Sunday, April 30, 2023

Hesaid-Shesaid Disease

58. Hesaid-Shesaid Disease (30 April 2023)

It's springtime, and the Mediterranean is not
too cold for a swim. (2 Apr. 2023 - AUB, Beirut)

Supermarkets in the U.S. have (or used to have) bulletin boards near the entrance, a place to post community activity announcements, job advertisements, lost dog posters, Fire Prevention Week fliers, you name it. Occasionally I would notice someone standing and examining each notice; but usually these bulletin boards were merely something to pass on your way out or your way into the store. Now, times have changed, and the bulletin board as well as its relative, the newspaper gossip column, have transformed into a new, electronic format, eagerly consumed by people the world over.

Lake Laziza – stagnant waters
collecting in the site of yet another
useless construction project.
(27 Mar. 2023 - Mar Mikhael)

            Social media platforms guide the thinking of so many people, young and old. Sometimes it guides its users to access well-thought-out writings about important issues or events. Often it entices us into habits that divert us from looking deeply or critically into topics. I would propose that our God-given minds and consciences are also “platforms” to help us consider what is true, or beautiful, or healthy, as well as what is “good, acceptable and perfect” (cf. Romans 12.2). The condition of today’s “marketplace of ideas” – a condition that predates the Internet – swarms with lies and half-truths, as well as with vested interests, mixed together with Truth. Separating the worthwhile from the worthless is akin to trying to separate the ingredients of a tabbouleh salad once it is mixed.

            But effort must be spent in separating the good and bad, no matter how painstaking the task. The discipline of deep thinking, including research and debate, is crucial to avoiding a relativism, antagonism and shallowness. And it is a rare, perhaps endangered, species.

Another sign of spring, high in the mountains
of Lebanon (10 Mar. 2023 - Azzounieh)

            At one time newspapers and periodicals bristled with the pointed tips of journalistic and academic inquiry. They played an essential role in in piercing shells of deceit and kept the “He said-She said Disease”, so prevalent in partisan and entertainment “news”. It pushed back the waves of mendacity of the powerful, and challenged vested interests. Where there should be courageous truth-telling, too often news reports are filled with “he said this, but, on the other hand, she said that”. A shrug of the shoulders, and on to the next story.

             And this is why April is the bitterest month for Armenians. They suffer from the “Hesaid-Shesaid Disease” that runs rampant in popular and populist media. Their just cause, and the unacknowledged and unpunished crime against them, has been turned into a target of the propaganda war by those responsible – the governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan. The Armenian nation, in its struggling Eastern portion, and its exiled Western portion, has been seated at a table replete with impotent statements of sympathy from world powers demonstrating their prowess in verbal gymnastics.

And this is why we now have 24-hour
electricity. And a working elevator.
(6 Apr. 2023 - Geitawi, Beirut)

           Caught in such a worldwide web as this, it is no wonder that militant groups have emerged from among all subjugated people groups, and not just from Armenians. Those who are silenced or sidelined from public forums can often see no other way than this: to force the powerful to pay attention to (and sometimes feel on their own skin) the injustices that are freely roaming the streets of every city and country, easily ignored by an otherwise occupied public. Sadly, the chronic disenfranchisement of such people groups leads to their disarray, dismemberment and dissolution, something widely observed among my people. 

        Allowing “Hesaid-Shesaid Disease” to spread unchecked may be intentional. It enables genocidal regimes to bend the wills of “great powers” who don’t want to endanger their access to resources. It allows Turkey and Azerbaijan to declare historic Armenian lands and culture as its own. It emboldens them to claim that Armenia and Armenians never existed. It gives them a green light to persist in their genocidal policies, both “soft genocide” and “hard genocide”. It gives credence to Hitler’s dismissal of concerns over his genocide against the Polish people, telling his generals in 1939 to abandon their humanitarian scruples: “Who speaks nowadays of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Armenian scouts headed to their Saturday
meeting, while street lights are being
replaced with solar-powered LED fixtures.
(15 Apr. 2023 - Khalil Bedawi, Beirut)

