FURN AL-SHUBBAK: While Brazil missed out on World Cup 2010 this month, it did pick up another international win, in the Miss Lebanon Overseas contest.
Two diaspora organizations, the Lebanese World Committee and the World Lebanese Cultural Union (WLCU), joined forces this year to add the beauty pageant to the agenda of an annual tour of the motherland by Lebanese from the diaspora.
An 18-year old Brazilian, Taunay Abou Rejaili, was crowned queen at the pageant held at Dbayyehâ€™s Le Royal Hotel on July 13.
Fady Bou-Dagher, the president of the Lebanese World Committee, said that 510 members of the diaspora took advantage of this yearâ€™s ten-day tour of the country, which covered the major historical and touristic sites.
Joining the tour were 20 young women who participated in the Miss Lebanon Overseas competition, previously known as â€œMiss Lebanon Emigrant.â€
This yearâ€™s contestants, selected by the WLCU, came from the typical outposts of the Lebanese diaspora, representing Brazil, Mexico and Australia, as well as some less-familiar names like Mali, Denmark, the US state of Nevada and Canadaâ€™s British Columbia.
It was the first visit to Lebanon for Abou Rejaili, whose grandfather left the village of Kfar Zabad in the Bekaa for Brazil. Her father was born in Brazil but the entire family moved back to Lebanon in 1970, and returned to Brazil in 1975, with the outbreak of the Civil War.
A speaker of Portuguese and Spanish, Abou Rejaili needed a translator to tell a news conference at Furn al-Shubbakâ€™s Press Club on Monday that she now had a new goal, namely to learn Arabic.
The winners of diaspora beauty pageants often donâ€™t speak Arabic, according to Tony Kadessi of the WLCU, who performed the translation duties at the news conference, but are usually able to get by with broken Arabic. Kadessi spoke of the need to encourage Lebanese in the diaspora to learn the language of their ancestors.
Abou Rejaili said she enjoyed experiencing the scenery of Lebanon, and was surprised by the energy of the nightlife and cultural scene.
Mervit Chmait, 21, a student at Ryerson University in Toronto, represented Ottawa at the pageant, and is a regular summer visitor to Lebanon.
â€œThe festival was such a great experience, even though there was only one winner,â€ she said, â€œand everyone benefited from the experience and gained a knowledge of Lebanon.â€
The summer tour is sponsored by the Tourism Ministry to promote ties between the diaspora and Lebanon.
Bou-Dagher thanked an array of local governmental, religious, and private institutions who he said facilitated the â€œExpatriate Festival,â€ as itâ€™s officially called.
Bou-Dagher also announced the launch of â€œThe Global Lebanese Network,â€ which can be found at www.lebanese-emigrants.net. Membership on this website is free and is intended to provide members with â€œbenefits from services, priorities and privileges offered by Lebanese-owned businessesâ€ which are supposed to be offered at a â€œsymbolic price to facilitate interaction and support between Lebanese.â€
Alongside efforts to promote language instructions and summer visits to Lebanon, Kadessi said diaspora groups are also encouraging Lebanese living abroad to re-establish links with the homeland by obtaining Lebanese ID cards.