Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Nuts, Tents and Trees

2.Nuts, Tents and Trees (20 March 2017)
            You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, as the saying goes. Since I find myself in a very different environment than the usual church circles (i.e., I’m with 20- and 30-somethings in language school each morning), I have to get used to being a normal guy, and take care not to unconsciously put on “clerical” airs. It’s stretching me, and I think it’s also helping me be a “real” Christian person, not a stereotypical “religious type”. Hearing them ask me if I knew why people were walking around the city with ashes on their foreheads told me that these young Europeans have next to no religious or faith background.
The view looking south from our living room balcony.
            Our section consists of a class of six students and one teacher, and I win the prize of oldest student, hands down. Oldest student means that I’m the one who gets to struggle the most with learning the verb forms, subjunctives and adjectives and who knows what else in spoken Arabic. When called upon to say, “He wants to swim,” I easily mix up my hes and shes, and my singulars and plurals. Quite a lot of fun. Except when I realize that I’m making the same mistake time and again. In one of those moments of frustration last week I appended my fumbled Arabic sentence with one of my favorite interjections: “Nuts!”
            Well, talk about making an impression on others. (In Christian lingo, that’s called “your witness”… showing how God lives in a regular person.) The three Dutch, one German and one American, plus the young Lebanese woman teaching us, immediately burst out laughing. Why? They loved the expression, “Nuts”. They hadn’t heard that before (except for the American). One of them said to the other, “That’s great – I’m going to use that expression! ‘Nuts!’” My witness, indeed…
My shortcut to work, with rainwater gently cascading down the picturesque slope.
            Winter is the rainy season here, and one recent, rainy day I had left my umbrella open to dry in the passageway to the classrooms. It’s another of my American cultural artifacts – a very large, collapsible type. Seeing it there turned the head of one of the teachers on the way to her class, and she good-naturedly muttered (in Arabic), “Two or three refugees could fit under that tent!” My teacher laughed, and translated the comment for us. So, the following few (rainy) days that teacher asked me if I had brought my tent to class. Yet another witness…
LebCats 1 (a, b, c and d) – “Shajra Bsaynat"
            After work one day (yes, I do have a job besides learning Arabic) I was walking down the hill to catch the bus back to our residence at the Near East School of Theology in West Beirut when I heard some impolite yowling ahead of me. I turned the corner and looked around to locate its source. It was a tree… with two, no three, wait… with four cats on it, each with its own complaint. They were quite focused on each other, so they did not even bother glancing at me as I approached them to snap a picture. I chuckled all the way home. Then it occurred to me that I could tell this story the next day in Arabic class when asked to say what we did the previous day. All I would need to do is invent a new Arabic word. The next day I said, “I was walking to the bus after work when I saw a Cat Tree (shajra bsaynat).” The teacher pursed her lips quizzically, as she racked her brain to decipher what name of a Lebanese tree her student was mangling. So I took out my phone and showed her the picture. She laughed and cringed at the same time, handed back my phone as if I had just sneezed on it, and said, “Oh no shajra bsaynat! ... I don't like, I hate cats!” But even though cats disgust her, she still (to this day) repeats the name of that new variety of Lebanese tree to the class and to her fellow teachers – and laughs!

            So here they are… the LebCats! Hope you enjoy them. [LNB]


  1. Thanks for putting a smile in my day! Now, as you struggle to learn Arabic, you understand how easy it was for me to forget the correct word and come up with my new Sywulakian Armenian word, Patooka!

  2. Very interesting article. Happy to know you are having fun while experiencing the frustration of learning a difficult language, such as Arabic. Wish you the best in your new ministry. As a native Lebanese, your article made me smile while reading your daily adventures in Lebanon.
    Fr. Thomas Garabedian

  3. Being a "normal guy" and becoming a "real Christian person"...sounds like the Spirit is leading you well-- even to a barren tree full of life and laughter. Thanks for taking time to bless us with news of your travels and a witness to God's presence. Be well my friend. Bill W.

  4. Lots of growth taking place. Thanks be to God, brother.
    Just be glad that "Nuts!" came out, and not another expletive. Keep witnessing. Let your light shine!
    +Tim Johansen

  5. Sometime soon you should add a warning that "The Cronicals of RevoNish" can be highly addictive, specially to those who know Beirut, Arabic, and the author.

  6. I never saw you as "clerical" when we worked together, except for the fact that you were virtually always late for winds, prompting my joke "What does it mean when a minister looks at his watch? Not a thing."

    Your "nuts" expression reminds me of two stories.

    An article about the legendary former Principal Trumpet of the New York Philharmonic and devout member of The Salvation Army, Phil Smith, described him as "an ineffably humble man whose strongest curse word is 'crumbs.'"

    There was an interview of Bess Truman where the interviewer quipped "Mrs. Truman, we know that your husband is a great man but you must do something about his use of the word 'manure.'" She replied "Who are you kidding; it's taken me 30 years to get him to say 'manure.'"

    Glad you find God using you. I can't imagine learning a new language at our age.

  7. Some people here in Beirut have started greeting me with "Nuts!" And _not_ people from my class...

    Oh no, what have I done?!!

  8. I love the "nuts", having heard it for so many many (ahem) years! Also the tent association. Kind of sad. �� But I really enjoy the comment from Bryan Edgett ^^ about Phil Smith! Hah.

    1. Thanks, Joyce, for the reminder of our shared history ;-). And, yes, there is much more going on in our lives than my Arabic classes, and much more of greater import that we are noticing. Something to consider in another post...

  9. Dear Nuts: Aren't we all a little?

    I love the story about the umbrella! Find me someone traveling to Lebanon or if the UCC has a 'mail pouch' let me know and I'll send an umbrella for everyone in the class! I'm glad you are living your day in JOY!! I appreciate Bess Truman's vocabulary lesson! That's one that never made our HS history books! Your blog is refreshing my spirit and keeping me smiling. I love reading about "A day in the life..."

  10. I was looking for a DOC missionary friend's information @globalministries and saw that you have recently moved back to Lebanon - a place you describe as both familiar and new. Congratulations to you and Maria on your decision to leave the US to become missionaries. I have smiled with great recognition at your stories about cultural assumptions. I generally give myself a whack on the forehead (with love) as I recognize my own assumptions here in India. And yes, trying to learn a new language when you are of a "certain age" is difficult! Check out my blog to see some of God's everyday works and miracles in Kolkata -- marygerardy2.blog

    1. I hope your time in India is truly refreshing, re-energizing, reminding you of all that God can and will and has yet to do through you!