            The disease has no cure. It is as old as the dialogue between Adam and God in the Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 3.9-13) and ingrained within the human heart. Although it cannot be eradicated, it can – and must – be kept at bay. As mentioned earlier, deep and rigorous thinking is one of the necessary treatment regimens. Another is careful and considerate listening, something that takes time and commitment. And time is one of the casualties of the information/entertainment glut engulfing the world. The third treatment is to “make love your aim” or to “follow the way of love” (cf. I Corinthians 14.1). Loving others as yourself. Loving the truth. Loving (including a fear of) God. 

LebCat 58 - Not sure how I got into this
building (UAECNE HQ). Could you provide
me with an escape route? Please?
(26 Mar. 2023 - Geitawi, Beirut)
                            April 24th – Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day – has come and gone, with various and sundry observances here in Lebanon and in many places throughout the world. It was noted by the diseased as well. The governor of Istanbul forbade its observance for the second year in a row. Azerbaijan increased its propaganda about the nefarious designs of the Armenian government, and intensified its military aggression against Armenia and Artsakh. Therefore, I have no choice but to do my part to combat this disease with faith in God, for the sake of my descendants and the inheritance of their rightful legacy.   [LNB]

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Dead Foxes

57. Dead Foxes (28 February 2023)

Commemorating 35 years since Azerbaijan
began targeting Armenians for
extermination. (26 Feb. 2023 - Beirut)

Earlier this month, while driving along the coastal highway, I slowed down behind a line of cars and trucks exiting and noticed an animal lying alongside the roadway, obviously dead. From a distance I could tell it was too large to be a cat, too small to be a dog, and my guess was confirmed as I slowly crept alongside… a red fox. I was happy and sad at the same time; happy that there is still wildlife in this overbuilt metro area, and sad that it met this fate. I realize that those in rural places might not share my dismay, considering the losses they may incur because of foxes. Here this death is sadly poignant. While actual foxes become road kill, human foxes are left alive. And the “fox hunters” trying to pursue this latter kind are systematically eliminated, and the foxes pretending to be humans continue their sadistic rule over the henhouse.

Empty since the port blast, Lebanon's electric
company building - gutted, just like the service
it provides (20 Feb. 2023 - Mar Mikhael-Beirut)

            One of the more insidious of that species is now facing a “natural disaster” of his own making. Over the years he granted waivers for poorly constructed housing in exchange for ballot-box loyalty, so that he could establish full political control. That narcissism transformed the tragedy of this region’s February 6 earthquake into an unmitigated disaster. Will he be held accountable for the crimes he is now heaping upon the corrupt lower-level operatives? Not if the spin doctors around him can do their psyops job well, and transform this fox’s image into, let’s say, that of a pussy-cat. A devout, embattled fighter for the rights of the ordinary citizen. A strong leader his country needs to rebuild it and make it proud. Any of a raft of addictive lies that people in so many lands believe, sad to say.
The value of $300 in local currency, in
2019 (right) and 2023 (27 Feb. 2023 - Beirut)

Meanwhile, others try to dodge the traffic that would run them over and put an end to their positive impact. Though contributing to the betterment of society, and though they are not the ones able to cause a fundamental, systemic change in the status quo, yet their activity is nonetheless significant in the long term. Unlike the wealthy foxes who continue to find ways to launder their money or sink it into building more empty buildings in the capital, they are a different sort of investor. They sink their time and effort into human capital; into teaching students to think, into inculcating character and faith into young people, into creating cultural riches to feed the souls of generations yet unborn. The anniversaries of the region’s Armenian institutions (churches, schools and so forth) are reminders of the deep investment our forebears made to rebuild and sustain a broken nation after the Genocide, making the Middle East’s Armenian communities the powerhouse of the Diaspora. And it continues to serve in that capacity, feeding and nurturing Armenian identity but with a frighteningly small number of visionary laborers engaged in this crucial work.

