Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Levant

For when the Near East Levant Union States? Economically, financially and trade?

Note 1: Re-edit of “Near East: Levant Union States (LUS)?” that I posted more than 15 years ago

Note 2: This union totally exclude the implanted colonial entity Israel, which is our existential enemy.

Levant (Rising sun with respect to Europe) is the name given by the French mandated power to the Near East independent States of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine.  Many prefer to include Iraq since it is the vastest trade market for the adjacent States that the colonial powers divided after WWI.

The current total population of the Levant is about 35 millions (excluding Iraq), or less than half each of Turkey, Iran, or the third of Egypt and about the number in Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula (all bordering the Levant region).

Thus, focusing on internal trades among the Near East States will not make a serious dent toward expanding economic development in the short-term, but that is the best economic strategy for establishing a complementary economy that satisfy internal needs.

At least 70% of the land of this union is mostly desert and its total area is barely the third of France, but it is relatively rich in water compared to the neighboring larger States with the exception of Turkey.

The advantages of a policy of opening up the borders among these States for trades and easy communication are enormous.

For one thing, an economic coordination of the Levantine States can negotiate better deals with the bordering larger States by constituting a larger common market that may ease up the frequent tensions and anxiety that the people have been experiencing a century ago since the colonial powers did their best to divide our social fabrics.

A few guidelines may go a long way toward a project of common market.

First, it is inevitable that all borders among the Near East States be definitely demarcated, resolved, and registered in the United Nation.  This first step will eliminate foreign interventions in our internal affairs and appease unfounded fears of forced or implicit annexation.

Second, The Levant Union States (LUS) should drop all territorial claims with the neighboring States (except with Israel) that do not agree with the UN drawings.

Third, the LUS needs to institute a restricted Parliament that deal with the most urgent laws applicable to the union.  The prime areas for legislations are: Water resources, agriculture and industrial production coordination,  financial coordination, infrastructure, education, military, and energy resources.

Fourth, the establishment of a unified internal currency for internal trades among the States and leaving the States independent national currencies for external trades.  Thus, the central banks in each State will set aside reserves for the internal united currency to cover up any internal difficulties for conversion into particular “national” currencies as the internal market expand.

Fifth:  The institution of a central bank for managing and administering the internal currency to satisfy the growing internal trade.

Sixth, establishment of standards for armed forces and internal forces in the eventual coordination for securing the borders of the LUS.

Seventh, establishment of standards for public schooling systems in order to facilitate transfers of students among the States. It is essential that uniformed textbooks in geography of the region, its common history, and the various civic educational systems be introduced to all citizens.

Eight, establishing “Free trade zones” with neighboring States.  For example, one in Iskandaron (Alexandretta) between Turkey and Syria on the coast, one at the junction among Turkey, Iraq, and Syria (in the Kurdish populated zone), one between Syria and Iraq in the desert region on the Euphrates River, one among Jordan, Syria and Iraq, one in Gaza between Egypt and Palestine, and one in Aqaba between Jordan and Saudi-Arabia.

Nine:  Having coordinated foreign political positions with respect to the UN assembly.

Tenth, setting up a high political command in charge of negotiating any peace treaty with Israel as a Union of common interests.  The piece meal negotiation process with this antiquated vassal mentalities is not going to insure any lasting peace.

Note: This post is an ongoing process and will be frequently edited for more details.  Your focused comments will enrich the re-editing process.

Consolidation of the kingdom. From Rainbow over the Levant

Note: Re-edit of a chapter of my novel posted in 2008 and set in the 15th century Mount Lebanon “Consolidation of the kingdom”

Antoun had a few rudimentary ideas concerning the organization of the social fabric but he lacked reprieves for consolidating his hold on power.

Fortunately, the new leader had good qualities of listening carefully to suggestions and delegating authorities for matters considered not to affect directly his grip on power.

Miriam Najjar was an excellent counselor and was motivated to enlarge her knowledge and participate in the decision units.  She suggested that one priority was to establishing elementary schools in every town and argued that without a learned youth the future of the regime would be totally dependent on foreign experts who would deplete the treasury.

She advanced the concept that relying on the know-how of other nations was the main reason why so many dynasties had died out or been replaced by dynasties elevated from mercenaries who did not care for the well-being and stability of the societies they governed.

However, there was the realization, experienced by most families living in high altitude of over 1000 meters above sea level, of the high mortality rate in extended families during the winter season that lasted five months.

Many kids died from suffocation, pulmonary diseases, and contagious illnesses.

Psychological disorders lead to brutal physical behaviors from close contact in unfit environmental conditions.

At the time, and for long time afterwards, homes were simply of a single room. The door was the only opening to fresh air.  Around ten people on average crowded that cloistered unique room for the duration of winter.

As was the custom, large families usually dedicated their second or third sons to the clergy’s institutions to become priests and a few daughters to turning nuns. Thus, to avoid feeding extra mouths and making more space for the other members of the family, many kids were lent to work for free in return for shelter and food and some education during the harsh season.

