Kab Elias, a city of about 60,000 in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, is home to many of the Mouallems of Slave Lake. Lots of other Mouallems too – one of whom is Jihad Mouallem, the current mayor of Kab Elias (also spelled Qabb Ilyas). He was in Slave Lake recently visiting relatives and The Leader had a chance to chat with him.
“They call Slave Lake ‘the Kab Elias of Canada,’ he said, through an interpreter.
Another reason the municipalities are connected is that back in the 1990s, some sort of (probably informal) twinning arrangement between them was proposed and discussed. Mr. Mouallem and his family members in Slave Lake were looking last week for documentary evidence of that. His brother Adam – who owns Carlos Restaurant in downtown Slave Lake – says he had newspaper clippings on it, but they were lost in the 2011 wildfire. If the town or library had paperwork on the twinning – they were lost in the same fire.
Jihad was also visiting his son Jalal and his family, who also live in Slave Lake. Jalal and Adam did most of the translating. They also played that role when Mayor Mouallem visited his Slave Lake counterpart last week, Mayor Tyler Warman.
“It was very interesting to me,” Warman says. “He told me his biggest issues are things we take for granted, like garbage and sewage.”
Those are big ones, Jihad told The Leader, speaking through Jalal. Among many others. Clean air and clean water are challenges. Another huge one is the very large population of Syrian refugees – about 40,000 in the vicinity of Kab Elias, bringing with them a whole new set of difficulties.
Kab Elias is just 45 kilometres from the capital city, Beirut, but is in a very different landscape. To get there from the coast you have to cross a mountain range, and descend into the fertile valley. The city is known as the biggest vegetable and fruit market in the country. With ruins from civilizations 2,000 years old and older, there is also some tourism.
Jihad is in his first term as mayor, which goes for six years. It’s a full-time job.
“Double full-time!” says Adam.
“He’s still working!” says Jalal. “He’s on vacation and he’s working.”
Asked why he would want to take such a challenging job, Mayor Mouallem said (more or less) somebody has to do it, and if it isn’t him it would be someone else. He previously served a couple of terms as a city councillor. He also worked as the head of a trade union, Jalal says.
Jihad Mouallem, left, mayor of Kab Elias Lebanon, with Slave Lake mayor Tyler Warman.
Mayor Mouallem (second from left) with members of his family in Slave Lake. From left: his brother Adam, son Jalal and daughter-in-law Randah.