In August of 2013, my father, knowing that his death was imminent, spoke to me of his past…his lebanese past, the one before becoming the American immigrant that I knew…the one of which he never spoke.
His memories and stories led to my visiting Beirut for the first time to find my own culture. “Growing Cedars in Air” is a documentary project about what it means to be Lebanese…about my family heritage, the lebanese diaspora and our unique culture.
My father was born in Rayak, once the main railroad hub linking the Ottoman Empire.
“The first railway was built in Lebanon while it was part of the Ottoman Empire. In the Beginning of August 1895 the first train took off from the port of Beirut to Rayak railway station. In Rayak, officials from all over Europe and the region where waiting for the train to arrive in order to celebrate what it was as the beginning of the Middle Eastern rail history. In 1912 this railway got connected with the rest of the Arab world, Europe, and Africa.”
“Other than having a big station, Rayak was famous for having one of the biggest train factories at that time. It was well known for designing and reassembling old steam engines that worked on charcoal to work on fuel. In World War II this factory was used as a military base in which military weapons were fixed. At that time a group of engineers from both the train factory and Rayak’s Military Airbase where assigned to build airplanes for the French military.”
“In 1976 the railway was shut due to the civil war , ending more than eighty-five years of success and achievements. Thirty-three years have passed and this institution which is more than one hundred and fifteen years old has been silenced, and left to perish through time.” Rayak Train Museum proposal