To return the favor for the outlawed peasants, it was decided that intern or boarding schools be erected for girls and boys, separately and where children of ages ranging from nine to thirteen would dwell in for 5 months from mid November to mid April.

Boarding schools

The first boarding school was established in Baskinta and demonstrated in its first year that mortality was drastically reduced in winter when the number of family members was cut in half within their reduced dwellings.

Consequently, this facility provided during the winter season education and healthier quarters for children and lent longevity to the extended family members.

Nuns and monks would run these schools in the beginning until a new generation of trained and learned lay administrators and educators took over gradually.

The teaching was traditional the first two years until tighter administration and teaching procedures were enacted.

A single instructor perched on a cushioned flat stone faced half circles of students sitting on the ground and was responsible for all the beginners in the reading class, regardless of the students’ age and gender.

The master’s long-reaching stick would not discriminate inattentive heads. Heavy physical punishments were the lot of free spirits who dared stand for their rights or argued boldly.

A few families would even worry if their kids were not physically disciplined as signs of careless and apathetic behavior on the instructor’s part in guiding the learning progress of their kids.

Families would rather go and visit their children at school on Christmas vacation and stay with them for a couple of days benefiting from warmer lodging in barns and healthier food varieties.

Christmas was a happy period for everyone in the school where children would get busy building mock-up houses, trees, animals and figurines for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi kings and presenting homemade gifts to their parents in return for assorted delicacies.

A typical day at boarding schools started at 6 a.m. followed by house cleaning, chicken feeding, cow milking, kitchen food preparation, and carrying necessary supplies for the day. At 7:30 mass and breakfast.

Classes for reading and writing in both Arabic an Aramaic languages (language of the land) and basic arithmetic would begin at 8:30 and end at 12:30 for lunch.

A short recess, then off to working in the artisanal shops of carpentry, pottery, glass painting, iron forging, cloth making, glass blowing and farm tending until 4 p.m.  The children would then head to the supervised study lounge until dusk, followed by diner and Vesper prayer.

By 7pm everybody was already in bed in order to save on candles and oil consumption.

Children less than eleven years of age would sleep ten in a room on hay stacks with spreads of goat skin. The older ones would sleep seven in a room.

It was not the sleeping quarters that mattered for the kids but a larger freedom to move around and be outside during the day with three fulfilling meals.

Meat was scarce but the kids were frequently fed “kebbe nayyeh” for Sunday’s lunch and eggs with “kaorma” for Saturday’ breakfast and tabbouli or mjadara on Fridays.

The usual staples were cereals, beans, crushed wheat, lentils, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, soup and plenty of breads. Fruits were a delicacy, especially apples which could be stored. Sometimes, apricot and blueberry jams; and more often molasses and “rahat el halkoum”.

Most of the toys and game equipments were homemade.

They used to fabricate rectangular flat wood plates, mark a number of 3 decimals on it and a string to attach around the forehead.  They divided themselves in two groups and scattered in the woods hiding their numbers on tree trunks.  If the enemy guessed the hidden number attached to the front head then the opposite member was out of the game until everyone in one team was out.

With time, many of these masks would become marked one way or another and the unfortunate wearers soon found themselves guessed out immediately, no matter how tightly they hid their front head closely to a tree trunk.

They also made rudimentary balls and divided themselves into two teams:  the member hit by the thrown ball was “killed” and transferred to the opposite line unless he caught the ball and then the thrower was considered eliminated.

They fabricated backgammon and tic tac toe gizmos and the like games.

The most rewarding type of equipment were slingshots, wooden swords and arches. The kids would go out hunting rabbits and squirrels within a short range because wild beasts were commonly found such as hyenas, wild boars, and wild dogs.

This system of schooling was expanded to towns at lower altitude for a shorter winter season of only 4 months.

Somehow, a few of these schools constructed annexes around their grounds with the help of the military garrisons close by and were transformed into major production centers for army supplies and exported objects.

In the winter season, skilled families of the interned children would manufacture goods and help in the maintenance of the institution, while in the remaining of the year the school and its annexes would be invaded by skilled workers occupying the living quarters for 6 months.

There were cases of greedy administrators in tandem with local officials abusing children as slave workers and delaying the release of the able and skilled children.

Families got wind of these awful practices and stricter monitoring procedures of these institutions were established.  Families were encouraged to resume sending their children to the nearest parochial schools for a couple of hours during the busy seasons in return for preferential winter work facilities at the boarding schools.

These boarding schools became popular and families from afar trekked their children to Baskinta until new boarding schools were available and mushroomed to every district in Mount Lebanon.

This system of boarding schools developed into more professional institutions :  Overseas parents inscribed their children for a substantial sum of money in return for lengthier educational periods and better accommodations for housing different age groups of students.

In the newer more professional boarding schools with diverse ethnic and religious affiliations there occurred a few religious frictions among the adult students without any repercussions to the children who found happiness and joy in being together, energetic and secure in their daydreams.

