May 3, 2016
We’ve arrived in Lebanon. A short drive to the hotel, check in and soon we are meeting in a small conference room on the top floor of our 8 story hotel. Our hosts, MCC Representatives (who for security reasons will not be named in these posts) are sharing with us an overview of what we can expect over the course of the trip.
What strikes me immediately is just how many statistics one can get lost in. Allow me to pull out a few for you:
– 9 million people live in Lebanon with over half considered “in need”
– 5 million displaced Syrians and 320,000 Palestine refugees currently in the country
– 1 in 3 people in Lebanon is displaced from Syria or Palestine
That gave me some sense of scope and it’s big. Of all those in the last 90 years, the Syrian refugee crisis is MCC’s largest humanitarian response. These kinds of numbers can quickly become overwhelming. So where to start entering into what is taking place in this country which is no larger than Cape Breton Island?
– MCC is working with 14 partner organizations and a total of 38 active projects
I’ll learn more about these partners in the coming days, but for now I can say that MCC partners are organizations, mostly in-country, that MCC works with and supports in order to increase the partner’s capacity and impact.
– Among the refugee population in Lebanon, there is a 70% poverty rate, which means the vast majority is living on less than $6/day
– 80% of refugees are in debt
Years of conflict and instability in Lebanon has meant that core infrastructure is in disrepair. You should expect 3-hour, scheduled blackouts each day. The country is also taxed by the influx of displaced people, which Lebanon’s infrastructure is not able to support. What can the government do in this situation? A discussion about Lebanon’s government is likely a whole other post, but let me say for illustrative purposes that municipal elections in Lebanon are taking place during our visit. These are the first democratic municipal elections in 6 years. Stay tuned for the results.
If you’re like me, I start to zone out when the numbers get to be too much. I have a similar response when I hear the news alerting the viewing public to the number of citizens killed in some attack or bombing. Or the number of people trying to float across the Mediterranean for help. The numbers are important, but they can get to be too much.
Tonight, I focused on a single number: One. One dinner in Beirut. My first authentic Lebanese meal. We walked a block from our hotel to a restaurant that we were told serves authentic Lebanese food. Well, I’m a fan. Of course the humus is outstanding, but so is the chicken and these fried cheese rolls whose name escapes me. Speaking of cheese, for dessert we ate some kind of sweet, soft cheese wrapped in pastry. So good.
In the book I’m reading, “Beirut Noir,” the first line of the introduction reads, “Beirut is a city of contradiction and paradox.” Tonight that manifests as some amazing food set against a backdrop of poverty and generational conflict. Tomorrow, I’m sure this theme will emerge again. We are spending time at a seminary. We’re going to hear stories from Syrians. I’m not sure how to prepare to enter into these stories of despair and hope. Perhaps I’ll enter in as I did tonight – I’ll be overwhelmed one moment and less than an hour later delighted by treats. Perhaps this is how I live my everyday, in tension, pulled between the good and the bad in life. Maybe the only difference is that this reality is amplified here by the extremes of the situations.
At the end of the meal I thanked our waiter by saying “shokran,” meaning “thank you.” I could have said “Kill shee tamaam,” meaning “everything is perfect.” Knowing some of what is happening in Lebanon, it seemed like an incongruous response.