Welcome to Lebanon ... in the United States

Updated 8:39 PM ET, Mon June 12, 2017

Story highlights

  • Photographer Fadi Boukaram spent 5 months visiting places in the United States called Lebanon. His trip in 2016 coincided with President Donald Trump's election campaign.
  • His trip in 2016 coincided with President Donald Trump's election campaign

(CNN)On Valentine's Day 2005 when Rafic Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, was assassinated by a huge blast of TNT in Beirut, Fadi Boukaram was just moments from the bomb.

Having already spent part of his childhood living in a Beirut bomb shelter during the final years of the Lebanese Civil War, Boukaram, now 38, expected the explosion, which also killed 21 others, to spark a second conflict. He decided it was time to get out.
That was February. In March he applied to a state university in San Francisco. In April he was accepted. By August he had left.
America was, naturally, a culture shock. "I didn't expect to go there and see students burning flags, and drawing swastikas on them," he tells CNN, of the campus protests against the Iraq war.
What did Americans have to be angry about? he thought back then.
Pining for home, Boukaram called up the just-launched Google Maps, intending to fondly gaze at road maps of his country from afar.
He typed in Lebanon. But he wasn't taken to familiar streets in the Middle East.
Lebanon, Oregon, was the first suggestion.
A  pool game at the Bottoms Up trucker bar in Lebanon, Indiana.

Visiting the Lebanons

Boukaram stayed on Google Maps for hours. "I found out that there are tons of them," he says -- 47 Lebanons in America, by his calculations. Some ghost towns, others cities, most small communities in Middle America.
"I just wanted to visit them," he says, "find out what they would look like."
Back in 2007, money was in short supply for him. But by 2016, after nearly a decade of working in banking and as a tech consultant back in Lebanon, he had enough savings to swap "all the boring stuff" for a career in photography and take a year off work.
In October 2016, just as Trump's campaign trail was sweeping the nation, Boukaram embarked on his own trans-American tour of the Lebanons -- his route devised by an algorithm he had programmed to calculate the shortest way round.
Lebanon, Oregon, was his first stop.
"It's pretty much the only Lebanon they have in west America," he says.
Initially, the novelty factor was high, with signs for the road to Damascus, games of "Lebanopoly" for sale, and priests who wanted to baptize him all providing entertainment.
"The first Lebanon was the funniest, because you see signs everywhere saying Lebanon this, Lebanon that. But after the first one, the initial joke -- the shock factor -- wears off."