Vera Kachouh
Color Photograph
Photograph from the series The House in Souk el Gharb

I was moved by the story of the house in Souk el Gharb, told to me by my father several years ago, and I decided to photograph the building when my chance came. The house, as it stood when he was a child, was one of the most opulent in the neighborhood, a three-story home, with high arched ceilings, deep stone walls, and a view of the sea. My father, when he was a boy, admired the building, and was envious of the wealth that he felt that it symbolized—it was grand in comparison to the home that he lived in, a one-story structure, partitioned awkwardly into two parts that could be closed off from one another, with one half rented to tourists during the summertime. One of my father’s closest friends lived in the house, and he would meet him there every morning, so they could walk together to school. It was also the house of the two doctors in the village, and the place where the children of the village were taken when they were ill.

As a symbol of opulence and stability, my father looked up to the structure and all that it represented; he told me that he always dreamed that one day he would own a house like this one, for his parents to live in. When my father was 19 he came to America, against the wishes of his father, to try to make a better life for himself. At that time, he did not speak a word of English. He has recounted to me days on end of walking the streets of New York—miles at a time—going from business to business looking for work. Eventually he found work at a leather-goods store, run by a fellow Lebanese immigrant, and this became his first job.

After over 30 years in America, my father—now with a secure profession and livelihood—discovered that the house in Souk el Gharb had become available for sale. It was, by this point, a ruined house—bombed and looted after the civil war years, and abandoned by its previous owners. Nevertheless, my father remembered his dream of owning this house for his family to live in, and he purchased it with his brother-in-law. There were various problems with this arrangement from the beginning; it was, in many ways, like any story that involves family members who come to own something together—it often ends in disagreement and despair.

The house in Souk el Gharb was eventually resold to settle the dispute between them, though I believe that it was a significant blow to my father to lose it again. Before it was resold, I was able to visit the house and to photograph it. As we walked through the rooms, my father pointed out the way the house had once been—redrawing in his mind, where the stained-glass windows had been located, where the sitting room was, through which doors were the bedrooms, and on and on. Though it is not apparent from the images, I believe that this was what I saw as I photographed it—the house in its original, opulent condition, where there had once been a young boy, who imagined a place that was strong, and safe, and stable, in which to house him.
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