As spring approaches, tree branches and
neighborhood generators begin to
sprout offshoots
(27 Feb. 2023 - Bourj Hammoud)

            Who are they? First of all, they are teachers of all subjects and in all manners. Especially focusing on language, history and culture, they might be using state-of-the-art methods and materials, or they might be solidly stuck in the 19th century in their approach, but at least they are making an effort. Others who develop new, relevant materials for various grade and knowledge levels are also part of that army, along with those who digitize existing materials (a special shout-out to the Armenian National Library in this regard). Then there is anyone making a difference in just one child’s or adult’s awareness or self-awareness of his (or her) identity as an Armenian. I would also include “influencers”, who know how to make effective use of information media and place it or disseminate it in easy-to-find locations. Really, in our world so full of foxes, all Armenians should be engaged in this effort on the micro or macro scale, and spend less time self-absorbed in things that do not satisfy (see Isaiah 55.1-2) or edify, such as self-promotion on social media platforms.

A reminder to continue being visionary,
despite it all
(28 Feb. 2023 - Gemmayzeh-Beirut)

            I’ve noticed that Armenians (myself included) tend to put things in life-or-death terms; maybe it is because Armenians, like nearly all minorities, face life-or-death realities much more frequently than majority populations. Majority populations and those intent on a homogenized, globalized mono-culture, tend to object to this existential angst, seeing it as unnecessary (which it isn’t) or disruptive (which it must be). The angst felt among Armenians here in the Middle East is because they are battered and dishonored, treated as collateral damage by the major foxes and their sub-foxes who play at political and financial war. As it was a century ago, so it is today. Enabled by a disengaged international community, foxes circle around Armenia and Artsakh, drooling over the thought of ruling over an emptied henhouse, expertly using propaganda, lies, threats and a sham “protest” to lay hold of the remainder of the Armenian homeland devoid of Armenians.

LebCat 57: Hard at work receiving phone bill
payments. This may explain a few things about
the system. (28 Feb. 2023 -
            When the Lord Jesus faced off against the oppression his people were bearing, he dared call the ruler of that day a “fox” (Lk. 13.32). It was a calculated, public insult, and a challenge to his duplicitous authority. Despite the deadly actions of all manners of foxes, God will accomplish his purposes, he will bring hope and healing to the downtrodden, and will revitalize life within all who trust in his Son.   [LNB]

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

With Whom Is God Pleased

56. With Whom Is God Pleased? (3 January 2023)

A glimpse of Christmas joy in the
neighborhood, powered by
(30 Dec. 2022 - Geitawi, Beirut)

Holidays in Lebanon, especially in the winter, have fallen off my list of favorites, probably in no small part due to the lack of electricity we (and so many other Lebanese) experience at home. The offices where I work close, meaning that our building’s generator stays off. Our subscription for supplemental power covers only about half of the day, anyway, bringing inside temperatures close to what is outside. And municipal power supply continues to emulate Halley’s Comet in its rare appearances. Combining all the national holidays with the ones of various religious denominations, plus Armenian holidays, here in Lebanon we experience close to a month each year of these “off” days.

            But there is another layer of distaste. Holidays are too often turned into platforms for social and political assertiveness, rather than times of rest, reflection, redirection and rededication. Firecrackers (and bullets) fill the air over neighborhoods where a particular holiday is most observed. Not to forget the obligatory firecrackers and fireworks launched at important life events, such as funerals and weddings, or your World Cup football team scoring a goal. We were able to watch three games of this year’s football “Mondial” in early December since we were visiting Armenia for a week. There, games were broadcast on Armenian state television for anyone to view. Here was a different story, as is the case with so many things. The sounds of firecrackers and nearby fans yelling would prompt us to refresh the official website in order to see the latest scores — a somewhat anticlimactic method.

