Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Cue the Locusts


33.Cue the Locusts (31 Mar. 2020)
It’s spring, but nobody’s going anywhere these days.
(24 Feb. 2020 – Geitawi - Beirut)
Here in Lebanon we look with amazement at a panicking world that, upon realizing that the novel coronavirus was not going to remain a “Chinese disease”, began by decrying the enforced confinement and “social distancing” intended to slow the advance of this nemesis, because of the perceived injuries to their liberties. The puzzlement here continued as the reality of this pandemic set in, and country after country realized that their economies were going into a deep pit because people were unable to work and therefore were cut off from the income they relied on. It may sound callous, but Lebanese, who have been in an economic downward spiral for the last several years, thanks to the greed and incompetence of their leaders, and exploded with rage in October that they were not going to take it anymore. It shut down the country and the already abysmal economy, sending banks into panic over the danger to their usurious profits, whereupon they took it upon themselves to prohibit depositors from withdrawing more than a couple hundred dollars a month. The service industry, already limping along due to the lack of tourism, saw nearly a thousand restaurants close in Beirut alone, schools lost three weeks of instruction due to strikes and road closures, and specters of a return to civil war loomed in the shadows. The country was not on its knees, but rather prostrate on the ground when this virus became a local reality. How much farther down can you get?
The list of coming events at a nearby restaurant.
(23 Mar. 2020 – Qobaiyat - Beirut)
            I hope that no one would wish this situation on another, here or in any country. But it’s very tempting to say to the world, “So, how does it feel?” To face each day with fear, uncertain of what the future brings, wondering if death will snatch your friends, loved ones or even your own life? Yet there are so many people who face much greater trials than what most in the affluent world are struggling to comprehend. It is very easy to comprehend in lands under occupation, where walls are built to protect privileges. It is very easy to comprehend in places where refugees are used as political pawns. It is very easy to comprehend by those today continuing their jobs, with or without masks or gloves, who know that when the government says “lockdown” and “curfew”, it is effectively telling this subsistence-level stratum to starve to death. As many have commented, if rich people were to die from hunger, the world would find the will, the creativity and the resources to end that scourge. But those 9 million who die each year from hunger-related reasons remain out of the spotlight.
Not how a school playground is supposed to look in the
middle of the day. (24 Mar. 2020 – Geitawi - Beirut)
            Oh, did I mention? We are under a nightly curfew. The government announced, and is enforcing, a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew throughout the country. This is in addition to closing all “non-essential” businesses, that is, anything that does not sell food or medicine. And if your water tank is leaking (every household has a water tank on the roof because of the sporadic delivery of water, 30 years after the Civil War ended… sporadic, like all the other utilities), well, you won’t be able to call someone to repair it. Anyway, he might not have the parts to do repairs because the banks have had a 5-month stranglehold on the capital that is needed to import goods.
How I spent my 16th birthday – telling “Dad
jokes” at a youth/veteran C.E. youth gathering.
(29 Feb. 2020 – Armenian Evangelical Church
of Ashrafieh, Geitawi - Beirut)
            The school year has taken a body blow in this crisis-upon-crisis mode we call “the new normal”. Administrators and teachers have hastily transitioned to “online learning”, a tenuous format that might enable learning to occur. When the October protests dragged on, schools were already beginning to implement some of these methods, and it increased as the months dragged on, the strikes continued and regularly turned into violent clashes between protestors and various security forces (there are so many here I can’t keep track). Yet students as well as adults are learning quite a bit from this current in-house confinement. In some cases children are in a healthier environment. No longer do they chant, “Revolution! Revolution!” (“Thawra! Thawra!”) when being let out for recess, as if it were a game. Others are at the mercy of their abusive or neglectful parents/guardians. Those who care for the latter, such as the Armenian Evangelical Boarding School in Ainjar, constantly carry that burden in prayers for God’s mercy.
            The last couple of “normal” things I did were to deliver a talk on Hrant Dink, the Armenian journalist and activist who was assassinated in broad daylight in front of his newspaper office in Istanbul, and to attend a a wonderful lecture on Gomidas (or Komitas). Ironically, among the 300 of us sitting in the hall where that lecture/concert took place on March 8 were religious and community leaders and even a cabinet member, only one day after the government told people to avoid all crowds.
