Monday, June 11, 2018

Something Familiar

16.Something Familiar (10 June 2018)
What? Hoagies? This isn’t Philadelphia. But not
to worry. It went out of business. (9 May
2018 – Beirut)
            I was as surprised as anyone. And all I can conclude is that people are overly polite, or they have no answers for ant infestations, or they no longer read my blog. After telling the world how bad things were in our apartment, I found that I had to approach others to solicit advice; they were not going to come to me. Even if they were also waging the same war. That’s part of my American cultural outlook, to share advice and suggestions without waiting for people to ask. Sometimes (a lot of times) it gets me in trouble. The outcome is that now we have a couple of possible solutions that we are working on. Stay tuned.

            When you leave a place where you’ve lived for a substantial amount of time, as we did last year, from time to time something kicks in that I wouldn’t call nostalgia. More like a global positioning function in your mind that either makes you notice things that look familiar, or makes you long for the familiar in your daily life. I fully realize that this happens no matter where you are at or where you have been. You try to locate yourself in the world you inhabit.
Kebab night at the Bakalians. Wrapping up a year of discipleship
meetings the right way. (8 June 2018 – Geitawi, Beirut)
            Objects are the first things to catch your attention when they remind you of something back home. Of course, “back home” is a rickety term, especially when you have made a series of major relocations, as we have. We are more than bi-cultural, and our children are moreso. To describe this, people have come up with a term called “third culture”, which doesn’t mean three cultures, but rather “neither this nor that”, neither belonging fully here nor there, but to a combination of locales and ways of thinking and being. That pretty much describes us, and can help us to identify with people like Abraham and Sara in the Old Testament, who picked up and relocated (and kept relocating) out of obedience to the divine command. Or like Moses, who fled his native Egypt as an outlaw, and named his son “Alien”. The Arabic name “Gharib” has this meaning, and once I actually met a fellow in Armenia with this name.
German pride, on the streets of Beirut. Why not?
(6 June 2018 – Mar Mikhael)
            Similarly, smells, tastes and sounds can also drag your mind back and forth, which is a particular challenge for us, because some of the smells (of food, for example) here are the same ones that filled our home when we lived in the U.S. But the thing that tugs the hardest at our hearts is the search for familiar people. Their faces, their voices, their presence. Sure, we can look at old pictures and remember, or do a video call and pretend we’re near, but the gift of being in the same room with someone dear to you… well, that’s priceless.
There’s even a Lebanese flag flying from a balcony. I guess they
didn’t hear that Lebanon didn’t qualify this time.
(2 June 2018 – Bourj Hammoud)
            Visitors from the U.S. showed up in recent weeks, with the AMAA meetings and centennial celebrations here, and they certainly enjoyed seeing us as much as we did seeing them. While I was walking to Bourj Hammoud to take care of some errands, and I cut between the cars stopped for a red light. I got slightly annoyed at one of those drivers, however, honking his horn in stopped traffic. Seriously, where was anyone going to move? As I continued walking, minding my own business, I heard, “Badveli! Badveli Nishan!” It was the honking driver. One of our visitors from the U.S., who was trying to get my attention. My annoyance quickly vaporized, and I did what any self-respecting local would: I held up traffic as we exchanged greetings, right there in the middle of the street.
A huge-screen TV stadium/pub, complete with bleacher seating,
under construction near our place, just in time for the start of
the World Cup (10 June 2018 – Mar Mikhael, Beirut)
            The other day when I opened up Facebook (bless its cold, lifeless soul), there was a picture of a family gathering in the 1990s – one of the memories Facebook thought I should be re-sharing. I didn’t. But I paused a moment to count the number of familiar faces that were no longer alive, and could only be accessed by looking at a photo or closing ones eyes and remembering. And a third of that group are no longer alive.
            Fortunately, and despite the longing for those who are separated from us by an ocean, there are a lot of others nearby whose familiar faces cheer us up immeasurably. Despite all the busy-ness of our lives here, those moments are what builds a new sense of “home” where we are. We’ll still rejoice when we go to meet loved ones arriving at the Beirut airport, like Vicken in 7 days, or Sevag in 40. But for our dear friends here (and one set of Maria’s cousins left in Lebanon) we are rapidly becoming part of their familiar surroundings. And that feels good.
The final rehearsal of the “Armiss” choir, with soloist and
flautist, before it’s “return” the next day. (2 June 2018 –
First Arm. Evang. Church, Beirut)
            A week ago it was a great experience to conduct the “Armiss” choir during the AMAA Centennial Worship Service. After an on-again/off-again decade, and a hiatus of three years, the group is back. They sang four choral pieces, and sounded cohesive, as a choir should. So many people were appreciative, and some were astonished that there are these talents in our community. Maybe they thought all the talented people had left the country? My favorite comment was, “Keep working. You have to give annual concert.”
LebCat 15: A protected species – cats on the American University
of Beirut’s campus (21 Mar. 2017 – Ras Beirut)
            Speaking of familiarity, it’s that time again. The time when you’re not sure what country you’re in, because every sort of flag is flying from all sorts of places. Yes, football’s Mondial (World Cup) is back. It’s the easiest way for Lebanese to be another nationality without the drawn-out application process. This is pretty important stuff – the church and youth retreats later this month have included the game broadcasts in their schedules, so as not to have a meeting during some of the important matches! [LNB]