Like most institutions in the Levant, the boarding schools experienced traumatic and feverish times but never took roots to grow and then suffered sudden death.

After lengthy discussions, Antoun agreed with Miriam that it would be an excellent decision to offer incentives to municipalities for arranging educational facilities.

Instead of villages constructing more churches, the central government offered to incur half the expenses for constructing schools, the wages of the instructors and lunch for all the students.  In return for free education for a 4-year period, the graduates would refund part of the expenses after securing better employment.

This edict would be formalized so that no State investment would be contemplated without local and regional investments and participation.  The rational was that if investments were shared by the well-to-do inhabitants who tend to mind a return on investments then, proper and timely execution of projects were more secured since it is founded on individual interest.

Within a year Antoun appointed Miriam Najjar as his education counselor. Mariam encouraged many visiting scholars to settle in Mount Lebanon and more opportunities for various disciplines sprouted in education that required specialized higher educational institutions.

 

Most Fractured Place on Earth?

This Near-East region of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan

Note in context: This region has been established as the cradle of civilisation where the first urban City-States have been established along the seashore and the main rivers of the Euphrates, Tiger and the Orontes.

Due to its topography, this region was an open land for all the warrior nations to conquer it (The Babylonian, Assyrian, Mogul, Persian, Greeks, Roman…) All these warrior nations transferred the skilled artisans to their fiefdom and claimed that what were built were of their culture and archaeology.

The latest occupiers were the Ottoman Empire (1516) then the French and British.

The people in the Near-East and Iraq paid allegiance to the Ottoman Empire, but never admitted to be Turks. The early 20th century ideology of a Nation based on a pure race ignited the many uprising of the people against the new Turkish government and their discriminating policies and viewed as occupiers.

The terms Levant and Levantine were coined by the French and represented the population living in urban centers on the Mediterranean seashore, who were mostly engaged in trading with Europe. The massive migration of the Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians to Egypt before during the WWI established a thriving Levantine communities in Egypt that transformed the daily presses, publication and cultural centers in Alexandria, Cairo and many other urban centers, as well as competing in trade with the established Greek and Italian communities.

And now this essay or book review.

Of the many names given the brutal, black-flag-waving entity currently marauding its way across the rubble of Syria and Iraq, ISIL is the strangest and the most ironic.

The L in the acronym favored by the US State Department stands for “Levant,” a term that for centuries referred to a part of the world where cultures met, borders blurred, and religions, languages, and peoples cross-bred—for better or for worse.

In English, the word “Levantine” has long been a pejorative term, and at a certain colonial point referred to those upwardly mobile non-Muslim Middle Easterners considered contemptible by commentators of various stripes for being neither here nor there, whether socially or ethically.

“Among this minority are to be found individuals who are tainted with a remarkable degree of moral obliquity,” sniffed onetime consul general of Egypt Evelyn Baring back in 1908.

Yet for those more recent writers and thinkers who have set out to reclaim the term, such hybridity is the key to what has made the region vital.

In his ground breaking 1993 book After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture, for instance, Ammiel Alcalay writes of the “fertile symbiosis” and “dense and intricate interconnectedness” of the “old” Levantine world

Which brings us back to the irony of that L in ISIL:

Whether muttlike menace or commendable cosmopolitan, the classic, shape-shifting “Levantine” seems the very opposite of the rigid young zealot now being enlisted to behead captives, rape slaves, and smash ancient statuary in the name of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s viciously monolithic caliphate.

(ISIS is Not a Levantine movement: It is a Saudi Arabia Wahhabi theological sect and constituted mostly of foreign mercenaries Not from any Levantine States)

Also at odds with such murderous ­single-mindedness is the fact that the precise geographic location of the Levant is notoriously hard to pin down.

The Arabic word for it is Sham, a slippery designation that may refer to modern Syria, the city of Damascus, or so-called Greater Syria, which in historical terms is the land that stretches between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates.

Etymologically, Bilad al-Sham is the “land of the left hand,” as opposed to the Yemen “land of the right hand”.

Both of these terms place Mecca at the center of their compass.

Hans Wehr’s Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic confuses directional things further with a definition of “Sham” that begins “the northern region, the North.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “Levant” indicates the “countries of the East,” specifically “the eastern part of the Mediterranean, with its islands and the countries adjoining.”

The English word derives from the French levant, “rising”—that is, indicating the point where the sun comes up. All of which make “the Levant” a genuinely relative term. (As if European dictionaries are the proper sources for defining and explaining the social structure and social fabrics of this region)

That relativity is made palpable by several powerful Levant-focused literary works that have recently appeared, or reappeared, in English. While these books and the material they collect predate by decades the current mayhem near Mosul, the present situation is obviously a product of the region’s longer chaotic modern history.

And as each of these authors reckons with that quicksilver thing she calls “the Levant,” she and her work become worthy of our serious 21st-century attention.

Not that these variable notions of the place could or should be ours.