A tall tree at a nearby park, uprooted by gale-force winds
on Mar. 12. (25 Mar. 2020 – Geitawi - Beirut)
            Maria and I were already doing most of our work online since we arrived in Beirut. Except for the worship services we attend and where I assist. And except for the “Armiss” choir that I direct. And except for the committees in which we serve. Now, none of that is happening. In their place we have video conferences and work online from home. The choir rehearsals are suspended. And in place of Sunday worship services in various churches the UAECNE (our church Union) has begun broadcasting a single weekly pre-recorded program, which I am producing. (Look it up on YouTube under UAECNE.) Pastors are taking turns preaching the sermon, and I am including a variety of recorded hymns and anthems in Armenian. It is an interesting initiative that will likely continue in some form as an audiovisual ministry, and will find a home on the Union’s website (coming soon, I hope), connecting people not only across the region, but helping those who have emigrated elsewhere to maintain some connection with their roots.
LebCat 33: Look, I don’t care what the
government says about restaurants closing.
I know you’re in there. I can smell the
rotisserie chicken, OK? (13 Mar. 2020 –
Geitawi - Beirut)
            On March 12, as we were beginning our days/weeks/months of seclusion, Lebanon and the region experienced several hours of winds at speeds between 100 and 140 km/hr. The roaring sound woke us all up, as objects were being tossed from one rooftop to another. The huge flag flying on top of a nearby office building was torn from its mounts and ended up somewhere far away, perhaps in the Mediterranean? The following day everyone was out surveying the extensive damage throughout the country. Strangely, though our electricity was never interrupted – just our sleep.
            The news out of the northeast of Africa is not good. A devastating plague of locusts is destroying crops and threatening famine to countless people. Could that be next on the agenda for Lebanon? We watch… and pray.   [LNB]

Monday, February 17, 2020

Exhale


32.Exhale (16 Feb. 2020)

A building collapse due to decades of neglect by its owner.
Strangely, the ground-floor bakery survived due to renovations
by its renter. (29 Jan. 2020 – Tabaris, Beirut)
For about four months the country has been holding its breath. Actually, long before that the country had been practicing holding its breath, as the economy and policies of government upon government sagged and sagged over the years, to the point of rupture. This past week the newly-formed cabinet, still the target of some protests, received approval from parliament to begin the work of saving the country from total collapse. Lebanon has always convinced itself that it is too important for the countries of the region and the West to let it fail. And therefore, corruption, theft and mismanagement of the public sector have ruled the day for as long as people can remember. Well, surprise!
            People write and ask us how we are managing with all that’s going on in the country. Aside from the psychic stress everyone endures, we face no particular hardship, due to the special nature of our employment. But how are actual citizens faring? While walking through an upscale neighborhood last week I noticed a grown man standing next to a dumpster carefully going through garbage and removing what was edible to put in his bag. Heretofore I would only see scavengers searching for scrap items to recycle or sell; only after passing him did I realize what I had just seen. He was wise to choose a dumpster in that neighborhood, where the likelihood of good quality and quantity food waste is greater. Yes, poverty is steadily advancing, and is moving more people squarely into nutritional insecurity. This is the picture in the city, anyway.
Upper row shows the early days of the uprising, with mere
barbed wire festooning the Grand Serail and Banks St.
Lower row shows the serious concreting of the centers of
government. (Jan. & Feb. 2020 – Riad el Solh - Beirut)
            Among the political elite – and there’s an overabundance of them (too bad Lebanon can’t export them to raise a little cash allay part of the national debt) – it is in fashion to say, “Oh, I’m also against corruption. We need to join together and find out where all these stolen funds are, and make new laws, blah, blah, blah.” Lebanese who hear these speeches are disgusted by them, because of the well-known secret that those who today rail against corruption and incompetence are guilty of the very things they decry. The relevance of the Bible appears once again in these circumstances, perfectly described by the Apostle Paul: “You who teach others… do you teach yourself?” (Read Romans 2.21-23 for an excellent assessment of today’s “speechifiers”.)
This is what protestors think of Lebanon’s banks,
and what they did to express that sentiment.
