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Less than 7 months ago, Lebanese photographer Fadi BouKaram decided to embark on the journey of visiting the cities and towns across the United States of America whose name was that of his home country, Lebanon.
The origin of those town’s name is the fact that Lebanon was mentioned in the bible over 70 times. He announced his journey in his blogpost: Welcome to Lebanon, USA. That post was published a few days after Fadi had visited his first Lebanon, in the Northwestern state Oregon. He has since finished his journey, which led to a beautiful Foreign Policy feature that you can read here.
In total, the United States has over 50 Lebanons, many of which are no longer active towns or communities. Of those 50, 28 are still active locations today where many Americans from all sides of the spectrum call home. Fadi visited them all, and photographed 24, in this order:
1. Lebanon, Oregon; Oct. 19, 2016
2. Lebanon Township, North Dakota; Oct. 30, 2016.
3. Lebanon, South Dakota; Nov. 1, 2016
4. Lebanon, Nebraska; Nov. 6, 2016
5. Lebanon, Kansas; Nov. 9, 2016
6. Lebanon, Wisconsin (Dodge County); Nov. 14, 2016
7. Lebanon, Wisconsin (Waupaca County); Nov. 17, 2016
8. Lebanon Township, Michigan; Nov. 20, 2016
9. Lebanon, Maine; Nov. 26, 2016
10. Lebanon, New Hampshire; Nov. 29, 2016
11. New Lebanon, New York; Dec. 6, 2016
12. Mount Lebanon, New York; Dec. 8, 2016
13. Lebanon, Connecticut; Dec. 12, 2016
14. Lebanon, New Jersey; Dec. 21, 2016
15. Lebanon, Pennsylvania; Dec. 24, 2016
16. Lebanon, Kentucky; Jan. 1, 2017
17. Lebanon Junction, Kentucky; Jan. 4, 2017
18. Lebanon, Tennessee; Jan. 6, 2017
19. Lebanon, Virginia Jan. 14, 2017;
20. Lebanon, Ohio; Jan. 25, 2017
21. Lebanon, Indiana; Jan. 30, 2017
22. Lebanon, Illinois; Feb. 3, 2017
23. Lebanon, Missouri; Feb. 6, 2017
24. Lebanon, Oklahoma; Feb. 8, 2017
His quest, as per his blog and the Foreign Policy feature, was to find a taste of home in the country where he was setting roots, especially that it was prompted by a Google Maps search for Lebanon in one of his homesick moments, which led him to discover the existence of those Lebanons when the search results pointed to them, instead of his home country.
So for months, Fadi Boukaram drove across the U.S. He had his rental RV stolen in Albuquerque, New Mexico but was lucky enough that the police was able to recover it without causing hiccups on his journey. As someone who’s considered from the “coastal elite,” or typical democrat demographics, he surprised many of his friends by undertaking this journey. Many of his fellow Americans had never been to the States he was visiting, and many were afraid that his ethnicity would cause him trouble.
The only time he got into trouble for being from Lebanon was at a bar in Nebraska where a man approached him, asked him where he’s from, then interrogated him about he’d feel if he came to his town like that. That man was promptly kicked out of the bar, with every single person there apologizing to BouKaram for what he just went through.
The bartender also paid for Boukaram’s drink. I’ve always spoken fondly of American hospitality and kindness, especially once you penetrate political barriers, and this is the biggest testament of that. She also left him a post-it note on his car: “There’s a lot of hatred in this world, and I’m sorry for that.… I hope you meet more good souls than bad on your journey. Safe travels, Alissa.”
Part of his Lebanon, USA journey was also to find 7 Cedar Trees that former president Camille Chamoun had given mayors of 7 Lebanons in the USA who were invited to visit Lebanon a long time ago. Only one of those trees survived, and it’s currently growing in Lebanon, Ohio.
The America that is present in a lot of those Lebanons, according to Karam, is an America that is forgotten often and is skipped over in a lot of what gets discussed. The term is flyover nation. Coming from a bustling San Francisco, he found a land that was a long way removed from the way of life or economical advances that he was used to.
Instead, he was faced with foreclosure signs, for sale signs, and signs of economic despair. This changed his perspective to these towns and their people. Politics in the context of where they come from and what they know becomes entirely different when you’re exposed to their conditions.
I would love to do the trip that Fadi Boukaram did one day. I’ve had the chance to pass through Lebanon, NJ and Lebanon, PA on a couple of drives I had in the Northeast during my two latest visits in the U.S. and there’s always a sense of pride, mixed with joy once you see those signs announcing those towns coming up in a few miles. More importantly, I hope to one day get the chance to have such a life-altering experience that exposes me to so many different people, and helps me change my perspective, just like Fadi.
Welcome to Lebanon, USA.