A mountain bike race in dusty southern Queensland was the last place Anne-Marie Kehers expected to be reminded of her home country and be overwhelmed by emotion.
The Whitsunday resident stepped out of the car at Wondai just days after the explosion in Beirut and saw olive groves — a reminder of what the mother of three left back home in Lebanon.
“We were olive farmers in Lebanon and seeing the trees I just started crying,” she said.
Ms Kehers has always felt a close affinity with Lebanon, but the last week has been especially hard with the unrest that has followed the explosion.
“My initial reaction was crying and thinking, ‘How much more can these people take?’,” she said.
Ms Kehers said while she was used to hearing and experiencing war and conflict, the incident earlier this month was different.
“But there was no preparation, no warning.”
Home is where the heart is
Ms Kehers and her sister were born in Lebanon to parents with dual Australian and Lebanese citizenships.
As she and her sister grew older Ms Kehers’s parents decided there was no future in Lebanon so the girls fled the country in 1987 but her father remained.
“My dad is a proud Lebanese man and he won’t leave the land,” Mr Kehers said.
She said the decision to leave Lebanon, and the process, was far from easy.
“We left with very little, packing only the necessities.”
Concern for family and friends
Beirut is about 70 kilometres from the village of Kousba where Ms Kehres grew up.
She still has many friends and family in and around the city.
Ms Kehres said she was very thankful to hear that they were safe.
“I have one cousin who basically has lost their home,” she said.
“A close friend was in his car near the port when the explosion happened and his car was badly damaged, but he’s OK.
Holding on to hope
For the entire time that Ms Kehers lived in Lebanon, war and conflict were a constant.
But she says she hopes the show of support from other countries is a signal of change.
“That’s how you get through things like this.