Abdul Faraj

Transcript of Abdul Faraj
Interviewee: Abdul Faraj
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Place: Chicago, IL
Date: June 23, 2014
Transcriber: Dorothy Nygren
Total Time: 23:15 minutes.

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: Today is June 20, 2014 and I’m in the home of Abdul Faraj. He’s been a very gracious host by allowing us to come into his home. Thanks you for allowing us to share.

AF: You’re welcome.

DN: So the first question I would like to ask you is what is your country of origin? Where were you born?

AF: I born in Lebanon.

DN: And was it in a city or little village?

AF: A little village called Marake in south of Lebanon. I [was] born in 4/4/50…1950. I was with my father. He was [a] farmer. We have some land. My father raised….he had fifteen kids, fourteen boys and one girl.

DN: That’s quite a large family.

AF: Yeah. So all ….a big family…

DN: When you were a boy, did you help your father on the farm?

AF: Yes.

DN: Could you tell us a little bit about that?


AF: We help him and use some cows on the land with him – planted with tobacco and land with wheat, and planted whatever. All this. So…And the government, they used to planted about seven, eight months. When they came we sell tobacco to the government. The government buy it from the farmers. And well…was a good family, but not rich, not poor. It was medium. So when we live…it can raise fifteen kids….

DN: I want to hand it to your mother and father to raise fifteen children.

AF: Yeah, four or five died – was small, one or two. They raise ten, nine boys and one girl.

DN: Now did you go to school?


AF: I went to school of course. I went to school till high school. I finished high school and I came to Beirut. My older brother, the one who bring us here, he used to have a restaurant in Beirut. So after I finished the school, I came to Beirut, about two years my brother, work with him. And then my older brother he came to here [U.S.] for a visit. And he liked the country. Within two or three years, he married here. After three years maybe he made his citizen[ship], so he applied for me to come as immigrant. That time in 1978, it took about nine months for paper to be ready – the embassy. It is now take fifteen years, twelve years for brother to bring his brother or his sister.

DN: That’s quite a difference.


AF: Yes. So we came here after nine, ten months, my visa was ready in Beirut. The U.S. embassy, I have meeting, one times, two times. I come with my wife and we have one son, the older son, born in Lebanon. So we came three people. I work[for] my brother. He used to have a restaurant: The Beirut Restaurant at 5204 N Clark.

DN: Yes, yes.

AF: That was my brother, my older brother. All the family. We are five, six brothers. We came from Beirut Restaurant. The one who own bring us with all the family under the Beirut Restaurant name.

DN: So from the farm you went to the Beirut Restaurant and worked in the restaurant with your brother.

AF: Yes, yes.

DN: What did you do in the restaurant – everything?

AF: We was washing. We was mopping,. We was helping in the kitchen. Me and my brother and other guys. Is not big restaurant like this house.

DN: Where did you meet your wife?

AF: I meet my wife from my village, from Lebanon.

DN: Oh, so before you went to Beirut you got married – in the little village you were living in?

AF: Yes, yes.

DN: Could you tell us a little bit about that marriage ceremony? What happens?


AF: The marriage ceremony was like everyone. My brother – I have another brother. He married my sister’s daughter. So we both, me and my brother, we take two daughters from same family, from same house. The village is about 15,000 people. So everybody know each other. It’s not like big city. If you like give, of course, you go to her house and you feel like anyone, and later,you engaged. And later, you married.

DN: Now, is the wedding ceremony similar to what happens here where you go before a cleric, a religious person, and exchange vows and the woman has a special dress?

AF: Yes, yes, but it’s not like it costs here. Here, it costs a lot of money. There, you can marry… all this cost you $500 - $1000. My daughter married in Michigan in October. It costs about $35,000. Last October this one.

DN: A big difference.

AF: Yes. So. Come the sharif(sp) We go to the court, the judge….

DN: To file the papers?

AF: Yes. To ask you how girl, to ask me, do you like each other, and with the witness, and so on. He write everything. So that’s the marriage in our way – Muslim way.

DN: When you got to Beirut, did you already have a child, a son? Or had you not had any children yet when you and your wife went to work in the restaurant?

AF: I came myself. Work. My wife not working.

DN: She stayed in the village?

AF: Yeah, she stayed in the village.

SN: I see. She stayed there until you were ready to come to the U.S.?


AF: No, we came together. We married there. We had our first child there. We were waiting for our paper to be ready when my brother send for us. We came immigrant here in November 5, 1978.

