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Brazilian politician visits ancestral home for first time

  • Minister Jorge Hage, left, had never been to Lebanon, but he discovered that he’s eligible to vote. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

QAITOULEH, Lebanon: Brazilian politician Jorge Hage snapped photos of the house his family lived in more than a century ago and asked locals to take a few snaps of himself and his wife.

“This is the land of my father and mother, who were from the Hage and Homsi families. My father was a physician who graduated from St. Joseph University and emigrated to Bahia in Brazil in 1925,” Hage boasted to reporters.

Despite his Lebanese heritage, the head of the Office of the Comptroller General of Brazil is in Lebanon for the first time. Having attended a conference in Beirut with representatives of countries such as Egypt, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Algeria, Hage decided to extend his stay to visit Qaitouleh, the village of his ancestors.

Hage’s father, Musa, followed his own parents to Brazil. After dedicating his life to his patients, he died in 1982.

“My grandparents emigrated from [from Lebanon] in 1890. I wanted to visit the land of my family,” Hage explained. Upon arrival in the village, Hage greeted the elderly residents and listened closely to stories about his grandparents that have been passed down. He prayed at the village church, and carefully photographed the house where his grandparents lived and the roads leading up to it.

The current owner, Nicholas Hajjar, opened the abandoned building for him.

According to Hajjar, the home was built more than 200 years ago, withstanding the earthquake that hit Lebanon in 1956 and wrought significant damage and killed more than 100 people.

As he discovered on his trip, Hage is still on the electoral register. Around 3,000 people live in Qaitouleh, and 1,300 are eligible to vote.

Hage arrived in the village at noon, and was received by Jezzine MP Ziad Aswad, Walid Helou, the head of the Union of Jezzine Municipalities, mayors of local villages and Nicholas Bou Daher, the acting governor of south Lebanon. Units from the Army and Internal Security Forces took extra security measures.

Fouad Hajj, the mayor of Qaitouleh, said he planned to stay in touch with the Brazilian minister of state.

“I heard that the minister would be in Lebanon, and I naturally felt that we should welcome him,” he said. “I will continue to communicate with him in the future, particularly since there is a significant Lebanese community from Qaitouleh living in Brazil.”

Born May 5, 1938, Hage earned a degree in law from the Federal University of Bahia in 1960 and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Southern California in 1963 along with a second Masters in Public Law from the University of Brasilia in 1998.

Between 1962 and 1991, Hage was a professor at the Federal University of Bahia and served as the dean of Planning and Administration.

Hage noted that Brazil has an interest in fostering development in the Arab world, but when he was asked whether he was interested in purchasing the family home, which happens to require serious renovation works, Hage laughed.

“I have no plans for any projects in Lebanon, I’m just visiting.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 19, 2013, on page 4.
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