Culture News

“When I think of Lebanon, I think of family.” – Dima Calnan

April 7, 2022

LMI Staff

This month has many meanings to all those who celebrate. I am thrilled to share my multicultural heritage. I was born to an Irish father and Lebanese mother. I attribute everything I have learned to this background: languages, a love of travel and exploration, understanding, acceptance, and, of course, the importance of family. The name I proudly carry reflects my heritage: Dima (a common Arabic name) Calnan (an Irish surname from my father).

Graphic of mandalas with text that reads National Arab American Heritage Month

People often ask how my parents met, which is quite the story but the short version is that, during the Lebanese Civil War, my dad, an Irish American, was posted at the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, and my mom, Lebanese, was living in Beirut. Through chaos and uncertainty, they found love and friendship.

Most of what people know about Lebanon comes from news coverage—a country with decades of civil strife, economic and political instability, and the August 4, 2020, explosion that shook the world. But I know Lebanon as one of the only countries where you can go skiing in the mountains then head down to the beach on the same day; a country where people incorporate English, Arabic, and French into their sentences (with the classic “Hi! Kifek? Ça va?” translating to “Hi, how are you? How’s it going?”); a vibrant country where no matter what is going on, the people dance until the morning hours and your grandmother makes you a full feast for every meal, even when you’re not hungry.

Photo of the coast in Tripoli, Lebanon

While I was born and raised in Bethesda, MD, I’ve remained extremely close to my Lebanese roots. Growing up, I spent every summer (and some winters) in Lebanon exploring, visiting old souks, eating amazing meals, and soaking in the beauty of this small country. My family is from Tripoli, the northern part of Lebanon (not to be confused with Tripoli in Libya) but, as I got older, I started spending more time in Beirut, the capital.

I have so many cherished memories in Lebanon, mostly with my family—renting a small bus to visit historic landmarks, strolling through downtown Beirut, going to concerts, dancing the night away, lounging at the beach, attempting to ski in the mountains (I’m not much of a skier), putting on shows for the family (this was mostly a childhood activity), and much more. My mom is one of six children, each of her siblings has between three and five kids of their own, some of my cousins have kids of their own, and some of those kids started their own families. Being spread across the globe isn’t easy but, no matter where we are, we are in constant communication and always there for one another. I love being a part of such a large family and reuniting in Lebanon every year.

Aerial view of the coast of Beirut, Lebanon

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