DN: How old was your son then?

AF: He was one year and a half.

DN: So you came here and you came to Edgewater?

AF: Yes.

DM: Do you remember how it felt when you came? Did you feel like a stranger with the big city? Was the big city different than in Beirut? What was your feeling when you first came?


AF: No, here… not in the city. The city down town is not like here. It’s like Beirut city downtown. Is not a big difference. We was most of the time the village. It used to be village. Now all the villages like the city. I’m talking thirty five, thirty six years [ago].

DN: So when you came from Beirut to Edgewater, it didn’t seem so strange because the buildings, the traffic – that was all so much the same. Did you speak English at the time?

AF: I was in high school in English school. We take one hour every two weeks in English, Arabic, Koran and all. But we used to have two hour English in the week, some like this. I was talking like 50%. Then when I was work[ing] here. working in Beirut Restaurant, of course the people, I learned direct here. I don’t go to school here.

DN: How long did it take you to feel comfortable in Edgewater where you were living? I mean at first it must have felt a little strange, because the people’s habits were different. The food was different. Everyone was speaking English. But after a while you began to feel more comfortable. It began to feel more and more like home.

AF: It doesn’t take so long. I came to Beirut to work. I remember when I came. I worked seven months, seven days, from nine to twelve. I don’t know. My brother there, my other brother there, so with the same language like this. But after that, of course, I liked the area. That’s why I stayed thirty five years in one mile square here since I came.


DN: What do you like about the area? Could you share that?

AF: It’s safe. No problem at all since I came here. I stayed eight years at 1650 W Rasher and I lived above Sabrina Gift Shop about seven years – Sabrina on the corner?

DN: Yes, yes.

AF: I’m here in ‘93, so that’s fifteen years since ‘93. So that’s thirty six years less than a mile square area. I like the area and life here. I like the people. The people like us. I opened A Taste of Lebanon restaurant in ’97 when I sell next door – the property. So I opened a restaurant there after my brother close up Beirut Restaurant. And he moved to Michigan and he retired. He now lives in Michigan. So I opened my own restaurant in ‘97, one block away. And I’m doing fine. My customers…. The food is Lebanese food, Middle Eastern food, but the customers are 95% American. I may have four or five….but all of my customers, 95% American. They like the food. They happy. And I’m good with them. I am doing fine.


DN: When you first came here, you came because your brother had the restaurant and he helped you settle down, settle in, and find a place to stay?

AF: I stay with him. I used to live 4920 N Troy. I stay maybe three or four months, no more; maybe nine months, something like that. ‘79 or I stay at 4920 N Troy with my brother. He used to have three flat there – the one that owned the restaurant. After that 1980 I moved to 1650 W Rascher.

DN: So you brother helped you get started. Did anybody else help you in Edgewater? Did any organizations….


AF: No, no.

DN: Just your brother.

AF: My brother. I work one year. I save; eat all the food in the restaurant. I stay in his home and no bills, nothing. So I save maybe $10,000. And he gives me $10,000. I put down payment of $20,000 at 1650 W Rascher. I bought it at $100,000 – that two flat. So I put down payment $20,000. And I live in one and I rent three. The rent was $265 for the two bedroom at that time. So it’s covered my mortgage. It was $700, and the rent was more than $700. And I live free from there. So yes, my brother helped me a little bit.

DN: He helped you get started. Once you got started, you were a very smart man. You knew what to do.

AF: Oh yes. Of course, you have to think for long term, not for one week or one day. I came. So now I have five kids born here. I have six kids now; one born in Lebanon and five born here – three girls and three boys. Now the older ones took over the restaurant. They work there. They running the restaurant. The two girls, they finished the college – Northwestern. They finished college and the younger boy is nineteen now. Maybe second year, third year at Northwestern. The other one, with the restaurant; he went to Wright College one year, and he didn’t like to continue. He like to take the restaurant. “The restaurant is for you. Who is going to take it? But go to school, finish, go to college.” He doing fine in the restaurant. Because I used to have doctors. They drive taxi. Customer. When I open, this is not shame. It’s good. Is taxi driver. He study doctor. I have two, three friends, lawyer, customer. They come. The kids; they like the business. They like free.

