Writing is my passion. It’s my favorite way to tell a story. But man, there’s something powerful about a photo.

Sometimes, it’s all you need to understand someone’s plight.

Last Tuesday, I published my first article of this Lebanon trip. Washington Monthly hired me to explain why the Lebanese government is destroying Syrian refugee shelters.

I went to several camps and witnessed the destruction. I interviewed Syrians who lost their homes. I couldn’t believe my eyes. But, as journalism goes, only a couple shots could make the cut.

So, I created a gallery of some of the most powerful scenes I witnessed:

PHOTO 1: Mohammad, a Syrian refugee, sits in what used to be a cement shelter at an informal refugee settlement in Bar Elias.

PHOTO 2: Alnoud, Maysoun's 14-year-old daughter, has a scar on her hand from the explosion that destroyed her home in Syria, and killed her father, in 2012. Seven years later, her shelter in Lebanon was destroyed as well.

PHOTO 3: After the Lebanese Armed Forces destroyed Maysoun’s shelter in Bar Elias, she moved to another informal settlement nearby. Here, she’s standing in front of the bathroom of her new shelter, which includes a hole in the ground for both a toilet and shower.

PHOTOS 4-6: Syrian refugees at informal settlements have been given wood and plastic sheeting to replace their cement shelters.

Feeling Like a Loser Led To Being in a Book

I felt like a loser in college 😬


While most of my friends were at bars, I was interrogating frat guys about drug deals, investigating burglaries + writing articles till 4 a.m.

I was an editor/reporter at the University at Buffalo’s student-run newspaper, The Spectrum … and I was obsessed 🤓

But every time my friends said I needed to go out more, I felt guilty. Am I not making the best of college? Wasting my youth?

Looking back, I realize I was just following my gut.

Now, I’m glad I did.

That newspaper wound up leading me to national awards, an internship at ABC World News, a producing position at Spectrum News, a passion that would lead me overseas...

… and now, a spot in this textbook 😲

Professor Marcy Burstiner from Humboldt State University interviewed me about my 2014 article on illegal fraternities at the University at Buffalo. She wants to show students that even though they’re young -- they can *still* write groundbreaking investigations.

I’m not posting this to brag. I’m posting this to say you don’t have to do what everyone else is to “make the best” of college -- or whatever stage of life you’re in.

The “best” is following your gut. Making decisions that are hard in the moment, but fulfilling in the end. Who knows, maybe your decisions will wind up inspiring others. I really hope this book does!

I Always Said I'd Be A Terrible Teacher

I always said I would be a terrible teacher.


But when The Spectrum asked me to teach their class this past semester, I couldn’t say no...

Cause The Spectrum has a piece of my heart <3

In college, my friends and I were savages at this newspaper 🤓

The University at Buffalo doesn’t have a journalism school -- so we worked our butts off to compete with the best student newspapers in the country.

We dug into investigative stories larger than ourselves; hustled to be the first source in Buffalo to break news; and won awards our school had never seen before.

The best part about coming back to teach? Meeting a group of reporters who remind me of our group. Looking forward to continue helping them/living vicariously through them :)

THE TRUTH | Why I Went 3 Months Without Instagram/YouTube

Back from a 3-month break from Instagram and feeling GREAT.

So great, I’m not even ashamed to take this super obnoxious selfie ✌️


Anywho, I don’t expect you to care I wasn’t on Instagram. But stepping away was so rejuvenating, I want to share my experience!

First off, I love motivating people. For a while, I tried doing that on Instagram.

But this past fall + winter, I found myself posting motivational quotes, career ambitious, healthy habits … and in reality, feeling like crap.

Physically -- I was letting myself go. I’d have “cheat days” 1-3 times a week; wake up with low energy; struggle to workout.

Professionally, I felt stuck. I spent the last year working as a news producer in Buffalo. It felt great to be home & focus on my personal life after living overseas. But gradually, that turned into avoiding the next step in my career 😬

So … I deleted Instagram. I tried to center myself & figure out how I wanted to LIVE instead of what I wanted to POST.