(15 Jan. 2020 – Hamra - Beirut)
            Another casualty of the times is health care. If you have a chronic condition that requires regular medication, you might have to go without it for a couple of weeks until a new supply can be imported. If you are experiencing chest discomfort, you might brush it off and not see a doctor, as the healthcare system does not cover diagnostic assessments. You will eventually see the doctor, but only after an ambulance has brought you to the emergency department. Or the other door across the way. In response to all of this, more than a few doctors and some hospitals have set up weekly low- or no-cost consultation hours to help those falling through the cracks, and a number of them are even waiving their surgical fees for the truly poor. But how much longer can private citizens and organizations bear this burden?
            For years Armenian agencies have been used to taking up the slack as best they can in the absence of proper governmental services. Social service agencies have networked themselves to serve the many low- and middle-class Armenians (plus in recent years quite a few Armenian and non-Armenian refugees from unrest next door and next door to next door). The income lifelines these agencies have relied on are becoming increasingly problematic, while those they are caring for continue their need for care, irrespective of whether its being paid for.
            Also, for decades the only reliable retirement plans for Lebanese have been to either receive remittances from their emigrated children or move overseas to live with them. A third possibility exists: to keep working until you “drop dead”. No wonder there is a lack of seasoned retirees in the churches, a demographic that is the backbone of any healthy ministry.
And this is what many people feel about living
in Lebanon. (15 Feb. 2020 – Geitawi - Beirut)
            Two days ago was the fifteenth anniversary commemoration of the assassination of PM Rafiq Hariri. Sevag, Maria and I were here at the time of that explosion, and we each have our memories of that momentous day. Schools, government offices and businesses close annually in observance of the day (and not because of St. Valentine). This year’s event featured the recently-resigned PM and political heir of his assassinated father, working the crowd as if addressing a campaign rally. The event also featured a video review of what’s happened to the country and its economy for the past 30 years, with the main message of: “It wasn’t my fault”. Each new event that occurs just makes this tragi-comedy more… interesting (for those drama fans out there).
            Actually, political assassinations are a way of life here. If you look up “Assassinated Lebanese” you’ll find a whole page dedicated to this, listing at least 36 public figures eliminated here in the past 100 years. And this doesn’t include attempts that only maimed their targets. If the government declared a holiday for each assassination, my guess is that an entire extra month the country would be closed for business!
Offstage at the C.E. youth event, anxiously reviewing their
lines, right? (11 Jan. 2020 – Armenian Evangelical Church
of Ashrafieh, Geitawi - Beirut)
            Lest it appear all gloom-and-doom here, in the midst of all of this the Armenian community is managing to continue its spiritual, educational and cultural output. Recently the Gulbenkian Foundation in Portugal announced an initiative to develop the teaching and use of Western Armenian in Lebanon, which, followed by Syria, are the only places in the world where Western Armenian is a viable, daily language of family, education, and commerce. It may seem strange to westerners, or to those steeped in western thinking, that one of the callings of the Armenian church in all its forms is to maintain a strong cultural sense as it goes about its spiritual mission. Although it is valid throughout the Diaspora, it is nearly impossible to see by those who embrace the majority culture. For them, it appears that the church should be on a purely spiritual mission, often not realizing how their own Christian outlook is so deeply grounded in the dominant culture surrounding them.
            In January Armenian Evangelical youth presented (in Armenian) a post-Christmas view of the main players in Jesus’ birth narratives, reflecting not only on what was to come for them, but also helping young people think about what is to come right here where they are, and what their attitude of faith should be. I was grateful to be involved in the planning, and was thrilled to see the church filled with over 150 youth that night.
LebCat 32: This is my laptop now, since you refuse to give me
lap space. (24 Jan. 2020 – the late Beirut Cat Café,
Mar Mikhael - Beirut)
            Two nights ago a newly-published booklet containing a dozen photos and lyrics of the great Gomidas (you can look him up under “Komitas”) had its public release. The main speaker, Shaghig Khudaverdian, a lecturer at Haigazian University, who stated that the essential task for any people wishing to survive is to speak their own language and sing their own songs, and thereby continue to breathe on this earth. And as if to demonstrate this, three different Armenian school choirs (including Armenian Evangelical) took turns on stage to sing selections from Gomidas’ pen. Afterward, I had the honor of joining Armenian Apostolic and Armenian Catholic representatives in congratulating the three choral conductors, and then dedicating the publication by pouring wine over it (in Armenian the word for this literally means “wine-dedication”).
