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Kaftoun's Son Makes the World a Little Bit Safer!
Written by J. M. Fares   
Sunday, 07 June 2009 00:00

Image He was born the year 1932 in his father's typical stone village house with mud roof in Kaftoun. His house consisted of two large rooms for sleeping and living, a cooking and baking area, an outhouse, and most essentially a well to collect rain water for the family summer drinking and washing needs. His father Jurjus was a farmer and landowner of independent means. Jurjus and his brother Elias had orchards of Olives, and Tobaco Fields, and they used to harvest hard Grains which they processed on their own Baydar located then between Mekhael Fares' House and the Old Kaftoun School by the present Kaftoun main thruway.


The Baydar is a specially prepared circular clay field used for threshing and separating the grain from the chaff. The harvested wheat is laid on the hard field surface where cows are lead around in a circle to trample the wheat with their hooves and by dragging a heavy wooden frame behind them. This frame is solid on top, but has holes drilled at uniform intervals on the underside where sharp basalt stones are embedded so they would cut the wheat stocks and separate the husks from the grain as they pass over them. Often this wood frame is weighted down with a large stone, but occasionally kids would ride it to add weight and enjoy the ride. At intervals the wheat is tossed into the air, in a process called winnowing , so that the chaff blows aside in the breeze and the grain is left behind and collected. The chaff would also be collected and preserved to be provided as supplemental feed for the cows in the winter. Also, this material, which is cellulose rich, was often mixed with local clay soil and used to repair the house mud roof or to stucco the inside house walls.

Image By the Baydar there were several wood firing places where large copper vats would be placed during wheat harvesting season to boil grain to make burgul (AKA "bulgur" which is actually a Western mispronunciation, meaning - cracked wheat). The village children often gathered there during the boil to sample the cooked wheat served with the juice sweetened with honey or sugar. This is a short version of Koliva , which is the boiled wheat used liturgically in the Eastern Orthodox Churches on Easter or after Memorial Services in remembrance of the dead and Resurrection.

The rest of the wheat would be drained and placed on white sheets or straw mats on the house roof to dry in the sun before cracking it into burgul. The grain not used for burgul would be sent to one of the many mills dotting the Jouz River to be milled into bread flour. Any excess flour would be sold to neighbors or shared with family. This tradition of self-sufficient farming saved many of the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon during the 18th century when a strict blockade was enforced on them under Ottoman rule. Farmers utilized every piece of available land to grow their wheat even converting difficult to work mountainous areas into terraced lots for this purpose. It was a time in which landowners, farmers and herders were the most important members of society, and rightfully so.

He was born at a time when Lebanon was still under mandated French rule, yet enjoying a period of relative peace, prior to the eruption of World War II in 1939. He was given the name Abdallah (عبد الله), meaning "Servant of God", as an act of faith and in honor of his grandfather. It continues to be a Middle Eastern tradition to name the first born male child after his grandfather and thus the name continues in the family.

Abdallah's childhood was happy, with caring and loving relatives surrounding him. Both his father Jurjus Daher and his mother Alida Semaan were born and raised in Kaftoun. He had many village children his age to play with including several who were also relatives. He played with other children under the Italian pine forest patch owned by Elias Karam behind his house and which still exists. He had a dog named Tiger which he loved. It was his father's hunting dog which was very protective of him and always slept at his side, not allowing anyone to approach him.

He attended elementary school in the village first under the direction of Jurjus Nassour (Nasrallah) Semaan [husband of Rafka and father of Elias Nassour] who taught in Constantine's House just next to Abdallah's own house. The school consisted of one small room as part of the house where children were taught and a small fenced courtyard where the children could play. The court yard had a small well for collecting rain water and was surrounded by a metal fence with vertical bars ending with sharp tops that were lance-like in design (see photo). From his school bench Abdallah could easily ascertain when lunch was nearing simply by sampling the aroma of his mother's cooking coming from next door. The late Jurjus Saba Fares related that the young Abdallah was a kind, reserved boy and a deep-thinker. He told a story of how one time Abdallah was walking on the fence ledge in the school yard when he tripped and one of the lance-like pieces of metal went through his arm from one side to the other. Hearing the screams, everyone in the village came to rescue him from his great pain and suffering. It took some time for his arm to heal and for him to recover from his painful ordeal.

