The street where we live, dug up for new electric
we think. Our building entrance is at the far left edge
of the picture. (9 Nov. 2017 – Beirut)
One of the popular topics in various levels of society here is “bullying”. People are trying to bring some awareness to the topic on the local scene by holding seminars to help employees in difficult work environments, or by providing training for teachers to guide children to interact with respect toward each other. It’s a tough road to walk – to live without intimidating or being intimidated – because its expression in Middle Eastern culture is pervasive, and quite accepted. Having intrinsic rights as an individual, a very Western concept, is difficult to grasp in a culture that views groups and collectives as the basic building blocks of societal existence.
But bullying is also the way that politics is done. And not just in the Middle East. Big countries bully small countries. We use sophisticated terms to describe it, and political theorists (from big countries) create ideologies and terminology to justify it, but it’s the same behavior you on view in any playground the world over. It’s part of what makes up our “unlovable” side, the side sorely in need of redeeming.
Arabic coffee and French toast, prepared on our new
It’s what’s for breakfast. (4 Nov. 2017 – Beirut)
So here we are, 10 days away from the 74th anniversary of the independence of Lebanon. And how are we celebrating? By wondering what happened to the country’s Prime Minister, Saad al Hariri. Someone in the royal family summons him to Saudi Arabia nine days ago for some reason, and before you can say, “Pass the tabbouleh,” the very next day (the very same day a purge happened in the political halls of the kingdom) Lebanon’s Prime Minister is sitting in front of a TV camera way off in Riyadh, reading a resignation speech that sounds quite unlike what he usually says. He claims he is being bullied, or threatened, and that Lebanon is being bullied, too. But big countries bully small countries. Powerful groups bully weaker groups. This is a reality that a seminar or training cannot easily change.
Sevag's and my view of the massive demonstrations twelve |
years ago, protesting, among other things, former Prime
Minister Rafiq al Hariri’s assassination. (14 Mar. 2005 – Beirut)
A lot is being said about what is happening, both in the local media as well as international. I’m not sure what is worth reading and what isn’t. (That’s why I’m not including a bunch of links here. Better that you read for yourself what’s current.) But none of that really matters, because the outcome is that everyone here is feeling bullied, and doesn’t know what to do about it. Except, maybe, to pick themselves off the blacktop and figure out what to do now. For some it means trying to leave the playground as quickly as possible. For others, it means finding a way to stand back up and not let the bullies have their way.
Twelve years ago, the year the current Prime Minister’s father, Rafiq al Hariri, was assassinated, the Beirut Marathon Association decided to adopt the slogan “For Lebanon”, and to push forward with this international event to show the world – but mostly the Lebanese – that life will continue. This year’s slogan is for the anniversary year, “15 Years of Running Beirut”. Now, I don’t think that means what it says, but I have a feeling that in bringing so many disparate groups together for marathons in this country, May Khalil (the marathon’s founder and tireless promoter) and her crew might do at least as good a job as the professional politicians here.
After today’s 8 km race, with a slogan we can
believe in… (12 Nov. 2017 – Beirut)
During the Prime Minister’s absence (he has since appeared in a live TV interview this evening), the organizers decided to dedicate this year’s run to PM Saad Hariri, to show a united front across all political and religious groups. This solidarity, being carefully expressed by political opponents in the country, may keep the Lebanese from any precipitous actions against each other. That’s a good thing, and it may also keep the bullies off the playground – for a while.
Meanwhile, I ran/walked the Marathon’s 8 km “Fun Run” today, and lived to tell about it! There were tens of thousands of people in this race, so I got to the starting line 35 minutes after the actual start of the run. It took me 70 minutes to complete the course, and I only stopped once (to say hello to my favorite falafel maker, a young Egyptian fellow who was completely surprised when I went up to shake his hand). The weather was clear and beautiful, the participants happy and friendly, almost making you forget that you are living through yet another crisis.
LebCat 10: Surveying its kingdom in ruins. Actually
the house |
where Maria and family lived in the early 1960s, behind the
Armenian Evangelical College. Currently totally demolished.
(12 Mar. 2017 – Beirut)
A friend of mine said yesterday (my paraphrase), “Enough of thinking defeatist thoughts. We have to move forward with a vision, convinced that we are doing good, and God will provide the resources.” Living in this environment is teaching us that “walking by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5.7) is not just an admirable ideal; it is crucial for our existence as Christians, as Armenians (in our case), and as humans who are determined not to succumb to bullying – whether ideological, or financial, or cultural.
When I signed up for today’s race, it was mostly for me – to do a run two years post-cancer, to push myself out of my sedentary lifestyle, to see what my body can take in its sixth decade. But now I think that I’m not just running for the sake of the Prime Minister; I’m really running for Lebanon.
Read my prayer letter and pray, too. [LNB]