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.
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 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.
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 :)