Image Abdallah was always a good student, and so he got along well with all of his teachers, his favorite of which was Salwa Karam, who taught grade school in Kaftoun. As a sign of respect she was frequently addressed by many of her students as Maalemti (meaning my teacher) and this continued well into their adult life. Salwa came from a well educated family. Her brother Karam Jurjus KaramImage was one of the first university educated individuals from Kaftoun. He studied at the American University of Beirut (AUB), then the Syrian Protestant College. His student identification number was 150, indicating that he was the 150th student to attend the school since its inception in 1886. Karam worked at AUB all his life in several administrative positions retiring in 1972 after holding the position of University Provost for the last eleven years. His sister MaryImage was also educated there and she became a dentist and had her own practice in the city of Tripoli. Salwa was the youngest of them and although she did not attend college, she was well educated and taught many of the village children. The village school which was located near Emile Dahir's house in an area that was known as the Waqf land, was built by the money and labor of the Kaftoun community. Salwa was also a gifted artist and an activist who led her students in sit-ins for social causes and for the betterment of society. One of these sit-ins was against the cement factory in Chekka which had built a hydro-electrical generation station on the Jouz River to supply their factory, without supplying electricity to the neighboring villages. In one of these sit-ins Abdallah and other students prevented the workers from installing poles on the roadway outside the neighboring Village of Kafarhata for one day. "We were picketing and trying to stop them because we were angry that they had made a dam to generate electricity to run the cement factory, while all the villagers were left dark without electricity" he said. His best friends in grade school were Adel ChahineImage, and Michael Chahine (Shaheen)Image, and they played together all summer long.

Image Abdallah besides being a good student helped his family with house chores and in harvesting tobacco, olives, figs, grapes and almonds. Although the work was very hard, he nonetheless remembers it fondly as reflective of a time when the family functioned as a single unit and bonded with each other, a time when a young boy could be productive, realize his self worth, and gain self esteem. One of his fondest memories as a child was during olive harvesting season when he played a trick on his mother. He was tired of olive picking and sat back watching the harvesting crew work so hard. His mother left the group and began walking toward the basket of olives they left behind. He covered his face, so not to be recognized and slowly, without anyone noticing, snuck up behind her. As soon as he got within striking distance, he grabbed her olive-laden basket and ran as fast as he could. His mother was startled at first, but soon gained her composure and ran feverishly after him screaming "Stop! Thief"! After 50 or so meters of running, he could not take it anymore and was laughing so hard that he blew his cover. He was so amused for getting her so angry and observing the look on her face, when she realized that it was just her son! This incident was truly unforgettable for him! This was a time "when the world was young."

Image Like many of Kaftoun's young growing up in the forties and fifties, Abdallah attended Bishmizzine High School from 7th to 12th grade, a school which was built by aid from Truman's Point-4 Program . During the school term he lived with his sister Mounira in a rented room next to the school, only occasionally visiting his hometown. Lebanon had just gained it's independence from France and although the government had issued paper money, his father still sent him to school with gold coins in his pocket to pay the tuition. He remembers that one day his sister Mounira and her friends were having a pastry party. Each girl made a nice cake or desert and kept it in her room for safe keeping. He was just a teenager and couldn't resist the temptation to take a couple of slices from a cake for himself, before the girls had a chance to have their party. When the girls came to retrieve the cakes, they started to scream because one of the cakes had been cut! He was in deep trouble with his beloved sister!

Image In the summer when the school term was over he always went back to Kaftoun where he helped his family with farming. In the evenings he would hang out with his friends under the starry Kaftoun sky listening to Umm Kulthoum or playing volleyball at the club (Mallab). His teenage friends, just to name a few, included: George, Laila, and Mona Karam, Odette, and Nuhad Shaheen, Nasta Dahir, Georges Saba Fares, and Nada Sulaiman.

