Wednesday, October 31, 2018

On My Head

19.On My Head (31 October 2018)
            One of those essential phrases anyone living in the Arab world needs to know is “on my
Inspired by Lark on the Move, you have to find
where Maria and Linda are. In the equivalent of
an ancient Roman narthex! (13 Oct. 2018 –
Baalbek, Lebanon)
head”, or, alternatively, “on my head and eyes” (3ala rassi/3ala rassi ou 3ayni). When I go to the grocer, I know he’s going to send greetings to my wife, and although I try to keep my conversation limited to onions and grapes, he inevitably throws pleasant chatter at me. Yesterday he sent the usual greetings, but I was able to fumble out an “3ala rassi” in response as I was leaving. Add that to the other things “on my head”, and you have a pretty accurate description of what’s happening in our lives these days.
            Still, even with the continually-postponed resumption of my Arabic lessons, I’m managing semi-well with what’s on my head and eyes. Although we’re no longer newcomers, we still have people looking at us as if (but denying they are thinking that) we are crazy for picking up and moving to Lebanon. But we also have people who are delighted each time they see us, and (we hope) are encouraged as much as they encourage us.
            As we become more aware of just how big a struggle it is for so many people to manage life here (although my focus is just on Armenians; it is similar for lots and lots of people), our hearts are even more broken. More frequently than before friends are sharing, quite openly, about their plans to leave Lebanon for Armenia. Others may have plans to move to Europe, the U.S. or Canada, but they tend not to share that with anyone but those closest to them.
Some young cedars of Lebanon in the background, and some
old guys (Mike and I) in the foreground. Guess which ones are
going to be around longer. (14 Oct. 2018 – Barouk, Lebanon)
            Things like not having a government (after 5+ months) doesn’t really get anyone’s attention, though it should – especially of those who are horse-trading the lives of their citizens for personal gain. Not that I’m a fan of politics, but the phrase from the 1992 U.S. presidential elections comes to mind: “The economy, stupid.” That’s what is grinding down individuals, families, communities like the Armenians, community organizations, and pretty much the entire social fabric. The biblical injunction to “pray for kings and those in authority” (I Tim. 2.2) is not just a nice, occasional add-on to personal and corporate prayers; it is an essential for us, something we continually cry out to God for him to answer. We pray not just for local authorities, but for those far, far away, too, who affect life here.
            A couple of days ago a friend mentioned how, because of the sagging economy in Lebanon, a cascading effect is happening. The central bank (just now?) has decided that it can no longer give loans to first-time homeowners, due to the economic situation and a bunch of other things. (Point of clarification: the “homes” I’m talking about are not the American-style
Bread on the cooling conveyor. Most of what you buy won’t
last the trip home-mmmm. (13 Oct. 2018 – outside Ainjar)
single-family homes with a lawn and a fence. It’s a cramped, sometimes brand-new, apartment in one of those ugly high-rises I regularly rant about.) So, with no home loan, young people are cancelling wedding plans because they won’t have a place to live aside from a room at their parents’ home. And that means all the related businesses are also suffering – those who would clothe, feed, photograph and entertain the wedding guests. And those who would sell furnishings to the newlyweds. And sell them cars. And later on, baby things. And later on, school tuitions and incidentals. (Again, I’m thinking particularly of the struggling Armenian schools and families, but it’s an overall phenomenon.) And so on, and so on. For someone like me to come in and share the message, “Place your hope in Christ!” that person must be willing to also, and first, listen to and care for those whose hope for a normal life is fleeing from them.
A Volkswagen from the Stone Age, complete with
prehistoric tires. (22 Oct. 2018 – Khalil Badawi, Beirut)
            But seriously, folks, reality aside (hah!), I really would rather be writing about all the interesting and fun things we’re experiencing here. And there is plenty that’s interesting and fun. Like receiving an official delegation and Armenia’s “caretaker” Prime Minister, Nigol Pashinyan, who visited the Armenian Evangelical Union leadership (interesting). Or like the visit of dear friends from Philly, Linda and Mike Sywulak (fun). They visited missionary friends of theirs in Kenya for a week, and then spent a week with us this month, getting introduced to Lebanon, its history, its natural beauty (I mean that), and its vital Christian ministries. For us, it was a welcome respite, and an occasion to reflect on our time here so far. For them, it was an opportunity to turn something abstract into a concrete picture that they can talk about and pray for.
The ashtray of no ashes. A Zen moment in a
Sassine Sq. diner. (12 Mar. 2018 –
Ashrafieh, Beirut)
            So, we got to be tourists! Finally! Nothing like visitors to provide you with an excuse to “see the sights”. We showed them all five Armenian Evangelical churches in Lebanon, plus their schools, plus the old age home (CAHL), plus KCHAG, plus more. They got to speak directly to workers in these ministries about their joys and burdens. We traveled to the ancient cities of Baalbek and Ainjar and Byblos. We visited some of the majestic Cedars of Lebanon (and witnessed the ongoing reforestation efforts). We got to see “Linda’s new favorite bakery,” with Arabic bread rolling out of the oven like big wheat pillows onto a cooling conveyor. And we got to treat them – and ourselves – to several different places that serve Arabic ice cream. All in seven days!
            Fortunately, aside from all these special events there are many things that tickle my brain on a daily basis. Like seeing an ashtray in a restaurant with no slots to hold your cigarette, and a “no smoking” symbol engraved on the side. Perfectly normal to locals – because that’s where you put your straw wrappers and zip-tops from your “pepsi” cans. Oh, and “Pepsi” is the generic name people use to refer to carbonated beverages, no matter what the label says. Like “kleenex” is for Americans.
            A frustrating bit of brain stimulus has to do with rampant Americanisms around us, like the adoption of that most worthless of American holidays, namely Halloween. In talking with a taxi driver a few weeks ago, after remarking on a huge billboard advertising some Halloween event in a predominantly Muslim area, he said, “We are forced to accept these American things because they are part of our children’s (American) textbooks. I do not like it, but my children learn it because it is there in their books.” Children carve jack-o-lanterns, dress up in skeleton costumes, and adults “dress up”, too. Thanks to social media, this vapidity (some would call it “evil”) is being copied the world over, including in Armenia.
LebCat 18 (black & white) and associates:
OK, so it’s October 31. What’s that got to do with
us? (31 Oct. 2018 – Mar Mikhael, Beirut)
            How about “Black Friday” sales in Lebanon? Its original American (and consumerist, in the worst sense) moorings are irrelevant here. It’s a catchy phrase that represents an American (and therefore, to many Lebanese, desirable) way of getting people to spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need. Does anyone believe that that will turn around Lebanon’s economy?
            But I have homemade fun, too, observing my environment as I walk from place to place, dodging between cars parked every which way – especially on the sidewalk – and avoiding other cars as they try to pass each other from opposite directions on a one-way street where cars are parked on both sides (welcome to my neighborhood… won’t you be my neighbor?). There are always a few cars parked in the middle of the street. Probably the driver came home very late last night, and probably there were cars between his car and the curb, though now it’s just empty space. Soon enough he’ll come down and nonchalantly get in and drive away, as if it’s the most unremarkable thing in the world to park overnight in the middle of an intersection. Recently when we were passing one of those “creative” parking jobs, a friend driving us around said (in Armenian), “One day he’s going to eat it.” Oh, it loses so much in translation!
            Now, back to my efforts at creating databases and websites and choirs and more! [LNB]

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