[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
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.
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