1979. The year I was born. Korea was amongst the poorest countries in the world. Reeling from its civil war, political instability, and economic hopelessness, the vast majority of South Koreans lived in poverty. My mother was never one to give up, and my father had enough dreams and hopes for his future that they alone were able to fly him across oceans to America. It was my father’s dreams, and my mother’s determination that we somehow made it out of impoverished Korea. By the time I was three, my father had been in America for most of my life, and my mother was supporting us through her small seamstress business.
At the same time, my husband, Fred, was living in Lebanon which was in the throes of its own civil war. Bombs, machine guns, snipers – the daily sounds of his childhood. Very few families survived the war in tact. Miraculously his had, but there were enough close calls for his family to know what it meant to lose. His sister was shot in the head while sitting in their living room. Luckily it just grazed her, but there was enough blood for them to have started mourning her right away. A bomb struck his Beirut apartment building one hot summer night. He was sleeping alone on the balcony to cool off and was found buried in the rubble. His mother was expecting to pull out the body of her first born son. By the miracle of God, he did not have even a scratch on him. As the oldest son, even though just a child himself, he was responsible for getting bread for his family. His father was a news producer, so he often had to sleep on site because the fighting was too fierce to cross to get home. There were snipers on the roofs who got paid on the number of dead bodies they could accumulate – regardless of age. Once, he was shot through the knee as he was riding his motorcycle home. Beyond the physical, there of course was an emotional toll. His mother suffered from the effects of shock and post-traumatic stress disorder. His youngest sister was just a baby when his mother would swipe Fred’s walkman, crank up his heavy metal cassette, and go walk on the beach to escape the noise of the bombs. The children were left alone to fend for themselves in their apartment. Being the oldest, Fred would try to take care of his baby sister by spoon feeding her sugar water or tea – he didn’t know what else to do as there were no bottles or even milk.
In January of 2005 I went to Lebanon for the first time ever, and Fred returned to his country for the first time in 15 years. I arrived one day before Fred. My first time meeting his family, and I would be doing it alone at the airport in Beirut. With Leila strapped to my chest in her baby carrier, and pushing a cart full of luggage, I was instantly greeted by someone who remarkably looked nearly identical to my husband. I was in utter shock as this strangely familiar stranger who spoke perfect English came to greet me at the airport in BEIRUT! He was immediately cooing at my baby and taking her out of her carrier and she was … smiling! All she saw was the familiar face of Dad! She was immediately smitten with her uncle, and she grabbed at his face, the face of her long lost father! Leila and Fred had been separated for one month, and here his look-alike was greeting her at the airport in Beirut.