Saturday, June 1, 2019

Friends and Others

26.Friends and Others (31 May 2019)
Friends gathering after a worship service at Emmanuel Church
to be with Pastor Harut Khachatryan, whom they met last
summer in Armenia. (16 May 2019 - Nor Amanos -
They say that it’s the tough times that show who your true friends are. This doesn’t mean that those who are not really concerned about whether you exist are your enemies. It just means that they aren’t your friends. Sometimes I wish that the term “friend” weren’t so commonly used so as to dilute its meaning. After all, in the Bible the term “friend of God” (applied to Abraham in James 2.23) is intended as a special designation, just as when Jesus called the twelve “my friends” (in John 15.15). Now, a “friend” is what you get when you click on a name. And then there’s the Armenian word, “բարեկամ” (paregam), which means “one who wills good”. Well, even Armenians use the word indiscriminately. Like “Paregam (friend), move your car from in front of my shop.” Said without a smile, but with the implication that you or your car might not remain unscathed.
My friend Angele Kebab slipped and hurt her
arm a few months ago, but now is back to
making delicious sandwiches!
(24 May 2019 - Nor Hadjin - Beirut)
            A few weeks back there was a car parked in front of a nearby apartment building. We have no idea whose it was, but from Saturday afternoon until Sunday morning, for over 14 hours, its theft alarm rang. The whole night. And nobody showed up to claim it and stop it. Fortunately, I lack the tools and the know-how to stop a car alarm. So I merely spent a sleepless night listening to it. My guess is that no one called the police (and their barracks are located right above the place where this car was) to locate the owner and make it stop.  Because, why bother? Not just the police, or the neighborhood, but people in general are easily influenced by the usual things that cause people to abandon responsible behavior. Self-preservation. Gain. Running into walls. Powerful people who make and enforce their own rules. And so, the alarm just keeps ringing all night. Not friendly. But only one night.
            Our regular grocer, a young dad named Attieh (an Egyptian), has officially weighed in: my Arabic is definitely improving. He mentioned it to someone who works at the same school – a high school – where I take lessons. So of course the news got to my Arabic teacher that there’s been progress in my speech, independently verified, so she was delighted, the principal was delighted, Maria was delighted, everyone was delighted. It’s nice having a regular grocer, not just so as to be compelled to speak the language and therefore improve, but also to be treated like a friend, when the cucumbers on display are a bit too limp, or the bananas a bit too long, and he’ll open up the good stash. And brag about your Arabic to others.
A sidewalk vendor. closed for the day, displaying
various Armenian symbols. And the words, "Jesus
loves you". (29 May 2019 - Bourj Hammoud)
            Yesterday I went to buy some traditional “Ramadan bread” – there’s got to be a different name for it, but for years that’s what our family has called it – from the baker at the corner where we lived from 2000-2003, in the Zarif area. Delicious stuff, with sesame and nigella seeds, nice and soft. The neighborhood used to be very heavily Armenian-populated before the Civil War, but now only a few families remain. They remember us – Arab, Armenian, Muslim, Christian, which means you need to go around to all the shops and say hello to all the shopkeepers who used to serve you. As I walked from Haigazian to our old neighborhood I realized that I wasn’t feeling the apprehension I once had due to my (then) limited (i.e., non-existent) Arabic. Back then, I tried to take one of my boys or my wife with me so I wouldn’t get stuck not knowing what to say.
            So I strode from the bakery across the street to Maalim Toufiq and greeted him (3 kisses, the proper way), asked about his family, and he asked how I was, how Maria was, how my children were. Then he introduced me to the other men there, who also remembered us from a decade-and-a-half ago. We talked a bit, he asked again if we were visiting or staying in Lebanon. And then an older gentleman walked in – remember, this is a small “produce stand” by western standards – and he introduced me to him, I wished them each a blessed Ramadan, and was on my way. Like old friends, which we are – both old as well as friends. (But I’m older than Toufiq.)
My little flying friend, waiting on top of the exhaust fan for
someone to come to the rescue. (31 May 2019 - Geitawi, Beirut)
            Today I noticed some kind of dust on the bathroom shelf, and heard a clicking noise from the exhaust fan above the shelf when I switched on the light, like a twig was hitting the fan blades. So I called the building caretaker for us to go up and look at the exit pipe. Nothing unusual there, though just to be sure that no nests could be made there I lowered the cover so that only a few millimeters of gap remained. I went back down to clear out whatever was stuck in the pipe, pulled the fan housing, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a juvenile sparrow, sitting on top of the fan assembly? It must have gotten in earlier in the day when there was a greater gap on the roof, and, unable to fly back up the narrow pipe, just sat there. Except that when we turned on the light (and fan), the blades of the fan were hitting its legs and claws, as I later realized when I saw blood spatters while cleaning up the fan.
LebCat 25: Caught in the act of slashing tires,
while the lookout just looks. Hey, they’re cats.
(22 May 2019 – Qobayiat - Beirut)
            Well, a friend (“paregam”) is one who wills and does good, right? So I got a towel, hoping that it would accept my good will and not flap all around the bathroom. I grasped the bird with the towel, tightly enough that it wouldn’t fly, and showed it to Maria (of course). “Show-and-Tell” never gets old! I could feel its heart beating, but since I am not an ornithologist I have no idea if it was normal speed or racing. Also birds do a great poker face, so there was no facial expression I could read. I wondered, was this bird badly injured? Was it able to fly before it fell in? I needed to take it outside, to our patio, and see what condition it was in (junior veterinarian, reporting for duty). When I took it outside and started unwrapping the towel it immediately flew off at high speed. Without even a parting photo op. No selfies of “me and birdie”. And I was relieved to see that.
            In two days I will be conducting a choir concert performed by the “Armiss” choir. The group worked hard, and I’m praying that all goes well. We’re expecting a good-sized crowd, especially after two radio interviews, a bunch of newspaper ads, fliers in store windows, Sunday announcements, and posts on our dear “friend” repository, Facebook. My greatest satisfaction will be presenting this as a gesture of good will, of encouragement and of joy to this strained city and especially to the Armenian community. That’s what friendship is. That’s what friendship does.   [LNB]