Constructing the "New Year's tree" at the
Yerevan train station
(30 Nov. 2022 - Yerevan, Armenia)

            In this particular season the biblical phrase, “Peace on earth, good will towards men,” is widely touted, or more commonly quoted simply as “Peace on earth”, without involving men (in the generic sense) or good will. The more intricate version of Luke 2.14, “Peace on earth among those with whom God is pleased,” is avoided, likely because it doesn’t fit neatly into 21st century greeting cards (i.e., social media platforms and posts), and likely also because it states that there is a God, also implying that this God makes judgments. About us. Also not fitting popular sensitivities in these oversensitive times.

A garden of Armenian letters seemingly
growing out of stones, hopefully an inspiration,
more than just a tourist attraction.
(29 Nov. 2022 - near Artashavan, Armenia)
            Whether or not it plays well in mass culture, a question sticks in my mind: With whom is God pleased these days? My immediate guess is “no one”, as evidenced by the lack of peace on earth. The lofty goal of peacemaking is left largely untouched, while nations allegedly aim for (but fail to reach) the lower goal of temporary cease-fires. Yet even where cease-fires are attained there are always those who find ways to continue their aggression.

            Since mid-December and continuing into the New Year, Azerbaijan-sponsored phony “environmental activists” have been blocking the only lifeline for food or medicine or transit that Artsakh Armenians have, the “Lachin corridor” linking it to Armenia. Add to this the Azeri government and industries that are driving all of this, entities that blithely cut off energy supplies to Artsakh in the cold of winter. Add to this the inaction of those charged with keeping the road open, allowing the situation to be created. And finally add to this the meaningless verbal bravado (and little more) of world powers, busying themselves with statements and resolutions condemning the blockade, but unwilling to intervene in a sovereign country. If all of this looks and sounds like world powers’ failure to prevent the Genocide in 1915, there’s a good reason for that. Summing it all up, it immolates the dove of peace over the flames of war.

A mural depicting Old Beirut, in a park where
an old Beirut building was torn down.
(8 Dec. 2022 - Geitawi, Beirut)
            Peacemaking can be torn apart in various ways: by individuals, societies, companies, governments, you name it. It does not have to be done in the obtuse ways that Armenia’s rapacious neighbors are so fond of. Sometimes it can be as subtle as tolerating inept (fill in the name of your favorite country) governance, or by making self-centeredness and self-indulgence a societal value, or in disdaining others in order to elevate yourself.

            Yet despite all attempts to kill it, peacemaking is alive, and peacemakers are at work. Whenever we hear about or witness a teacher who goes beyond the lesson plan and above the minimum requirements to help her class learn to relate with care for each other, there peace is being inculcated. Last week I was in a store in Bourj Hammoud when an older fellow in tattered clothes stood at the door with his hand raised in greeting - not for a handout. The Arab worker (who happens to speak Armenian) addressed him affectionately, giving and receiving words of blessing; this, too, is peace-building. When someone in the course of a conversation asks me to pray for him right there on the spot, God’s peace hovers over both of us and enables us to express more grace to others.

Christmas bazaar at the Zvartnots Center,
which brings hope and love to special needs
(22 Dec. 2022 - Nor Sis, Bourj Hammoud)

            That message to the shepherds heralding “peace” at Christ’s birth is more of a challenge to self-absorbed humanity than a statement of present reality. The One whose appearance they announced made it his aim to establish peace through servanthood and a particular act of sacrifice. It grew more intense and pervasive as he grew “in stature and in God and man’s favor” . We might strain to see those around us who join him in this endeavor, but the thread that joins each instance together, shining with the angelic light seen outside ancient Bethlehem, is that of service.

            Serving others, motivated by love, produces peace. And only God himself can fill and refill that love.