During this time, I:

  1. Cut out processed food

  2. Trained myself to do fasted cardio

  3. Journaled and meditated more often

  4. Began teaching a journalism class at the University at Buffalo

  5. Took on my FIRST on-camera story with WNED/WBFO (our local PBS station)

  6. Planned + booked another reporting trip to Lebanon

  7. Focused on being a better producer at my actual job

  8. Worked on my relationships 😏

  9. Spent quality time with family/friends without my phone

But the BIGGEST accomplishment was one I didn’t expect: feeling inner joy without this app.

I always want to be more satisfied with my life than my Instagram feed. For a while, I wasn’t. If you feel the same way, I highly recommend a break 😊

GOALS FOR 26 | What I Hope To Accomplish This Year

On the morning of my 26th birthday, I got way too personal on Instagram.

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I wrote about my younger self -- who was incredibly negative and would've been disappointed in who I am at 26: not a wife; not a mom; not a famous TV journalist.

But -- what I've come to realize is life isn't about reaching ultimate success by a certain age. It's about listening to what your gut is telling you to do, and taking small (but courageous) steps to get there. I believe the journey of taking those steps forms you into the person you're meant to be.

After posting it, I opened my notebook and wrote three words: “Goals for 26.” I snapped a photo for Insta story (obvz) and got to writing.


I didn’t think anyone would care what those specific goals would be. So I was surprised when I got a few curious DMs.

One guy wrote" “You gotta share those goals. I wonder what mine would be at 26.”

His message stuck with me. At his age, I had no idea what 26 looked like -- where I'd be, what I'd want. So, I’m posting my goals. I’ve been adding to the list over the last week, and it finally feels right.

Some are extremely personal and probably shouldn’t be on the Internet. But in order to show I’m still a work-in-progress -- as we all probably will be for the rest of our lives -- I want to be honest. So here they are:

  1. Strengthen my relationship with my dad by accepting him for who he is

  2. Prioritize helping Mom

  3. Be more selfless toward/spend more quality time with my siblings and nieces/nephews

  4. Plan trip to find, write and pitch incredibly eye-opening stories

  5. Find a way to work on camera -- i.e. Vice, Al Jazeera, etc. (meet with and talk to them)

  6. Write at least one BIG investigative story

  7. Share more of myself on Instagram/YouTube without worrying what others will think. Remember: I want to inspire people -- not impress them

  8. Post a personal YouTube vlog every 7-10 days

  9. Go to California, meet influencers, collaborate and/or interview them

  10. Work toward getting more in shape in the healthiest way possible -- with the goal of being a spokesmodel for a brand that promotes self-improvement in every facet of life

  11. Revitalize energy through fasted workouts and less caffeine

  12. Pray, write gratitudes, journal and meditate daily

  13. Go to confession

  14. Take Dad to church as often as possible

  15. Make an effort to meet more people with similar interests

  16. Do more fun activities -- hike, ATV, play sports, etc.

  17. Help others as a life/health mentor

ONE YEAR OLDER | How I Feel About Turning 26

This was originally posted on my Instagram on Aug. 16

The old me would be freaking out about turning 26 😬

Ah, young Lisa. Perhaps you can relate …


In my teenage years + early 20s, I was very unhappy with myself. Insecure. Negative. Obsessed with what everyone thought.

It was all good, though -- because I was CONVINCED I’d be happy by my mid-20s. I didn’t know what that meant … but I was pretty sure it had to do with being a wife + mom 🤷🏻‍♀️

My life took such a different turn. In college, I finally found something I was good at: journalism. I threw myself into my career & decided if I’m a TV reporter by my mid-20s, THEN I’ll be happy.

Well, I started working in TV and realized it wasn’t for me. I decided to quit, go to Lebanon & chase big stories that hardly make the news.

It was there I realized I want to be MORE than a journalist -- I want to inspire people. I started sharing my life on Instagram & YouTube, hoping to encourage others to be their best selves.

Today is my 26th birthday. How many big stories have I sold? Not as many as I’d like. How many people have I inspired? Not as many as I’d like.

So I should be sad about turning 26, right?

I could be. Or, I could look at life in a totally different way ...

Yes, I’ve only published 5 freelance stories in the past year. I only average 60 views on my personal vlogs. But I BELIEVE in the message I’m putting out there.