One incident from volleyball club he distinctly remembers was when the Kaftoun team was invited to Kafarhilda to play in a tournament. The Kaftoun team won the game against the Kafarhilda team, but the Kafarhilda team denied the Kaftoun team win and had them play again. On the third and final game, they still did not allow the Kaftoun team to win even though the score was 17-15. They would not acknowledge the Kaftoun team's win and made the team concede the victory to them. On the returning match, played in Kaftoun two weeks later, the Kaftoun team members made a party for the guest team with food, and drinks. Rather than being bitter and angry with them, the Kaftoun team thought that the best way to get even with them would be to treat them as honored guests. They served them food and drinks, but when it came to the court, they made sure that they played their best. They knew that they had to win, and so they did! After the match was over, the Kaftoun team members continued to maintain their sportsmanship by not basking in their glorious victory. The Kafarhilda team could not believe the good sportsmanship of the Kaftoun team and how hospitable they were! Before they left they repeatedly thanked the Kaftoun team and apologized for their previous behavior.

Image After graduating from high school, Abdallah attended the American University of Beirut (AUB) from 1952 to 1957. He was given a scholarship after graduation to study Agricultural Engineering and was employed by AUB for two years until 1959. During his AUB years he continued to come to Kaftoun and help his dad with plowing (source Jurjus Saba). He never considered this type of work demeaning to him as an educated man, as was the prevailing attitude at the time.

After AUB, Abdallah left Lebanon to study abroad in the United States of America. He attended the school of Agricultural Engineering at Michigan State from 1959 to 1961. After his first year there, and because of his academic achievement, he received a full scholarship from the Ford Foundation and was given a salary as well. After he finished his Masters of Science degree, he began working towards his PhD in Applied Mechanics. His PhD thesis was on the Elastic/Plastic Behavior of Salt Cavities under pressure for Storage of Nuclear waste. This technology was of great importance because of the longevity of the salt cavities. After his thesis was published and sent to the Ford Foundation, it was implemented for the storage of nuclear waste and this method is still one of the primary means of nuclear waste storage used today! The son of a farmer from Kaftoun had made the world a little bit safer!

The son of a farmer from Kaftoun had made the world a little bit safer!

Abdallah was asked to file for a patent for his storage technology method, but declined when he realized it would cost him $200. This was too much money for him to pay at the time, considering that he had already published his findings and gained the required knowledge on the subject.

Image Abdallah was the first person from Kaftoun to receive a PhD. At Michigan State he met his lovely wife Nancy where they married and had their first son George . Abdallah and Nancy have now been married for over 45 years. In 1964 Abdallah received his PhD and moved with Nancy and his first son George to Kingston, New York to work for IBM. Abdallah had gained employment with IBM along with other friends who had also received their PhD's from Michigan State. In Kingston their second child Alida was born in 1965. At IBM he worked in a special group to develop a device to let people communicate with a computer terminal. It was the first man-machine interface developed.

His group worked on computer projects such as 3260 and 3270 series of display systems, and on Network communications software including BTAM , QTAM , and VTAM . In 1969 his second daughter Samira was born.


In 1973 Abdallah relocated to Raleigh, NC, still with IBM. He continued to work on telecommunication hardware and software. In May of that year, his second son Tarik was born. In 1973, he took a year and a half leave of absence from IBM to help his brother EmilImage in Doha, Qatar with his construction company. Although his sister Mounira and her husband Gabby were not in Doha, his youngest sister Sana and her husband George Karam were there. In the summer, his family would come to Doha to stay with him where his children would play with Emil and Sana's children. It was a "Golden Age" where love and money were plentiful.

After his sabbatical from IBM was over, he returned to Raleigh and continued his employment with IBM. In 1980 he was asked to become a part of a joint venture between IBM and Aetna Life Insurance Company, which had started Satellite Business Systems (SBS). He became a Director for their development of hardware and software responsible for communications with Satellites. He moved his family to Northern Virginia just outside of Washington DC. SBS was ahead of its time in development of wireless communications, and video conferencing, while the market for those products did not materialize until 1995.

In 1985 IBM sold SBS to MCI. At MCI Abdallah's team developed a software system that competed with AT&T (Bell Labs) which was a major source of advanced technology, and brought to MCI a major revenue share of the telecommunication market. Estimated to be equal to $7 Billion of income, during this period his team was at the peek of the telecommunications technology. They provided products such as: Private Networks, 800 Networks and Network Management.

Image He was asked to find a place for MCI to relocate to in the Denver, Colorado area. He ended up in Colorado Springs where MCI established a communication development lab. At that time MCI formed with British Telecommunication Network a joint venture called Concert. He became the Vice President of Engineering Development for Concert. He and his family moved back to Northern Virginia in 1994. In February of 1996, he had a stroke which forced him to retire early from work while at the peak of his career. His faithful wife and loving sisters Mounira and Sana and his children were at his bedside and helped him recover. He proved to be a survivor par excellence!

