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Salaam from Lebanon!

Bonjour!! I am starting to get accustomed to my new living quarters and lifestyle here in Gharzouz, Lebanon. Pictured below is my landing in Beirut and my new abode. Beautiful sunsets from my bedroom window, grapes hanging from the vines above our outdoor dining table, freshly harvested spices and herbs spread across the dining room, exotic fruits I’ve never tasted or even heard off. Not too shabby if you ask me.

Here are the first three things I learned about Lebanon:

Airport “security” in Beirut does not give two hoots about checking your bag at customs. Customs is also very interested in why two young American women are coming to Lebanon and apparently also very interested in the socio-political environment in the US. The customs man wanted a conversation, we wanted to leave the airport.

Traffic rules are more like suggestions that don’t actually exist. For example, you know the white dotted lines on roads that indicate lanes? Irrelevant. Oh, you know traffic lights? Nonexistent. And normally you would drive your family around in a van or SUV, right? I guess a scooter will do, it’s probably cheaper anyways…

There are two things a car needs in Lebanon: horn and brakes. I’m still debating which is more important. It’s probably a good thing we sing prayers to the angels every time we get in the car.

The first three days were a blur as I dealt with the time change exhaustion, adjusted to the new food, and heard more of another language than I ever have before. Over the last two weeks I entered into the schedule of community life and have already begun a journey of deep self discovery in Christ. My daily schedule:

0600: Wake up

0730: Mass or Lauds

0830: Breakfast (in silence on Fridays)

0900: Work (in silence on Fridays)

1300: Lunch (in silence on Fridays)

1400: Personal Time

1500: Formation

1700: Adoration

1800: Rosary

1830: Mass or Vespers

1930: Dinner (Shabbat meal on Fridays)

2100: Team Time

2230: Lights out!

Work usually consists of peeling and cutting potatoes, squeezing lemons, washing and cutting cucumbers, squeezing lemons, peeling onions, squeezing lemons, washing and cutting zucchini, squeezing lemons, peeling garlic, squeezing lemons, and squeezing lemons. My entire French vocabulary consists of vegetables and fruits, maybe you can guess why. Most of the meal preparation is with vegetables and fruits from the community’s garden or from friends of the community. Meals typically last about a half hour longer than what you planned for, so personal time becomes precious minutes that I get to spend alone processing all of the thoughts and experiences of the day. After each meal, everyone takes a role in cleaning and preparing the kitchen for the next meal. Dish washing is a mandatory social event.

Formation takes place Tuesdays through Thursdays. We learn Arabic, receive talks on the spiritual life, and learn music during this time. My favorite talk so far was on spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare is how we combat sin and our innate human weaknesses. Living in community does not let you escape yourself, you cannot run from your personal spiritual warfare. This is why so many consecrated religious are canonized as saints, they have confronted and learned how to effectively battle. While community life can present this internal warfare more clearly, it is also the support system to dress you with armor. Then a spiritual guide and prayer are your next items of artillery. Our prayer and liturgy is mostly in Arabic and French. For Rosary’s, each decade is a different language.

On weekends we have outings to different places in Lebanon or we stay at the house to help with retreats. The first weekend we went apple picking, except the weather wasn’t like when you pick apples in Michigan. It was at least 92 and sunny. After we finished, the family who owned the farm showed us their bee hives, then brought us into their home. They gave us honey on nice bread (bread is very expensive right now), tea, and grapes. They showed us how they make fig jam and we conversed in hand gestures and broken English. Hospitality is the culture here, you give guests the best fruits of your labor, quite literally.

A few days later we visited a Melkite monastery about an hour into the mountains (2,300m high). Fr. Pierre showed us around, pointed out each of the icons and described their significance. He explained how he designed the buildings and was so excited when we took interest in the little diesel heaters in every room that he showed us how they worked on a 85 degree day.