Both the British Olivia Manning (1908–1980) and the Egyptian born Jewish Jacqueline Shohet  Kahanoff, was educated in French schools, spoke English with her British nanny, and was very much a member of that liminal Levantine bourgeoisie for which Manning had such scorn.

By her own account, she was “not Egyptian,” though she moved easily around the polyglot Cairo of her day. “When I was a small child,” she writes, “it seemed natural that people understood each other although they spoke different languages, and were called by different names—Greek, Moslem, Syrian, Jewish, Christian, Arab, Italian, Tunisian, Armenian.”

 Kahanoff (1917–1979) were, by their own accounts, the products of highly fraught cultural situations—which made them as much symptoms of those situations as detached commentators on the same. But each approached the Levant with a canny understanding of both her own personal history and the region’s at large.

First published between 1977 and 1980, and recently reissued by New York Review Books Classics, The Levant Trilogy is a keenly intelligent and intensely readable trio of novels that follow a cast of characters and a historical trajectory that the marvelous if underappreciated Manning introduced in her Balkan Trilogy.

Known together as The Fortunes of War, the whole panoramic series is ostensibly fiction, but, at least in terms of the female figure at its heart, it hews so closely to the author’s own experience that one might almost think of it as memoir wearing a bit of well-applied makeup.

Written between 1956 and 1964 and also reissued several years back, the earlier Balkan Trilogy unfolds during the initial years of World War II and sends its main British characters first to Bucharest and then scuttling to Athens, the Iron Guard and the German Army close at their heels.

The Balkan Trilogy ends with a dramatic escape from Europe, as the uncomfortably matched newlyweds Harriet and Guy Pringle and a ragtag crew of their compatriots flee Greece in a rusty, overcrowded, undersupplied ship while bombs splash down in the Piraeus harbor all around them. After several days, “The passengers had awakened in Egyptian waters and were struck by the whiteness of the light. It was too white. It lay like a white dust over everything. Disturbed by its strangeness, Harriet felt their lives now would be strange and difficult.”

The Levant that the Pringles find once they disembark—as Olivia Manning and her real-life husband, Reggie Smith, did in April 1941—is not a welcoming haven, but a parched and menacing place of last resort. Even as they settle into a tense routine in the midst of wartime Cairo, the setting continues to be for them little more than a haze of flies and filth:

“So Egypt was not only the Sphinx, the lotus columns, the soft flow of the Nile. It was also the deadening discomfort and sickness that blurred these sights so, in the end, one cared for none of them.” That “one” does pointed work here, as Manning seems to speak not just for Harriet but for a whole category of displaced and dyspeptic Englishmen, squinting in the Levantine glare.

* * *

It’s tempting to simply write off this account of the sweat and stink of Cairo as Orientalism, boilerplate mid-20th-century Western contempt for a poor, Eastern, mostly Muslim setting.

And Manning, for all her worldliness, can often sound utterly squeamish and British. She and her characters make frequent reference, for example, to an unpleasant digestive condition they call “Gyppie tummy”; and when staying at a “Levantine pension of the poorest kind, a place so dark and neglected, everything seemed coated with grime,”

Harriet berates Guy for rubbing his forehead after touching a bannister knob, “telling him he might pick up leprosy, smallpox, plague or any of the killer diseases of Egypt.”

The description of the dirty pension as “Levantine” is telling. While over the course of the trilogy, Harriet wanders to Damascus, Beirut, and Jerusalem, she treats the Levant as little more than a geographical given, an alien place where she finds herself stranded. That designation, “Levantine,” meanwhile is meant here as the disdainful Evelyn Baring intended it.

In Manning’s prose, the word bobs up almost always accompanied by a knowing sneer whose overtones are vaguely sexual and economic—even faintly whorish.

So it is that the “Levantine ladies” at Groppi’s famous Cairo garden café “came to eye the staff officers who treated it as a home away from home.” One Englishwoman complains that her lover is amusing himself with “some ‘Levantine floosie,’” and a British writer gripes that he’s being cheated by his landlady, “a greedy Levantine hag.”

To be fair, Manning is often recounting what others have said, rather than words she or Harriet might themselves speak—though that line is often smudged. After their stint in Cairo, Manning and Smith moved to Jerusalem, where they lived for three years, and where, in a more explicitly autobiographical 1944 essay, Manning described how “to those of us who had been exhilarated by the Greek fight for freedom, the indifference, waste and dishonesty of the vast, profiteering Levantine population of Cairo was an unending nightmare.”

But Manning was far too subtle a writer to leave it at that. Harriet may “be” Manning, and vice versa. (In a fine new biography of the novelist, Olivia Manning: A Woman at War, Deirdre David calls Harriet a “barely disguised fictional surrogate” and describes the novelist’s dismay on hearing that Emma Thompson was slated to play Harriet in a BBC adaptation of the trilogies:

“Look at my dainty feet!” she’s reported to have said. “Hers are enormous!”) She was, though, also an exacting and self-aware artist with the perspective afforded both by her own unsentimental, first=hand perceptions and the passage of time.

