Saturday, May 20, 2017

Habibi, It's Ganatch!

5.Habibi, It’s Ganatch! (20 May 2017)
Why not make use of all the alphabets at your disposal? The
restaurant’s (now defunct) name, “Kammoun” (which means
cumin), uses the Arabic doubling symbol over the English “m”,
and uses the English letter “u” at the end, puts a dot over it, which
makes it into the Arabic “n”. That’s a lot to explain for a one-word
restaurant! (11 May 2016 – Mar Mikhael)
            One night recently a young friend was driving me home, after I had spoken at her church’s youth group meeting. She lives on the same side of the city as I, so I appreciated not having to wrangle a taxi or service car driver, with my limited Arabic, to take me where I wanted to go without also claiming possession of one of my arms and/or legs. At that hour it wasn’t too congested, relatively speaking, when we drove up to an intersection to wait for the traffic light. (Oh yes, when people ask me if I have noticed any changes in Beirut, I always mention how ten years ago it was rare for drivers to pay attention to the traffic signals, few as they were; now it is common for people to obey the lights. What’s more, they will sit in traffic without constantly beeping their horns. Most of them. Most of the time.)
            So, there we were, sitting at this red light on a Saturday night, waiting behind one other car. The light turned green and… we continued sitting there. I guess the driver ahead of us had an important WhatsApp message to send or read. So, my youthful driver looked through the windshield at the traffic light and then at the unconscious driver in front of her and pleaded through the windshield, “Habibi, it’s ganatch!” (“My dear, it’s green!”) And after about a half-millisecond pause, all of us in the car burst out laughing. We laughed about it the rest of the way.
One of the more creative uses of multilingualism I’ve seen. It
includes Armenian words in English letters, Armenian letters,
and a combination of both. I wonder if the “artist” realized
what he was doing. (11 May 2016 – Mar Mikhael)
One of the reasons we were laughing so much was because it was such a Lebanese moment. People here are multilingual – you can’t survive without being that way. Of course, this event had a Lebanese-Armenian twist, with one word being in Arabic, one in English, and one in Armenian. And because we understood all three languages, it took us a while – a split-second – before we realized it. Usually it takes less time…
            You’ve probably heard this joke before (stop me if you’ve heard this already): Q: “What do you call someone who knows two languages?” A: “Bilingual.” Q: “What about someone who knows three languages?” A: “Trilingual.” Q: “How about someone who knows one language?” A: “American.” It’s well known that the languages you speak help to shape your ability to think about the world. It helps you to enter the world of those around you. And to better understand it. And when you lack that understanding, it leads to… well, things like warmly welcoming a dictator/ally and his goons to the White House.
            The world around here in Beirut is filled with daily reminders that the region is in turmoil. There is a linguistic hodge-podge of tongues and dialects, including Lebanese Arabic, Syrian Arabic, Palestinian Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, various African dialects of Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, Ethiopian, Sinhalese, Tagalog, most European languages, and of course, Armenian. Certain groupings of languages are identified with certain strata of people: southern hemisphere languages among domestic workers (servants); northern hemisphere languages among tourists, aid workers, and private school students; regional (non-Lebanese) Arabic dialects among day workers or bus drivers; and so forth.
LebCat4 stakes out its position in the same spot, under whatever
car is parked here every afternoon, much like the regular beggars
on our street. (25 Apr. 2017)
            The hardest speech for me to decipher, though, is the speech of the beggars. Often I think I understand what they’re saying, but mostly I don’t. Sometimes it’s not even Arabic they are speaking. So, it is nearly impossible for me to “enter their world”. But one thing that I am able to notice is that each of them has a certain “territory”. From that vantage point, they see me pass by every day, and I see them occupying their workplace every day. Their words and gestures to passersby never change, because this is their “job”. And they have “managers” (whom I have seen), who expect a certain amount of money from them at the end of each day.
            Yet the truly impoverished, and the ones for whom local churches and other agencies have organized outreach to help with aid, education, and hope, are those I don’t see in the course of my day in the city. They are the ones scattered elsewhere in Lebanon, living in makeshift camps. The official numbers are quite low, perhaps 4:1 Lebanese to refugees. But the actual amount is likely closer to 1:1. For now, all I can do to help is to assist, encourage and pray for those who are hands-on and hearts-on with them.
LebCat 5 is determined to make use of the very last bit of the
sun’s rays for as long as possible (19 Mar. 2017)
            We’ve entered graduation season, which is also governmental exam season, and many young people are completely focused on these upcoming exams. Ninth and twelfth graders, to be specific. Our social life consists of going to this or that commencement event, and sometimes (as is the case with the Near East School of Theology, where we are living) we are even asked to be the speaker! Well, that’s what I’ve been asked to do. For her part, Maria was asked to be the speaker at the Armenian Evangelical women’s joint Ascension Day service, which will take place in a scenic destination in the north of the country next week.
            We finally were able to present our application for residency last Monday, and, if all goes well, we’ll receive the permits in a few days. That same day, the day we were called to appear at General Security to be photographed and fingerprinted, we received notice that our household goods had arrived at the port. Coincidence? Or perhaps it was God’s timing, to encourage us and remind us that he is guiding us in this new venture.   [LNB]