LebCat 56: Since the electric company isn't
using these anyway, I'll just settle in.
(30 Dec. 2022 - Mar Mikhael, Beirut)
            Since “Armenian Christmas” is but three days away, an Armenian greeting on the occasion and a wish for God-pleasing peacemaking: Christ is born and revealed; blessed is the revelation of Christ!*   [LNB]

*Քրիստոս ծնաւ եւ յայտնեցաւ. օրհնեա՛լ է յայտնութիւնն Քրիստոսի։

Friday, November 25, 2022

Waiving the Flag

55.Waiving the Flag (25 November 2022)

Preparing for school celebration of
Lebanon's Independence Day
(17 Nov. 2022 - Geitawi, Beirut)
Now that World Cup football (soccer for you Americans) has taken over the world for the coming four weeks, enabling some pleasant diversion from the strangeness of these times, Lebanon is once again subjected to the ineptitude of its kleptocracy. No government here means no decision-making regarding broadcasting rights for the World Cup on state television. Which means that football fans, of which there are many, will not enjoy a month away from talk shows reviewing their all-too familiar daily miseries. Daily cheering could provide positive, natural chemicals to bring health to the tired bodies in this country, without having to scour pharmacies for artificial remedies. Instead, a very few people with the financial means to do so will watch the games at home, though many of them will suffer with Lebanon’s insufferable internet speeds, with frozen screens and with dropped connections.

"Green" transportation may not exactly mean
this (14 Nov. 2022 - Ghabi, Beirut)
            A recent news report about this situation in Lebanon showed photos of Lebanese with a multitude of flags of their favorite teams while also recording the fans’ dismay at being deprived of the tournament. They could paying for a month’s cable subscription in order to watch it, but that would be tantamount to telling your family they will not eat for a month. One person quipped, “Meanwhile our politicians are probably in Qatar, watching the games live.”

            It’s not surprising that Lebanese Independence Day, November 22, passed by this week with hardly a mention. Yes, there was a smattering of interesting broadcast advertisements with the independence theme, and an event or two was held for select groups of people. As always, students participated in their schools’ programs in observance of the day. There were even small Lebanese flags planted along traffic circles and roadsides. But there were no army parades or air force fly-overs, and no grandstands because empty chairs would have had to have been placed there for officials yet to be elected/appointed. What was in abundance were the many who expressed their dismay at the use of the word “independence” in today’s reality, since it is apparent to all that Lebanon’s problems and solutions are dependency issues, dependent on other, outside players. On Independence Day 2022 the flag was waived more than it was waved.

The best way to make music is to do it
yourself (13 Nov. 2022 - Geitawi, Beirut)
            It’s encouraging to see that despite all of this, rather than waiting for things to “get better,” people move forward to organize events and activities. This is most apparent to us in our church and university settings, though it is not limited to those circles. Concerts, plays, worship events, film premieres, lectures, debates, leadership training, conferences, infrastructure upgrades, publications, and of course, weddings! And this is just within the Lebanese-Armenian community! None of this means that conditions are improving. The economy is still floundering, the currency is still tumbling, the government is still somnabulate, and youth are still edging towards the exit doors. But there is a realization that consuming one’s time and energy in worry will not lengthen one’s days, and will only yield regrets for things undone or unattempted. So, I am glad when there are more activities that I want to attend than there is time to attend them.

An imaginary cedar of Lebanon, perched on
a narrow outcropping of rock... perhaps not
imaginary at all (29 Oct. 2022 - Gemmayzeh)
           Despite these robust signs, the present and future of the Armenian people is ever on my mind. For Armenia and Artsakh, for the near Diaspora and the far. Few Armenians learn from their past, though they study Armenian history in their school years. Names, places, events, dates, enemies are never in short supply, and swirl around in the minds of those with an Armenian education. But it is rare when your average “Hovsep” can appreciate the myriad mistakes and missteps that Armenians have made over the millennia, especially in the past century or two, up to this day, and then sketch a wiser path forward. Alongside this general concern (dare I say “worry”?) I see a glimmer of hope in my limited encounters with Armenian youth, as they wrestle with questions that their history presents, note similarities with today’s events, and ask “Can’t we do this differently?” Change will only happen when people are free to ask questions and pursue answers, not when they line up in rows and columns and follow leaders unthinkingly.

