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Book details
  • SubGenre:Higher
  • Language:English
  • Pages:358
  • eBook ISBN:9781098300098
  • Paperback ISBN:9781098300081

Under the Banyan Tree

by Abdallah M. Isa

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'UNDER THE BANYAN TREE' is a memoir of an orphan boy who lost his parents before reaching the age of two. Although he and his three sisters, inherited chunks of land with olive and almond trees, yet the orphans lived under subhuman conditions. Many a night they went to bed hungry. As time went on and under the guidance and support of his sister Fatima, the orphan boy became highly educated, earned the title of a doctor as well as a respected scientist. The Banyan tree in the memoir, refers to the spot where the author, the orphan boy, reconnected with his high school sweat heart, when he was a student at the American University of Beirut.


Under the Banyan Tree is a memoir of an orphan boy who struggled as a child in Palestine, to survive under extreme poverty, to become a highly educated and respected member of society. Abdallah, the youngest of four children, lost his parents before he attained the age of two. After the death of their parents, a squabble erupted among family members as to who will gain custody of the orphans. A distant relative of their father's, uncle Mohamad, was chosen to be the caretaker of the orphans and of the sizeable chunks of land with olive and almond trees they inherited. The custodian had married a second wife who, he let run the show as she wished. She, with his blessings, used one of the orphan girls, Fatima, as a maid for her and another one, Amina, as a maid for her sister. Although the custodian sent his four daughters to school which was free of charge, he did not send the orphan girls to school as they were engaged in the service of his new wife and of her sister. The custodian, uncle Mohamad, wanted Abdallah to quit school too, but the intervention and ultimatum of his sister, Fatima to abandon him completely should he quit school. Abdallah defied the custodian's wish and stayed in school. After the loss of Palestine to the Jews in 1948 and with the establishment of the state of Israel, Abdallah and his two surviving sisters were, abandoned by uncle Mohamad and became refugees in Lebanon. They fled by climbing the mountain separating Palestine from Lebanon, hiding behind boulders to avoid being hit by Jewish machine gunfire. A God-given miracle happened to the orphans. A woman relative of their father who lived in Beirut found them and demanded they live with her al-Hajj family. She said you eat what my children ate and sleep where my children slept. The al-Hajj family sent Abdallah to a private elementary boarding school and after that, he transferred to another boarding school. While in High School, Abdallah met Laila. He developed a liking for her, but could not dare confess his liking to her as he was afraid she may be offended. After graduating from high school in 1953, Laila and Abdallah went their separate ways. Laila went to London to further her education and Abdallah opted to work as an English language teacher in a night school. After two years of working, Abdallah realized his job was not the career he wanted to pursue. He decided to take a shot at enrolling at the American University of Beirut (AUB). One hundred and sixty students sat for the entrance exam, only fourteen passed and Abdallah was one of the fourteen who passed. Of course, having Abdallah been accepted at AUB, raised a red flag with uncle Mohamad. He put several obstacles to have Abdallah abandon his quest for a college education. As a last resort, he offered Abdallah to marry one of his daughters, which he politely declined as he was not ready to get married yet. It was realized later that he had an ulterior motive for not wanting the orphan boy to get a college education. It was because his son was also going to AUB at the same time. While at AUB, Abdallah asked Najwa, Laila's sister who also was a student at AUB, as to how is Laila doing. Najwa said, Laila is still in London and, in fact, she asked about you. Najwa, six months later said Laila is now back home in Beirut. A few weeks after that, in May 1958, Abdallah spotted a beautiful young lady sitting under the Banyan tree. Her face was vaguely familiar and he was not sure who she really was. He reluctantly approached her and asked if she were Laila. She said yes, you must be Abdallah! From that time on, they reconnected and rekindled, after five years of separation, the love Abdallah had for Laila while in High School. Their relationship was rocky, on-again, off-again dating lasted for two years. Laila and Abdallah were engaged on October 20, 1960, and were married on December 15, 1962,

About the author

The author, Dr. Abdallah M. Isa, was born in Palestine, became a refugee in Lebanon in 1948 when Israel was established. He was the youngest of four children. After having three daughters, his Moslem parents were desperate to have a son who will carry the family name after their death. They pleaded with God to grant them a son and vowed, should they have a son, they will have him baptized in the Orthodox church. Well, God listened to their request and Abdallah was born. Three months after his birth his parents fulfilled their vow and had him baptized at the Orthodox church. The birth name that was given to him at birth, was Wasif (describer). This name did not appear to fit him as he had the crybaby syndrome that kept with him for a year. Since there were no doctors or medical facilities at the time, the only potential help was through a psychic. The Psychic told his parents that his continuous crying is due to his name that must be changed to make him stop crying. He suggested the name Abdallah which they accepted. They deleted the birth name Wasif and replaced it with Abdallah. Abdallah's mother died when he was eighteen months old and his father died six months later. Although his parents left him and his sisters chunks of properties with olive and almond trees to live well, as he and his sisters were supposed to be well to do, many a night they went to bed hungry because a relative, uncle Mohamad, who took it upon himself to take care of the orphans, usurped the properties and denied them the basic needs for survival. As refugees in Lebanon, Abdallah and two of his surviving sisters were abandoned by uncle Mohamad who was supposed to take care of them. A distant relative of their father, Mrs. Miri al-Hajj, who was born in Palestine and married a Lebanese gentleman found them in the city of Tyre in south Lebanon. She insisted that they come live with her family in Beirut. She said you will sleep where my children sleep and eat what my children eat. The al-Hajj family had Abdallah enrolled in a private boarding elementary school after which he was enrolled in another private boarding high school. He graduated with a high school diploma in 1953. After working for two years teaching English in a night school, Abdallah decided to enroll at the American University of Beirut. After graduating with a BS degree in Agriculture and Agricultural Engineering and working in Kuwait for a year and a half, he decided to come to the United States to further his education. He was accepted at the University of California at Berkeley to study medical science and later the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. Graduating as a doctor from the University of California, Abdallah joined the faculty of a medical school in Nashville, TN in 1969. The medical school and its affiliated hospital, with patients with different types of cancer, offered Abdallah the opportunity to establish a cancer research laboratory through which his scientific career jumped to a new high. His work on cancer led to the publication of several original scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals including the Journal of Immunology, the Transplantation journal and the Journal of Cancer Research. He has presented his work on cancer at several scientific meetings in the United States, London, Germany, Paris, Switzerland, Beirut, and Baghdad. Of course, as a refugee in Lebanon, he was a de facto stateless person with no country to claim him as its own citizen. He was determined to have his children not to be as stateless as he is. His three daughters were born in the United States, thus they are bona fide citizens of the country. He sought and was honored to be granted the citizenship of the greatest country on earth, the United States of America.