The aspiring 36-year-old novelist who wrote that essay in British Mandate Palestine was not the same as the older and presumably wiser Manning who hunkered down in 1970s London to compose The Levant Trilogy, her final work. By then, Nasser had come and gone; Palestine had disappeared; and as she looked back across the decades and narrated the saga of her years in the Levant, Manning was also describing how the sun that always rises in the east had set on the British Empire.

When, in the opening pages of the trilogy, an earnest young soldier enthuses to Harriet about everything the English have done for the Egyptians, she laughs at him: “What have we done for them?… I suppose a few rich Egyptians have got richer by supporting us, but the real people of the country, the peasants and the backstreet poor, are just as diseased, underfed and wretched as they ever were.”

In a scene that’s startling not so much for its sexual sordidness as for the unexpected sympathetic shift it achieves, Harriet winds up tooling around Cairo’s red-light district with an odd-lot group of expats.

As an “entertainment,” one of the Englishmen, Castlebar, a poet and occasional university lecturer, arranges for a young man to “perform” for the group with a “half-negro woman in a dirty pink wrapper…fat, elderly, bored and indifferent,” who “threw off the wrapper and lay on a bunk, legs apart.”

After quickly doing what’s required of him and pulling on his pants, the young man “crossed to Castlebar, smiling his relief that the show was over. He said: ‘Professor, sir you do not know me, but I know you. At times I am attending your lectures.’”

The Levant Trilogy isn’t a novel (or novels) of ideas. Instead, it’s a sharply observed study of the interplay between foreground and background, the personal and the political, as well as a masterfully rendered account of how one rickety marriage evolves over the years and in the shadow of cataclysmic events.

That said, it’s a work that does bring alive various vexing questions about the West’s historical role in the East. In theoretical terms, such a critique may feel like old postcolonial hat—and it’s likely that Manning never really did come to approve of those protean Levantines.

Perhaps she believed that they shared the blame for exploiting the “peasants and the backstreet poor” with the Europeans who were just passing through. But the way she embodies these familiar abstractions in her flesh-and-blood people lands like a surprise punch in the gut.

Manning’s gripping not-so-fictional fiction has never received the attention it deserves, though her status as what Deirdre David calls “one of the most under-valued and under-read British women novelists of the twentieth century” seems a function of the usual ebbs and flows of literary fashion

The relative obscurity of Jacqueline Kahanoff is more complicated.

Outside a small, devoted circle of writers and academics, she’s almost entirely unknown in the United States; in Israel, where Kahanoff spent the last 25 years of her life, she enjoyed a serious—if somewhat underground—reputation as a writer’s writer and not-quite-public intellectual.

While never a household name, she did exert a strong, quiet influence on several generations of local novelists and thinkers.

Born in Cairo into an Iraqi and Tunisian Jewish family, Kahanoff wrote primarily in English, though until the recent US publication of Mongrels or Marvels, a collection of what its editors call her “Levantine writings,” her work was available only in anthologized English excerpts and in Hebrew translation, published first in journals beginning in the 1950s, then in book form in 1978.

The Israeli writer Ronit Matalon featured a character named Jacqueline Kahanoff in her 1995 novel, The One Facing Us, reproducing without comment several lengthy passages from the writer’s essays; another collection of ­Kahanoff’s translated journalism appeared in Israel in 2005.

Meanwhile, her own English words have been little more than a rumor: Before now, her only book to appear in its entirety in English was her single completed novel, Jacob’s Ladder, a raw but compelling ­bildungsroman published in 1951 in the United States and England and currently out of print. Mongrels or Marvels, thoughtfully compiled by scholars Deborah Starr and Sasson Somekh, allows English readers at last to assess a generous gathering of Kahanoff’s work on its own intriguing terms

Kahanoff, neé Jacqueline Shohet, was educated in French schools, spoke English with her British nanny, and was very much a member of that liminal Levantine bourgeoisie for which Manning had such scorn. By her own account, she was “not Egyptian,” though she moved easily around the polyglot Cairo of her day. “When I was a small child,” she writes, “it seemed natural that people understood each other although they spoke different languages, and were called by different names—Greek, Moslem, Syrian, Jewish, Christian, Arab, Italian, Tunisian, Armenian.”

Utopian as such a genially pluralistic society may sound, the Egypt where she came of age was as stifling as it was diverse; it was also—as she and her peers saw clearly—poised to explode. And that inevitable eruption was one whose causes she understood, but whose results she knew would exclude her.

As she would later write: “even though we sympathized with the Moslem nationalists’ aspirations we did not believe them capable of solving the real problems of this [Egyptian] society, and for this they could not forgive us.”

The “they” and “us” here are at once refreshing for their honesty and startling for their paternalism. “We”—that is, Kahanoff and her kind—believed wholeheartedly in Europe and its “civilizing” powers; “they,” for their part, did not. By the time Kahanoff wrote this, in Israel in the late 1950s, her attitude toward her earlier convictions was tinged with a certain darkness, as if now she realized how blinkered she and her privileged Cairene cohort had been.

