Saturday, February 3, 2024

Time and Flies

61. Time and Flies (3 February 2024)

A cloudy sunset in a cold and rainy winter
(1 Feb. 2024 - Manara-Beirut)

Among the unavoidables one encounters in life are time and flies. Both tend to fly, and in ways one would rather not experience. For example, all the miserable events of the past months rendered me incapable of harboring anything but angry thoughts, and the time for writing flew away just like that. Events like the brutal takeover of Artsakh, the desperate emptying of that Armenian homeland, and the disgraceful leadership of Armenia drained me of any desire or ability to express myself cogently. Sweeping the ethnic cleansing of Artsakh out of the news cycle was the brutal military incursion from Gaza into Israel, the unsurprising outcome of brutal occupation, repression and dehumanization by “the only democracy in the Middle East” and “the most moral army in the world,” the darling of the United States government. It added nothing but fuel to my desire to express nothing but outrage, and left me to watch time circle round and round above me like a vulture and regularly relieve itself on my head and shoulders. And through it all, having to witness the mendacity of world powers acting as if they are the defenders of the forgotten and downtrodden of the world caused yet more writer’s paralysis to freeze my fingers.

Planting hope at KCHAG conference center
(9 Dec. 2023 - Monteverde)

            What a trajectory: from our cautious optimism of this day seven years ago when we arrived in Lebanon (actual date: Feb. 1 – cf. Nshanakir No. 1), to today, when the humanity of humanity appears on the verge of collapse. People quickly get worked up about the potential threat “Artificial Intelligence” presents, robbing human beings of their agency and independence; yet the thirst and lust for destruction swirling about us springs directly from human hearts – no computer algorithms needed. A maelstrom is encompassing Lebanon, from the storms within, the self-serving “public servants”, the clash of a multiplicity of loyalties, the hopelessness of the population and the endemic lack of vision, to the simmering flames of war purposely being stoked in a country unable to deal with yet another crisis. Together these may form the “perfect storm” that will whip up winds to drive yet more of the youth and vitality Lebanon needs far from her shores.

How to tell you're not in Kansas anymore.
That and the McKafta burger (3 Sept. 2023 -
Nahr el Mawt)

            Speaking of storms, the abundant rain that has fallen (and continues to fall) this winter has brought about the collapse of infrastructure in every region of the country, with landslides, mudslides, and even Pigeon Rock-slides (the sidewalk alongside the road, that is). Recently, main roads flooded enough to cover the bottom half of the fire trucks sent out to rescue motorists from their cars. Long chains of trash wended their way down the Beirut River, flowing into the Mediterranean to join the trash sliding off of coastal “landfills”. These are just a few of the features of “Lebanon Winter Waterwonderland”.

            Since I’ve only gone skiing once in my life, and that was more than enough to eliminate any desire to continue skiing, I have adopted a new winter pastime: emptying water from car doors. It’s unlikely to be adopted as a sport at the Winter Olympics, but if it is, I may end up on the medals’ platform. Since the car’s rubber window seals are cracked and broken, heavy rains end up inside the doors, and when I do my usual evasive maneuvering while driving, the sloshing sound tells me it’s time to drain the doors. It’s a very small drain hole with an un-removable cover, so I stand, bent over, and hold it open for as long as 15 minutes until the trickle subsides. A couple of weeks ago the rain also ended up under the floorboards, so I got to sop up even more water. I just keep thinking about the medal that will one day hang around my neck.

From Quebec? Must have missed the turn
at Albequerque (18 Dec. 2023 - Beirut)

Also on the subject of water, the other day the neighborhood dry cleaner, shaking his head at the nonexistent public works, remarked that Lebanon is a place where there is an abundance of water (referring to the rain and the flooding) but at the same time no water (the kind that is supposed to come out of the tap).

            Last week there was a yawn-worthy announcement in the news about driving in Lebanon. Apparently Lebanon has the most dangerous roadways in the world. Unmaintained roadways, poorly designed roadways, aggressive drivers, pedestrians crossing highways, pedestrians unschooled in the meaning of red lights, people at the edges of roadways (sidewalks? what sidewalks?) who are run over, increasing numbers of car thefts, cockroaches (actually motor scooters) weaving in and out of traffic in every direction, lack of proper signage, lack of people obeying what signage there is… the list just flies by at breakneck speed. While people behind you blast their horns because you are inconsiderately stopping for a red light.

            It was a cheerful moment last October, in an otherwise bleak year, to bring the Armiss choir back to the stage, even if only for two songs. Although it was a significantly smaller group than has performed in recent years, their musicianship and sincerity produced beauty in their singing. The occasion was the release of a book, “A Hundred Years of Lebanese-Armenian Choral Art” by Roubina Artinian. As we continue pursuing such artistic efforts as choral singing in these lean days it’s crucial to keep that longer perspective at the fore. We are part of a continuum in Armenian life and culture, and we must take advantage of that momentum so as not to lose heart and leave a legacy for those yet unborn.

A different view of the Genocide Memorial
and Research Institute
(25 Oct. 2023 - Yerevan)

            Not only has a hundred years flown by for Lebanese-Armenian choirs, the church Union in which we are serving is also begun its centennial year, joining a processional of centennials of Armenian churches, schools and institutions in the Middle East. For the Union, a June celebration is in the works that will be the next target event for me and the Armiss Choir. But it will be tinged with a bittersweet taste due to the reason behind the founding of all these community structures, namely the Armenian Genocide. It is there, lurking in the shadows of everything we do, not just as an historical memory from the early 20th century, but also through the ongoing, contemporary annihilation of Armenian presence from its own homeland by perpetrators such as Turkey and Azerbaijan, and through the passivity of “friendly powers” that provide little more than pity to the ongoing human and cultural destruction of people groups (not just Armenians) in their native lands.

LebCat 61 - "Won't one of you
put down your phone long
enough to pet me?" (1 Feb.
2024 - Mar Mikhael-Beirut)

            I made a short trip to Armenia in October to see my sister and brother-in-law, and at every turn was faced with concern over Lebanon. “Is it safe there? Aren’t you going back to the U.S.?” And the least-informed question, “Why don’t they just stop bothering Israel?” Many people were sure that Lebanon was on the threshold of war, and few people accepted my observation that all was not as it appeared on the surface… just as the preoccupation with shopping and night life in Yerevan are not indicative of the precarious status of Armenia. Looking around while I was there, the impression I got was that Armenia has not a care in the world, even though Azerbaijan is preparing to wipe it off the map to claim what it brazenly calls “Western Azerbaijan”.

Lest I forget, yes, there are the flies: drain flies, that is. Our building’s staircase has been infested with them for several months, and they occasionally find their way into our apartment. They aren’t disease-carriers, thankfully. But they are annoying. And since I can’t seem to locate where they are breeding and deal a deadly blow by dumping a bucket of hot water down their drain, all I can do is squish them on the walls where they alight. Too bad every intractable problem can’t be managed so easily.   [LNB]

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