All my life I don’t work for nobody. I’m free. Before I opened the restaurant, I drive taxi, about five years. So yes. I free. The taxi was mine: the medallion and the car. So I don’t work for nobody. For myself. And this ….I like to be free. Anytime I feel… don’t like….I feel tired, I relax. I go nine o’clock; go six o’clock in the morning. I come five o’clock, come ten o’clock. It’s free. I like. This is most important. This is freedom. To be free.

DN: It sounds like your sons, that son that’s been running the restaurant has the same feeling.

AF: Yes. They like to be free too like me. So they are the boss for every day and any day. We have three or four people that work with them too, so….


DN: Do you think there is anything special about Edgewater that attracts immigrants and refugees to come here? You came here because your brother was here, but you’ve been here thirty six years now. Do you think there’s anything about the community that’s different than other communities in Chicago, would you say?

AF: Yes of course. If I go three four blocks, I go to Jewel. I go to Clark Street. Go walking. And thanks God I never have any problem. I saw some people. They give me building on the South Side, now whole area. Free. I don’t take it for free because I’m not gonna be happy. I like to…when I come home to be happy. When I sleep I feel happy. When I go out to be happy like this. So the neighbor and the area is nice. And the life and the people. Everything fine.

DN: So I wanted to ask you, do you feel like an American? Or do you feel like your cultural identity is Lebanese? How do you feel now after being here thirty years?


AF: I feel Lebanese and American. I have my own citizen[ship] since ‘84 after I came ’78. Four or five years after that, I apply for citizen[ship] and I took it that year in 1984. So I like American and like my country now. I tell you I spend more than what I spend in Lebanon. This is like my village; the area here now. When I go… the same…yes.

DN: What part of Lebanese traditions, of growing up, do you think is important to share with your children – that you hope that they will continue to think are important? What values do you think are important?

AF: My kids, you know, I say they are like me. My feeling is 100% like me. They don’t like politics like me. They hate to discuss religion, like me. So they…we believe what the God send us, the Christian, the Torah, the Jewish, the Inje (?), and the Koran. It’s all the Prophet. Same thing. They came…The God send to us to show us the right way. My kids like this now.

DN: This is your story. Is there anything else that you would like to share with us or your grandchildren since we are filming you right now? Any other little memories you have or things you feel are important for them to remember about where they came from, from where you came from?


AF: They know where they came from. Right now, I tell you every two or three years, we travel to Lebanon. I take them. We used to take them when they are twelve. Everybody o two or three times there. But when they become seventeen, eighteen, twenty, they don’t like to go. They scared sometimes. Lebanon in ’75 in trouble, civil war. But not Lebanese make it. Always strange people came from out[side] Lebanon and they make the trouble. We Lebanese people all…is a free country, like America. Like here. You can vote. You can do whatever you want. The other people, they don’t have the freedom in their country so they come to Lebanon and they make the whole trouble. But it’s not Lebanese.


DN: I’d like to go back to what you said about going to Lebanon and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. You feel that was important?

AF: This is what the God tell us, yes? This is from the Koran. The God tell us…if we can. If we can afford it, then every Muslim, if he affords it, to go to Mecca (Arabic experession). Yes. We make it five years ago, me and my wife.

DN: Do you think your children will make that same journey, to Mecca, as you made?

AF: I don’t think so. I hope they do it. But if I’m alive, yes they do it. If I’m not … then who will…I don’t think so. They don’t think about that. But they are nice kids. They do nothing bad. It’s what the Koran, what the God tell us, you know.

DN: So you’ve raised them to respect God, to respect their family, to respect others.

AF: Yes, yes, this is…of course. And I don’t have to tell them to do this. Because I am like this, and they come like me. And I feel …90%, more than 90%, they like me. They eat what I eat. They love what I love. They like this.

DN: When you go to Lebanon, the reason you’re going is to go to Mecca? Or are there other reasons? Do you feel like you’re going home, or do you feel this is your home? What is your feeling about it?


AF: I have two homes. I still have Lebanon house and farm in top of the mountain, a nice place. Quiet. I go every year, two months. Now I’m going in August. So yes. This is my home. I feel when the plane touch[es] airport in Lebanon, I feel my heart is open. Same thing when I come back to Chicago to the airport, same thing, believe me. I feel like I’m coming to my second home, another.

DN: So I think you have the best of both worlds.

AF: Yes, thanks God. I have whatever…. I thank my God all time to give me….to keep me safe… to give me what I need. Allah.

DN: And I think that’s a wonderful way to end the interview. Thank you so much.

AF: Thank you.