If I base happiness on a result (how many stories I sell or views I get), I’ll never be happy. But when I do what my gut tells me -- and detach myself from how others will receive it -- I feel deeply satisfied.

I’m 26 years old and finally putting my energy toward DOING what I love instead of WORRYING about what people will think. And hey, that in itself is a milestone achievement 😊

FORGOTTEN REFUGEES | Syrian crisis diverts attention from Iraqis

Nada sat in her sweltering hot, one-room home in Lebanon, grazing her fingers over a bullet wound on her right forearm. It’s a reminder of the moment ISIS kidnapped her daughter.

The scar on Nada’s right forearm is a reminder of the day ISIS shot her while she tried to rip her 15-year-old daughter away from the terrorists.

The scar on Nada’s right forearm is a reminder of the day ISIS shot her while she tried to rip her 15-year-old daughter away from the terrorists.

She tried to rip the 15-year-old away from the terrorists, so they shot her. It was 2014, and the Islamic State Group had just invaded Mosul, Iraq. Thousands of Christians fled to a safe house outside the city -- including Nada's family. But the terrorists found them, stormed in and opened fire.

Nada's husband ran after the captors, but neither he nor his daughter were ever seen again.

“ISIS either kills their victims, rapes them or sells them,” Nada said. “But I feel my husband and daughter are alive. I pray nothing happened to them so we can one day be together."

Nada wants to go looking for them, but she can’t. Although Iraq drove ISIS out of Mosul in July, it’s still not safe. The Old City is a pile of rubble, following a nine-month battle that has been called the worst urban warfare since World War II. Nearly 10,000 buildings were destroyed. Basic needs, like water, electricity and medical care, are sparse. And the city is covered in mines and debris that the United Nations says could take a decade to clear.

“A family might be able to return home, but maybe their toaster oven is booby trapped and will explode,” said Wendy Taeuber, International Rescue Committee’s Iraq Country Director. “You have no idea if something might have been planted. It's going to take a long, long time to be able to confidently say any given area in the heart of the old city is safe.”

For now, more than 18,000 Iraqis are stuck in Lebanon — the last place you’d want to be as a refugee. The third-world country is already hosting about 1.5 million Syrians, who have fled the most catastrophic event in modern history. So headlines and international aid tend to flood toward them.

And in the media — Iraqis are often overlooked.

That’s not to say Syrians get all the help they need. In fact, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is struggling to give them all food, heat and money.

But Iraqis are struggling, too. Like Syrians, they’re sending their kids to work; living with diseases because they can’t afford medical costs; and feeling hopeless as developed countries deny them visas.

Below are stories of three Iraqi families I met in Lebanon:


Fadi (left) and Farah (right) work at a cafe in northern Lebanon. Their boss, Samir (middle), hired them to get the boys to talk again. They've been quiet since witnessing ISIS kidnap their sister and shoot their mother.

Fadi (left) and Farah (right) work at a cafe in northern Lebanon. Their boss, Samir (middle), hired them to get the boys to talk again. They've been quiet since witnessing ISIS kidnap their sister and shoot their mother.

  • Nada’s sons, Fadi (14) and Farah (12) , work at a cafe in northern Lebanon.

  • One day, I walked in and saw them washing dishes behind the counter. When I said hi, they quickly looked down. It turns out they’ve barely spoken to — or made eye contact with— anyone since witnessing ISIS kidnap their sister, shoot their mom and take their father.

  • When Nada and her boys fled to Lebanon, a priest gave them a small home to live in.

  • The priest asked the owner of the cafe to hire the boys. He thought that’d get them to talk again.

  • Farah and Fadi also needed the money. Nada registered with the UN, and receives cash assistance — about $170 a month — but not consistently.


  • Saman Jindou (far right) shows me a photo of his family’s four-story villa in Iraq. That was before ISIS stole everything from inside and burnt it to coal.

  • Fast forward four years, the 21-year-old now shares a tiny apartment in Zgharta with eight relatives.

  • He and his 16-year-old brother (not pictured) are the breadwinners. They dropped out of school to work at a cement factory seven days a week, up to 12 hours a day, for 15 dollars a day.

