Sunday, March 31, 2019

Decay and Growth


24.Decay and Growth (31 March 2019)
The huge, nearby Lebanese flag, struggling to unfurl while
soggy wet. Symbolic of the state of the state.
(31 Mar. 2019 – Mar Mikhael - Beirut)
            “So, there’s this thing in the parking lot – I think it’s an ark. And a bunch of animals, lined up in pairs…”
            Well, not really, but March in Lebanon is living up to its Armenian nickname: “crazy March” (in Armenian, “khent Mard”). We were fairly sure that the cold and rainy days were over. We were down to the occasional overnight drizzle, with mostly sunny days and blue skies. Now it seems like we are living in a (concrete) rainforest this last day of March, with nonstop rain from the middle of the night throughout the entire day. It is so rainy that the huge Lebanese flag atop a nearby building is completely saturated (not easy for something made of nylon) and shiny under the floodlights illuminating it.
The “thing” in the parking lot is not an ark, but
a second, more powerful generator for the
building. Because uninterrupted electricity
is not in the near future...
(21 Mar. 2019 – Geitawi, Beirut)
            As with other rainy stretches, those who are impacted the most are those living in makeshift dwellings. Translation: that means refugees. It means about a fifth or more of the population of Lebanon. Yes, the Syrian war (or as some call it, “the war on Syria”) is still a “thing”. And Lebanon continues to struggle under the weight of these regional uncertainties. Fear and threats swirl in the wind. There are reports of some local relief workers warning refugees not to return home, for whatever reasons, or perhaps out of self-interest. And then there are the imperial fiats of far-away leaders. A Syrian comedian recently went on TV, seated behind a desk, signing a certificate. He held it up and declared that he was ceding California to Mexico. Then he added that his certificate has as much worth as the one announced this month concerning the Golan Heights. It appears that the storms here will continue here for some time.
            Spring does an amazing thing, though. It makes you believe that the corruption and decay all around us can, in fact, be transformed into growth. Decay is what helps all those ants and cockroaches stay alive, as they dispose of whatever is lying around, plant or animal. Hmmm, maybe I have that backwards; ants and roaches keep us from drowning in waste by eating garbage, which ends up helping to keep us alive. Now that’s a weird thought.
My nemesis: spring flowers. So pretty. Such
torture to my nose. Note the trash in
the background. (25 Mar. 2019 – Zahlé)
            So, trees and plants are budding. And I am fighting my nemesis – pollen – with the only weapons at my disposal: allergy pills and tissues. Green growth is returning everywhere, covering the trash thrown out of windows and dumped at night. But where is the healthy growth, or the ants and cockroaches, that will obliterate, or better yet, remove, the decayed leaders?
            Some cabinet ministers in the new government are trying to take actions to improve the quality of life here. One of the projects is to remove the concrete barriers that have proliferated all around the city since the year of assassinations in 2005. But everyone was so used to seeing concrete that they became disoriented. Even the police. A couple of weeks ago we were in a taxi on Hamra Street, and a police car pulled up to us and asked the driver if he knew where the Interior Ministry was. It was just around the block, but no longer behind barriers or with a security gate, and therefore unrecognizable. And remember, this is the police asking a taxi driver for directions…
A new greenhouse for food as well as education.
(25 Mar. 2019 – Ainjar)
            But there is so much more needing to be done, and the population is generally disgusted by the decades of unfulfilled promises by the same political dynasties that were killing each other during the civil war. There is an old fellow in our neighborhood who delivers the propane tanks for our stove (there is no such thing as a gas line or a gas utility here), and in between conversations I have with him about Bible passages, he mutters on about how officials are robbing people. One could dismiss it as the rants of a broken-down old man. Or one could compare what he says to the reality people face and come to a different conclusion…
Ecumenical prayer, followed by fellowship (and food).
(28 Mar. 2019 – Norashen – Bourj Hammoud)
LebCat 23: A regular customer at the nearby artisanal bakery.
But to sleep, not to eat. (19 Mar. 2019 – Mar Mikhael, Beirut)
            Yet we know we must inspire hope and commitment, and focus on mission and growth, or else we’re just wasting our time.  I truly admire the faithfulness of my church in serving the community through education, with a network of schools in the Middle East. Just to see how they do so much with dwindling financial support is a testimony to their wholehearted dedication. One of those schools, the Armenian Evangelical Boarding School in Ainjar (in the agricultural Bekaa area), has constructed a greenhouse in order to (1) grow its own produce for the children’s meals, (2) teach students about agricultural work, (3) inculcate a sense of caring for the natural environment, and (4) maybe even be able to sell some of what they grow.
            In yet another sign of spring growth, a few days ago twenty Armenian clergy – Apostolic, Catholic and Evangelical – held a prayer and fellowship gathering in the Ss. Vartanants church in Bourj Hammoud, under the leadership of the heads of those three denominations. Although this type of ecumenical event is just starting here, there has always been cooperation between the churches and clergy in the region to some degree. But it is wonderful to see a clergy gathering coming into shape, much as we have had for over a half-century in the Armenian churches of Philadelphia. Now, this is the kind of spring I like to see, sniffles or not!   [LNB]