The day after our arrival, we slept in, even though the entire city of Bourj Hammoud never sleeps. The water delivery man came early in the morning and delivered drinking water, 3-4 18-litre jugs were delivered to the 5th floor of the building that has no elevator. Even though I heard the commotion of the delivery, I was still in bed and trying to come down from the flight – recovering from the Jet Lag took longer than I expected. Later, I asked my nephew, “How does this delivery man do it?” His answer was, “You would do whatever it takes to have a living and survive in this zoo, Aunty”. The neighbour had also come for the morning coffee while we were still asleep, which she does every morning and every afternoon. Once we got up, we had brunch and we unpacked three suitcases, preparing everything with love to distribute. The 100% humidity did not help on this fifth-floor apartment but thank God for the two fans that my sister has in her apartment, one was kept in our room and the other in my sister’s room. We stayed at the apartment the whole day, I am not sure if the narrow and crowded streets scared me to go down, or was it the fact that there is no elevator in this building.
For someone like Gary and I, it felt a little restrictive to come from a home that has an acre-and-a-half of a backyard to a fifth-floor apartment that is literarily attached to other buildings. It felt like we were in our own prison tower that we were willingly staying in. We had decided to stay with my sister for as many days as possible for many reasons, but the main reason is, she can barely walk inside her own apartment, let alone to climb up and down ninety-eight steps to get to and from her apartment, to come and see us, if we stayed somewhere else. There is a sixth floor to this building and an eighty-three-year-old woman lives there and she makes her trip to buy her groceries every day – not all bodies are built the same way.
One of my friends, Shoghig, called and expressed that she wanted to visit us after work if we were going to be home. This friend and I were inseparable during the war and I had not seen her for 35 years. I reminded her that we were on the 5th floor and is she certain to make this climb. She assured me that she knows the apartment well and the love of friendship will carry her upstairs to visit us. In the meantime, we waited for news from my niece, Rania, whom I have never met, that was at the hospital and was about to give birth to her first baby. We waited patiently, to hear the news – and we heard, “It’s a Girl! Ellia-Joe” She is named after her late maternal grandfather, “Ellie” and her father “Joseph”. Very creative and original. That evening we welcomed my friend, who arrived with a tray full of baklava to celebrate my arrival in Beirut after 35 years and also welcome my husband, Gary to our homeland. We talked for hours and remembered the olden days of War and Peace; Light and Darkness; Sorrow and Joy; Laughter and Tears.
The next day, Friday, September 14th, my nephew offered to take me and Gary to the hospital to greet my newly born great-niece. Not only did I meet the eleventh grandchild of my sister, but also met my niece for the very first time – the fifth child of my sister. My niece was born five years after I had left Lebanon, therefore I had never met her in person. So, today I was doubly blessed, not only did I meet my niece for the first time, but I also met my great-niece, her firstborn for the very first time.
In the morning we headed out to the Canadian Embassy. Even though we had registered online with the Canadian Foreign Affairs about the details of our trip, we were recommended by a retired Canadian Ambassador to also go and register at the Embassy in Lebanon in person. However, the guard at the door told us that we needed an appointment to get into the building, even if you are a Canadian. Thank God the Embassy was not far from our place but with the traffic and chaos of driving here, we were able to get there in half an hour, where it should have taken us not more than ten minutes.
After our excursion to Jel-El-Dib, to the Canadian Embassy, which is situated by the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, my nephew offered to take us wherever we wanted to go on the way to the hospital, so I asked if the Armenian Evangelical Peter and Elizabeth Torosian School in Amanos was on our way, and the answer was affirmative.
We got to the school after driving through the chaos of different towns, miraculously there was a parking spot right in the front of the school entrance – my nephew declared it, “A Miracle”. We went in and asked to meet with the principal, whom I have known since my childhood. She was glad to see me, as she had heard I was coming to town. She also expressed how my mother was a woman of faith and she had helped her through her difficult times of life. She also expressed how wonderful it is to see me come back to visit Lebanon after 35 years. Of course, I wanted to hear about the schools and their status.
As she explained details, my heart was breaking, and tears were welling up in my eyes. I was wondering where is the Hope in all these difficult moments? A little voice inside of me was encouraging me to be patient and reminding me that God is a God of Peace and Abundance, amid Chaos and Scarcity. The principal explained how a country where the government seems to be indifferent about the care of the people, keeps on adding tax and other fees without providing any services and care. The schools are going through difficult times and it is not only the students’ burden of tuition payments, but also the teachers, who receive a salary that is not enough to pay all their necessary expenses, and directors along with the board of trustees are trying to make everything run smoothly with a balanced budget. Everyone is trying their best to do their part, and everyone is exhausted – I was exhausted by just listening. The pressures of daily living are always front and centre.
A few minutes later, a father walks in, whom my nephew knows, as he has tutored his children in the past – he greets him. The man greets me as well and welcomes Gary and I to Lebanon. He has come to make a tuition payment. My ears perk up and my heart begins to dance. This is where Hope becomes audible, “I am here to make tuition payments and also express how my kids were helped by the afternoon tutoring program that the school offered last year, Thank YOU!”
A Word of Hope, A Word of Happiness are here at last.
In the narrow streets of Bourj Hammoud where oxygen seems scarce, there comes a parent with Good News – their child’s grades have improved, therefore the future looks brighter and a Peace-Filled life is a possibility once again. Peace-Through Education-Lebanon that the Elgin-Portland Pastoral Charge initiated in Ontario, Canada has witnessed a tangible Hope not just for today, but for all of the tomorrows.
On this night, September 14, 2018, after having a wonderful dinner at a home turned into a restaurant, named Badguere (Picture), in the narrow streets of Bourj Hammoud, I write this journal, I realize that 36 years ago today, the president-elect of Lebanon, Bachir Gemayel, was assassinated in Achrafieh. I remember vividly the sadness that took over the country. He was the youngest president-elect, I do not know why I liked him, but I did like him similar to many others. I still do not know why he was assassinated, just like many times we do not understand why people do the evil things that they do. The world might think that the war in Lebanon is over, but the black clouds of sadness and hardships from the war and assassinations such as Bachir Gemayel’s, still carry a lingering burden on everyone.
But I know that clouds are temporary, sometimes time seems like an eternity and other times fleeting. The voice in me, “Be still and know that I am God” becomes more and more tangible, no matter where you are found – on the fifth floor of a building with no elevator, or at a school trying to balance its books, educate children now to be leaders in the future. In all the crowded streets of suffocation and suffering, there is Hope proclaimed from the mouth of a father who came to make a tuition payment or a little new life who has brought a new light in this darkness – reminds us of Life Abundant in Scarcity, and Hope Unending amid restlessness of life.
Thanks be to God for we are not alone. Amen.
Signing off… Friday, September 14, 11:55 p.m. – Cinema Royal Building, Nor Marash, Bourj Hammoud.