Meet “All 50 Lebanon” in the States.

50 Lebanon in the USA

What you are about to read is the story of a young Lebanese student, Fadi Bou Karam, who was nostalgic while studying in the United States; He decided to look for Lebanon on Google; What He discovered stunned him.An article posted on the site of “Foreignpolicy” with Fadi’s own photos from his own blog.
Hala Hayek

“A decade ago, while studying at business school in San Francisco, Fadi Bou Karam started feeling homesick for the sun baked hills of his native Lebanon. He typed “Lebanon” into Google Maps — and was stunned to find himself looking not at the Middle East, but at Lebanon, Oregon, a mere nine-hour drive from his apartment. He was puzzled: There was a U.S. Lebanon? Could there be more?

Another quick search led him to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, then to Lebanon-Kentucky. Altogether, he found more than 50 ”Lebanons” in the United States. The reason, of course, is that the word “Lebanon” appears more than 70 times in the Old Testament. Bou Karam wondered, if one day he visited all of them?

Lebanon in the States

Ten years later, this germ of an idea had landed him in a police station in Albuquerque, New Mexico, chasing a mother-daughter meth-dealing team that had stolen and gutted his rented recreational vehicle, the one he had slept in for five months, the one that had carried him 17,800 miles through 37 states, and left him with a better understanding of the American heartland than nearly all his coastal elite friends; But more on that later.

Bou Karam, now 38, spent much of his childhood in bomb shelters in the Beirut suburb of “Sabtieh” at the height of Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s. The war, combined with the conflict with Israel, left the country decrepit in every way. Bou Karam got his degree in electrical engineering and soon landed a job. In 2005, he was so close when former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated with a car bomb that his face was cut with glass from the explosion. “I needed a break,” said Bou Karam, who decamped to San Francisco shortly after to study.

After business school, Bou Karam returned to the Middle East as a tax consultant. His job took him from Cairo to Kuwait to Baghdad, often in an armored car. When in Baghdad, he had to submit a proof of life form with identification marks of his body in case he were killed; “All this for taxes?” Bou Karam thought. In July 2016, he quit his job and decided to make good on the dream of a decade before: He would visit all the “Lebanons” in the United States and photograph his way through America. His plan was pegged to a little-known historical event in 1955, when Lebanese President Camille Chamoun invited seven representatives from towns called Lebanon in the United States to see the country.


According to Bou Karam’s research, they spent two weeks in Beirut, touring the nation, and were gifted cedar — the national symbol of Lebanon — saplings to take home and plant in their towns. Bou Karam wanted to see if the seven trees still existed. The timing was also intentional. He wanted to see America before, during, and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, even if that could be off-putting for a Lebanese-born, San Francisco-educated “coastal elite.”

His friends grimaced and then warned him to be careful: An Arab man traveling through Middle America when the Republican nominee wanted to ban all Muslims from the country? “People told me to wear a huge cross around my neck to show I wasn’t Muslim,” Bou Karam said. (He is Catholic but skipped religion during his trip. “If they assumed I was Muslim, I let them assume that because I wanted to see their reaction.”

The famous Cedar of Lebanon

“Now is not exactly the best time to be doing a road trip through the United States,” Bou Karam told me in February from a parking lot in Illinois, where he was resting on his way to Lebanon, Missouri. 

What he found as he began his journey in Seattle and snaked through Montana and North Dakota is a now familiar tale. But for Bou Karam, who had only known America’s coasts, it was a huge culture shock. He saw closed businesses, shuttered houses, for sale signs. “Even the Salvation Army was for sale,” he said. What’s going on here? Bou Karam thought.

Lebanons in the US

In all, he photographed 24 and toured 28 “Lebanons” (his first stop being the Lebanon, Oregon, he stumbled upon in business school), nearly every one of which has reliably voted Republican since the turn of the century. And far from feeling ostracized, Bou Karam said he found some of the nicest people he had ever encountered.

Lebanon – South Dakota in USA

“It got to the point where now I’m starting to feel uncomfortable sharing some of these stories with my friends because it’s as if I live in a different country than they’re living in on the coast,” he said.

Ultimately, his work aimed not to express political viewpoints but to subvert the expectations that come with them. He was not interested in the inhabitants of red states and blue states but in the “people who are in the middle,” he said. No, not independents, but those who don’t subscribe to a “prepackaged ideology.” His whole project was put in jeopardy, but Bou Karam was sympathetic. The daughter, in particular, resonated with him.

“She wanted a place to live, and she didn’t harm me,” he said. He would have dropped the charges against the two if he could’ve, but since it was a rented RV, he had no choice.

Bou Karam’s trip was rife with unexpected discoveries. The story of the cedars of Lebanon, for one, took a strange turn in Lebanon, Oregon, when he discovered the town’s proclaimed “cedar” was actually a juniper tree. After doing some digging, Bou Karam found that when the representatives returned from their trip in 1955, the saplings were quarantined and fumigated. Only one survived. The rest were secretly replaced with junipers. The lone surviving cedar still stands in Lebanon, Ohio, next to an abandoned railroad.

50 Lebanon in the USA

In another way, Bou Karam’s trip was as much about his own history as his country’s. “The Lebanon I grew up in is not a Lebanon I’m fond of because of the war,” he said. “So going to all these places was me searching and looking to see what a Lebanon would look like without a war.” While he found poverty, drug addiction, and suffering in these towns, he also developed a newfound faith in the characters he was once warned about.

“It’s made me more optimistic to find out that so many of them are kind people regardless of what their political beliefs are,” he said.

Bou Karam is now back in Lebanon living in his old apartment. He hopes to come back to America soon but has become decidedly non coastal elite. His dream city now is Birmingham, Alabama — and not just for all the friendly folks he met on the road.

Kentucky-Lebanon in the US.

Fadi’s research and this article enabled us, as readers, to be more aware of the importance of expatriates, not only in the United States but around the world.
Those emigrants have added the Lebanese touch and essence onto any culture, in their own way and in a pleasant surrounding as shown in all the pictures taken by Fadi …
However, the article and the pictures made me realize the true beauty of my dear country Lebanon. A precious homeland which, in my opinion, was described best by the famous song of the late singer Wadih el Safe, “Lebanon! Oh piece of Heaven!”… “Lebanon Ya Otiit Sama!”

Lebanon! Piece of Heaven and a gift of God !