November 13th, 2009
11:51 PM ET

A childhood memory, discovered 40 years later

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/11/12/art.octavia.newspaper.jpg caption="The main page of Annahar in 1969."]

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs

From my childhood I carry a memory. It has no specific date nor factual details, but it has strong emotions. It is a memory of a yearning and undeniable desire to go to the moon.

Over the years, my mom must have told the story about a hundred times and I probably told it about a dozen times. My sisters heard it over and over and delighted at making fun of my excitement and my deep belief in what was to most a sure improbability.

‘“Sign me up to go to the moon” were your exact words,’ my mom says.

I remember her trying to reason with me that maybe I should finish school first and then go to the moon. I insisted on signing up. I was convinced there was a “list” somewhere and that my name had to be added to it before it was too late. When my incessant demand was coupled with tears, we agreed that she’d get me a toy rocket so I could practice riding to the moon.

I remember that my mom took me to the only toy shop in our town, but it was closed for the weekend. I looked and looked through the window and saw nothing that resembled a rocket and was very concerned. Luckily, when we went back during the week, they had one. I don’t remember the inscription on it but I do remember there was a USA flag painted on the side. My mom bought it (thank you mom) and I played with that rocket for a long time and built many dreams upon it.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/11/12/art.vert.octavia.child.jpg caption="Octavia Nasr, center, circa 1967." width=292 height=320]

Many memories jam my head right now, mostly war-related. I link them back to which school grade I was in, which teacher I had, who was my best friend, who hurt me and who saved me. So many memories from a busy life loaded with events and images that I shared with my generation but events to which no child should be exposed.

Lebanon was the battleground for a civil war that lasted 15 years. It started when I was 9-years-old and encompassed my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. So, most of my memories rotate around shelters and bombs and weapons and death with some happy memories peppered in here and there that made growing up in Lebanon a pleasure and a privilege despite all of its dangers and inconveniences.

It shouldn’t be a surprise then that my memory of the moon was always special, clean; all by itself an episode not to be compared or contrasted with any other.

A few months ago I decided to surprise an acquaintance with something special for her upcoming birthday. Dealing with someone who has everything and is not easily impressed, I wanted to come up with something unusual. Compiling events that took place on her birthday sounded like a good idea. A search of November 15, 1969 led me to the anti-war demonstrations here in the U.S. which were organized throughout the weekend. My call to Lebanon’s leading newspaper Annahar landed me a copy of the newspaper from that day in a convenient attachment.

As I looked through the pages, I came face to face with my childhood memory. It was right there staring me in the eye with a date, a picture and even a timeline. Nothing prepared me for this moment; I never tried to find out how old I was at the time of my request to be put on a ‘list’ to the moon. I never knew what triggered the bizarre request. I always assumed maybe it was the first moon mission but it was never a priority to find out.

So Apollo 12 landed on the moon on November 15, 1969 and I watched it along with hundreds of thousands of Lebanese live on TV!! How odd is that? The only big live transmission event I remember vividly was the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Di in 1981.

Reading the article, I learned that what made Apollo 12 so special was that all three national Lebanese TV channels carried the moon landing and all pertinent mission events LIVE; they advertized all the different times in the local papers. It was a huge deal for Lebanon, as the country was launching its first satellite transmission from the brand new Arbaniyeh Tower.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/11/12/art.vert.octavia.child.newspaper.left.jpg caption="Page four, with the Apollo 12 announcement." width=292 height=320]

So, the Apollo 12 mission was prominently reported on the main page with two editorials by the most prominent journalists of the Annahar newspaper, Ghassan Tueni and Michel Abou Jaoudeh. But it was page four that got me. Looking at those times and descriptions brought the experience back. Apollo 12 was the second landing on the moon. A 3-year-old watched in awe, dreamed and believed with all her heart that one day she too would travel to the moon.

We didn’t have a camera 40 years ago. My parents had hired a photographer to take pictures of us when I was about one and half. I share this photo with you because our Black & White TV set is featured prominently in it. Forty years ago, we were some of the fortunate few to even have a TV to watch the Apollo 12 mission.

