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Lebanese photographer makes return trip to Illinois, Missouri towns named Lebanon

Lebanese photographer Fadi BouKaram is making a return trip through U.S. towns named Lebanon.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Fadi BouKaram is a Lebanese photographer who in late 2016 embarked on U.S. road trip to visit communities named Lebanon. There are more than 40 such towns and cities in the country that share the name of his homeland, a country in the Middle East that’s a bit smaller than Connecticut.

BouKaram is making a return trip to many of the communities he visited more than a year ago with stops planned in Lebanon, Illinois and Lebanon, Missouri.

The purpose of this year’s trip is “to plant cedar trees in some of the Lebanons I’ve visited over the past two years,” explained BouKaram to St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh on Monday.

“The cedar tree is the emblem of Lebanon,” he said. “And in 1955, seven mayors of towns called Lebanon in the U.S. went to visit Lebanon, my country, and they spent two weeks there and it was the centennial of the first immigration wave from Lebanon to the United States.”

During the visit, the country’s first lady gave each of the seven mayors a Cedar of Lebanon to plant in their home communities. U.S. law dictated that the saplings be sent to a nursery whereupon they were fumigated and only one survived.

Rather than disappoint the mayors of U.S. Lebanons, the nursery in Ohio sent juniper trees masquerading as cedar trees.

Related: Lebanese photographer's RV trip to U.S. towns named Lebanon brakes for Metro East stop

BouKaram said not much has changed in the way of the reception he’s received during the current trip.

“It’s not that I wasn’t expecting hospitality, I just didn’t expect it to be that much,” he said.

“My whole idea about the United States aside from the movies and all was restricted to what happened on the East Coast and the West Coast,” BouKaram continued. “So whatever’s happening in the middle ... I had no idea what it was. When I did the trip [in 2016 and 2017] it was the discovery of a whole new world and it was fantastic.”

BouKaram wrote about his experience in Lebanon, Illinois, when Mayor Rich Wilken presented him with a key to the city.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara HamdanCaitlin Lally and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.