Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Land That Honor Forgot

51.The Land That Honor Forgot (31 July 2022)

Kindergarten graduation is a big deal here!
(17 June 2022 - Nor Marash)

A couple of weeks ago, as I was leading the washing-machine repairman up the steps in complete darkness, the tiny lights of our cell phones revealing the steps before us, I apologized that, after a long day of work, I had to make him walk the steps and not take the elevator. Deflecting my apology, in Arabic (and some broken Armenian, as he used to work in Bourj Hammoud) he said, “Haram, Beirut, haram that such a beautiful city as you is like this, haram!”

            “Haram” means “shame”. And supposedly the Middle East is one of the many regions throughout the world that operates around an “honor/shame” culture, something the West has great trouble grasping. Not that the West doesn’t use the term “shame”; it does, but only when attempting to shame others, and no longer as a means of self-examination or personal reform. Here, shame is part and parcel of each day, and especially in today's Lebanon, with the abundance of shameful situations. Yet although so much is shameful, those responsible for engineering this state of affairs over the years have no sense of shame… and therefore no honor.

The "Cine Vendome" steps have been
upgraded to include a playground!
(24 June 2022 - Mar Mikhael)

            As Maria, Sevag and I were driving on a “highway” through an agricultural region last week, we happened upon a two-vehicle accident, possibly a head-on collision or a side-swipe. Scattered across the road were bits of produce and wooden crates, and sprawled on the shoulder were women and men in their colorful garb, being attended to by paramedics next to a Red Cross ambulance. Men standing around were not helping traffic to get past the scene, as car after car slowed down to see what was going on, and even to chat with those on both sides of the road. What a shame to see these agricultural workers – not Lebanese, of course – who had a short while earlier been crammed into these vehicles to take them back to their camp after a day’s work. Who feels compassion for these injured women and men, even though there would be no produce in the markets if they weren’t out in the sun each day tending the fields?

Traffic jam on the Stepanavan-Vanatzor
roadway. (8 July 2022 - Armenia)

            Earlier, when driving in the other direction on this same road, we happened upon another traffic jam. There seemed to be no reason for it in such a small town, until we saw a bakery outlet with a couple hundred people in front and across the road from it, anxiously waiting for a delivery of Arabic bread. Why was there a “bread crisis”? Because the legislature was discussing the terms of international funding to enable Lebanon to buy wheat, and how much it should cost, and whether wheat subsidies should be lifted. While these men (only a handful of hardy women dare to serve in the parliament) were debating, the people were panicking, experiencing the shame of having to wait in line for bread, when their leaders have absolutely no food worries.

"Mer Shougan" (Our Market) on Arax Street,
to promote the home-based products of
(10 July 2022 - Bourj Hammoud)

            And to add more shame to this scene, the army and police had to intervene to keep the order at this and so many other bakeries. Men on this side, women on that. Lebanese in this line, Syrians stand over there. Accusations intensify about who is buying up the stocks of subsidized bread to sell at twice the legal price to people who have no choice but to pay that amount, about who is smuggling bread out of the country to sell elsewhere, just as subsidized medicines are hoarded and sold in countries far from Lebanon.

            These God-given sensitivities – shame and honor – have often been misused when they are detached from personal conscience and used as weapons for controlling others. But in our current situation they are merely a veneer of words used by the powerful, devoid of meaning or effect, papering over the corruption within. John the Baptist (Matt. 3.7-12) and later Jesus Christ (Matt. 12.34-37), when confronting the corruption of their day, challenged the powerful to change direction or else face relentless justice from the God they no longer feared. Honor needs to be seen in honorable actions, not just in long-winded speeches or televised soundbites.

Facing the explosion site, memorials to
those killed in the Beirut Port blast
of 2020 (photo by SAB - 30 July 2022)
   As if fatigued from the hypocrisy and mendacity swirling around the abortive investigation of the Beirut Port Explosion of August 4, 2020, today part of the damaged grain silos collapsed in a plume of dust, debris and fungus from the fermenting grain within. These fifty-year-old silos, which held nearly the entire grain reserves of the country, are among the heroes of that unforgettable day. Their structural integrity shielded half of the city from destruction. Though inanimate, they hold a place of honor alongside the heroic first responders who were cut down on that summer evening; a level of honor that those who were sworn to protect and lead the country will never achieve – save for their total, systemic and true repentance.

            We’re finding ourselves approaching our refrigerator with trepidation, since the power (from all three sources) is off more than it is on in these hot and humid days. It used to be that stocking up the freezer and putting leftovers in the fridge put our minds at ease for coming busy days. Now we play the game “What’s That Smell?” when we open the fridge. Good smell? Thumbs up. Bad smell? To quote my college roommate’s slogan, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

            Maria and I had our first bout of CoVID-19 last month, as we were preparing to receive our son Sevag and then travel to Armenia together. See plans, apply wrench. After the readjusted Armenia trip concluded and we returned to Lebanon, Sevag had his first bout of the disease. We were grateful that we didn’t have any loss of smell or taste (refer to preceding paragraph). And grateful that we were able to provide him with at-home care.

LebCat 51: "It's simple: you climb up this
grapevine, push one of those switches down,
and then someone comes out to his balcony
and starts yelling. You meow and he throws
you a treat when he comes down to switch it
back on." (24 June 2022 - Geitawi)

            Sadly, I am getting less exercise, after realizing that the circuit breaker for our supplemental electricity could be relocated right outside our apartment door (refer to my Jan. 2022 blog) and not down a bunch of stairs and out at the end of the street. Now they easiest thing in the world is to make a mistake by turning on the hot water tank or flushing the toilet, and then saying, with a smile, “Oh well, no problem!” and just open the front door and flip the switch back on. Talk about living in the lap of luxury!

            What concerns me the most is that those among whom I work – Armenians and Lebanese – will lose their sensitivity to the tools God gives to keep their consciences alive. The poisonous examples are so very prevalent, and only with divine help and concerted mutual support will we avoid this plague, this collective degradation – whether in Armenia, in the Diaspora, or here.   [LNB]