Something for children to play with on the
steps, but is anybody listening at the other
end? (17 Nov. 2022 - Mar Mikhael, Beirut)

            Leaders clothe their self-interests in patriotic rhetoric, and followers adopt that rhetoric, based on a limited knowledge of the dynamics and background. For small and unimportant peoples (like Armenia), the outcome is always in favor of those who can supply what large entities want. Mostly that means that those who have oil resources are treated with some deference, while those that don’t (like Armenia) have to figure out if they have something to offer to satisfy ravenous appetites. This is the way of the world, no matter that some consider themselves “exceptional”. And this is why the church is so important (as long as it doesn’t play political “world cup”), because it dares to love for God’s sake, not for gain.

LebCat 55: That's my nickname, and, yes,
that's my restaurant. (8 Oct. 2022 - Hamra)

These past few weeks we have enjoyed visits from people outside Lebanon, people who have dared to venture into this land of adventure. Our church’s annual meeting this week, usually held in the summer, hosted a group from Syria and Greece, and some of them had not been to Lebanon in years, despite being “just next door”. Earlier in the month there were visitors from Europe and the U.S., including a few who were here for the first time. We got to see our dear friend (and “boss”, as we affectionately call him) and share some relaxed time reflecting on life, work and ministry in this non-standard context. Although people tend to praise us for continuing to live and work here, as if it were just the outcome of our personal efforts, what is less visible is the support and encouragement we receive from many people, near and far, drawing us forward. And the unexplainable peace of God, helping us to keep our focus not on flag-waving and enthusiastic cheering for or against us, but on our calling from Christ himself.   [LNB]

Monday, October 31, 2022

How about Them Apples?

54.How about Them Apples? (31 October 2022)

The last few apples from a half-crate
bequeathed to us (5 Oct. 2022 - Geitawi)

As the people await the outcome of deliberations to select yet another paragon of mediocrity, ineffectiveness and corruption to lead the country, and as Lebanese, young and old, meanwhile engage in their mindless mimicry of that most worthless and idiotic of American holidays, Halloween, my mind goes to things of slightly greater value in this autumnal season. That, of course, includes the beauty of the changing colors of deciduous trees, visible elsewhere in the country, but hard to find in Beirut, where any sort of tree is happily sacrificed for the sake of building empty concrete-and-steel structures (if you know the right people). In our previous home in the east coast of the U.S., we reveled in that yearly shift from greens to warm tones, deep reds and bright oranges and shimmering yellows that heralded the cooling weather. When we come across the smallest evidence of those colors in the countryside, we experience a moment of joy and wonder at God’s handiwork refreshing our eyes and spirits.

Clouds on the horizon, and the sun
illuminating the illegal landfill on the coast
(13 Oct. 2022 - towards Bourj Hammoud)
            Another aspect of this season, also connected to our previous life in the U.S., has to do with one of the quintessential gifts of the land in the fall, namely apples. They are plentiful in Lebanon, and are available in several varieties, from sweet to tart. Sadly, apple cider hasn’t really caught on, but apple vinegar is prepared in great quantities for a variety of uses. For whatever reason this year (I leave that to your deduction), the market for apples is glutted, and domestic apple production is a losing proposition. When visiting Ainjar recently, friends there said that they are leaving their apples on the trees – and the ground – because they cannot sell them, and therefore it is meaningless to harvest them. And then they gave us a huge bag of apples, just gathered that morning, to take back to Beirut to enjoy. Fresh. No chemicals. Delicious. And unsaleable.

