A few years ago, my daughters Mariam & Lena decided to recount some of their best memories of a trip they took to Lebanon in 2018. The plan was for these stories to inspire the same love, wonder and adventure they felt when they first visited and encourage readers to donate to a particular establishment for children that was in need in Beirut. Their mini perspectives of their fatherland helped raise some funds and we hope to continue to do this anytime, anywhere, when it feels authentic and relatable.
Maya & The Dragon
Written and Illustrated by Mariam Athena Jaafar
Once upon a time, there was a girl with a secret power named Maya. She lived with
a horse named Naya,
a bunny called Haya,
a lovebird named Pistachia,
a parrot called Ponchaya;
and a very, very fluffy sheep that goes by the name Fufu.
They are animals Maya rescued and are now her family.
They live on a cliff by the sea, in a small traditional house with a jilal (terrace), qabu (lower ground storage) and a rekaa’ (herb garden). Her grandmother had built the house before leaving to London to complete something called a PhD (Maya is still not sure what that is).
One morning, Maya wakes up at dawn as she usually does, to check on all her animals. But this time something was different. She looks in the house but doesn’t find them. She searches the qabu, rekaa, and the roof but she only finds Ponchaya the Parrot!
Maya is worried. She tries to get a word out of Ponchaya the Parrot, but all the parrot musters in a high pitch is: “City. City. City!” “Of course! They must have gone to Beirut city!”
Maya and Ponchaya the Parrot take off to Beirut to look for the rest of the animals.
After walking through the hustle and bustle of Beirut, Maya finds herself in the middle of a big, empty landing where an angry dragon is threatening the animals! Terrified, she decided to be brave. She extends her arm out in front of the dragon. “Stop!” She yelled.
Maya quickly scans the dragon with her curious eyes to see why it might be angry. She spots a piece of glass lodged in the poor dragon’s claw.
“Can I help you with your claw? It must be so painful. I won’t hurt you.”
“Roarrrrr!!!” bellows the dragon. “That means yes!” says Maya, relieved.
The dragon is surprised! How does Maya understand? “She can communicate with creatures, silly!” Responds Haya the Bunny, climbing onto the dragon and shutting its’s mouth open with awe.
“Beirut is full of broken glass and debris, I only come to pick up a few things that can be recycled and used from the garbage piles,” mutters the dragon.
Sad to hear the dragon isn’t impressed with the city, off go brave Maya, the relieved animals and the slightly confused dragon back to the house on the cliff. There, Maya treats the dragon and let it rest on the roof of her house.
A few days later, the animals go grazing in the nearby forest when a fire breaks out! Maya sees the fire from her window and panics.
She searches everywhere for the dragon, worried that it was what started the fire! But when she finds it asleep on the roof, she realized it must be the heat.
Unsure what to do, and unable to communicate with creatures not within her site, Maya thinks she won’t be able to stop the fire and save the animals.
“Think. Think!” She tells herself.
She remembers! Her grandmother had invented a megaphone device to help Maya use her ability from afar, but she never completed it.
Maya looks everywhere for it and finally finds it in the qabu.
Never having the courage to try it before, she finally decides its time! She finds her tools, twists some wires the way her grandma had taught her and turns it on.
It works! Maya takes the megaphone and rushes to the roof. “You need to help me!” Maya pleads with the dragon. The Dragon lifts Maya and puts her on its back before flying over the fire.
“Wait. I see them!” Maya asks the dragon to fly a little closer. She uses the megaphone to amplify her voice and communicates with the animals, “Up here! Follow us as we guide you through!”
Maya and the dragon lead the animals out of harm’s way. Now that the animals are home, she worries about how to stop the fire from spreading.
“The Sea, the sea, the sea!” Recites Ponchaya the Parrot. Maya understands what she must do.
Maya instructs the dragon to head to the sea and collect as much water as possible with its mouth, then meet Maya at the mountain. She leads Naya the Horse carrying some buckets into the forest.
Ponchaya the Parrot and Pistachia the Lovebird take the buckets with their beaks, the dragon fills them with water from its mouth and the birds then dumps the water over the flames.
After a few times, at last the fire is out! Maya, the dragon and all the animals cheer and huddle before going back home for much needed rest.
The next morning Maya, Naya, Haya, Pistachia and Ponchaya find Fufu the very, very fluffy Sheep with a note her mouth that reads:
“To Maya and friends,
Thank you for seeing the good in everything and giving me a chance. I have to return home, but I won’t forget what you’ve taught me – team work makes the dream work.
Dima the Dragon
Ps. Speaking of second chances, maybe I will come back and you can show me around Beirut. If the people are anything like you then it must be pretty special.”
Author and illustrator Mariam, 7.5 years-old taking in the view as she landed in Beirut during the summer of 2018.
Rose & Ramzi’s Adventure
Written and Illustrated by Lena Sophia Jaafar
Once upon a time, in a small zoo on Mount Lebanon, lived a horse named Rose and a horse named Ramzi.
One morning, Rose woke up and couldn’t see Ramzi anywhere! Where could he be? She noticed hoof prints in the ground and Lama the Llama whispered:
“I think Ramzi’s trotted off to the forest!”
“Why could he have gone?” Wondered Rose. She decides to follow the prints through the broken fence and into forest.
Rose had never set foot outside the zoo before, and she was not happy about doing so now!
As she began to gallop, she followed the trail of prints and bitten branches. Before she could say “Naaay”, she spotted Ramzi by a small stream.
Rose was so relieved that she wanted to scream. She rushed to him and gave him a big hug and tried to persuade him to head back to the zoo.
But Ramzi had a better idea. “Let’s head to the top of the mountain,” he said. Rose was frightened, but, she was also curious to see the world.
Before she could make up her mind, Rose decided to look around. She saw the ancient cedar trees, and the beautiful flowers and fruits and thought, “if this is just outside the zoo, imagine what can be awaiting on top of the mountain!”
Ramzi and Rose trotted upward. Just before reaching the top, Ramzi asked her to do the one thing she was most afraid of: look down!
Rose turned and the view took her breath away! She could see the most beautiful view of a small colorful city leaning against a bright a blue sea. This is the city of Beirut, Ramzi said, promising that they will go there together one day.
Peeling their sight off the magical city, Rose and Ramzi continued up the mountain. When they reached the top, they were so tired, they fell asleep.
When they awoke, it felt chilly and crisp and the craziest thing surrounded them. It was white and cold! “What is that?” Asked Rose. “It is the snow!”
Ramzi said that this is why he had left the zoo. He had heard of this amazing white flurry that fills the air and lays on the ground and he wanted to see it for himself. You see in winter, the animals at the zoo are usually indoors and don’t get to see the winter snow.
With joy and amazement, Rose licked the snow and realized how much adventure and beauty lay outside the zoo fence. She finally understood why Ramzi wanted more.
Feeling cold and tired though, Rose and Ramzi decided to head back to the Zoo where they would tell the other animals all about Beirut and Mount Lebanon and plan going on regular wild tours together.
Eight months passed.
One early summer afternoon, Lama the Llama and a few other curious animals from the zoo took a hike into the forest.
They were led by Rose, Ramzi and their baby calf Lily.
They were going on an adventure to show Lily the beauty and wonder that is their Lebanon.