  • Because they work, they’re not eligible for cash assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

  • “I feel like Iraqis are not getting enough,” Jindou said. “We’re all refugees. We’re all the same.”

  • UNHCR says because of the overwhelming number of refugees pouring into Lebanon, it has to target those who are most vulnerable. Refugees from Syria, many of whom left their home with nothing and now live in makeshift camps and tents, set the bar high for what's considered vulnerable.




  • 11-year-old Sidra Hindou (middle) hasn’t stepped in a classroom in two years.

  • Her family, now in Lebanon, doesn’t qualify for cash assistance from UNHCR.

  • Sidra’s father, Samir, is partly blind -- so he can’t work.

  • When they moved to Lebanon, he enrolled Sidra in school for just two months. But when he couldn’t afford book and transportation costs, he pulled her out.

  • “If we get accepted into Australia, I hope she will go back to school,” Hindou said.

  • But the odds of his family getting accepted are slim.

  • Because of the Syrian crisis, Iraqis have a long-shot at making it out of the Middle East

  • Refugees themselves cannot apply for resettlement through UNHCR. Instead, they register with the UN and are referred to leave the country only if they fit the criteria — based on who is most vulnerable

  • “We’re working against limited resettlement quotas and the decision ultimately falls with a country,” said Dana Sleiman, a spokesperson with UNHCR. “When we break the unfortunate news to a refugee family that resettlement is not an option for them, it shatters their entire existence. Because it means their stuck.”

Five Life-Changing Habits I Started in 2017

I sat in my car crying.

It was a bitter-cold afternoon in Buffalo last January, and I felt stuck. I was a TV news producer, but wasn’t fully passionate about it. I was making decisions based on what others thought of me. And at 24 years old, I still hadn’t kicked my lifelong habit of thinking negatively.

Three months later, I quit, moved to Lebanon and began building an online platform as a freelance journalist/blogger/YouTuber.

Wait, what? This was the girl who barely had the courage to post on social media -- let alone take such a risk. Where did the boldness come from?

It came from five habits I decided to adopt in 2017. Slowly but surely, these practices have helped me go from worrying about what others think to not caring; focusing on what could go wrong to focusing on what could go right; and realizing success comes from learning and growing, not just landing a big job.

Here are the five steps that have changed my mindset:

My friend Lucien and I went ATVing up a mountain in Ehden, a town in northern Lebanon, to catch this incredible view.&nbsp; Photo cred: Lucien Khoury

My friend Lucien and I went ATVing up a mountain in Ehden, a town in northern Lebanon, to catch this incredible view. Photo cred: Lucien Khoury


  1. Got a life coach: When one of my friends got a life coach a few years ago, I thought it was weird. That is, until I started noticing him making huge strides in his career and becoming a happier person.

    So last year, I went to that same coach -- Devin Martin. I wanted to be a reporter, but I didn’t love the idea of TV news or newspapers. I was hoping Devin could help me figure out what I wanted.

    We spoke once a week for 12 weeks, and he tried to convince me I didn’t need to be a TV or newspaper reporter just because that’s what everyone else has done -- I could carve my own path.

    But I fought him. I told him his ideas were crazy -- I couldn’t just buy a camera, do my own thing and put myself out there on the Internet. People would think I was weird!

    He said I needed to look at life in a much more positive way. So he challenged me to start two habits that have been simple, yet life-changing: write gratitudes and meditate.

  2. Write gratitudes: Every day, I jot down three things I’m grateful for: something about myself, another person, and a random thing -- like the weather. There’s just one rule: I can’t repeat.

    The first few weeks were easy -- I started going down a list of decent qualities I have, the most important people in my life, and objects right in front of me. Then, I started running out of ideas.

    So every day, I found myself searching for things to be grateful for -- wow, the mailman was really nice today. That embarrassing moment ended up teaching me a good lesson. And over time, I started to see the good in life more than the bad.

  3. Meditate: The first time someone tried to get me to meditate, I said I can’t because I’m too stressed. Now, I realize people controlled by their thoughts need meditation the most (and no, you don’t have to be a Buddhist or hippie to do it).