Later that week, a friend of the community, Laura, took us to Jbiel (Byblos), which is referenced in 1 Kings 5:18 and Ezekiel 27:9. It is considered to be oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. We ate authentic Lebanese fast food and dipped our toes into the Mediterranean.

The next weekend we helped the house host 40 Lebanese young adults on retreat. We participated in their prayer and got to learn about why many of them have decided to commit to be Disciples of the Lamb, which is an apostolate of the community.

The Monday after, two of the young adults (Roy and Ralph) took Anna, Claire, and I to see some Lebanon Cedars up in the mountains. Then we went back down into the city of Batroun where we walked ancient streets and visited a Byzantine church that overlooked the sea. Along the shore was a wall built by the Phoenicians about a million years ago.

The terrain of Lebanon is incredibly rocky. All the buildings are made of stone. Everywhere you drive there are little shrines and statues in rock coves along switchbacks or in nicely built boxes along the road. Almost all of them are for Mary and St. Charbel.

As I write, I can hear Golden Jackals howling in the olive groves surrounding the house. At night I can see the lights from surrounding towns and from Beirut. There is one highway that runs the length of the country. Driving is a luxury. Gas is about $70 a gallon (I will never complain about a $4 gallon of gas again). One US Dollar = 38,650 Lebanese Lira, since I last checked.

At lunch the other day, there was a discussion that many of the public schools are in a standstill. It takes universities a year to finish a semester worth of progress. The government is not providing support the school system needs. (The government is not providing a lot of things, but that’s another discussion). Someone mentioned that teachers get paid $50 a month. Which is entirely unlivable if a gallon of gas exceeds your monthly income.

The economic crisis is extreme, all stemming from decades of corrupted leadership. There is no infrastructure to support the nation. Students go to school, but have nowhere to get decent jobs after graduation. The Lebanese people are literally stuck in a non-productive country that has relied on importing most of its goods for too long. To leave the country, even to travel for a week, a Lebanese person must get a visa, but so many countries have sanctions on Lebanon that it is nearly impossible to obtain a visa.

The Lebanese population are under attack by its own government and by the world. Not to mention the inflow of millions of Syrian refugees (who are welcome with more rights than the Lebanese themselves) and the not-to-be-mentioned state to the south. It is safest to refer to Israel as The Holy Land. If you say Israel, it shows that you recognize it as a country, which Lebanon does not. We have to take care to learn Lebanese Arabic and not Palestinian Arabic. There’s a running joke where we call Israel the oriental Switzerland. Unlike the other Beatitudes houses, our Shabbat prayer is in Arabic instead of Hebrew and we call it Dinner Prayer.

I will finish with a few things that I have come to miss during my time here:

Dependable electricity: I take a shower in the dark almost everyday. The country supplies only 5-6 hours of electricity everyday, otherwise every single household has its own generator.

Cheese: with the cost of everything increasing, things like cheese and meats are nonexistent in the house. Except for purely processed cheese, which doesn’t need to be refrigerated and tastes just as good as it sounds.

Breakfast: Every morning we have fake cheese, zaatar and oil, and pita bread. Sometimes I'm really tempted to sneak an egg to cook, but I refrain because lunch and dinner are always different and incredibly tasty.

Sweets: Desert consists of fruit. I ate chocolate for the first time in two weeks yesterday and I was so thrilled. Before I left Denver, Sr. Magdalit suggested I bring a jar of peanut butter to keep in my room in case of homesickness.

When we arrived, it was just Anna and I, and then Claire joined us. But our group of foreigners has grown. There are now two French women, Julie and Apolline, and Megan is flying in from Denver soon!! We went on another outing yesterday, but I will tell more about it in my next letter. I am so thrilled to be sharing this journey with you. Thank you so much for your continued prayers for me, for the Community here in Lebanon, and for the Lebanese who are experiencing so much devastation. Thank you to all who have supported me financially, I wouldn’t be here without you!

Peace and goodness,


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