By November 8, 2014

“Muslims will kill you, but the Druze… they will chop you to bits!”

32756196_sThis sentence still rings in my ears…

in the 1970’s, my parents sent me along with my brother Andre to become boarding students at St. Joseph’s School Lebanon.   My parents had little choice but to send us there because at the time, there were no suitable schools for our age at Doha – Qatar where we resided.

St. Joseph’s School is located in Cornet Chahwan, Lebanon which is a picturesque spot, majestically overlooking Beirut and all the beautiful little villages and valleys that led to it.  We had never been separated from our father and mother but it was decided that we should go to that particular school as it was located in the vicinity of our village and a stone throw away from my grandparent’s home.

We grew up in Doha, a predominantly Muslim country but we were never made to feel any different from our brothers and sisters in Doha.  They celebrated Christmas with us and we celebrated Eid and Adha with them.  We were one family and in fact, I loved the Muslim holidays… there would always be a special feeling in Doha during that time.  Next to our home was a mosque and I used to wake up in the early morning to the sound of prayers and it always touched me deeply.  The Muezzin’s voice was neither mechanical and nor robotic, the prayers came deep from his heart and I always felt elevated listening to the call to the almighty.

We were sent to Lebanon during the 70’s when the civil war was rampant but strictly confined to certain areas.   I was very young and I had no idea who was fighting who exactly but I gathered from fellow students that we the Christians, were at war with the Druze.  I had no idea who the Druze were, I had never heard of them and nor had I seen one (as far as I knew)

I felt uneasy when the other students spoke ill of Muslims, I could not fathom the hatred they expressed.  I grew up with Muslims in Qatar and they were the kindest and loveliest people on earth, they were my family… it was very painful to hear others mock them, insult them and tell tales of horrific nightmares that I simply could not relate to nor understand.  I remember the other students used to gather around me and ask me to recount stories about Qatar and the locals.  I used to feel excited to speak about them and they used to ask me to speak in a Qatari accent as they had never heard it before and when I used to demonstrate it… they used to laugh.  I did not know at the time that they were laughing out of mockery.  They used to try and argue hard with me to try and convince me of their point of view and I could not accept their view as the truth for I have seen the other side and I knew back then and still know now that it was not the truth.

One day, a couple of students who were older cornered me and one of them was trying to convince me that I was wrong.  I resisted them but kept my mouth shut, I knew that they would easily overpower me and beat me up and I was scared… their approach was more of an intimidation.

“Look you have no idea what these people are… Muslims, they are the least of our worries… you should be scared of the Druze!”
“Muslims will kill you, but the Druze… they will chop you to bits!”  the other one added

They went on and on about Muslims, reiterating their point about how the Druze loved to decapitate and kill others… I became genuinely petrified and scared of the so called ‘Druze’ and my imagination ran wild.

Despite this episode, I felt in my heart that something was not quite right… I felt inside me a certain truth that I could not dismiss.  At church I used to kneel down and pray and listen to the sermons.  All the preaching was about loving others, our enemies and forgiveness.  How could there be so much hate in their hearts?

I started avoiding the other students and I felt their resentment.  I was labelled and many would imitate me and laugh at me as I passed them by.  They started mocking me by calling out ‘bedouin’ ‘camel’  to me… eventually their assaults turned physical.

One day, I received a letter from a friend in Doha and in the letter he recalled the days of fishing, the desert, the food and the memories we shared… I found myself in tears for I felt trapped in this deep well of ignorance and hate.  I wanted to leave the school, I hated it but there was no way…

I walked in tears towards the playground only to be confronted by two of the worst of the bunch.  They were the nastiest pair and had picked on me before but I avoided them.  They certainly chose the moment to be abusive yet again and they started pushing me and calling me names.  Then one of them grabbed me and told me “Go tell your mother to pick up her panties from my bed… you Armenian shit!”

I do not remember exactly what happened and how it happened but I found myself grabbing and squeezing his neck with my hand and an almighty strength took over me.  I was enraged…

Eventually I let him go, he nearly fainted, weakend and I stepped back in fear at what I had done.  I did not expect it and he was even more shocked than I was.  He tried to hit me but he was too weak to do anything but to swear at me… they never bothered me again.

I buried this experience deep inside my heart and on my return to Doha and when asked by my parents about the school, I would tell them that all was ok.  I loved going back to Doha, to see my old friends, family and to be at one with the morning prayers.

Eventually my parents heard of my ordeal so they moved us away from that horrible school.  My brother and I eventually ended up in the International School of Choueifat in London, located in Bath – England.   It was at this school that I first encountered the ‘Druze’  by simple chance I discovered that most of my friends at the school were actually Druze.  I was fascinated to have made their acquaintance as I was always intrigued to discover more about them and to find out if it was true what I had heard at school.

As expected, the Druze are human just like me and some are far more exceptional and human and more Christian at heart than I could ever be.  I am till this day honoured with the warmest and most beautiful friendships that have bonded me spiritually to all my friends – regardless of their religions or nationality.  I am blessed to have trusted my heart.

St. Joseph’s School was an extreme and ugly memory yet it was very positive for it confirmed to me everything that I ever believed in.  There is love and goodness in all people, irrespective of religion, colour, creed and nationality you just have to know how to bring out the best in yourself to do the same for others.

Together we are light…

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