Sunday, April 28, 2019

Show Your Colors

25.Show Your Colors (27 April 2019)
The children sang and recited on Palm Sunday. I preached. Guess
who made the bigger impact. (14 Apr. 2019 – Geitawi - Beirut)
            A couple weeks ago, as I was doing some errands on foot, two different drivers, within thirty seconds of each other, stopped me to ask directions to two different hospitals in my neighborhood. A good test of my Arabic proficiency, now that I’m back to taking lessons for the last three months (at the nearby Armenian Evangelical high school). I was able to successfully understand their questions (in Arabic) and answer them correctly (in Arabic). Anyway, I hope so. Maria put it succinctly: “The problem is you look like you’re from here, which you’re not, and I look like I’m from somewhere else, which I’m not.”
Union President Rev. Mgrdich Karagoezian delivers the
benediction at the annual Easter Sunrise (this year, "Rainrise")
Service at KCHAG Conference Center. (21 Apr. 2019 – Monteverde)
            Strange coincidence, though, that I would be asked how to get to those hospitals, when we are living (and I am working) in what used to be a third hospital in our sector (Geitawi) – the former Christian Medical Center (CMC). When it was built (exactly 70 years ago), it was the largest of the three. And it was the one that had a reputation for accepting patients that the other two hospitals would turn away for lack of money. The other two are still operating, and expanding, and they have helipads on their roofs, and they still will turn away uninsured patients without up-front money.
On the wall of the Torossian Arm. Evang.
Intermediate School: “We will remember
and demand”. (21 Apr. 2019 – Baouchrieh)
            The CMC building is no longer a hospital (since the late 70s/early 80s), but is now our church Union’s headquarters (after a decade as Haigazian’s temporary campus, until 1996). Still, it’s interesting how many people we run into – shopkeepers, taxi drivers, etc. – who remember CMC, and who were either born here or were treated here after being turned away from those other hospitals.
            (Interesting footnote: the name “CMC” now refers to a new hospital near Haigazian University on the other side of the city, though the first letter definitely stands for something else.)
            In March, the daughter of one of CMC’s founding doctors, Dr. Peter Manoogian’s daughter Kate, paid her first visit to the place since leaving Beirut, perhaps since the 70s. She took her husband, children and grandchildren around the building and had very clear memories of what each room used to be. I, too, was interested in hearing about it and tagged along for part of the “tour”. I found out, for example, that our Union’s main reception room used to be the operating room, recovery room, and autoclave room. And I found out that she and my brother-in-law used to play together in the garden (now parking lot) behind the building.
Martyrs’ Day vigil at the Genocide Memorial,
Armenian Catholic Patriarchate. (23 Apr. 2019
– Geitawi, Beirut)
            Back in January we heard that Turkish flags had been hung by night at two Armenian schools in Los Angeles. The U.S. Armenian community was in an uproar, wondering who did it, why, etc., and many reacted with fear and anger. It was going to be investigated by the police as a hate crime, though the issue disappeared from the Armenian press. (Any info? Let me know in the “Comments” section.) Here in Beirut it’s a different ball game. Literally. When a certain basketball team plays against an Armenian club (whose star players are usually U.S. athletes… but that’s another issue), the opposing team trots out Turkish flags and dances on the bleachers to taunt the Armenian fans. Nothing “accidental” or secret about it. And nothing is really done about it. So Armenians do what they are able, and continue to defiantly display their tricolor at their sporting events, churches, schools, businesses, homes, cars and cell phone cases.
Flags of the Cilician Armenian kingdoms fly each
year from this building, courtesy of the sponsors
of the “Kohar” symphony of Armenia.
(24 Apr. 2019 – Mar Mikhael, Beirut)
            Must some legislation be passed, some official action taken, every time someone is offended at something? I understand that the intent of such legislation is to avoid a trend that might eventually lead to violence. But often it’s a hairpin trigger that sets off a reaction, seen in the trend of isolating, slandering, and dis-inviting those with whom you disagree. The outcome, especially for young people, is sad: young people ill-equipped to challenge an idea dispassionately and intelligently. Even if it’s a Genocide-denier, or someone who blames religions for all the ills in the world (there are plenty of those), or someone who thinks that this or that progressive (or traditional) cause should be the litmus test of whether you should be accepted as a full-fledged human being. Open debate is supplanted by shouting, silencing or sulking.
            April is the month that Armenians enthusiastically show their colors here in Lebanon (and Syria, and a lot of other Middle Eastern countries as well). On and around April 24 Armenians become a much more visible group in Lebanon. There are many people (young, educated people) here who have no idea about what befell Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks in the early 20th century, so it’s an opportunity to let them know. And when Turkey’s president makes his idiocy and mendacity public at this time each year (this year saying that what Turkey did to Armenians last century was “reasonable”, thus owning the guilt of his ancestors), it provides an easy opener to the topic. In addition, the homebound (northbound) side of the coastal highway out of Beirut was blocked for three hours on the evening of April 24 due to a massive demonstration, walking from Bourj Hammoud to the Catholicosate in Antelias. This gave rise for many locals to utter the word “Armenians”, but not in any complimentary sense.
Shuttered businesses on Armenian Genocide Day and giant forget-
me-nots on a building. Others went to work and illuminated their
co-workers concerning the day. (24 Apr. 2019 – Bourj Hammoud)
            For my part, I got to be the main speaker at this year’s Joint Commemorative April 24th Service for the Armenian Evangelical community in Lebanon.
            Today, as I was walking home from a wedding (two young Armenians marrying – what a joy!), on the back streets between the church and home, I noticed a gentleman in a suit and tie standing in the road ahead of me. Before I got near, he asked me (in Armenian, not Arabic), “Which road leads to Bourj Hammoud?” Was it my Armenian lapel cross, or the “forget-me-not” pin from the Genocide Centennial? He was too far away to have seen them. But I felt his pain, and we fell into conversation.
LebCat 24: Plant ’em in the winter, they sprout in
the spring. (22 Apr. 2019 – AUB, Beirut)
            The streets in Geitawi are like crab’s legs; if you are near the crab’s body and you choose the wrong leg, you’ll end up in a very different place than you had hoped. I told him that descending the stairs was the best way to where he was going, and invited him to walk along with me as I was also headed in that direction. We commiserated – in Armenian – about the unregulated and unplanned ruining of architectural heritage and the proliferation of multi-storey monsters in the city. “This country will break down under the weight of all this lawlessness,” he rued.
            Maybe it was my Armenian nose. Sometimes your colors are hard to hide, even from a distance.   [LNB]

Monday, April 1, 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]