In a fast changing city where sometimes people’s harshness might feel like a sharp blade, there are still time old traditions that make living in this country worthwhile. Despite it all, despite the noise and the commotion, there is still a light that shines from deep within this country, a light that says we live together, we take care of each other, and we belong in this weird mesh of abstraction that is Lebanon.
The more I write and try to focus on our little expressions, the more I realize how much it reflects our culture. There is certain richness to the Lebanese dialect that is unparalleled. Some of the expressions we use are not quiet ours and are shared by Arabic speaking countries.
Sahtein is one of those words. Sahtein literally means two healths. Usually people from Arabic speaking countries say saha, meaning health or eat in good health, used at mealtime, or when someone coughs (like saying bless you). It is used when someone is really enjoying his food and eating with appetite. It also said when someone else has food in front of them and they have just invited but you don’t want to eat. In this situation, it means: “please enjoy your food. Don’t let the fact that I’m not eating be an obstacle to your enjoyment.”
Like everything in Lebanon, one wish, or one good morning (bonjourein _meaning two bonjours), are never enough. It’s a cultural way to show the other person you really genuinely care about him. By saying Sahtein, you are not wishing them good health, you are wishing them a double dose of good health! We sometimes even say alf saha, the meaning of which is 1000 health. Now that is one serious well wish! Another version is Alf Soha Wo Hana nshallah, 1000 health and bliss god willing, or sahtein wo hana (two health and bliss). I wonder if there exists another expression that has so much oomph in it.
The response usually is a’3la albak, a shortened version of sahtein a3la albak, which means “to your heart!” In greetings or salutations, these well wishes can potentially go back and forth for quite a while, all in very beautiful words.
It’s incredible how one word can carry so much underlying wisdom and meaning in it. In French, they say bon appétit, which is quiet different then sahtein as it means “good appetite.” In true traditional manner what we wish for people here in our little country of bounty is good health because we know that happiness is nothing but good health. It is not valued until sickness comes, for health is soul and soul is life.
Treasure the love you receive above all from the wonderful people that surround you. It will survive long after your good health has vanished.