Monday, January 6, 2020

Stormy Weather

31.Stormy Weather (5 Jan. 2020)
Stalled construction – for now – in the downtown area, center
of the protests that began on Oct. 17. (27 Dec. 2019 – Martyrs’
Square, Beirut)
It’s Christmas Eve. And it’s raining fairly steadily, as it has been for the past several weeks. Youth groups from the various Armenian Evangelical (and other Armenian) churches are preparing to spread out over the metropolitan region to visit homes and sing the good news of Christ’s revelation to mankind. Throughout the night until the early hours of the morning they will be climbing in and out of cars and vans, cramming into elevators or traipsing up flights of stairs to carol and share scripture, as well as to distribute a custom-made gift to each household. And they will enjoy the chocolates, candies and other goodies prepared by each household they visit. And get drenched to the bone. And create memories that will stay with them until their old age.
Our neighbors and we prepared snacks for the carolers to
recharge themselves before going on with their caroling.
(5 Jan. 2020 – Qobaiyat - Beirut)
            Today I found out from my son Sevag (in the U.S.) that in Aleppo this year the churches there will also be sending their youth out to carol and herald Christ’s birth. If this good news is sorely needed here in Lebanon (and it is very much needed), it is needed at least as much there. No surprise that the news went from the Middle East to the US back to the Middle East; it’s simply how the Armenian grapevine works.
Capitalizing on the tire-burning protest
movement. (21 Dec. 2019 – Nahr el Mawt)
            The season’s stormy weather seems to be the perfect analogy of what people are going through, and not just in Lebanon, but also in the region. People are teetering on the edge of a very deep cliff, and it seems certain that the country will be in freefall before too long. The dividing line between a liveable income and poverty is steadily rising, engulfing more and more people each week, and I expect that in a short while we will be seeing people focused on little else but how to get a some food on the table – if they haven’t sold the table by then. Banks are still limiting withdrawals of more than the equivalent of $300 per week, and they, as well as the exchange booths (an officially condoned, albeit black market, feature of the Lebanese economy for decades upon decades) continue to profit from the headlong fall of the Lebanese pound. Paper money (pounds, that is) is getting harder and harder to come by, and billions in local currency have steadily been relocated under the mattresses and in the coffee cans of homes throughout the country.
Some irony to chew on: poking fun at the
revolution with 22 karat gold gum.
(27 Dec. 2019 – Burj al Ghazal, Beirut)
            The other, uglier side of all of this is that for decades, politicians and businesspeople have embezzled and stolen and transferred billions in US currency out of the country, while the Central Bank has run banking affairs like an Amway franchise. Even after the uprising, when the writing was on the wall that this thievery was going to be stopped, those transfers to foreign banks did not stop. There is a reason why Lebanon has remained a “third-world” country for so long instead of developing into the jewel it has the potential to be: it’s called “greed”, described “to a T” in I Timothy 6.10.
            These unrelenting rainstorms (or snowstorms in the higher elevations) are laying bare the unkempt infrastructure of the country. Roads are being washed out, foundations are collapsing, more garbage is falling into the sea. The tourism and service industries (restaurants, etc.), which form such a great part of the (honest) income of Lebanese, have stopped dead due to the complete lack of foreign tourists and cautious spending of locals. These are not pleasant times for the country.
LebCat 30: On its usual perch, but appearing
more than a bit anxious. Cats can have
premonitions, right? (3 Jan. 2020 – Beirut Cat
Café, Mar Mikhael - Beirut)
            Last week a cemetery wall collapsed due to the hyper-saturation of the soil, toppling the deteriorating stone-and-cement construction onto the Damascus highway sidewalk in the Sodeco section of the city. The sadly ironic part is that it belonged to the old Beirut Jewish cemetery in a country that has almost no Jews left. Who will dare to take it upon himself to build a better retaining wall for that cemetery, I wonder? But if these storms continue, the outer wall of either the Anglo/Evangelical, French or Syriac cemeteries, all in a row, will be the next to fall. And then, maybe, the city will do a general reconstruction of all the walls – if there is any money left in their coffers.
            As business after business closes its doors, one in particular stands out for me: the Beirut Cat Café, in the Mar Mikhael area not far from us. I think of it as a “rent-a-cat” place, where for the price of a drink you can associate with willing felines for an hour or so and then leave; and if you are so inclined, you can apply to adopt one of them. Because of the impossibility of meeting their expenses in the declining Lebanese economy they are closing at the end of this month. What touches me the most about this particular place is that it represented a better side of humanity, where animals that are considered vermin can be seen in a different light. And that can have its positive effect on the way that people relate to the natural world as well as to each other. With its closing I feel that we are losing a part of our humanity, as ironic as that sounds. (Or a part of our felinity?) I hope it will open again some day soon, once these cruel storms have finished their destructive journey across the Middle East. 
LebCat 31: Blissfully unaware and uncaring at what is coming.
Probably better off that way. (3 Jan. 2020 – Beirut Cat Café,
Mar Mikhael - Beirut)
            No matter what, we will greet the coming day as we (Armenians) have always done: "Christ is born and revealed; great good news to us all!" (Krisdos dzenav yev haidnetsav; tzezi, mezi medz avedis!)    [LNB]