While she was very much the product of her colonial education, she had, over the years—and since leaving Egypt—come to feel decidedly un-European. So it was that she could also write of how, as children, “we learned nothing about ourselves or what we should do. We did not know how it had happened that Jewish, Greek, Moslem, and Armenian girls sat together to learn about the French Revolution, patrie, liberté, egalité, fraternité. None of us had experienced any of these things. Not even our teachers really believed these words had anything to do with our lives.”

Her sense of alienation wasn’t just a function of her role as a well-heeled English- and French-speaking Jew in a poor, largely Arabic-­speaking Muslim society, or as a dyed-in-the-wool Middle Easterner being schooled as if she were une jeune fille in Paree. She was curious and intellectually independent in ways that made life difficult for a girl in the sheltered confines of her particular class.

As was expected of her, she married young, but this was her ticket out: Kahanoff left Egypt for the United States with her new husband in 1940. Seeking refuge elsewhere, she must practically have passed the refuge-seeking Olivia Manning and her new husband in the Alexandria harbor.

As Kahanoff would eventually explain in “A Generation of Levantines,” her signature essay cycle: “Perhaps, one day, I would be able to write about this Egypt I both loved and hated, the frail little world, seemingly so perfect, but in reality so rotten that it had to fall apart—to give birth to one of which I might feel a part. But first I would have to assess my generation in search of itself, and this I could only do from afar.” All her most lasting work was written once she was, so to speak, out of Egypt.

Soon divorced, Kahanoff went to college and studied for a journalism degree at Columbia, wrote fiction, and befriended various European refugee intellectuals in New York. After a short period in Paris, she and her second husband settled in Israel in 1954, moving initially to the isolated, working-class desert town of Beersheba.

Replicating in a striking manner the cultural aloofness of her generation in Egypt—“we were,” she’d write of the muddled verbal milieu of her childhood, “a people without a language”—she never really learned Hebrew; her Arabic was poor.

And though she’d chosen to live in Israel, Kahanoff was hardly a card-carrying Zionist. According to those who knew her, the writer’s refined and somehow aristocratic bearing was at distinct odds with her scrappy new surroundings. Her literary sensibility was also peculiar to the context: Her best essays are composed in a belletristic, personal, and—for lack of a better term—“feminine” style whose indirect and graceful tack seems to this day foreign to the tough-talking Israeli atmosphere.

While she was certainly engaged in a kind of polemic, the tone of her often memoiristic prose was gentle and contemplative; she didn’t shout. And, most important, she chose to write about the place she had come from (Egypt) and the place where she’d landed (Israel) not as two enemy entities locked in a struggle to the death, but as part of the same geographical and cultural continuum—one that extended, as the medieval trade routes had, all around the Mediterranean.

Mild as that sounds, Kahanoff was proposing something radical for her moment. In many ways, it’s radical now. During the same years that Polish-born, then–prime minister David Ben-Gurion was sternly warning about the dangers of Israel’s “Levantinization” and promising “to fight against the spirit of the Levant, which corrupts individuals and societies,” Kahanoff was attempting to reclaim the L-word and make it a label to be proud of, in all its complexity.

There was, she insisted, no shame in mixing, in crossing over, in being in between: Such hybridization was, in fact, Israel’s great and maybe only hope. The country’s Ashkenazi elite should, she wrote, stop pretending that the Jewish state was some fortresslike bastion of Western Enlightenment values, besieged on all sides by purportedly “irrational” societies, and instead embrace its place as part of a wider Middle Eastern expanse.

What’s more, Eastern Jews like Kahanoff and the hundreds of thousands of other recent arrivals from Morocco, Iraq, and other nearby lands could, she insisted, serve as a kind of bridge or model—as natives of the region and heirs to a developed tradition of cultural symbiosis. For now (the year was 1959), these “oriental Jews” suffered from what she described as a form of internal colonialism: condescension and discrimination at the hands of the country’s “well-established old timers.”

The “Levantinization” that Kahanoff advocated would work to spread power more equitably within Israel itself and to bring the new nation into a more dynamically integrated relationship with its surroundings.

A great deal of history has lumbered by since Kahanoff wrote, and some of her ideas seem hopelessly rosy or reductive when one thinks of the current bloody state of things both within Israel/Palestine and throughout the Middle East. Given her sophisticated reading of internal Israeli politics, she could be blind to other critical local dynamics.

After 1967, she put forth unsettlingly patronizing notions—for instance, about how Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza might benefit Arab farmers by teaching them “new techniques of agricultural production.”

Her refusal to wrestle more critically with the way Israel controls Palestinian land and lives, along with her idealized call for a Levant that might exist beyond the predictable rhetorical realm of “the conflict,” have unfortunately made it possible in recent years for certain Israeli intellectuals to adopt (and, I’d argue, twist) her ideas and see them as an invitation to avoid the hard questions—that is, forget the Occupation and ignore the Arabs.