The neighborhood transformed into a street
in Egypt for a movie filming
(30 Sept. 2022 - Geitawi)

            Last week, on one of my shopping trips (which I do by foot, since I can get some exercise that way), as I entered a nearby fruit stand, I noticed that a middle-aged woman was talking with the grocer about apples, their price, the varieties and so forth. Probably just another interested shopper, I assumed. Until I was leaving the shop and saw that she and the shopkeeper had walked over to her car, where the open trunk revealed crates and crates of apples… And she was continuing to talk about apples and negotiate a price for them. It bothered me, not just because of the reason for the glut of apples in Lebanon today, but also about the state of the “middle class” here, which has taken to driving around to neighborhood fruit stands to sell a bit of their homegrown produce. And to add to the inscrutability of the situation, the cost to the consumer is not dropping as it should, but rather continually increases. It’s not just the poor who are bearing the brunt of the self-serving “leaders” running this drama, but all strata of society. As my mother used to say when astonished at something, “How about them apples?”

The odor of burning garbage can't hide the
beauty of wedding flowers and the joy of
a wedding! (15 Oct. 2022 - Khalil Badawi)
            The irregularities of life here have become something of a routine. Strangely, the near-complete lack of municipal electricity – a total of about 10 hours for the entire month of October – has made life more predictable. We know that whatever the schedule is for our supplemental power (“ishtirak”), that is when we have power, amounting to a little under 12 hours per day. Since we live in the same building as my office, that adds another 4 hours on weekdays. So, sitting in the dark, or shaving in the dark, or doing my online Arabic lesson while I wait for the lights to come on, is just another feature of life in Lebanon. Add to that the irregularity of the office internet, which the provider cuts for anywhere from a half-hour to 3-1/2 hours during work hours, and one becomes inured to things that would cause major emotional upheaval anywhere in the “developed” world. Except perhaps with looming energy shortages this winter, the developed world will know how the other 90% of the world lives (statistic courtesy of me making it up).

It's a bit of a drive to get there, but
at last I've found some equipment
to start my exercise program
(2 Oct. 2022 - Sawfar)

            I have a human Arabic teacher who has an amazing command of the language, and an amazing amount of patience with me and my esoteric interests. Fortunately, as a schoolteacher she is aware of all of the classroom tricks that someone in his 60s tries to pull off and keeps me moving forward. It will soon be six years since we began our lives here, and although I have accumulated a fair amount of exposure to the language, gaining facility in Arabic for daily interactions remains a hill I need to climb. Doesn’t help that my job is conducted mostly in Armenian with some English. We’ve begun to focus exclusively on spoken “Lebanese”, which I expect will propel me up that hill.

            I also have a mechanical Arabic teacher. It’s an “app” on my devices, and it has more than a few quirks. Those quirks help me maintain my interest (292 days in a row and counting). I particularly like the mispronunciations that the developers haven’t bothered fixing. Things like “tabibbouleh” for “tabbouleh”, and “shishai” for “shai”, and the American city “Safanennah” instead of “Savannah”. I’ve even taken to pronouncing those words the same way!

LebCat 54: Keep walking and mind your own
business. I'm working for the security
company (3 Oct. 2022 - Geitawi)
And I continue to invoke my mother, especially when I see the insanity around us and the barbarity inflicted on Armenia and Artsakh while everyone is looking somewhere else, and the self- and other-inflicted miseries overtaking so many. Things like this may no longer amaze me, yet I can’t help but say, “How ’bout them apples...”   [LNB]

Friday, September 30, 2022

A Time for Discomfort

 53.A Time for Discomfort (30 September 2022)

A rare day of low humidity, with a crystal-
clear view of Beirut from KCHAG.
(24 Sept. 2022 - Monteverde)

How much more surreal can things get? Yesterday the parliament met to make its first attempt at electing a president of the Republic. Hearing all the laughter and good-natured ribbing happening in the chamber, one might easily have concluded that there is little to worry about in the country, and that Lebanon is back to its glory days of the 1960s. Yet the upbeat mood in the room served only to highlight the deep disconnect between the people and their daily suffering and uncertainty on the one hand, and on the other hand those who are ensconced in the halls of power. Although this disconnect is arguably true in practically every country in the world, here it is as if a house is burning down, but the residents themselves must battle the fire alone, unassisted, running to and fro to find water to fill their basins and toss a few drops on the ever-heightening flames.

