A Year After War, Young Lebanese Men Look Ahead Nearly a year after the war between Israel and Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon, families are piecing their lives back together. For two young Lebanese men, the conflict changed the course of their lives forever.
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A Year After War, Young Lebanese Men Look Ahead

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A Year After War, Young Lebanese Men Look Ahead

A Year After War, Young Lebanese Men Look Ahead

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It's been almost a year since the war between Israel and the Hezbollah guerillas of Lebanon. Dozens of Israelis died in Hezbollah rocket attacks on towns and cities in northern Israel. And across the border, about a thousand Lebanese civilians died in Israeli air strikes. The conflict changed lives on both sides of the border.

Today we're going to hear the stories of two young Lebanese men. One who sought a new life in America, and another who went back to his roots in southern Lebanon, just north of the Israeli border.

Reporter Shereen Meraji spent time in Lebanon as NPR's Bucksbaum fellow and part of the International Reporting Project. And here is her report.

Mr. ANTHONY KOUYMJIAN (Lebanese): My name is Anthony Kouymjian. I'm 17 years old and I'm from Lebanon.

SHEREEN MERAJI: Anthony Kouymjian is a good-looking kid. He has dark eyes with curly lashes and he's smart. A Math whiz, he speaks four languages.

Mr. KOUYMJIAN: (Speaking foreign language)

MERAJI: Anthony Kouymjian is a Christian Armenian from Antelias. That's a town just north of Beirut. He was born in the summer of 1989, during the final month of Lebanon's 15-year civil war. That summer's fighting was so bad, his mother left and went to Los Angeles.

Mr. KOUYMJIAN: Again, my mom was pregnant and it was scary in Lebanon. She just took a visa and by chance she just traveled to USA. I was born lucky.

MERAJI: So Anthony is a U.S. citizen by birth, but he was raised in Lebanon.

The Kouymjians run a family business in Beirut. It's a corner flower shop. Big red letters out front practically shout the name, Flowers Anthony. Today is busy. Anthony's father, Hogap(ph), ties a bow around the bouquets, his sister Serene(ph) works to register, and mom Maria helps to answer customer questions.

Ms. MARIA KOUYMJIAN (Flowers Anthony): We do the flowers, wedding, everything like that. And we work on Sunday. We have no vacation. It's better for me to have no vacation, so that I don't think very much about my son.

MERAJI: When the war in Lebanon erupted last July, Anthony evacuated with the other Americans. His aunt and uncle visiting from Los Angeles helped persuade him to go.

Ms. KOUYMJIAN: They decided that the future for him is better in U.S. I was crying inside, but I couldn't tell him don't go because I know that it's very difficult here. Sometimes at night, I wake - I say where is he. I start to cry. I call him at five o'clock. He starts talking, Mom, why you are awake? So this is my life.

MERAJI: Today, Anthony's attending community college in Glendale, California.

Mr. KOUYMJIAN: My life now (unintelligible) I go to college for three to fours hours a day. Most of the time, I'll be online, chatting with my friends in Lebanon. Reading their messages, chatting with my mom. That's it. I don't go out on Friday, Saturday. I don't have a friend, you know.

MERAJI: But as lonely as Anthony is, he's not ready to go home, where he says there's always going to be war. He refuses to be the third-generation owner of Flowers Antony.

Mr. KOUYMJIAN: No, I don't want to takeover the shop. No, I want to do something else. Because I think my dad - he's a hard worker. If he wasn't in the States and he did all the things that he did in Lebanon, right now he will be a millionaire. He goes to work at 5:00 in the morning, fix everything and close the shop at 11 o'clock at night. I'd rather do something else with, like, less work with more money.

Mr. ALI FADLALLAH: Ali. Ali Fadlallah.

MERAJI: Last summer's war also prompted Ali Fadlallah's move. Not out of Lebanon, but back to his home village, almost astride the border with Israel. Ali is a 21-year-old Shiite Muslim from Ainata. As a teenager, he moved to Beirut to study and work, and when the war broke out he was living in the Dahiyeh, a Hezbollah-controlled suburb.

In Ali's apartment, the power is out, but you can still make out the faces on the martyrs poster overhead. Three women wearing hijab, two young men and a baby boy - all killed during Israel's war against Hezbollah. Ali remembers the conflict, glancing up at the poster every so often.

Mr. FADLALLAH: (Through translator) This war was tough because I lost my family. It was very difficult for me. But we feel that as Shia we were victorious. Maybe had we not won this war I would have never returned to my village.

MERAJI: Okay. Where are we going?

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. FADLALLAH: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman: We're going to where my family died.

MERAJI: It's a three-hour drive from Beirut to Ainata. Ali walks quickly down a dusty road through his village. It looks like a place tourists go to visit ancient ruins.

Mr. FADLALLAH: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman: And you can see here, there were old houses with nice old stones. Very nice.

MERAJI: Piles of rubbles mark spots where houses once stood. The only color is from the clothes hung on lines to dry, bright flags signaling that people still lives here. Ali stops next to a hill made of destroyed cement blocks. On his right a small construction crew rebuilds a home, on his left a pile of rubble.

Mr. FADLALLAH: (Through translator) Here was the entrance. It was a room of three meters by three meters, and 18 people were seeking shelter in this.

MERAJI: Ali's mother, Maryam, and younger sister, Zahira, were two of the 18 people crushed when the Israelis bombed Ainata. Ali thinks the building was targeted because his mother was sheltering a wounded Hezbollah fighter. When the war ended, he came back to Ainata, to this spot, to dig up the remains of his mother and sister. They were buried under three storeys of rubble.

Mr. FADLALLAH: (Through translator) We looked at the bodies and we tried to identify them. The heart of a son would recognize his mother. I don't know how to describe it. That was the hardest day of my life. I don't know how to describe it.

MERAJI: Ali says he used to play soccer with friends just a few meters away from where his family died. His happiest memories are now mixed with his saddest. But the sadness hasn't stopped Ali from coming home. He wants to return, rebuild and live in Ainata again, for good.

Mr. FADLALLAH: (Through translator) I'll come home and keep working to build the most beautiful house and plant as many trees as I can. My mother - may God have mercy on her - is like a flower. She handed the flower to me so that I could go on with life. I'll plant the flower and keep on living.

MERAJI: For NPR News, I'm Shereen Meraji.

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