October 2, 2018 is the day we returned to Lebanon. Thank God our flight was at noon and we did not need to get up in the middle of the night to get to the airport. Davit came and took us to the airport with his right arm in a cast. We are so grateful for the gift of Davit’s commitment to help us get where we needed to go all through our week-long visit in Armenia.
When we arrived at the airport, Davit pointed out the old airport to our right and the new one that we had already utilized at our arrival. No one had mentioned this to us, once again this small information triggered in me the fact that Armenia is just starting to take baby steps of growth. With a quick look, anyone can see the newer modern building is so inviting and hospitable.
Today, for the very first time since we have been here, it was raining. Despite the rain, our flight scheduled for 12:20 p.m. left twenty minutes earlier and arrived in Lebanon 45 minutes before the estimated time of arrival – This does not happen often – we were glad.
My nephew, Roudy, was waiting for us at the Beirut International Airport, and his car was parked in the same spot as when we first arrived on September 12. We all agreed that even though he had parked at the same parking spot as before, we all hoped that the traffic home will not be the same and we will be home in less than three-and-half hours. Our wish was granted, we got home in about an hour, even after grabbing lunch at Burger King on our way home. But children hustle in traffic selling cigarettes, socks, pantyhose, CDs, gum, water, etc., etc. are ever present in the heart of Beirut.
We had heard the news in Armenia of Charles Aznavour’s passing (October 1) and all of Lebanon seemed saddened as well. Yes, he was a great Artist whose parents had migrated to France from Georgia and Turkey and he was born in Paris, France. He was an Armenian in diaspora, yet he had done so much for the Armenian Cause and the Mother Land. Charles Aznavour’s picture was part of the displays in Armenia, as one of the “Great Armenians”, with only his date of birth, soon the dash and date of death will be added to those, I am sure, but he will continue to live in our hearts as long as we live. However, now his picture was being displayed on huge buildings in Bourj Hammoud as well. This is dominantly an Armenian area and is a sign of reverence to the artist who might have been a short man in stature, but truly a mighty man in his craft of music, and love to humanity. It feels like an end of an era, but maybe this is a good wake up call for us to think and reflect on how we live our short lives here on earth and leave lasting impressions of Love and Respect.
The next seven days will be our last week in Lebanon and we have a full schedule to follow; but for tonight, October 2, 2018, we just hung out with my best friend at a shopping center, which made me wonder if we were still in Lebanon or somewhere else. What a dichotomy – I never imagined such a high-end shopping center existed in Lebanon – Not when I was growing up. I was told this is only a small glimpse of the riches that are found in Greater Beirut – we even had Starbucks Coffee, and saw a huge line up woman who were waiting to enter Victoria’s Secret.
The next day, October 3, 2018, I am so glad my nephew was able to take us to pay a visit at my mom’s first cousin. Addresses are not straight forward in Lebanon, you must count buildings, look for markings, etc., etc. But we made it there and enjoyed a wonderful lunch with her and her two daughters. During our breaking of bread, it was clear to me that our ancestors and all those loved ones who were no longer physically present with us, were also breaking bread. We reminisced about the past and found joy in the present moment, we were so glad that this moment was a possibility. For the rest of the day, Gary and I just relaxed and walked around Bourj Hammoud. In the evening my best friend came and picked us up and we ended up at the Burj El Hammam restaurant while the sun was setting. One of these moments that reminded me, this beautiful visit to Lebanon and Armenia is coming to its sunset, but a new day is dawning.
Today, October 4, 2018, I had to get up early so that I can be at the Shamlian Tatigian School before 7:30 a.m. This is the school I attended from pre-K to 8th Grade. I was invited to share a word with the students at their morning worship. Good thing the school is only a block away from my sister’s apartment. What a joy it was to be with grades 7,8, and 9 and share with them what was in my heart. I shared with the students about Canada’s Maple Syrup and how it is produced and connected it to God’s Love, which is found in ALL of us, no matter where we live and what our circumstances are outside of us. God’s Love is found in all of us, we just need to patiently and generously share that love with others. Boiling away our ego, greed and selfishness – that is when the Maple Syrup is sweet and tasty. At the end of the sharing time, we had small pieces of pita bread “baptized” by Canadian Maple Syrup and shared it with every single student. What a joy, what a divine moment of experiencing Jesus in our midst.
After the time with the students and meeting all the teachers and administrative staff of the school, the principal and I went to a bakery to have breakfast. This bakery is only couple of blocks away from the school and it is the same bakery where my family used to have our Easter cookies baked when we had no oven at our apartment. Now, the grandson of the original owner is running the place. We sat down on the sidewalk of this narrow street and enjoyed a freshly baked Armenian-Lebanese breakfast – witnessed the delivery of fresh vegetables – I must say, I have never seen such huge vegetables in my life. On the way back to my sister’s apartment, I stopped and visited the apartment building of my childhood. So much has changed yet so much has stayed the same. With every step I took, and everyone I met, I sensed my parents walking with me.
In the late afternoon we went to visit my maternal uncle, and his family. My uncle, now retired, was a videographer and I used to help him with the electrical wires and camera bags when I was just an eleven-year-old girl – what a gift it was to see him after 35 long years. Afterwards we went and enjoyed a feast at my cousin’s place alongside his extended family. What a day of journeying back and forth with stories, which led us to go through my cousin’s wedding album where my sister, Ruth and I were part of the wedding party – I had forgotten that part. Most importantly, there was an almost complete picture of our family – why almost? Because my parents and my four siblings and I were in the picture but my brother, Jacob, the photographer, was missing in the family picture, since he is the one who took it.
Friday, October 5, we spent the day resting and walking around the streets of Bourj Hammoud, running into old acquaintances and neighbours; finding the taxi center where my mother and I went to Damascus, Syria 35 years ago. Mr. Demirdjian, no relation to us, was there and he is still offering services to and from Syria and Lebanon. Once again, my nephew was with me like a body guard and we decided to knock on the apartment door of my childhood. However, No one was home to let us in.
Tonight, there was a rare opportunity to attend a concert and see the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, in partnership with Haigazian University, at the St. Joseph Church, Ashrafieh, under the direction of Maestro Garo Avessian, who is the music director of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Nor Marash (The church I grew up in), where I met him on September 16. I am so glad we changed our plans and attended this concert. What an amazing experience. So much talent, so much creativity, so much ingenuity in the middle of the darkness that surrounds Lebanon, there was music, unity and beauty. I turned to Gary and I said, “This is music in the night that no darkness can take away”.
Since we have returned from Armenia, the days have been full of connections with the past but also getting to meet new people who are witnesses of a new day dawning with Hope, Ingenuity, Courage and Anticipation. May the music always guide the path through darkness and chaos; may relationships always grow with respect and may every breath that we take bring in us a heart filled with grace which exhales gratitude.
Signing off… Friday, October 5, 2018, 11:45 p.m. Cinema Royal Building, Nor Marash, Bourj Hammoud.