Deirmimas is a picturesque hill village surrounded by olive groves. The village overlooks the Litani river and Beaufort Castle to the west and the snow-capped summits of Mount Hermon to the east. The Litani River has long been the source of life and beauty in southern Lebanon and Jabal Amel. Tourists and residents of the village continue to be drawn to the banks of the river to visit its historic windmills. Beaufort Castle is the largest and most scenic Crusader castle in Lebanon and has been fought over even in recent times.
The road leading to Deirmimas is winding and steep, hidden by groves of olive trees that spread out for miles. The mild winters and temperate summers of Lebanon are perfectly suited to the cultivation of olives. The predominantly Greek Orthodox village is today home to 6,000 inhabitants and six Christian faith groups, namely, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Latin, Protestant, Evangelical Baptist and Maronite.
The rich potential of Deirmimas’s 130,000 olive trees, many of which date back to biblical times, went virtually untapped as the village and the district of Marjayoun in which it is located were occupied by Israel for some 24 years. Cut off from the rest of Lebanon and the outside world, olive oil production slowed dramatically. In May 2000 when Israel withdrew, Deirmimas was a shell of its former self and its infrastructure was in ruins after years of neglect. Furthermore, almost half of the population had emigrated to Toronto in Canada and Lansing in Michigan in the United States since the early nineteenth century.
The Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 left open territory that was in urgent need of development. In recent years, dozens of international non-governmental organizations and donors have assisted the village in its unwavering struggle to recover. Some of the main sources of assistance have been the Pontifical Mission, Caritas/CRS, World Bank, World Vision, UNDP, UNFPA and UNIFIL, as well as many philanthropists and expatriates from Deirmimas.
The outward-bound people of Deirmimas have sustained an enduring attachment to their land and an unwavering desire to revive and revitalize their village, even though their travels have taken them as far from home as America, Arabia and Australia.
Deir is a Semitic word that means house or convent. Mimas refers to Saint Mimas, the patron saint of the village, a third-century shepherd who preached Christianity protected by a lion and who became a martyr after being executed during the Aurelian era of persecutions. Mimas is a Greek word used in Syriac to signify a friendly, frivolous clown.
The monastery of St. Mema from which Deirmimas takes its name was built around 1404 A.D. The original monastery was a simple medieval construction with 6 monks’ cells, situated by a small church. The monastery fell into decay and was restored a number of times, most recently in 2004 before it was totally demolished during the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. The present plan for the reconstruction of the site, which has been financed by Qatar, began in 2008 and has replaced the old monastery with a much larger construction. The site has been inaugurated by the ruler of Qatar and the Lebanese authorities in 2010. Since, the Monastery is open daily to all devotees and visitors from 9:00am to 7:00pm.
Unlike the West, where Christmas ranks supreme, in the East it is Easter, centered on the cross and the resurrection of Christ. Another supreme festival of the year is the St. Mema's festival on 15 September. On that day people take part in divine liturgy, after which they gather around for outdoor feast where everyone joins in to eat, drink and enjoy themselves.
The monastery is placed under the aegis of Father Salim Assaad who was given the reins of a ruined monastery and turned it not only into a peaceful place of worship but into a small museum for iconography. The icons are the most sacred, the most transcendent art that exists for the Orthodox Christians. The Monastery of St. Mema decorated with much admired mosaics depicting the life of Christ has been made the house of many windows into the kingdom of God.
Olive groves sustain all of the towns and villages of southern Lebanon. Traditional olive cultivation skills date back to the third-century Phoenician plantations. The Lebanese have been able to make a living from the olive tree for centuries and olive production is an integral part of village society and culture.
Deirmimas continues to be a major producer of olives and olive oil. Throughout Lebanon, its olive oil is known as the “Bordeaux” of olive oils; in 2008, the two existing mills pressed over 90 tons of oil (160 tons in 2006). The village also produces a prized soap, known as saboun baladi, from the oil.
Deirmimas has two operational mills “maasara”: Mimas Organic Mill and the Cooperative Mill.
Mimas Organic Mill: Two organic farmers, Anne Fawaz and Anwar Nakfour, decided to establish a new mill primarily for producing high quality organic olive oil in the Sahel of Deirmimas. Anne Fawaz is exporting her organic olive oil -which received very high grading from the German Olive Oil Panel- to Austria since 2009. She named her oil “Mariam’s Gold” after her grandmother, who used to produce olive oil in Deirmimas since the early century. The olive oil is extracted by a state-of-the-art olive mill imported from Italy.
According to Anne, the olive variety in Deirmimas is one of the oldest varieties in the world: the "Soury" olive is named after the ancient Phoenician city of Sour/Tyre. This olive variety is closely related to the original olive cultivated 5000BC in the region, the "cradle of the olive tree". www.mariamsgold.com
Men and women from Deirmimas and its neighborhood are producing a range of homemade preserves/foodstuffs. Their principal products include burghul, made from cooked crushed wheat; kechek, made of yogurt and burghul, qawarma, thyme and sumac, molasses, honey and all kind of jams in particular pumpkin, quince, figs, apricots, raspberries, as well as pickles, vine leaves, dairy products, orange blossom water, sage and rose water.
These products including olive oil, olives and soap are made available at AGHSAN corner of the Morkos Center; you can even find pottery jars from Rashaya el-Fakhar. Mouneh preserves and handcrafts are also available at the St. Mema Monastery store.
Marquq bread is a flat, round bread traditionally baked on a hot inverted iron bowl known as a saj. Although it is not as common as it once was, women from Deirmimas still use the saj to bake bread three times a week and sell it to locals and neighboring villages.
The labour economy is gradually eclipsing traditional agricultural lifestyles and the deep connection with the land, its topography and cycles of growth is being lost. As the younger generation of women enter the workforce or turn increasingly to processed foods that require less preparation, traditional, labour-intensive activities such as baking markouk or saj bread, hand-rolling the little dumplings known as shishbarak and foraging for the abundant wild plants which sprout after the rain in winter are increasingly left to the older generation.
If you want to be part of the small group of women who forage, learn how to identify the various plants and open your eyes to a vanishing way of life, it is best to walk out in springtime and pick and fill your bag with delicious leaves and stalks that will restore your vital energy and replenish your strength.
From an almost infinite list of possibilities, you are likely to find maadeen (wild aspargus), khubeize (mallow), halyoun, dorrah, akkoub, hendbe, saifi, dardar, balasan, shumar, lisan attor, sbanekh barri (wild spinach), shareb annemr, hommaydah, khobz addeb, heshe meshe, karrat, halbe, selk barri, rashad barri, habaq may (basil), jarjeer (rocket), erra, qars anne, zaatar farsi (thyme).