            So, here’s a toast, which in many languages, including Armenian, goes: “To life!”   [LNB]

Monday, January 6, 2020

Stormy Weather



31.Stormy Weather (5 Jan. 2020)
Stalled construction – for now – in the downtown area, center
of the protests that began on Oct. 17. (27 Dec. 2019 – Martyrs’
Square, Beirut)
It’s Christmas Eve. And it’s raining fairly steadily, as it has been for the past several weeks. Youth groups from the various Armenian Evangelical (and other Armenian) churches are preparing to spread out over the metropolitan region to visit homes and sing the good news of Christ’s revelation to mankind. Throughout the night until the early hours of the morning they will be climbing in and out of cars and vans, cramming into elevators or traipsing up flights of stairs to carol and share scripture, as well as to distribute a custom-made gift to each household. And they will enjoy the chocolates, candies and other goodies prepared by each household they visit. And get drenched to the bone. And create memories that will stay with them until their old age.
Our neighbors and we prepared snacks for the carolers to
recharge themselves before going on with their caroling.
(5 Jan. 2020 – Qobaiyat - Beirut)
            Today I found out from my son Sevag (in the U.S.) that in Aleppo this year the churches there will also be sending their youth out to carol and herald Christ’s birth. If this good news is sorely needed here in Lebanon (and it is very much needed), it is needed at least as much there. No surprise that the news went from the Middle East to the US back to the Middle East; it’s simply how the Armenian grapevine works.
Capitalizing on the tire-burning protest
movement. (21 Dec. 2019 – Nahr el Mawt)
            The season’s stormy weather seems to be the perfect analogy of what people are going through, and not just in Lebanon, but also in the region. People are teetering on the edge of a very deep cliff, and it seems certain that the country will be in freefall before too long. The dividing line between a liveable income and poverty is steadily rising, engulfing more and more people each week, and I expect that in a short while we will be seeing people focused on little else but how to get a some food on the table – if they haven’t sold the table by then. Banks are still limiting withdrawals of more than the equivalent of $300 per week, and they, as well as the exchange booths (an officially condoned, albeit black market, feature of the Lebanese economy for decades upon decades) continue to profit from the headlong fall of the Lebanese pound. Paper money (pounds, that is) is getting harder and harder to come by, and billions in local currency have steadily been relocated under the mattresses and in the coffee cans of homes throughout the country.
Some irony to chew on: poking fun at the
revolution with 22 karat gold gum.
(27 Dec. 2019 – Burj al Ghazal, Beirut)
            The other, uglier side of all of this is that for decades, politicians and businesspeople have embezzled and stolen and transferred billions in US currency out of the country, while the Central Bank has run banking affairs like an Amway franchise. Even after the uprising, when the writing was on the wall that this thievery was going to be stopped, those transfers to foreign banks did not stop. There is a reason why Lebanon has remained a “third-world” country for so long instead of developing into the jewel it has the potential to be: it’s called “greed”, described “to a T” in I Timothy 6.10.
            These unrelenting rainstorms (or snowstorms in the higher elevations) are laying bare the unkempt infrastructure of the country. Roads are being washed out, foundations are collapsing, more garbage is falling into the sea. The tourism and service industries (restaurants, etc.), which form such a great part of the (honest) income of Lebanese, have stopped dead due to the complete lack of foreign tourists and cautious spending of locals. These are not pleasant times for the country.
LebCat 30: On its usual perch, but appearing
more than a bit anxious. Cats can have
premonitions, right? (3 Jan. 2020 – Beirut Cat
Café, Mar Mikhael - Beirut)
            Last week a cemetery wall collapsed due to the hyper-saturation of the soil, toppling the deteriorating stone-and-cement construction onto the Damascus highway sidewalk in the Sodeco section of the city. The sadly ironic part is that it belonged to the old Beirut Jewish cemetery in a country that has almost no Jews left. Who will dare to take it upon himself to build a better retaining wall for that cemetery, I wonder? But if these storms continue, the outer wall of either the Anglo/Evangelical, French or Syriac cemeteries, all in a row, will be the next to fall. And then, maybe, the city will do a general reconstruction of all the walls – if there is any money left in their coffers.