    In fact, some of the world’s most successful people meditate (i.e. Oprah Winfrey, Arnold Schwartzenager and Ariana Huffington). Sure, the practice makes you calmer. But it can also help you conquer your fears.

    There’s a myth that meditating = turning your thoughts off. Actually, meditating is about having a ton of anxious and stressful thoughts and changing your relationship to them.

    For example, I meditate with an app called Headspace, in which a nice British guy named Andy walks you through 10-minute sessions. When my mind wanders, Andy has simple advice: gently bring your attention back to the breath.

    Whether I get a thought as deep as ‘what am I doing with my life?’ or as simple as, ‘what am I going to have for breakfast?’ Andy has made me realize they’re just thoughts. They’re not reality. Let them come, and then let them go.

    The same applies to real life. Now, when I start getting anxiety, I let it happen, hang out in my brain for a bit, and then I let it go. I try not to let fearful or anxious thoughts stop me from going after anything.

  4. Daily prayers: This list has a theme: it’s all about me. Praying has helped me realize there is a God much bigger than me, and He’s already blessed me with so much.

    When I went to Lebanon in 2013, I met a nun who knew St. Rafqa -- one of Lebanon’s patron saints. She said St. Rafqa told her fellow sisters to pray five Our Father’s and five Hail Mary’s every day.

    I’m not sure why, but from that day on I started doing the same. This past trip in Lebanon, I’d start my day with those prayers -- as well as asking God to protect and guide each of the people in my life. It’s helped begin my day on a grateful note.

  5. Surround myself with positivity: They say you are the average of the five people you’re around most. But I think there’s a world of intelligent, driven and motivational people you can also find via books, podcasts and social media. Here are some of my favorites:

    YouTube: In my opinion, Brian DeCosta is the Tony Robbins of our generation. In September 2016, he started a YouTube channel about fitness -- but gradually started opening up about other aspects of his life. Now, he's one of the most authentic influencers online, inspiring tens of thousands of people to step out of their comfort zones, both in fitness and their personal lives.

    Instagram: ShutTheKaleUp is my favorite account on the gram, and not just because of her pretty food pictures. Jeanette Ogden shares photos of food, fitness and family from a place of love -- not weight loss. She shows how to live a healthy and holistic lifestyle versus going on a diet; nourishing your body versus depriving it; and valuing the people in your life over solely going after your fitness goals. It's refreshing and positive to follow.

    Podcast: The Tim Ferriss Show pumps me up. Tim asks world-class performers from all industries about their tools, tactics and routines in day-to-day life. When you hear about what someone like Maria Sharapova has for breakfast, or how geniuses like Malcolm Gladwell sometimes can't get themselves to work hard, you realize these hugely successful people have problems just like us -- so we, too, are capable of greatness.

    Book: There are a ton of self-help books out there, but Man’s Search For Meaning has moved me the most. Viktor Frankl, the author, was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. He was able to find meaning in life, even when everything was taken away from him. I won’t give away his secret, but if he could stay positive during that time, I guarantee you can, too.

LIGHTER SIDE OF LEBANON | How a Tiny Village Taught Me A Big Lesson

I never really cared about where my mom came from.

Terrible, isn’t it? As Lebanese tradition goes, you inherit your dad’s hometown as your own. So growing up, trips to Lebanon meant trips to his village, Mazraat Al Touffah. I fell in love with everything about it — the warm people, the peaceful mountains, the impromptu get-togethers at night. And I became just as proud of the Mazraat as my dad.

Along the way, my mom’s village kind of fell to the wayside. In fact, in my four trips to Lebanon, I never spent more than a day there each time.

This year, I decided to change that — and was shocked at what I found.

My mom is from Basloukit, a village hidden in the northern mountains — about 4,500 feet above sea level. It has one church, quaint, stone homes (one of which, my mom was born in) and is best known for its fresh water springs, colorful fruit orchards and lack of cell phone service.

My mom's hometown, Basloukit, is simple but beautiful. It consists of fruit orchards, narrow roads and old, stone homes -- one of which, she was born in.

My mom's hometown, Basloukit, is simple but beautiful. It consists of fruit orchards, narrow roads and old, stone homes -- one of which, she was born in.

