Sunday, May 6, 2018


15.Infestations (6 May 2018)
A last-minute flier, in case you are confused by the
new electoral laws, let’s make it simple for you:
just vote for our list. (6 May 2018 – Geitawi, Beirut)
            It’s Election Day here in Lebanon. Like the movement of populations to their home towns as recorded by Luke (in Jesus’ birth narrative, 2.1-3), today people are traveling to the places where their family records are held. This is not a reflection of where they currently live, and you often hear a surprised reaction when friends learn where their friends are going to vote. Husbands and wives may even go to different polling places, too, to choose slates (or is it individuals?) for a variety of political parties vying for a majority in the Lebanese parliament.
            In the prior nine years, since the last parliamentary election, there has been a change in the already byzantine electoral laws, involving redistricting and reassigning numbers of seats for each religious sect (also byzantine), trying to move towards proportional voting, and allowing expatriates to vote in Lebanese consulates around the world (except for those who are flown in by various factions), and, well, you get my point. Grasping the “what” and “why” and “how” of all of this requires you have a Mensa membership. What is evident is that there is little talk from the candidates about change, and a lot about control. The body language in the campaign posters infesting every square meter of the city says it all: arms folded over the chest. Practically every single candidate is posed in the same fashion. There’s even a candidate whose last name means “folded” in Arabic, whose arms are folded. “You may want to know what I’m going to do if elected, but I’m not going to tell you. Just vote for my party’s list.”
Armenian Evangelical Intermediate (Torossian) School Choir at
Armenian Martyrs’ Day commemoration (24 Apr 2018 –
Bourj Hammoud)
            The joke is circulating in Lebanon that if you stand in one place for more than two minutes, someone will come along and hang an election poster on you. But behind this proliferation of multi-storey posters there is, of course, a proliferation of payments being made. Private buildings, public spaces, even taxis have all benefited from this largesse. All the while, the amount of “eyescrapers” (see blogpost 13) polluting the cityscape has skyrocketed, if such a thing were possible.
            Will this infestation of posters be cleaned up after the elections? Yesterday morning’s high winds seemed to take matters into its own hands, displacing banners hung from every highway and bridge in Beirut. My expectation is that the winners will put up new banners in place of the old, and the losers will just take them down as they figure out what to do next.
White powder that kills ants and cockroaches. Of
course it’s safe. It’s certified by the Board of
Health. Just keep it away from children. (6 May
2018 – Beirut)
            Then there’s Armenia.
            Peaceful protests in March against the infestation of self-interest, catering to oligarchs, impunity and corruption in the higher echelons of the government swelled, and by April there was a huge popular movement in the streets of Yerevan, large enough that even the popular media outlets started noticing it. We are still in the fog of it all, so we can’t say what is happening, or what is driving it, but it seems that the people have found their voice. Those currently in power are bearing the brunt of this outburst, but there is enough blame to go around for all of the corruption in all of the years since independence. It is quite entrenched, and the anticipated election of a new prime minister on May 8 will start a clock ticking for that new prime minister (Nikol Pashinyan, I assume) to clean up the house. I hope Armenia has the stamina for that cleanup to come about.
            Maria and I have our own small “infestation” battle we are waging. It is against the residents of our newly-refurbished apartment who have not heeded our memorandums that they are not welcome here. I’m talking about the ants. The little, almost invisible ants. The ones that we encounter on a regular basis. Under the countertop edges. Across the microwave. In the corner of the shower. Around Maria’s desk. On my leg. They’re ubiquitous. We have been told that it’s a seasonal problem, or that they’ll go away if everything is clean, or that this or that insecticide will stop them… but nothing has. I figure that our extermination efforts are probably poisoning us more than them. Having written this, I’m expecting an onslaught of advice, telling us what we should be doing, or what we aren’t doing. Thanks to all in advance.
Beirut International Jazz Day 2018 – the Zela Margossian
Quintet from Australia, featuring the still-amazing talent of one
of my former students from when I was pastor at the Ashrafieh
church and school (29 Apr. 2018 – Downtown Beirut)
            Yesterday we were in KCHAG planting trees. The 50 juvenile umbrella pine saplings were bought at a discount from a nursery in the south. Over 50 youth from all our churches, along with a couple dozen “mature” types, came together for this project. During our opening worship time and orientation session I got to talk a bit about how God has appointed us stewards of the land. And then we set off to the task. Enthusiasm has no age limit, so everyone got into the act. Children and youth were driven by the excitement of doing actual labor in their own campground.  The older generation was driven by the faith heritage they had experienced there, and the tangible evidence they were witnessing of it being passed along to the next generation.
            But it was the result of an infestation.
Young and old, Kessabtsi and not, joining in the fun of
tree planting at KCHAG. Note the brown, diseased pine
tree at the top of the photo (5 May 2018 – Monteverde)
            All across the region a small worm, the “pine processionary moth” larva (known here in Arabic as “doudet as-sandal) has been quietly attacking these pines, which produce not just shade and oxygen and beauty, but also the pine nuts so important to local cuisine. As you scan the horizon from KCHAG, you can see the brown tops of trees that have been infested, hundreds of them, and you know that the trees right next to them will be the next to go. This worm is not new, but its threat is at an unprecedented level. Why are they such a threat?
            Specialists say that there are two reasons, one an easy remedy, one not. The one that is not is climate change. It’s warmer here, and what used to be killed off by colder temperatures is not being eradicated. KCHAG, being below 800 meters above sea level, stays on the mild side, summer or winter. So, putting aside the important work of combating human contribution to climate change, that’s out of our hands on a local level.
LebCat 14: Excuse me. Is there some legitimate reason why you
stopped petting me? (15 Apr. 2017 – Ras Beirut)
            The “easy” remedy, the locally-based one, is actually quite difficult. This worm has a natural predator, the cuckoo bird. It loves this worm. And its flesh is inedible because it eats these bitter larvae. However, it is a bird, and in Lebanon there are hunters with rifles. Hunting is a “sport” here, one that has caused a decrease in the migratory bird population, and has heavily impacted the local ecosystem. And here in Lebanon, the hunters’ motto is, “If it flies, it dies.” If this bird were allowed to propagate, the worm infestation would be under control. So instead the KCHAG committee, with the guidance of experts, is compelled to cut down diseased trees, haul the wood away and burn it, and use a chemical spray to save the lightly affected trees.
            And also to plant new ones. Because despite all of the types of “infestation” in society and nature, there is life, and a future, and hope (Jer. 29.11-12), as long as we trust in God. [LNB]