After a decadeslong career of teaching and writing, Hanna Farha was looking for something different.
He thought back over his globetrotting life as an Arabic language instructor for the U.S. State Department and universities, and then remembered his happy, simpler days as a child making kites with friends in the southern mountain town of Marjayoun.
“Kites were something I loved when I was a kid,” Farha says, sitting in his small office in the basement of his home just outside Bikfaya. “I said to myself: Why not do something to show kids what we used to do – instead of sitting at the computer? Parents would encourage this.”
The walls of the small room the size of a walk-in closet are lined with old black-and-white pictures of his days as an employee at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, awards for his service and even older pictures of his family posing with legendary Lebanese singers. The bookshelves are overflowing with old books and newspapers.
But the most colorful display of all in his eccentric office is behind his desk: rows of hexagon-shaped kites all lined up above his head, as though they were the point of pride of his life’s work.
Even though he took a nearly 70-year hiatus from the craft, he has returned to kite-making with the same childlike enthusiasm of his younger years.
Farha, a lover of language and literature, began his career as an Arabic language instructor for the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1959, during Lebanon’s so-called golden age, a post he held until shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War in 1975. Amid the chaos of the outbreak of the war, the U.S. Embassy began evacuating its staff, including their young language-instructor.
On a a sunny day at around 2 p.m. Farha got the phone call telling him to bring his wife to the airport. From there, along with other State Department employees, he headed for Tunis, where he and his family would stay for one year.
After that they went to the U.S., where he continued to teach. He also spent several years in the Gulf, but could no longer renew his work permit in Dubai when he reached retirement age.
It wouldn’t be until June 2006 that he would return to Lebanon, only to be there for another war less than a month after his arrival. But that didn’t deter him. Instead, he stayed and continued his poetry, essays, articles and editing for various outlets from his home and office in the Metn.
It was just six months ago, at the age of 75, that he decided to go back to kite-making. Like his previous endeavors, he has taken up this latest one with diligence, making a steady rate of 10 per day – more on days when he gets big orders, which is increasing with word of mouth. So far he has made over 300.
Many of his orders come from the southern coastal city of Tyre, where people like to fly kites on the beach. In one instance, a woman bought a batch of six one-and-a-half-meter kites to decorate the roof of her villa. Another one of his customers recognized the style of his work, saying, “This kite must be Marjayouni.”
Farha starts by making the bamboo structures of the kites on his patio above his office, before attaching the colorful plastic cloths that let them fly. Aside from making kites for customers, whom he charges $20 for a standard size, he is also teaching children the craft, as it was once passed onto him as a boy.
“I always made good kites,” he says. “I teach kids to make them, and it’s the most relaxing thing.”
By Brooke Anderson