Monday, June 21, 2021

Two Hours Is Plenty

44.Two Hours Is Plenty (21 June 2021)

Street art around AUB
(Bliss St., Beirut - 27 May 2021)
When the foxes who have ruled the henhouse for the past three decades claim that they are going to improve henhouse conditions, like install air conditioning, or clean up the mess on the floor, it should take less than three decades to realize that this will never happen. Case in point: the endless promises up until last year that Lebanon’s decaying power grid and lengthy power cuts were going to be “fixed” – “very soon” – have passed their expiry date and are smelling rancid. Two hours a day of electricity is plenty, right? No massive popular movement emerges against these foxes – or perhaps they are wolves? “So let’s cut it down to 1-1/2 hours per day.” And on and on it goes.

And more than a few people eat at these sorts
of "food outlets" (Mar Mikhael -
Beirut - 4 June 2021)
            How bad is the electricity in Lebanon? Wait… I’ve heard this joke before. It’s so bad that their offices got blown to smithereens in the port blast last year and nobody noticed the difference. It’s so bad that even the private generator owners are complaining that their machines are working too much.

            The primary occupation of Lebanese in these times is watching, in real-time, a country rich in natural resources, human capital (especially its youth), healthy growth possibilities, history, heritage, and service industries, fall apart, bit-by-bit. It’s not a pre-occupation, because that would imply you have a job. The economy has (up to now) contracted to the point where it will take a decade or two to recover, so says the World Bank. Therefore, until and if recovery starts, “wait and watch” will be the primary work engaging Lebanese of all stripes. Possibly also the pre-occupation of the regional and international players fielding their teams in “Stadium Lebanon”.

Wounded voices from the blast zone
(Mar Mikhael - Beirut - 7 June 2021)
            Meanwhile, foreign and expatriate Lebanese partygoers looking for a bargain are flowing into the country, keeping the eating and drinking sector in business. Like vultures on carrion, nightly they noisily fill the “bar-way” – Armenia Street / rue Nahr / Mar Mikhael – near us until the wee hours of the morning. One could say, “At least they are putting  ‘fresh money’ into the economy.” But that money comes at the price of humiliation and dependency. Yesterday’s militia leaders (i.e., today’s political leaders) have treated the Lebanese this way for three or more decades, as they reinforce their place in Lebanon’s confessional-based system, offering their followers jobs, “monetary incentives”, or even COVID-19 vaccines, in exchange for unquestioning party loyalty. A similar effect can be had by narcotics.

Lines, lines everywhere
(Beirut - 14-16 June 2021)
            That currency devaluation continues by the day, and the banking system, against which the uprising began late in 2019 (before it derailed), continues to devise new ways to keep depositors’ money in their hands. This is in open defiance of international efforts to salvage Lebanon’s shipwrecked economy. Similarly, the supply of medicines, including medicines for chronic conditions, is being controlled and rationed, though it seems that there is no shortage in depots. Hospitals, deeply affected by this situation, will soon inform their chemo and dialysis patients not to come in for treatment, due to lack of supplies. Kleptomania is an addiction, and as any drug abuser can relate, you could sell anything or anyone if it got you what you crave. For Reformed theology fans, the term “total depravity” has here been replaced with utter depravity.

            Why has there been no public uprising against the perpetrators of this heartless and endless misery purposely inflicted upon the Lebanese? I refer you to “The Frog and the Kettle” analogy, which best explains the slow adjustment of the population to the deadly atmosphere around them. In previous years, as power cuts occurred, the government would announce they’re “trying to fix” the electricity (or trash, or any other) problem. Now, they don’t even bother saying anything to the public. There is no spirit or will left (so far) to hold anyone accountable. And as we all know, uprisings where mafias rule result in bloodshed.

You know your neighbors love you when they
leave onions and garlic in your mail slot!
(17 June 2021 - Geitawi - Beirut)
            One of the bright spots in this morass is one of the only governmental agencies that is working for, and not against, the people: the Health Ministry. It has an active cabinet minister who actually has the proper qualifications for the job. He makes sure the press is present during his surprise visits to hospitals, clinics, vaccination centers and medicine depots, and maintains updates on the Ministry’s website and social media, so as to increase public awareness and accountability. His recommendations for governmental policy are based on scientific and public health concerns, and not on the dictates of any religious community head. As a result, Lebanon has been able to see a vast reduction in COVID-19 cases, including a reduction in deaths from the disease. How we wish he could step out of his caretaker role and be part of the yet-to-be-formed-if-ever cabinet.

A newly-formed Armenian family exchanging
vows before a newly rebuilt stained glass
cross! (19 June 2021 - Beirut)
            Another bright spot – or rather a whole lot of bright spots – are those citizens who demonstrate humanity toward their fellow citizens, despite their own suffering. Some help to push cars that are out of gas in the waiting lines at gas stations (which dispense a few litres of fuel to a single customer as slowly as possible). Some pay a little extra at the food market so that someone else who is short of cash can buy food. Others write alerts via social media where young parents can find baby formula or diapers. In one of those online encounters the donor of some much-needed medicine refused any payment – only asking the recipient to “pray for her”. Despite the misery (and I’ve highlighted only a fraction of the spheres of corruption in which the country is drowning), the ordinary humanity of the authentic Lebanese still shines, albeit dimly.

Praying for God's blessing on the Armenian
Evangelical Central HS graduating
class (Geitawi - Beirut - 13 June 2021)

            The Armenian community here is faring as well as everyone else: not better, not worse. But in pursuing its daily life and continuing its existence, it is engaging in civil disobedience, defying the rampant corruption in which it is compelled to exist. Merely the act of rebuilding structures damaged in the port explosion (a disaster resulting from years of corruption and negligence on a staggering scale) shows that defiance. The installation of a re-imagined version of the stained glass cross in the First Armenian Evangelical Church, rededicated yesterday, is another example. Armenian schools (and Haigazian University) holding their year-end programs these weeks and prayerfully graduating their students to the next level of their education shows that same determination. Or a young Armenian couple taking their marriage vows and pledging to stand by one another no matter what the circumstances is another act of civil disobedience against the wolves running the henhouse. And for what is yet to come, faith in God’s grace will be the only way to endure.

LebCat44: What, are you going to start
charging me for chilling under this car?
(Geitawi - Beirut - 13 June 2021)
            So we are back to spending summer nights without electricity, pretending to sleep, and then dragging ourselves through the daytime, pretending we are awake. Until last week we had our neighbors with whom to commiserate, but they returned to Armenia for the summer… and have their own set of challenges to face, as Armenia decides its future leaders, and continues to be the object of interest to neighboring Canis lupus appetites, and the object of continued Western humanitarian disinterest.

            Since there is only One who holds the future, we put our trust in him alone these days. Probably not a bad idea for everyone, everywhere, to do the same, no matter the level of comfort you (currently) experience.    [LNB]