Image Image Abdallah and Nancy currently reside in Gainesville, Virginia, USA, where they are enjoying their retirement life together. They feel content having raised a family of four (George, Alida, Samira and Tarik) and watched them grow up shortly after their first meeting at Michigan State.

George became an Orthopedic Surgeon and married his wife Kathryn McCrystal who is an Endocrinologist. They reside in Nashville, TN. They gave Abdallah and Nancy their first grandchildren, twin girls Piper and Scout, as well as a grandson, Beckett George Dahir.

Alida married Jeff Roberts and lives close to them in Falls Church Virginia. Alida is an Operations Manager for several multination trade shows including MacWorld and E3. Her husband Jeff owns his own Marketing and Graphic Design Firm.

When Samira was a in her teens, she entered the completion of Ms. Virginia Teenager, and she won the competition. Although Samira is a very beautiful girl she chose a professional career over a modeling career. In 2003, Samira married Jason Brinkley and they now reside in Tampa Florida. They both work in the Pharmaceutical industry. They gave Abdallah and Nancy twin grandsons Jackson and Nicholas.

Tarik married Flecia Jalala and they live in Fairfax, Virginia about two miles away from his sister Alida. Tarik directed and produced a documentary film, which screened at several international film festivals including the world renowned Discovery Channel/American Film Institute's Silverdocs. Additionally, he was invited to attend and screen his film at the Czech Republic Film Festival. Tarik now has a career with AOL as a Product Manager for the Winamp media player, while Flecia has a career as an Intelligence Analyst with the Government.


This is a summary from an article written about Abdallah while with Concert (a part of MCI/British Telecommunication): "Dr. Dahir is a graduate from Michigan State University where he received his M.SC. and PhD degrees in Engineering. He obtained his Bachelors degree from the American University of Beirut. He spent his entire career in the development and introduction of advanced telecommunications services for Inter Exchange carriers. He is an expert in Hardware/Software development, Systems Integration, introduction of new technology, Network planning and Deployment, and management of Global Alliances. Dr. Dahir was the first to introduce the "centralized intelligent network" platform for MCI. This platform provided the base for the introduction of advanced application services into MCI Network in 1986. These new developments include Virtual Network Services, Calling Card Services, 800 services, Enhanced Voice Recognition services, Fraud and Network management capabilities. The introduction of these technologies, were the fundamental elements that helped MCI, at a crucial time in its history, to expand rapidly and capture a significant market share of the $7B market. Today, these technologies provide over half of the $13B MCI revenue." Written in 1995.


These are some questions that I asked Abdallah during my interview with him for this article in July 2008:

What holidays did you enjoy and how did you celebrate them?

My favorite holiday was July 14, when the cross of Jesus was found in Jerusalem by the mother of Constantine. The Christian's lit fires all across the mountains to pass the word to Constantinople that the cross had been found.

We celebrated Christmas, New Years, Easter, and Id Saydeh with friends and family. They always came to our house, my mother and Aunt Helanie and Grandmother Salamie always prepared special food for the holidays.

But to be honest we loved all holidays because it was a time for the family to be together. The children made each holiday such great fun. Easter and Christmas were always the best. From selecting a Christmas tree decorating the house, buying present, preparing special meals and the beautiful smells of the seasons. Not to mention the Easter egg battles (where you try to crack the opponent's egg without cracking your own). Singing songs and listening to holiday music were such great joy.

Did you serve in the army?

I did not serve in the Army.

What was your most memorable vacation?

My most memorable family vacations were in Lebanon.

My Son George and Daughter Alida were three and four years old, and they asked my father in Arabic "atnie Lira gido". Because they wanted to go to Afif and buy firecrackers. My father was so happy and laughed so hard and gave them the money. Every day for the rest of the vacation he gave them money to go to Affif's.

Not a vacation, but another memorable day in my life was when my daughter Samira won the Miss Teen Virginia beauty contest. We were so proud and she was so happy. It was a good time for the whole family. One of her pictures even ended up in a Lebanese Magazine with an article speaking of her beauty.

Are you proud of your children?

