I visited with a Lebanese pizza maker last night while waiting for my ham and pepperoni pizza to come out of the oven. A young mother of two school-age daughters, she immigrated to the United States several years ago to escape the constant warfare of her native country.
"When I was a child, Lebanon was predominantly Christian," she told me. "Since the coming of Hezbollah, though, the Christian majority is shrinking. Muslim families have six, seven, ten children, and Christians have at most three. We're becoming outnumbered." She went on the explain that Palestinians from Israel have flooded into southern Lebanon, using her homeland as a base to stage attacks on Israel. "I completely support Israel in their attacking of Lebanon because, when they attack Lebanon, they are attacking Hezbollah. The Palestinians come to Lebanon to fight against Israel. If they want to fight Israel, let them do it in Palestine and not in my country."
Her partner in the pizzeria is also a Lebanese immigrant. Two years ago he and his wife adopted a baby from Lebanon. His wife, in fact, was in Lebanon to pick the infant up when war broke out between Israel and Lebanon. Her return to the U.S. was doubtful before congressional leaders from Michigan and State Department officials intervened. Eventually, the U. S. Marines escorted them to safety. His story received such notoriety that he appeared on Larry King Live.
Speaking of the United States he told me, "This is the greatest country in the world. People who don't believe that should see places like Lebanon. Here there is peace and everybody has the opportunity to build a better life."
Earlier this year I read Thomas Friedman's book, From Beirut to Jerusalem. His first-hand account of Beirut's deterioration from "the Paris of the Middle East," to a squalid, war-torn city filled with pock-marked hovels is sad and instructive. My two Lebanese friends had enough and left in search of something better for them and their children. They found it in the United States of America. I wish that folks who constantly run down the U. S. could see this country through the eyes of those who've seen suffering abroad.
Still, they hope to return. "I have family in Lebanon, and I plan to return there when I am old," Petaline told me, "but right now there are no jobs, no opportunity. That is why I am here."