Beirut on the Bayou

Alfred Nicola, Louisiana, and the Making of Modern Lebanon

By Raif Shwayri

Subjects: Middle East Studies, Biography, History
Hardcover : 9781438460956, 296 pages, March 2016

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Table of contents

List of Maps
Part I. Alfred remembers
1. Fares Bozeid Moujaes: At the time of the emara
Of silk and stone
Palace builders
From Beiteddine to Hadath

2. Habib Fares Shwayri: At the time of the caimaqamat
Rebirth of Beirut
Toward civil war
The failure of the caimaqamat system
1860, the year of transformations

3. Nicolas Habib Shwayri: At the time of the mutasarifiya
The Organic Statutes
The Administrative Council: Prefiguration of the House of Representatives
To finish with Youssef bey Karam
A bustling but constrained economy
The new imperialisms

Part II. Alfred in Louisiana
4. From Lebanon to Louisiana
Ellis Island
A forerunner Moujaes: Ann Murray
South to New Orleans

5. A peddler on foot
On the bayou
"Up the bayou, down the bayou, across the bayou"
A people of extremes
"Sweet Papa"
6. A shotgun house, a wagon, and a horse called Mac
On war and peace
A peddler by wagon
"I lift my lamp beside the golden door"

Part III. Alfred's legacy

7. Returning to a country in total upheaval
In his absence: The dismemberment of an empire
Alfred in Hadath: From mandate to independence
8. On true resilience
Nadim Shwayri
Shwayr, in a child's memory
A cry in the wilderness

9. A singular message in the face of continuing adversity
The peace of circumstance: And the failed state
The message of Al-Kafaàt

1. Mount Lebanon in history
2. The origins of the Moujaes family: A history


Illustrations follow pages 78 and 232

Tells the story of Lebanese immigrant Alfred Nicola, the fortune he began building as a peddler in Louisiana, and the family that founded Al-Kafaat University, an iconic institution serving the underprivileged and disabled of Lebanon, through two centuries of unrest in the Middle East.


Raif Shwayri begins his family's story with his grandfather Habib Shwayri's arrival at Ellis Island in 1902. Having left Beirut, then a harbor city on the Syrian coast of the Ottoman Empire, only weeks before, he took the name Alfred Nicola and made his way to relatives in New Orleans. There, he began peddling down the Bayou Lafourche, befriending the communities living alongside the water and earning the nickname "Sweet Papa" for his kindness and generosity. When he returned home to Lebanon in 1920, he invested the money he had made, from years of peddling, in real estate and died a wealthy man in 1956. After his death, his youngest son, Nadim (Raif's father), turned his part of the inheritance into an endowment that started Al-Kafaàt, an iconic and unique institution in Lebanon that serves the handicapped and underprivileged.

Alfred Nicola's story, like the story of Lebanon itself, begins farther back in history. In its account of centuries of Ottoman rule, decades of colonial occupation, and years of internal political strife and civil war, Beirut on the Bayou intertwines a family narrative with the story of a people, of Lebanon in the making. From the Fertile Crescent that was Syria to the Crescent City that is New Orleans, the saga of the Shwayri family reflects the experiences of those Lebanese who walked the path of immigration to the United States, as well as those who stayed behind—or returned—to help forge a nation.

Raif Shwayri is a graduate of King's College London and the University of Wales, a recipient of the John W. Ryan Fellowship for International Education awarded by the State University of New York, and has served as CEO of Al-Kafaàt Foundation and a trustee of AL KAFAAT UNIVERSITY in Lebanon.


"Courage, ambition, and love of words. Raif Shwayri has it all at once. " — L'Hebdo Magazine

". ..a fascinating story. " — Voice of America News

"Beirut on the Bayou weaves together the fascinating story of a family with roots in both Lebanon and, more recently, in Louisiana. Along the way, we learn more about the history of the Middle East, the tragedy of the Lebanese civil war, and the remarkable development of the Al-Kafaàt Foundation and educational institutions. Raif Shwayri successfully combines personal stories with grand history, all in a compelling voice and an entertaining style. " — James Ketterer, Bard College

"Well written and charming at times, this book traces the history not only of Lebanon's constant 'realpolitik' turmoil but also that of the enclave of humanitarianism in Al-Kafaàt. Raif Shwayri argues, somewhat wistfully—but at the same time, admirably—that someday and slowly, humanity will win out against violence. " — Eugene Paul Nassar, Director and Founder, The Ethnic Heritage Studies Center, Utica College