The Lebanese Civil War began in 1975 when Najah was fifteen. Most children were stripped of education by then.
We woke up one morning and the Israeli army was everywhere. We watched helicopters drop off soldiers from the air. It was a secret plan they had. Everyone was shocked. They had a tank parked in our driveway. They were shooting people right from our driveway; but they didn’t hurt us. They protected the Druze, they shot at the Palestinians.
Her uncle trained her and all the older siblings on how to shoot a gun. They practiced firing with hand guns but they were also trained with machine guns. Najah never had to fire a gun at anyone, but a few years later, her brother almost did…almost.
The worst year of the war for Najah and her family was 1983-1984. Her newborn baby sister (the youngest of the ten) was crying one morning as she recalls:
The phones and electricity was cut off. We didn’t know there was anything going on. A Druze political leader came by our house and begged my father to leave Al Bennay immediately. We didn’t know how bad it was and that we were the only ones left in the village.
They only had one car that functioned and about 35- 40 family members in total.
“How did you all fit in the car?”
“We sat like pickles.”
The Buick made two trips down to the next village to relocate everyone to a basement. Scratches marked the street of the trail left by the car as it dragged down the road. Weight limits did not apply. Nothing normal applied anymore.
When they all arrived at the basement, other families were shocked they were alive. The road their car was dragging down was filled with explosives. To this day, it is still a mystery why those bombs never went off.
We were very scared, living from minute to minute. We had no idea if we were going to make it. My uncle came running in and told us we have to leave right now. The Christian militia was one town away stabbing men to death and raping the women before they killed them. We didn’t know if it was better to leave or stay hiding. I didn’t know this at the time but my father told my brother and his friend “if militia come through those doors, I want you to shoot all your siblings and then yourself.” He wasn’t going to let us get tortured.
Those doors never opened and they were able to leave safely. The youngest children and the elderly rode in the car. Najah and the rest of the older children walked through globs of thick mud on a rainy day in slippers to get to the next village.
You couldn’t see where the street began. There was dead people everywhere. In the car, you just had to drive around them.
They spent months relocating to various homes. Some belonged to family members, some to complete strangers. As soon as they heard planes shooting, they knew they had about five minutes to leave if they wanted to survive.
No one could sleep. Maybe five minutes here and there. It sounded like the planes were going to come through the walls.
One day they got word of a village, Aghmeed, that had been virtually untouched by the war. They set out to relocate once again. When they arrived they found the rumors were true; it was a village miraculously left unscathed.
I remember I saw a woman walking down the street by herself with a purse on. I stared at her. I couldn’t believe I was still in Lebanon. I was shocked how life was so normal here. We didn’t know what was normal anymore.
The war ended two months later. Aghmeed was the village that led her to her husband; a Lebanese native that lived in America. They got married after a month of meeting. Their wedding was the first wedding in Lebanon after the war. She moved to California with her husband immediately following the wedding.
It was like a movie. You wake up and people are on the streets speaking english. I only knew Arabic. The food was different. I lost my appetite for two years. I lost a lot of weight but I didn’t think about myself. I couldn’t contact my family; they didn’t have phones back yet. I was so worried about them.
Najah had her first born daughter two years later. She is now a mother of three and a grandmother of one. For as long as I’ve known her, she has always been driven to learn. Reading books has helped remedy her lack of education but she still held a desire for more. She signed up for various courses to take at adult schools and local colleges but she was always limited to certain classes because she didn’t have a high school degree. She decided to go to school part-time to work towards one. In December of 2013, at 53 years old she received her GED certification that gave her the equivalent of a high school degree.
I would like to do what I want to do. I wanted to have a choice on what to do for work. Every time I filled out a job application, I hated that I couldn’t put anything in the education section. Now, I get to fill it out. It feels so good. I don’t know exactly what I want to do but at least if you START with something it leads you to something else.
Najah has by far been the most inspirational woman in my life. I have never met a more loving and selfless human being. Her life began with a huge disadvantage, but the chapters that she creates today have evolved greatly from the chapters from which she started. George Eliot wrote, “It is never to late to be what you might have been.” Najah is a living example of that. She lives nothing short of the meaning of her name. I have never called her Najah though. For me, she’s only gone by Mom.
Daou Family 1970
The exact date of this photo is uncertain but the estimates I received was somewhere between 1970-1975. My mom is the tallest girl with long hair. This photo is a true gem because it is one of very few that remain to give me a glimpse into my mother’s childhood.