Wednesday, April 29, 2020


34.Privilege (29 Apr. 2020)
The neighborhood getting disinfected…  every now and then.
(28 Apr. 2020 – Geitawi - Beirut)
I’m going to miss these crystal clear mountain vistas.
            Now that the country is pushing itself to get back to work, the stillness we (who can afford it) have enjoyed is starting to recede into the mist – or the smog – of resumed auto traffic and factory output. The occasional whiffs of rotting garbage will be overtaken by a continual stench of dumps and slaughterhouse aromas. The big fish that a few weeks ago were sighted swimming in the Beirut River will go far, far away, as that waterway resumes its obligatory burden of carrying away toxic and untreated waste into the Mediterranean Sea from small and large riverside operations. The nighttime quiet, interrupted by the occasional passing car or motorcyclist flouting the curfew, and the darkness undisturbed by the garish glare of electronic billboards, all thankfully switched off to minimize advertising expenditures, will likely end all too soon. I will miss hearing the variety of birdsong that heralded the sunrise and celebrated the sunset, creatures praising their Creator, without the din of steel-belted radials on asphalt. It has been a privilege to experience, even for a moment – a fantasy suggestive of how Lebanon once was, or might have been, and could be, only if…
A crisp view looking southeast toward the high-rise hotels in
Sin el Fil. You can actually see the contour of the hills.
(22 Mar. 2020 – Qobaiyat - Beirut)
            But the bane of too many cars and too much construction, of appropriation of public land for personal use, of noise and air and sight pollution will make its all-too-soon return, of that we can be sure, as Lebanon struggles back to its feet. And as warmer weather continues its steady encroachment on the cool, pleasant spring air of Lebanon, the heaviness and seriousness of a nation in crisis will present itself once again to a country much worse off due to this compulsory quarantine. Now, we will get back to an awareness of the hunger and the despair and the crashing and burning economy, and the protests that never really went away. A “post-corona” world for this and other second- and third-tier nations across the globe will reveal itself as a yet-deeper and ongoing nightmare, a dark and fearful status quo. Yet for wealthy nations who are able to bounce back from the current economic crash of this year’s corona-life, it will eventually become just a fading memory from which they will want to “learn lessons”.
A “socially-distant” visit is nearly as enjoyable as a video
conference for people who need to hug when they see
each other. (25 Mar. 2020 – Geitawi - Beirut)
            Lebanon has been showing up in some international news outlets recently. It has been highlighted as a country that has managed the pandemic quite well, despite being in a disastrous economic state. The Prime Minister recently noted that the effort expended to slow the pace of this virus has diverted the cabinet from dealing with the very real, immediate and long-term perils of the country. Nearly half of the population is currently facing hunger, over half is unemployed, education is in a shambles, and the anger of the people, simmering since the curfew was imposed, has boiled back up. Rock-throwing, burning banks, blocking roads – albeit with masks and gloves – has resumed. The pound is now worth about a third of its previous value, and with each new day its worth is even less. As an Armenian community we wonder what the fate of our schools and institutions will be, with no money to operate them, no ability to generate income, and no easy way to utilize monetary gifts from abroad. All of this concerns basic needs, not privileges: food, employment, education, health care, and cultural identity.
A candle of remembrance on our balcony, on the eve of
Armenian Martyrs’ Day. (23 Apr. 2020 – Geitawi - Beirut)
            The “Centennial+5” of the Armenian Genocide was commemorated amid the unusual restrictions of these days. All the massive gatherings that characterize April 24 the world over were transformed into an evocative silence. Absent were the massive crowds ascending the hill to the monument in Yerevan, Armenia, “Dzidzernagapert” (which translates to “Fortress of Swallows”), and it practically became once more the haunt of birds. The creativity of Armenia’s organizers came out, though, as a series of musicians and singers took to a stage on the walkway leading to the eternal flame and performed throughout the night – for eight hours – while people throughout the world watched from their homes. Here in Beirut, as in many Middle Eastern cities, the observance was markedly different than other years. In the windy night air we lit candles at our balconies and listened as church bells were rung for 10 minutes, honoring the lives lost and the lives rebuilt. Somehow, with all of these obstacles and circumstances, or perhaps because of them, this year’s Armenian Martyrs’ Day seemed to matter more. It was a privilege to stand outside in the cold and see flickering candles of other Armenians, children and grandchildren of survivors, on windowsills in Khalil Badawi and Nor Marash.
This mannequin will be safe from the virus.
(20 Apr. 2020 – Nor Marash - Bourj Hammoud)
            “Privilege” is a fairly sensitive term these days, especially in a country like the U.S., which continues to struggle with the issue of racial and economic disparity, starkly visible to those on the lower edge and nearly invisible to others inhabiting higher levels. I’d rather not call it “white privilege”, but rather “inherited privilege”. And it makes me wonder if those in Turkey realize they are the beneficiaries of the Turkish form of “inherited privilege”. So much of what they enjoy is as a result of those who were branded enemies of the nation, expelled from their homes and towns, driven to their deaths, and their properties and goods appropriated by those eager to enjoy what they perceived as “Armenian privilege” (can you say, “Incirlik”?). The words of politicians ring so very hollow, when they attempt to commemorate the Whatever-you-want-to-call-it Day, merely in order to avoid having to hold the feet of the privileged to the fire, so as to avoid offending an erstwhile “ally” and lose their privileges. Such a strange effect this “privilege” thing has on people.
            Too much ruminating for one post, of course.
LebCat 34: This creature actually looks quite accustomed
to the whole social distancing thing. (8 Apr. 2020 –
Khalil Badawi - Beirut)
            But something wonderful has emerged from being forced to minister to Armenian Evangelical Churches via the Internet – we came to the preparation of Sunday morning broadcasts, with songs, scriptures and sermons. This has happily drawn our churches, pastors and people together as a single audience, spanning seven Middle Eastern countries, plus Armenia, plus France, plus the U.S. and Canada, to enjoy the message of hope in their mother tongue, Armenian. I am grateful to God to be here in Beirut, playing a part in all of this, and to hear testimonies of people who have been (for a number of reasons) far from the worshiping community now being drawn into Christian fellowship. It’s almost as if God knew something like this was going to happen, no?   [LNB]

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