My mom's mother, Tayta Rose, dreamed of giving her kids a better life. So in 1965, she convinced my jido Tannous to move to America. But by the time they made it to Buffalo, N.Y. — she got cancer and passed away.

My mom and her siblings never took the opportunity Tayta gave them for granted — especially my uncle Pete. He was 16 when he moved to America, barely had anything in his pocket and didn’t know a word of English. He went on to join the U.S. Army, get married, have four kids and work his way up from a truck driver at ABF Freight to regional vice president of sales. 

He's the epitome of the American Dream — and yet, he goes back to Basloukit every year.

I never understood why. So this summer, every week, I visited him and his wife, Aunt Mona, at the summer home he built right in the middle of town.

Uncle Pete would spend hours in his garden, planting tomatoes and watering the apple trees, while Aunt Mona made dinner with ingredients fresh from their land — just as my grandparents once did. We’d go to mass in the church our ancestors helped build and drink Arabic coffee with the locals, whose ancestors grew up with our own. 

One night, Uncle Pete and I sat on his balcony, which overlooks northern Lebanon, all the way to where the coastline meets the Mediterranean Sea. We watched the sun set over the green mountains and red rooftops, and he told me what it was like to lose his mom at such a crucial time. As I teared up, he smiled and said, despite the hardships, he always remained thankful for the life she allowed him to build in America.

What struck me most was how much Basloukit played a role in Uncle Pete's success. Because he grew up in a one-room home, he appreciated every opportunity that came his way. Because he grew up with humble parents, he treated everyone with respect. And because he moved to the states with no money, he learned to work hard.

It was then that I had an epiphany: Uncle Pete's life goal isn’t just the American Dream. Actually, his time in Basloukit is helping him achieve something much deeper.

By dedicating three months a year to this tiny village — growing crops on his land, playing Lebanese board games with friends, and heck, even drinking the freezing-cold water from Basloukit's ancient spring — he is keeping his parents’ spirits alive.

Tayta Rose, who would never live to see her son become vice president of a huge American corporation, can look down and see that despite all his success, he never forgot about where he came from.

It made me realize that — at a time in which I’m obsessed with finding success — I won’t find it in just a career. True satisfaction comes when you achieve something deeper — even if, from the outside, it appears to be as simple as watering plants in an unknown village.

Every Oct. 7, Basloukit celebrates the feast day of its patron saints: St. Sarkis and St. Bakhous. Uncle Pete and Aunt Mona closed their house for the summer and went back to the states a few weeks ago, but I still decided to go.

A family friend invited me over for dinner that night, and like Aunt Mona, made everything with fresh ingredients from her land. Something about it warmed my heart.

After dinner, I walked to the celebration outside church. A teenage boy led the Lebanese dabke — kicking his feet high in the air while staying on beat to a live Arabic flute and drums.

A guy came up to me and asked what brought me to Basloukit. With a new sense of pride, I told him it’s my mom’s village. I asked which of his parents is from Basloukit.

“Neither,” he said. “They just chose to build their summer home here.”

A year ago, I would have thought his parents were crazy to pick such a small, boring village.

But now, I realize they chose one of the most beautiful places in the world — a town that is simple, but was built upon values that are everlasting.


Whenever Lebanon is mentioned in the news, it’s usually about a few things: terror attacks, an unstable government and the Syrian refugee crisis.

But that’s only half the story.

It’s also filled with picturesque beaches, religious history, mouthwatering cuisine and a wild nightlife that brings in more than a million tourists each year, according to Databank.

I came here to report on the refugee crisis, but I’ve also been soaking in the beauty of this country — which I’m going to share in a series of blog posts, starting today! Today’s blog is about two things Lebanese people love: food and fireworks (just ask the kids in my village, who set off fireworks every night).

On Saturday night, my friends and I went to Jounieh, a city on the coast of Lebanon, for a huge fireworks display over the Mediterranean Sea. The 11-minute show, with more than 50,000 fireworks, kicks off the week-long Jounieh Summer Festival.

We booked a table at Amor, a restaurant with outdoor seating and a stunning view of the Jounieh Bay. For $50 a person, each table got a bottle of alcohol, a traditional Lebanese four-course meal and impeccable service (when I tried to pour a glass of sparkling water, the waiter ran over, intercepted the bottle and continued pouring for me). The series of dishes are known as “mezza,” which means appetizer in Arabic.