            As business after business closes its doors, one in particular stands out for me: the Beirut Cat Café, in the Mar Mikhael area not far from us. I think of it as a “rent-a-cat” place, where for the price of a drink you can associate with willing felines for an hour or so and then leave; and if you are so inclined, you can apply to adopt one of them. Because of the impossibility of meeting their expenses in the declining Lebanese economy they are closing at the end of this month. What touches me the most about this particular place is that it represented a better side of humanity, where animals that are considered vermin can be seen in a different light. And that can have its positive effect on the way that people relate to the natural world as well as to each other. With its closing I feel that we are losing a part of our humanity, as ironic as that sounds. (Or a part of our felinity?) I hope it will open again some day soon, once these cruel storms have finished their destructive journey across the Middle East. 
LebCat 31: Blissfully unaware and uncaring at what is coming.
Probably better off that way. (3 Jan. 2020 – Beirut Cat Café,
Mar Mikhael - Beirut)
            No matter what, we will greet the coming day as we (Armenians) have always done: "Christ is born and revealed; great good news to us all!" (Krisdos dzenav yev haidnetsav; tzezi, mezi medz avedis!)    [LNB]

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Canceled until Further Notice


30.Cancelled until Further Notice (11 Nov. 2019)
Last week all politicians’ faces adorning all buildings and
monuments (everywhere?) were removed and replaced
with the national flag. (11 Nov. 2019 – Qobaiyat - Beirut)
This morning the taxi driver asked me, “What do you think will happen here?” It came as somewhat of a surprise; first of all, that someone would ask my opinion about Lebanon’s fate, and second, that a Lebanese person would think that I, as a foreigner, would have some sort of access to privileged information that would help to prepare for what is coming. At least that was the impression I got, though I realize that people sometimes have other reasons for asking such questions.
            The country is suffering from the aggregation of so many systemic problems: a deeply entrenched patronage system (thanks to the Ottomans, then to the French, and then to the Lebanese themselves); the acceptance of corruption as an inevitable way of life; the lack of a system of holding people accountable (hardly an institution in the country functions without some “irregularities” in operations or hiring); the dependence on stop-gap measures to keep things rolling along, as they have been for decades since the end of the civil war; the partnerships of local groups with outside powers, each with its own agenda. Of course it is the bit-players, the regular citizens, who are badly buffeted in this local/international drama being enacted before our eyes.
Optimism and camaraderie ruled the day of the human chain,
which included an attempt to pass a bagged manouche sandwich 174 km (108 mi.) from Tyre to Tripoli.
(27 Oct. 2019 – Nor Hadjin - Beirut)
            My taxi driver had been let go from his 10-year employment at a local firm just last Friday. A couple of months earlier he had decided to buy a taxi car and license, to better support his young family; now he is completely dependent on this work. Will he be able to pay his car loan to the bank? And does the bank care whether he can pay? Will it pressure people like him to come up with cash he doesn’t have? For a long time I have thought about how the government and economic setup here seems perfectly designed to frustrate and discourage especially the young people, who then leave the country. And this is a particular concern affecting the Armenian community, which is in such dire need of a new wave of honest, courageous and committed young people.
            Putting aside speculation as to who or what might be behind all of this, and who stands to gain the most from a destabilized Lebanon, the idealism and dreams of young and old were expressed symbolically two Sundays ago, when thousands of Lebanese (and others) stood hand-in-hand in a human chain along the Mediterranean coast, from Tyre in the south to Tripoli in the north. It was a festive time, and brought out not only hard-core protestors, but tourists, families, young and old, men and women, visibly illustrating the dream they have of a country they can remain in and contribute to. Perhaps the image of that day will serve as an inspiration to work together to alter the trajectory the country has been on for so long.
“This is our sea!” Citizens are trying to stand up to the illegal
appropriation of the Mediterranean shoreline, in a city with
almost nil public space. (11 Nov. 2019 –
Ain el Mreisseh - Beirut)
            Yesterday a particularly delicious bit of popular protest occurred right next to the All Saints’ Anglican Church, where I preached. The church is struggling to find a pastor who is willing to come and shepherd this flock in Lebanon – and willingly endure all that one must here as part of the package. Nearby, next to the renowned St. George Bay, is a privately-owned bit of seaside which protestors took over, bringing their picnic blankets and breakfast, their fishing rods and swimming trunks. They said, “This is our sea, and we are going to enjoy it.” It appeared that they were prepared to bring their soap and towels and bathe there as well. Meanwhile, the church bulletin carried this unintentional commentary announcing a planned lecture / workshop: “The Life You’ve Always Wanted – cancelled until further notice.”