Yes I am very proud of each of my children. We always stressed education in our home and each age group had its own special time. The hardest part of raising children was when our home was empty of children. The best days of my life was when I married Nancy, the birth of each child, George , Alida, Samira, and Tarik and the birth of my five grand children, Scout and Piper (4 year-old twin girls), Beckett George Dahir (1 1/2 year-old) the children of George and his wife Kathryn. Jackson Hamilton and Nicholas Gabriel, (1.5 years old) twin's sons of Samira and Jason.

Did you have a nickname as a child?

My nickname as a child was Abudie. I am like my father (Georgeus Dahir) in many ways. I enjoy conversing on important issues. I am quite by nature, and have always been a peace maker. I am also like my mother (Alida Dahir) who was always inquisitive and always willing to help others. The most important thing to my parents was their children and their education.

How was your relationship with your parents and siblings?

My Mother: I wish my mother had had the opportunity to receive an education. She would have been a brilliant Doctor. She was a doctor in her own right. Always treating people in the village by giving shots, tending to the ill and her special tools of the trade were Arabic bread and Arak. It did serve it propose by sterilizing the wounds. She also took a needle and thread and sewed many cuts and gashes with a little salt of course. I see my mother standing in the door way with her bottle of holy water blessing each child as they left on their journeys.

My Father: During the war in Lebanon, soldiers came from Boxmaya (Bosamyah) to Kaftoun and other surrounding villages. People that were able fled the villages leaving only the elderly. The soldiers gathered the people and made them stand in the road in front of Michelle Farris's (Mekhael Elias Fares) home. They were going to burn some of the homes, my father refused to stand on the road and he kept the soldiers from burning some of the homes.

My brother Emil, was a large part of my life. When we were young he would start fights with other boys and come to me for help. He was always very popular and had a big heart. He loved life and lived for his wife and children. I miss him every day of my life and am very proud to have had him as my baby brother. (Waleed, Eilen, Waseem and his wife Lila).

My oldest sister Mounira, was always loved by everyone. She was and still is an angel, helping everyone she knows. She took great care of my mother and father as they grew older. And also her husband Gaby. She was a great help to Emil and his family while they lived in Qatar. God will have a special place for her in heaven.

My little sister Sana, was 10 or 11 years younger then me. She was a great little sister, who was always with my mother. I was very happy when she married my good friend George Karam. I enjoyed the time I spent with her in Adulthood in Qatar and in the US. She has a Son Karam who got his education in the US. Sana was a wonderful Mother and an amazing cook. She always enjoyed entertaining.

In conclusion I had a wonderful childhood with the very best parents. I enjoyed my friends, siblings, high school and the University's. When I came to the US for my masters and PhD I studied hard and received many awards for my hard work. I choose to marry a beautiful American woman and stayed in the US. The only draw back was not being able to see my family in Lebanon enough.

I have enjoyed all aspects of my life I did not set any limits on myself. I became a very successful business man at IBM and at MCI. I was always on the cutting edge of technology. The only limits came to me not by my choice but by a stroke that I had in the prime of my career. I recovered and I am happy living with my wife Nancy, seeing my children and grandchildren. I keep very busy reading, doing research, working on my PC. Life has been good to me; it all started in a small village in Northern Lebanon. I thank Kaftoun and its people for their great standards, morals and instilling in me a desire for knowledge.

Family Photographs

1. Abdallah Nancy In
2. Abdallah In His
3. Abdallah Nancy In
4. Abdallah Nancy
5. Abdallah His
6. Samira's Kid
7. Samira's Kid
8. George's Kids Piper
9. Abdallah Nancy's
10. Abdallah Nancy's
11. Abdallah Nancy With
12. Abdallah Nancy's
13. Georges Abdullah
14. Flecia Tarik Daher
15. Flecia Tarik Daher
16. George Kathryn
17. Jeff Alida
18. Beckette
19. Beckette
20. Gaby Hajj Mounira
21. Mounira Daher
22. Jackson Samira\'s
23. Nancy George Alida
24. Nick Samira\'s Son
25. Piper George\'s
26. Nick Samira Jeff
27. Scout George\'s
28. Wedding Party
29. George Karam His
30. Sana Daher Karam

© 2009 - J. M. Fares /
Last Updated on Monday, 13 July 2015 07:08

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