Jounieh, Greater Beirut, Lebanon. 2017.
“Are you scared?”
My brother and I poke fun at my dad as he takes one hesitant step, then another into the cable car. Dad removes his baseball cap, ducking his head to fold his formidable frame of six feet and a few inches into this pantry-sized space. The cable car wobbles from side to side as he settles onto the bench across from Mark and me.
Dad puts on a brave face, but I can see creases of worry pulling down the edges of his defiant smile. He hasn’t been on many cable cars in his life. His discomfort with traveling from sea-level to the peak of a mountaintop in a metal box pulled along a string is understandable.
My brother and I are seasoned cable car passengers. But the last time we took one was thirteen years ago, thousands of miles away, on a slice of the Western hemisphere just north of the equator. It is our first time taking one here in Lebanon. My brother, father, and I; we are all tourists in this country we have heard so many stories about, the protagonists of which include my grandparents, great-grandparents, extended relations of both present and past.
The staff loads the last of the passengers, and shortly after the cable cars are set into motion. The Mediterranean Sea glitters like gemstones behind us, sapphire and turquoise pushing up against white buildings with burnt orange rooftops. A gentle slope of forest green, and my father’s eyes shining in wonder as he gazes out the window, sets the scene in front of us.
El Avila, Caracas, Venezuela. 2003.
“Despiertanse! Wake up! And don’t forget to put on your sweaters. It’s cold up there!”
Mom turns on the light as she delivers her commands. My sister and I are cuddled up with my cousin, the one whose name my mother liked so much that she gave it to me, too. When my cousin and I are together, everyone in the family calls us by our first and middle names to distinguish us. So for a few weeks out of the year, when my mother and siblings and I take our annual family visit to Venezuela, I am transformed from plain old “Andrea” to Andrea Karina. It makes me feel like I have a Spanish alter ego. I like the way the r’s in her name roll off my tongue.
My cousin and sister groan and pull the covers over their heads. I crawl out from the space between them, unbothered that it is six o’clock in the morning during summer vacation. I take up the responsibility of relentlessly annoying Rachelle until she rises, mercilessly pulling Andrea Nicole up with her. We pull on fleece zip-ups, long jeans, tennis shoes. I splash water on my palms and pull my curls into a ponytail, as I fruitlessly attempt to smooth my springy baby hairs flat against my scalp.
We are met in the kitchen by my aunts, boy cousins, mother, and little brother Markie, who is still wiping the sleep off his eyes. Mama ushers us all down the stairs and into separate cars, and we take a ten-minute drive north.
We end up at the base of the cable car station in El Avila. This excursion is a special treat; we don’t go to the mountains every time we come to Venezuela.
Though I am delighted by the view as we ascend, I am even more so by the strawberries and freshly whipped cream from the cart vendors awaiting us.
The fog envelops us as we eat skillet-fried cornbread with gooey white cheese. The biggest flag in all of the country waves above us. We are happy and we don’t know it. We can’t predict that this will be the last time we will see El Avila for decades, or maybe even a lifetime.