According to the proponents of this weirdly wishful brand of Levantinism, Israel might most comfortably find its place as part of a sun-dappled, wine-sipping Mediterranean idyll that includes pristine Greek beaches and pretty Italian ports, but not Gaza, with its siege, its sewage, its suffering.

Kahanoff is no longer here to see how things have evolved and to speak for herself, but it’s hard to imagine a writer as clear-eyed and lucid as she was averting her gaze or pocketing her pen in the face of such difficult realities. In a way, her “soft” style and her emphasis on the important role played historically by the region’s minorities have made it easier for such evasions to take hold in her name.

Yet however dated or wrongheaded some of her ideas now seem, the core of her thinking is still startling and apt. While Eastern Jews now wield much more power than they did in Israel’s early years, and a good deal of “mixing” of the sort Kahanoff urged has taken place within the country’s Jewish population, certain very basic prejudices persist in the realms of high culture, higher education, religious norms, social welfare, and national self-definition.

Never mind how much cheerfully syncopated “Eastern” music pours forth from the radios of Tel Aviv, or how many plates of hummus the average Dimona-dweller consumes monthly; when it comes to how the Jewish past is taught in schools and perceived at large, the Holocaust and the early “heroic” years of European Zionism figure much more centrally than do several millennia of rich and varied Eastern Jewish literature, philosophy, and social history.

The “us or them” rhetoric of Ben-Gurion’s era has come to pervade every aspect of Israeli life. Unabashed racism against Arabs within the country is rampant, as are more subterranean forms of what Sephardic intellectual activist and cultural commentator David Shasha calls “Arab Jewish self-hatred.

By this, David Shasha means the tendency of so many Eastern Jews to adopt Ashkenazi frames of reference and suppress their own multifarious cultural past.

Sadly enough, some of the most aggressive bigotry against local Arabs comes from Israeli Jews whose grandparents spoke Arabic as their mother tongue. The idea of Israel’s integration into a kind of open Middle Eastern union seems less likely now than ever, and not only because of the bunker that Israel has made of itself. Throughout the wider Levant, violence, repression, extremism, and fear of any sort of other—Yazidis, Assyrians, Kurds, Copts, members of the Muslim Brotherhood—are of course raging.

Which may be exactly why it seems more important now than ever to reckon with Kahanoff’s words and her basic vision of the region as a place that is “not exclusively Western or Eastern, Christian, Jewish, or Moslem.”

While there still flickers a chance to save or even just honor something of the abundantly variegated cultural reality that has existed there for thousands of years, it’s worth considering her own definition of the Levant, which “because of its diversity…has been compared to a mosaic—bits of stone of different colors assembled into a flat picture.

In one of the last essays she wrote before her death, “To me it is more like a prism whose various facets are joined by the sharp edge of differences, but each of which…reflects or refracts light.”

In these dark days, as monomaniacs on all sides attempt to shatter that prism, we can at least stop and try to absorb what remains of the light

Note 1: Maybe the majority of the people in the Near-East and Iraq paid allegiance to the Ottoman Empire, but never as Turks.

Note 2: It is frustrating that essays on the people of this region as based on the colonial authors and opinions.

Andrew Bossone shared this

“Her basic vision of the region as a place that is “not exclusively Western or Eastern, Christian, Jewish, or Moslem.”

While there still flickers a chance to save or even just honor something of the abundantly variegated cultural reality that has existed there for thousands of years, it’s worth considering her own definition of the Levant, which ‘because of its diversity…has been compared to a mosaic—bits of stone of different colors assembled into a flat picture.

To me,” as she put it in one of the last essays she wrote before her death, “it is more like a prism whose various facets are joined by the sharp edge of differences, but each of which…reflects or refracts light.’”

Of the many names given the brutal, black-flag-waving entity currently marauding its way across the rubble of Syria and Iraq, ISIL is the strangest and the most ironic.

 

 

 

 

 

“Allah has nothing to do” with “Arabs” crisis, and neither is the Koran

First, Allah has nothing to do with the current crisis and uprising in the Arab Spring mass disobedience movements.

Second, the Koran has nothing to do with the extremist and salafist Islamic factions  and movements. (To be developed in the follow up article)

There are basic factors that drive progress in societies and the recurring violent crisis resulting from changes in the anthropological shift.

1. The rate of literacy (learning to read and write) and what is called alphabetization of society is the prime factor in the drive for change. Once the rate has reached 50% among the population, a mass revolution is not far from emerging against the status quo

Once that many people can read tracts, pamphlet and daily papers in their own language, it becomes inevitable to start demanding reforms.

That’s what happened in 17th century England, 18th France and 20th century Russia.

That’s what happened in Iran, a decade before the Islamic revolution.

That’s what happened in Tunisia and Egypt.

Mind you that the Near Eastern societies or Levant (of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) had exceeded the 50% literacy rate in the 30’s, particularly in the cities,and witnessed frequent mass disobedience movements against the mandated powers of France and England and against the feudal classes.

