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]

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