Don't ask me what's going on! I really don't think I know much any more. Even my Lebanese colleagues seem fairly vague about the status of things in Lebanon. My Twitter news feeds say things like "Situation Fragile in the ________ (north, south, border)" and "Lebanon struggles to hang on to neutrality amid the widening Syrian war." Someone asked me if WMDs, such as Sarin and others would affect us. No, I don't think so. We're on the coast with two mountain ranges between us and the Syrian trouble. While the distance is not far, as the crow flies, chemical weapons would not reach us and the crow doesn't fly that far and never over mountain ranges. What's worrying is that if the allies threaten action against chemical weapons they might be fighting Al Qaeda, who have been threatening to use them against the Assad regime. The length of this conflict has created an open door for the terrorists Assad was complaining about. Now they really are there.
Speaking of crows, Lebanon's lack of law and order has meant that it has had an endless open season on the many migrating birds that have stopped here for centuries on their way to/from Africa. Thanks to Facebook and other social media sites, our proud hunters have published their photos with heaps of birds, songbirds, some endangered birds too. Organizations such as "Animals Lebanon" are letting people know what is going on. Songbirds, despite being against the law, are to be seen on some menus in rural areas. They're considered a delicacy in those restaurants though I would not expect to see them on any menu in the coastal cities.
And speaking of organizations, I have recently organized a group called "Anti-Discrimination Student Group." We received permission from Amnesty International to use this logo:
Until we get some interested art students, we will use this one. Our Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/AnitDiscriminationStudentClubBalamand?ref=hl. At our first meeting we had more faculty than students show up. However, we have since gathered a number of undergrad and grad students who are very keen to see this group be successful. I am keeping my expectations low (realistic). If the US can erupt in such hate rhetoric as I saw before our last election then what can we hope to accomplish here where the distrust, dislike (hate?), and discrimination have been embedded in religion and politics for centuries? Nevertheless, perhaps a few students will tell other students and perhaps a few students will tell their parents. I have contacted another group in Beirut, the Anti-Racism Movement, who work especially for the causes of foreign domestic workers who have been horribly abused in Lebanon. They told me that, as far as they know, there are no other such groups on the other Lebanese campuses. But I have already been warned to be careful. Caritas, another group, Catholic, works with refugees. Sadly, refugees are not very welcome here and, of course, Syrian refugees bring with them memories of the long-time Syrian occupation. Our first screening went well. We watched Freedom Writers and then discussed the possibilities of showing it to the whole campus. Overall, there was approval with the worry that some might be offended because the teacher in the highly-racist atmosphere in the story uses The Holocaust as a way of teaching about discrimination. I suggested that we cannot start by filtering history, no matter how we feel about the current situation to the south. We shall see. I don't care too much about numbers but rather, meaningful conversations and discussions that take place in a safe and respectful atmosphere. Members of the Anti-Racism Movement have agreed they will come and talk to our classes or groups of our students. There is a great deal of interest from the President, the Dean of Students, and faculty.
Of late, I have become rather discouraged with things here. Perhaps it's because of being so isolated for so long. I go grocery shopping off campus but, other than that, I haven't gone anywhere or done anything outside of work. I could ride with my friends to Beirut if only I didn't have a Christmas Concert coming up. I'm tied to the piano on campus and can only get practice time when the piano teacher is not using it. I guess it will be an enjoyable concert but our rehearsals haven't been as frequent as I think they should. I was drafted by our Associate Dean, a soprano with a beautiful voice and 4 children who play and sing as well. There are others involved, a classical guitarist from our faculty, a violist, and various alums to fill out the vocal ensemble.
I have a tree and a crèche. They're very tiny but, they give a kind of impression of Christmas.
Perhaps I'm also feeling a bit nostalgic for the many wonderful seasonal events shared with friends and family over the years. My niece was my Christmas Angel for many years because she enjoyed the season so much, she made it special for me. I have decided that this year I will go to Beirut for 3 days so I can attend an English service and get off of this mountain for awhile.
I guess I will never understand (or appreciate) the way things work (and don't work) around here. It's always important to remember that words mean little and promises are easily made and rarely followed by the action expected. That is tough and leads to disappointment all around. Many of my colleagues feel the same way. One probably cannot expect that the institution can behave extra-culturally. And when students don't believe that you will enforce deadlines and standards who can blame them? The complete disregard for the law may be incomprehensible to stable countries where there are laws with real consequences for breaking them. I did see a police car yesterday, my second one in two and a half years. Everyone was passing him. His car wasn't nice enough to warrant notice or respect I guess.
On Wednesday of last week our Patriarch died, His Beatitute, Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. He was 91. Immediately the school closed. I was at my door when my phone rang. Students received cell phone messages and all activity ceased. As a matter of fact, when the tennis coach tried to come to campus to practice the next day, security turned him away! They told him that the President had decreed "No Activity." One of my colleagues wonders if that means no practicing the piano either. Well, my music is pretty sad so I think it counts as a mournful activity in keeping with the week of grieving. Classes will start again on Tuesday because on Monday they will take his "blessed body" to Damascus for final burial. Damascus! Some of our theology students have been involved and will probably be in the entourage going to Syria. I pray they will all be safe. In the meantime, we are all catching up on marking, another activity that makes us sad.
Merry Christmas Everyone! Pray for Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Men, Women, and Children.