The first course was a variety of vegetarian dishes — fattoush, tabouleh, basil-pine-nut hummus, labne, classic hummus, mozzarella cheese over smoked eggplant and stuffed grape leaves. The second course included some meat: fried sausage, grilled potatoes, kibbe, sambousek, and a Lebanese-style mozzarella stick (phyllo dough stuffed with cheese). The third course is known as “mashawi,” which means barbecue. There were three meats: kafta (ground beef with parsley and spices), beef kabobs and chicken kabobs. The fourth course was dessert: ashta, a homemade cream, topped with strawberry jam, as well as fresh watermelon and cantaloupe. 

By 10 p.m., everyone at the restaurant got up from their tables and watched the show together. People from across Lebanon — of all religions — were there to watch. In a way, during a time of tension and turmoil in the Middle East, the fireworks brought everyone together.

A Leap of Faith

I’m standing in the same spot my dad had a stroke last summer.

It's right in front of the church in Mazraat Al Toufah — or Orchard of Apples, a tiny town hidden in the northern mountains of Lebanon. My dad and his family left this village 40 years ago to escape Lebanon’s civil war. He moved to Buffalo with nothing in his pocket, determined to give his future kids a chance to live the American Dream. The funny thing is, everything he taught me led me right back to this place.

On the side of the road leading into Mazraat Al Toufah, you can see a beautiful view of the town. The church in the center is located right next to our home.

On the side of the road leading into Mazraat Al Toufah, you can see a beautiful view of the town. The church in the center is located right next to our home.

My dream is to be a news reporter. When I met Diane Sawyer during my internship at ABC three years ago, I cried. I was starstruck — not because she’s famous, but because she gets to dedicate her life to going in-depth on stories that shed light on real people, their struggles and their triumphs. She shows the world what others are going through. We relate to them. We cry with them. And we’re better because of it.

So last month, I took a leap of faith.

I quit my job as a TV news producer to temporarily relocate to one of the most dangerous areas in the world — one that's filled with stories. The ongoing war in Syria continues to spill into Lebanon, a third-world country already suffering from an unstable government, terrorism and poverty. But those aren’t the only stories Lebanon has to offer.

My dad and I standing on the porch of our home in August of 2013

My dad and I standing on the porch of our home in August of 2013

My dad and I came here together in 2013, and it changed my life. I instantly felt a connection. I’d wake up every morning, tie my sneakers and head out for a run — completely entranced by the green mountains, red roof tops and apple orchards around me. I’d get goosebumps every time I went ATVing up those serene mountains, or took a dip in the clear-blue Mediterranean Sea. I literally became more spiritual, not only from learning about the many saints who came from Lebanon, and touring the cedar trees Jesus once walked through, but also by meeting some of the most loving and warm people you’ll ever find: people who barely knew me, yet stayed with me bedside when I had a stomachache. People who barely make enough money to survive, yet offered me everything they had when I walked through the door.

A towering view of northern Lebanon after ATVing up the serene mountains. (photo credit: Lucien Khoury, July 2016)

A towering view of northern Lebanon after ATVing up the serene mountains. (photo credit: Lucien Khoury, July 2016)

My love for this Middle Eastern country brought me back last summer. Once again, my dad and I bonded over the beauty of the land he and my mom came from. He ended up having a stroke right in the middle of the village — between our home and church. He survived, thank God, but is limited both mentally and physically.

He's still good old Victor Khoury, though. The man who literally fears nothing. The man who has always been in my ear, saying, “You can achieve anything you put your mind to."

So here I am, right back in the Mazraat, to pursue my dream of telling stories.

To be honest, taking this leap of faith was terrifying. Not a day goes by that I don't question my decision — not because of the tense situation in the Middle East, but because leaving a stable job to report alone in a foreign country is overwhelming.

But as my dad taught me, I must put my mind to it. If I fail, at least I know I tried. I hope to shed light on the Syrian refugee crisis, as well as show the beautiful side of this country that doesn’t always make it on the news.

I hope you join me on this adventure by following along :)