Back then, TV programming started around 6 p.m. with the Lebanese national anthem followed by cartoons, children’s shows and other programming including local soap operas and melodramatic series. They also featured subtitled French and American soap operas and series. There was one nightly newscast at 8:30 p.m., if my memory serves me well. An Egyptian or foreign film or documentary would follow, along with local entertainment shows before the stations shut down for the night closing programming with the national anthem playing over a picture of the Lebanese flag flying high.

Carrying an international event such as the Apollo 12 mission was a big deal. I’m glad Tele Liban did; I’m deeply grateful for this memory.

Happy 40th anniversary to my first childhood memory, the timing of this discovery couldn’t be more perfect.

Filed under: Octavia Nasr • Space
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. C J

    I had forgotten my own memory of that day. Funny how your mind can do this. It was a happy time. I don't think anyone in my neighborhood was not watching this on the black and white if they were so blessed to have one. Everyone talked about it. At school, on the bus, and around the neighborhood. It was a very wondrous week. A lot of children with big ideas, and imaginations.

    November 14, 2009 at 9:37 pm |
  2. Sara

    reading your story made me recall my childhood. Apollo 12 going to moon was abig deal. I was living in Lebanon then, and you are 100% true on Lebanese TV shows. Lots of funny laughter. What I loved about the Lebanese TV was that it started after 6 and during the day we did not have TV at all.

    November 14, 2009 at 12:41 am |
  3. Sherry

    It still amazes me today thinking back at all the changes I have witnessed in my lifetime. I'm coming upon my 60th birthday in four days and I remember this clearly. My daughter was born 2 months before Apollo 13. Apollo 15 stands out in my mind because my daughter and I went to see the launch. We were camped out among hundreds of people that came for the same thing and there was great comaraderie between the young and old ! You could see the rocket from our camp site in Cocoa Beach, it was lite up at night and a fantastic site! The blast off was ground shaking and you could feel & hear the tremendous force. It still gives me a stong patriotic feeling. It was an experience that will always be clear in my mind. Thanks for your story, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on some of the happier days.

    November 13, 2009 at 10:57 pm |
  4. Ella Doueiry

    very well wirtten vouva.

    November 13, 2009 at 10:20 pm |
  5. TxVoodoo

    Thank you, Octavia! That moonlanding is one of my vivid memories from my childhood, too. I was living in South Philadelphia, & my dad took our small tv outside to the stoop, w/ an extension cord, and we all gathered around watching it. My grandmother, then 67, turned to me and said "I guess you'll live there someday."

    It's wonderful to read your recollections, and realize that, even though we were so far apart, so many of us shared that moment.

    November 13, 2009 at 6:24 pm |
  6. Jean Pinataro

    I stumbled upon this site while looking for a place to say please Pres. Obama get us out of Iraq & Afghanistan. But regarding the Apollo story, I am still amazed that we did it. I worked as a technical artist for the company, Rockwell International, who designed & built the Saturn five, the Apollo command module, the service module & lunar lander. I was at the Downey, Ca facility when Werner Von Braun was there & I vividly recall the wonderful success of Apollo 11 as well as the terrors of Apollo 13 as we watched the sequence of events on our in house tv. Correction: I think the service module & lunar lander were built by subcontractors. We received the contract for the Shuttle program as well. I worry that the younger generations won't remember what our amazing engineers & technicians did way back then. At the site where it all began in Downey, there is a Columbia Memorial Space Center,12240 Columbia Way,

    November 13, 2009 at 1:43 pm |
  7. Dustin Soper

    What a great story! Thanks for sharing that with us.

    November 13, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  8. John Mijac

    "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" filled so many of us with the hope and expectation of a brighter tomorrow. It filled me then with hope for a world where our interdependence and connectedness were valued more than our differences. A little older than you, Octavia, I remember vividly each televised step and the excitement of seeing our world from another. I was so happy to read this today and see that in some ways what I felt back then in Boulder, Colorado, USA was true for you in Lebanon, that we are all really world citizens. May we fulfill the hope of those days and set aside the things which separate us, seeing that we truly live or die as one people on one small planet. Thanks for your remembrance.

    November 13, 2009 at 11:28 am |
  9. Paola

    Very sweet, thank you Octavia 🙂

    November 13, 2009 at 11:22 am |