Chapter 1.1: My Life, Challenges & Triumphs
It all began on the morning of 13 April 1975. What does a five-year-old remember besides the paralyzing sound of military bombardment and the unforgettably scary word: “War”? In 1985, ten years later, she turned 15, and the horrible sounds remained seared in her memory. Yet, a more profound war within herself did not end. She became a driven teenager who worked tirelessly to excel in school but found all her hard work was of no significance. Growing in Lebanon was not like living in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria. She had no psychological or mental support. Her body became tense, and she would cover her ears with the sound of every loud noise. There was often no electricity; she had to study on candlelight. In 1988, she was not accepted at the university of her choice because she did not have a Lebanese passport. She attended another university, where, unfortunately, they did not have the faculty of her choice either, so she had to choose another faculty.
28 April 1991, she was married and left for South Africa via Cyprus, two weeks later, with her husband on a boat under the continuous attack with bombs and other missiles. She was saved and lifted from all her struggles. She closed her eyes, waved goodbye to old wounds and fear, then opened her heart to new beginnings.
Who was this woman who escaped?
My name is Eugenie Fathi Kadid, but I have always had the nickname “Gino.” I was born in Beirut on a hot summer afternoon on Friday, 14 August 1970. I weighed 4.5 kilograms. I was named after my aunt, my father’s sister, a typical and traditional Arab mentality. It is a convention to name your daughter after your mother’s name or your sister. The same applies when a son is born; he will often be named after his grandfather or uncle. My Syrian Armenian father, Fathi, passed away from a heart attack at 40, while my Lebanese Maronite mother, Aida Zeiter Farah, watched afterwards. I have one brother, Abdallah; he and his wife, Annmarie, have two children: Aidan and Evelyne. They live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the United States of America.
I do not recall much of my early childhood, aside from the horrible incident that cost me a vicious punishment. I placed my brother in the oven to bake him; then, I tried to put him in the washing machine to wash him. I was jealous of the moment they brought the beautiful blonde baby, weighing 5.5 kilograms, from the hospital. I was a five-year-old who wanted to get rid of him. Everyone shifted all their attention to him, and I no longer existed. I became a shadow in my own family but was disciplined and monitored regularly.
My parents said that I was a very active, curious, and communicative child. My father distracted me with a steady supply of books to read and keep me away from my brother. My brother was three years old, and I was eight when I received the gift of the whole series of the French edition, “Oui Oui,” “Noddy.” It was the best gift I received. My father promised me that he would buy me the whole series of “Martine,” every girl’s dream books if I completed the series “Noddy.” It was my introduction to the joy of reading. My brother mocked me every time he saw me immersed in a book. I just looked at him and smiled: what did he know? He only knew about being pampered by everyone because he was an adorable baby. And just like that, my collection of books grew larger and larger. I took breaks between reading to ask the questions that confounded me. I was very nosy and impatient. I needed immediate answers.
I married Ghassan (Gus) Moussa Sayegh twenty-seven years ago. It was an arranged marriage; I was 20 years old. We currently have three beautiful children: Moussa Alexander (26), Mary (24), and Dimitri (19). I lived most of my life in Johannesburg, South Africa. My married life was rarely easy. Like many other marriages in a Lebanese or Arab community, I knew nothing about Ghassan before our departure to South Africa after the wedding. It wasn’t easy to imagine life away from my family and what was my home since childhood.
As a child, I always felt compelled to take care of myself, particularly after my father’s loss when I was seventeen years old. At the time, my thirteen-year-old brother was a teenager who just lost his father and, in turn, lost himself. My 34-year old mother was a complete wreck, a lost soul uncertain what to do or where to start building a new life. This loss left us with no money, as he was the sole breadwinner for the family, and she was not educated.
The passing of my father placed tremendous pressure on me that went beyond words. A boyfriend came into my life not long after the loss of my father. My mother made his life a living hell because she wanted us to be engaged. Unfortunately, he was unable to take such strides as he was still a student. It was a difficult time for both of us. My “ex-boyfriend,” Jean, please forgive me if I hurt you.
I grew up in a tiny “radar” Metn-District village called Dik El Mehdi, at 325 meters elevation. The town was akin to Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon: everyone was under constant surveillance. Every move I made was watched and judged by immediate family and neighbours alike, twenty-four hours a day. It felt like an espionage movie. The village comprised mostly uneducated suburbanites who tended to find any way to look down upon everyone else. It was true that education was not the highest priority; life may educate you well beyond what one would learn from books or classrooms. However, the people in my village were notoriously stubborn and judgmental.
I did not choose to be born in Dik El Mehdi; that was where God wanted me; it was my destiny. Like everyone, I did not choose my parents either. I was not given a choice. Now that I am 47, I could understand my father’s frustration with us. He fought with my mother day in and day out. My life has been a never-ending drama, but that was what made it special!
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