowned. But Naufal did not want to talk and refused to have her picture taken, murmuring words about a tragedy still felt by many 100 years after its occurrence.