The building (at rear) where Armenian
orphan girls wove carpets after the Genocide
(17 Sept. 2022 - Ghazir)

            When people take up arms, even toy guns, and desperately enter the banks that hold their savings hostage, demanding their own money to be able to pay their own medical or business debts, it shows a deeply troubled society. They are depicted by news outlets as committing “bank heists”, as if readers were only capable of understanding Hollywood terminology. These are people struggling against the injustice and humiliation they have been fed continually for these past few years. The obliviousness of those who comfortably led Lebanon to this state, in local or international halls of power, only serves to increase our discomfort.

Reflecting on a day off, with the
help of a sculpture by local artists
(17 Sept. 2022 - Jbeil/Byblos)

            As we view the continued terror inflicted on Armenia by its un-neighborly “neighbors”, our discomfort multiplies all the more. The world today is witness to Azerbaijan’s push to impose military solutions on a weak and defeated country while the peacekeepers’ country is otherwise preoccupied. Yet once again, Armenians are demonstrating their political naïveté by rejoicing every time some Western government issues a condemnation of Azerbaijan, or a statement in support of the territorial integrity of Armenia. This same reasoning justified the international community’s lack of support for Artsakh’s Armenians during the war that began two years ago this week. Yet many Armenians the world over, in their self-imposed amnesia, continue to imagine that those statements will actually affect the reality on the ground. The reality is that this aggressor will take as much land as it can from Armenia, disrupting and destroying as many lives as it can, while big sister Turkey watches admiringly.

The streets around the Ashrafieh church &
school transformed into an Egyptian street
for a movie (30 Sept. 2022 - Geitawi)

            Meanwhile, despite the discomfort caused by events near and far, we are comforted in some measure by the beginning of a new school year. Armenian schools in both Lebanon and Syria welcomed their students back this month, providing much more than an Armenian education, as crucial as that is for the health and strength of Armenians everywhere. They are also providing a point of stability in the unstable world these children and adolescents inhabit. The daily conversations of adults around them, centering most often on continual worries about finances and the crashing currency, is being offset to a degree by the rhythm of the school day and the school week. Yes, the schools face deep financial challenges, especially if they have not yet installed a solar electric system on their grounds, and have to pour large amounts of currency into fueling their generators. Yes, this is aside from the inevitable school closures resulting from unexpected events, likely to increase as the current President’s term comes to an end. But it is an act of love and hope, based not on circumstances, but on vision and convictions.

Guitarist Ayman Jarjour transfixes the
audience with classical, Spanish and
"Oriental"-flavored pieces
(27 Sept. 2022 - Minet el Hosn)

            A moment of beauty I recently enjoyed was a guitar recital by the brother of a former student from my Haigazian teaching days. Aside from being a fundraiser for a rehabilitation center in Lebanon, the event provided a feast of musical delights, filling the church’s sanctuary for one hour with the sound of that one guitar (and the regular dings of someone unable to detach from Whatsapp). It was a gift that the guitarist gave to an audience hungry for something that would lift them up, if only for a brief time. As Fred Rogers’ mother told him when he was young and afraid, “Always look for the helpers. There’s always someone who is trying to help.”

LebCat 53: An exquisitely striped "McCat",
frequenting the location where it's most
likely to be fed - just not by me
(11 Sept. 2022 - Ain el Mreisseh)

            This is the way of the world. There are those in challenging places doing their best to help others, even at the cost of their own comfort. And there are others who seek only their own comfort, no matter how many others must suffer as a result. This is a “scalable” truth, applicable to societies as well as world powers. Though countries only occasionally enjoy peace, they are often oblivious to the role they themselves play in the natural, political or human disorder around them. More likely, though, they lack the moral grounding needed to admit their role in the hardship they cultivate.

            Yet this is the very same world into which Christ Jesus entered, into which today he leads his disciples to share words and works of comfort and hope to those truly in need of it, and to engage in the struggle for what is right, true and beautiful.   [LNB]