Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Cue the Locusts

33.Cue the Locusts (31 Mar. 2020)
It’s spring, but nobody’s going anywhere these days.
(24 Feb. 2020 – Geitawi - Beirut)
Here in Lebanon we look with amazement at a panicking world that, upon realizing that the novel coronavirus was not going to remain a “Chinese disease”, began by decrying the enforced confinement and “social distancing” intended to slow the advance of this nemesis, because of the perceived injuries to their liberties. The puzzlement here continued as the reality of this pandemic set in, and country after country realized that their economies were going into a deep pit because people were unable to work and therefore were cut off from the income they relied on. It may sound callous, but Lebanese, who have been in an economic downward spiral for the last several years, thanks to the greed and incompetence of their leaders, exploded with rage in October that they were not going to take it anymore. It shut down the country and the already abysmal economy, sending banks into panic over the danger to their usurious profits, whereupon they took it upon themselves to prohibit depositors from withdrawing more than a couple hundred dollars a month. The service industry, already limping along due to the lack of tourism, saw nearly a thousand restaurants close in Beirut alone, schools lost three weeks of instruction due to strikes and road closures, and specters of a return to civil war loomed in the shadows. The country was not on its knees, but rather prostrate on the ground when this virus became a local reality. How much farther down can you get?
The list of coming events at a nearby restaurant.
(23 Mar. 2020 – Qobaiyat - Beirut)
            I hope that no one would wish this situation on another, here or in any country. But it’s very tempting to say to the world, “So, how does it feel?” To face each day with fear, uncertain of what the future brings, wondering if death will snatch your friends, loved ones or even your own life? Yet there are so many people who face much greater trials than what most in the affluent world are struggling to comprehend. It is very easy to comprehend in lands under occupation, where walls are built to protect privileges. It is very easy to comprehend in places where refugees are used as political pawns. It is very easy to comprehend by those today continuing their jobs, with or without masks or gloves, who know that when the government says “lockdown” and “curfew”, it is effectively telling this subsistence-level stratum to starve to death. As many have commented, if rich people were to die from hunger, the world would find the will, the creativity and the resources to end that scourge. But those 9 million who die each year from hunger-related reasons remain out of the spotlight.
Not how a school playground is supposed to look in the
middle of the day. (24 Mar. 2020 – Geitawi - Beirut)
            Oh, did I mention? We are under a nightly curfew. The government announced, and is enforcing, a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew throughout the country. This is in addition to closing all “non-essential” businesses, that is, anything that does not sell food or medicine. And if your water tank is leaking (every household has a water tank on the roof because of the sporadic delivery of water, 30 years after the Civil War ended… sporadic, like all the other utilities), well, you won’t be able to call someone to repair it. Anyway, he might not have the parts to do repairs because the banks have had a 5-month stranglehold on the capital that is needed to import goods.
How I spent my 16th birthday – telling “Dad
jokes” at a youth/veteran C.E. youth gathering.
(29 Feb. 2020 – Armenian Evangelical Church
of Ashrafieh, Geitawi - Beirut)
            The school year has taken a body blow in this crisis-upon-crisis mode we call “the new normal”. Administrators and teachers have hastily transitioned to “online learning”, a tenuous format that might enable learning to occur. When the October protests dragged on, schools were already beginning to implement some of these methods, and it increased as the months dragged on, the strikes continued and regularly turned into violent clashes between protestors and various security forces (there are so many here I can’t keep track). Yet students as well as adults are learning quite a bit from this current in-house confinement. In some cases children are in a healthier environment. No longer do they chant, “Revolution! Revolution!” (“Thawra! Thawra!”) when being let out for recess, as if it were a game. Others are at the mercy of their abusive or neglectful parents/guardians. Those who care for the latter, such as the Armenian Evangelical Boarding School in Ainjar, constantly carry that burden in prayers for God’s mercy.
            The last couple of “normal” things I did were to deliver a talk on Hrant Dink, the Armenian journalist and activist who was assassinated in broad daylight in front of his newspaper office in Istanbul, and to attend a a wonderful lecture on Gomidas (or Komitas). Ironically, among the 300 of us sitting in the hall where that lecture/concert took place on March 8 were religious and community leaders and even a cabinet member, only one day after the government told people to avoid all crowds.
A tall tree at a nearby park, uprooted by gale-force winds
on Mar. 12. (25 Mar. 2020 – Geitawi - Beirut)
            Maria and I were already doing most of our work online since we arrived in Beirut. Except for the worship services we attend and where I assist. And except for the “Armiss” choir that I direct. And except for the committees in which we serve. Now, none of that is happening. In their place we have video conferences and work online from home. The choir rehearsals are suspended. And in place of Sunday worship services in various churches the UAECNE (our church Union) has begun broadcasting a single weekly pre-recorded program, which I am producing. (Look it up on YouTube under UAECNE.) Pastors are taking turns preaching the sermon, and I am including a variety of recorded hymns and anthems in Armenian. It is an interesting initiative that will likely continue in some form as an audiovisual ministry, and will find a home on the Union’s website (coming soon, I hope), connecting people not only across the region, but helping those who have emigrated elsewhere to maintain some connection with their roots.
LebCat 33: Look, I don’t care what the
government says about restaurants closing.
I know you’re in there. I can smell the
rotisserie chicken, OK? (13 Mar. 2020 –
Geitawi - Beirut)
            On March 12, as we were beginning our days/weeks/months of seclusion, Lebanon and the region experienced several hours of winds at speeds between 100 and 140 km/hr. The roaring sound woke us all up, as objects were being tossed from one rooftop to another. The huge flag flying on top of a nearby office building was torn from its mounts and ended up somewhere far away, perhaps in the Mediterranean? The following day everyone was out surveying the extensive damage throughout the country. Strangely, though our electricity was never interrupted – just our sleep.
            The news out of the northeast of Africa is not good. A devastating plague of locusts is destroying crops and threatening famine to countless people. Could that be next on the agenda for Lebanon? We watch… and pray.   [LNB]

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