As a non-Muslim believer I like and respect the Holy Month of Ramadan. It is a time for soul searching and peace seeking.
At age 66 I want to share with my readers the places where I lived and people I met. I call some of them my soul dwellers. Growing up in Lebanon I went to a private Catholic school and most of my friends were Christians. They lived in the same town I lived in. I had also schoolmates that were Muslims. I was aware they were there with me in class and during breaks but we never became friends. It was not until the age of 15 that I realized and developed friendships with my Muslim classmates. It was an eye opener for me. I felt that I had begun a discovery trip. I was glad and felt that I had missed learning and understanding a whole world I did not know about.
In 1969 I left Lebanon for Milano (Italy) to complete my Bachelor degree. I lived 4 years in Milan and my soul dwellers included few but great friends. One of them, Fabio Rugge, from the city of Lecce, was a towering character. He loved life and a good time. He also was very smart. I learned a lot from him. I have lost touch with Fabio and I feel sad about it. Another soul dweller was and still is my friend Piergiorgio from Casale Monferrato in the Italian Piedmont. Piergiorgio was a classmate but also had an encyclopedic mind. He knew the smallest details of Italian and European history. I stayed in touch with Piergiorgio even after I left Italy. I am grateful to Fabio and Piergiorgio because they helped me understand how Italians think and behave. As someone coming from Lebanon and having a superficial knowledge of Italy and its culture they shepherded me into both the academic and social life.
In 1975 I went back to Lebanon as the civil war began in the spring of that year. In Beirut, I worked for one year with the regional office of the Italian Radio and TV (RAI). While working for RAI I met Maria Amalia, Marcello and Paolo. Three friends from Palermo, Sicily. In the summer of 1975 together with another Sicilian friend we rented a car and went on a tour of Syria and Jordan. A year later I had to leave Beirut and head out to Palermo; an enchanting city that has a lot of Arabic heritage. I stayed 2 years in Palermo and my Sicilian soul dwellers made sure that I had a somewhat comfortable life.
In 1978, I left Sicily to complete my doctorate in international relations in Los Angeles. It was a big change for someone coming from the eastern then western part of the Mediterranean landing on the shores of the Pacific. Initially I felt lost in LA a huge city in search of a center. I was lucky to make friends who were mostly Lebanese. Like my Sicilian friends they helped me sail the meanders of academia while having a good time. As I landed in New York and on my way to LA I met my first wife who played an important role in my life. We were married for 5 years but Sarah helped me to understand and overcome the cultural shock. I owe her a lot and her name is mentioned in the preface of my first book. Following Sarah there were other dwellers not too close to the soul until I met my second wife Laurie. She was from Pittsburgh and had a big admiration for Arabic culture. She was an anthropologist and was very fluent in Arabic. I owe a lot to Laurie even if we have been divorced for 10 years. I would call her an estranged soul dweller and I miss the years we spent together.
Before coming to Kuwait in 2009 I lived 4 years in Madrid, Spain. I love Madrid, a city that is a marriage of eastern and western cultures. In Madrid I discovered myself. It was a bittersweet road but I made it there and enjoyed every moment. Father Ian, an Anglican priest, was a great soul dweller. He helped me a lot in healing the hurts caused by my second divorce. Bassam and Samar, two Lebanese American friends living in Madrid, helped me during my stay in the Spanish capital. They are constant soul dwellers. They introduced me to Pedro a Spanish lawyer and the ultimate friend in the true meaning of the word. Another soul dweller is Javier a former Spanish student and a brilliant mind. There are also other soul dwellers in Madrid: Joaquin, Enrique, Shireen, Henrietta, Marian, Anne, Lynette, to name but a few.
Life is full of soul dwellers some do stay some leave but keep an important and lifelong impact.
There is an old saying about friendship: “Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.” I like this quote and dedicate it to the soul dwellers that populated my life.
May this Ramadan be a blessed and peaceful month.
George Emile Irani teaches International Relations at the American University of Kuwait.
By George Emile Irani