“How Long have you been picking olives?” I asked B. a 68-year-old retired architect from Zakrit, Mont-Liban.
“I’ve been working olive lands for as long as I can remember, it used to be a family thing back then. We’d all gather to pick olives together: my parents, my siblings, my uncle and his family. We would lay down ground cover sheets that would later serve as a net for the olives and then climb the trees to start picking. We would grab a twig with both hands and then gently scrape the olives off of it. All you would hear was the sound of olives softly hitting the net below you and the breeze in the trees.”
Looking around me, I asked him to tell me a bit about how this area looked before. He smiled and said: “Those mountains were filled with olive trees.” I followed his finger and found immense amounts of concrete covering the mountain’s slope. Right behind us was the main road leading to the town. He added: “you see that road? well, that road didn’t exist, we used to walk down here. Do you see the bottom of that valley? well, that was full of orange trees, all the way to the seaside.”
“Everything was different,” he continued. “Everything had a different feel to it, an honest feel. Church bells were the only loud noise you would hear in town. People were different, they even spoke in a different manner. Many of the elders still spoke some Syriac, tradition still prevailed. Even food tasted different since we only used olive oil in cooking.”
“What did you like most about olive picking, aside from the family gatherings?” I asked. His reply was something I experienced myself. B. said: “After the harvest, we would head down to the pressing factory, where my father would greet a bunch of men and women. They would then invite us for coffee, traditionally boiled on coal. My father would sit me next to him and I would gaze at two huge granite wheels rolling in a circular motion while he spoke to his friends. I don’t know what, but there’s something about those wheels and the smell of crushed olives that always made it mesmerizing to be there. The whole factory smelled of this sweet acidic scent mixed with the cool air of November.”
“Every time I pick an olive, I remember my family. Even though my land is now surrounded by buildings and roads, I can still see my brothers on the trees and my mother shouting after them to be careful, while my aunt makes a traditional bread called Tannour on a stone stove. I know you might take me as oversentimental, but this is one of the main reasons I would not want to leave my country as unstable as it can get… where else on earth can I relive these memories?”
He then looked at me, smiled and added: “I would love my kids to share my memories, and to help me with the land every olive season. But I guess you would prefer writing a story about this than actually helping out. Get your ass off that bucket and spread those sheets over there”. He laughed and continued picking olives.