            As I traveled back home this morning and passed by the seaside showrooms usually displaying the latest and most expensive Porsches, Land Rovers, Lamborghinis, Jaguars and the like, I noticed something had changed: their glass-fronted showrooms were barren of vehicles. It’s clear that they already took steps to protect their valuable assets – those half-a-million dollar vehicles that no mere mortal in Lebanon could even dream to own. But there are plenty of people who just love to exhibit what they are able to (or appear able to) possess. It gives me pause to think that the cost of just one of those hunks of metal and plastic could lift one or two of our Armenian Evangelical schools free and clear of debt.
Garbage bins bearing the scars of the ashes and flames of the
beginning of the uprising. (9 Nov. 2019 – Mar Mikhael - Beirut)
            Drawing near to our home on the usually busy highway (today was a national holiday for the Prophet’s Birthday; plus, many gas stations are closed for lack of gasoline stocks, so the roads were practically empty), the bus approached the Électricité du Liban building. Around the entire perimeter fence was black bunting covering it, obstructing the view in or out, giving the entire block a funereal look. And blocking the street alongside were protesters in tents, vowing to stay there until the company, which receives the lion’s share of the government’s budget, provides 24-hour a day electricity. This, thirty years after the end of the Lebanese civil war.
            This morning’s taxi driver had gone to his bank last week to withdraw a sizeable amount of money from his account. No matter what he told them, they refused to release more than a small amount. So he resorted to yelling and screaming; he didn’t care what others in the bank thought. The manager sat him and his brother down, brought them coffee, tried to change their minds, and finally agreed to release a larger amount, but over a few days. This “show” is playing in bank branches throughout the country, and so the bank employee syndicate has declared that they are all going on strike as of tomorrow, until the country settles down. Yet those who have the strings in their hands are not in to be found in local branches, as we note every time someone of influence comes on TV to hold a press conference.
Some apropos theological reflection on the meaning
of this struggle. (26 Oct. 2019 – Mar Mikhael - Beirut)
            To take our minds off of the struggles of the Lebanese, we need only turn our heads a bit eastward, to see the sordid drama playing out there. Just one example is the news of the so-called “Islamic State” (The Reboot) today claiming its latest accomplishment, in the ambush and targeted murder of the (unarmed) Armenian Catholic Community Head of Qamishly, Fr. Hovsep Bedoyan and his father, as they were driving to visit the Armenian Catholic flock in Deirezzor. The IS also set off a bomb in front of his church in Qamishly at about the same time they gunned him down in his car. Before his arrest and murder Jesus quoted the prophet Zechariah, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Mt. 26.31). This is the intent of those committing these acts – them, their sponsors, and their enablers. But rather than answer in kind, we instead pray that wherever shepherds and leaders are struck down, or when people flee in fear or discouragement, that God will provide leadership, renewing and refreshing the witness of his faithful children.
            Complementing today’s events in Syria is this week’s Turkey/US Presidential Mutual Admiration Society meeting in Washington, D.C. Do we all remember what happened last time this pas de deux took place, two years ago? How the Turkish security detail brutalized American protestors on U.S. soil, and not only escaped the country through “diplomatic immunity”, but had the charges against them dropped? It reminds us that corruption is not just a Lebanese problem, and that Turkey’s ethnic cleansing career is alive and well, and not just a thing of the past.
LebCat 29: With all the AUB students away at
protests, work as a window cleaner gets off to a
leisurely start for this cat.
(11 November 2019 – Bliss St. - Beirut)
            Contrary to the impression I may have given up to now, not all is gloomy for us, though. Our mood has been shifted from the weeks of closed schools and banks by the presence (since September) of our new neighbors in the two vacant apartments on our floor. Two young pastoral candidates and their families are here from Armenia, to serve and learn in the Union and among our Armenian Evangelical churches. They are adjusting to the uncertainties of life here while also integrating with the Armenian community and bringing their insights, skills and devotion to God to all who interact with them (a lot of the time, that’s us). What a refreshing change, that utter silence is no longer the norm in our building in the afternoons and evenings!
            I hadn’t much to say in answer to the taxi driver’s question this morning. I have no secret knowledge, nor do I own a crystal ball that tells the future. But as we conversed, I told him, “Things may get worse, I don’t know. But I do know that all of us need to be careful what we say about each other, because in the end, everyone here has to be able to live together.”    [LNB]