Spotlight on Marlene Markhoul by Susannah Grant
by Susannah Grant
This month we delve into the war-torn past of ultra-resilient Lebanese Structural Engineer, mother of 3 with a classical choral voice who enjoys the best of both worlds in Madrid and Athens and their respective INCs, Marlene Makhoul.
- What was it like growing up in Lebanon in the 1970’s?
My childhood in Lebanon was wonderful as there was a close community spirit. I come from a large family, with 6 siblings and lots of cousins. In 1975 civil war broke out and lasted for 15 long years, some of which coincided with my time as a Structural Engineering student at university in Beirut. I remember we would often spend the nights in the shelters to protect ourselves from all the shelling outside before sitting exams as normal the following morning while the people of Beirut were trying to fix up their bomb-shattered windows. Yet there was always a sense of hope, a positive vision for the future and for better times ahead.
- How did you end up in the UK and how long did you live there?
While I was working as a Structural Engineer designing schools, hospitals, office blocks and houses in Beirut I met and later married a Lebanese man who was living in the UK working as a research fellow in Nuclear Physics after finishing his PHD at London University. So I moved to the UK in 1987.
- You are a very resourceful woman, tell us about returning to work in the UK with 3 small children, including twins.
The marriage did not survive and 9 years later I was a single mother in the UK and I resumed my professional career in structural engineering. I was the only female engineer in my office and on several occasions I would be the only female in a seminar with 60 men but I was never made to feel out of place. Working in the UK was comfortable for a single parent and unlike in Lebanon the children were not the only ones of their respective classes to have divorced parents.
- How did your time in the UK shape your life? What did it teach you about yourself?
My time in the UK taught me to be completely independent with only myself to rely on, as opposed to in Lebanon where there is always the extended family to fall back on. My priority at that stage were bringing up my three kids. I then met Adam who was widowed with 2 daughters of a similar age to my children.
- How did you end up relocating to Athens?
Adam, my husband who is a banker, accepted a posting in Athens where we lived for 4 years until 2018 and I became an active member of Athen’s INC. The timing was right for us as all the children were grown up and away at university. Our house was set amongst a forest of pine trees and only 4 minutes’ walk from the beach. Athens is a fascinating capital city to live in with the added bonus of being on the coast and it was geographically convenient to everywhere we wanted to go in the world. Lebanese people feel very much at home in Greece and it had elements of purity that reminded me of Lebanon before the war. We are now enjoying life tremendously in Spain and luckily for us we still have to spend one week a month in Greece.
- What hobbies do you have?
In the UK I sang for a long time with a semi-professional classical choir. We played tennis in Athens and I never tire of walking by the sea or in the Retiro Park.
- What sort of future do you foresee for Lebanon right now?
I would like to see Lebanon free from outside interference and with an effective government operating independently from their own vested interests. That would encourage investment within the country which, in turn, would allow it to prosper once again.