Mind you also that the First Palestinian Intifada of 1935 was started because England refused any election, not even on the municipal level, on the pretext that the Jews constituted less than 20% of the population.

This mass disobedience lasted 3 years and England was forced to dispatch 100,000 troops to quell this virulent and steadfast revolution. As WWII was about to start, and in order not to bog down in Palestine such a large number of troops, England began to train Zionist Jews in Palestine on acts of terrorism and sabotage of bridges and communication lines.

It is in 1938 that Ben Gurion started his extensive and detailed plan of mass terror activities against the Palestinians once Israel declares its Independence. The plan was carried out in its minute details, especially evacuating the Palestinians from cities and villages bordering the shore line to deny the Palestinians any support from the sea.

2. The second factor is the rate of fecundity. If the rate is way above 3 per family, it is an indication that the majority of females in a society is still illiterate. The women play the role of “manufacturing” kids in high numbers so that 50% of them might survive the age of 5.  That was the trend in almost every society around the world in the 19th century.

Once the fecundity rate drops to 2, women and mothers are seeking higher quality of life to their offspring and investing in their education and well-being.

The qualitative shift to higher concern for offspring is correlated with the lower quantitative level of fecundity.

Mind you that a drop under 2 means that the society is losing hope in a better future for their offspring and the demographics starts its aging process.

For example, the median age in Tunisia is 29, in Egypt 24, in France 40 and in Germany 44.  You should not expect an older median population to take to the street and demonstrate with the same endurance and zeal as with the younger population.

I conjecture that the atrocious WWI was the result of high illiteracy rate among women in the rural areas and the peasants constituted a large reserve of illiterate soldiers who were easily enrolled in the army under fraudulent “facts” and evidences.

3. The third factor is an anthropological substrate: What were the family values, particularly the inheritance system between the genders, the trend to considering sons and daughter at a par in mental capability, responsibility and competence.

4. An important characteristics in the anthropological structure is the rate of endogamous marriages: marriages among close relatives and cousins. This characteristic bolster the patrilinear structure where the status of a family is linked to the status of the father.

In these kinds of community, the tribal and clannish bonding override the other community benefits and concerns.

In Tunisia and Egypt, endogamous marriages rate were around 35%, which restrained the acceleration of the upheavals. This high rate is prevalent in almost every Arabic Islamic State.

In Egypt, there is a steady decline of endogamous marriages and reaching about 25%.

In the 20th century, the modern western and industrialized societies enacted laws to encourage exogamy and forced the churches to adopt these civil laws that prohibit marriages to the second and third degrees in family close relationship.

5. The fifth factor is inevitably the lack of work opportunities for the youth who got university degrees and are left to loaf around. The high unemployment rate in the Arabic States is an endemic problem.

Progress is measured by the kinds of jobs that motivate people to work. And the right to work is primordial in the youth mind in order to plan out their future and viability of remaining in their homeland.

Question: Are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirate States and the other two monarchies of Morocco and Jordan about to witness any mass upheavals?

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates rely on oil revenues: The citizens don’t pay taxes and “No taxes, no representation” 

The Gulf Emirates, as is the case of Libya, are scarcely populated and the oil revenues can take care of allowing stipends to be distributed to the “citizen/chattel”.

What happened in Libya was the result of the people in the eastern part (Benghazi) being punished by Gadhafi and totally ignored for 2 decades. Nothing has changed in Libya: the citizens are demanding oil stipend money to be distributed “equitably”

Saudi Arabia  is in deep trouble, a reserve of fanatic extremist neglected population who were unleashed for over 3 decades in foreign Islamic lands, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria…

Oil stipend is lavishly spent on the 5,000 members of the Royal extended family and the rate of unemployment and barely surviving people are extremely high.

Morocco will end up a Constitutional monarchy, unless civil war breaks out since the Al Qaeda-type followers are spreading like wild fire in northern Africa

Jordan has always been backed by foreign powers and can easily be put on fire if this monarchy fails to compromise on a Constitutional monarchy.

Note 1: The first part was inspired by the interview of Daniel Schneidermann with Emmanuel Todd on Arret sur images and published in a book: “Allah has nothing to do“, and “Le rendez-vous des civilizations” (The meeting of civilizations) by Todd and Youssef Courbage

Note 2: Historian Emmanuel Le Roy-Ladurie analyses the trend using long-term statistical dada

Customs in the Middle East (October 2, 2009)

Note 1:  The term Near East is not familiar to many English readers.  The Near East is the region in the Middle East that comprises Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the coastal shores of Turkey, and the region in Iraq where the Euphrates (Al Furat) River passes through.

It is my contention that the eastern region of the Tiger (Dujlat) River in Iraq was mostly influenced by the Persian culture and civilization. Thus, the geographic limit of the Near East starts from the western side of the Tiger River all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.

Note 2:  This post is a repository of the customs and traditions in this region as mentioned in the Bibles (Jewish, Christian, and Moslem). The customs and traditions of the Land in the Levant were practiced thousands of years before Judaism came to be.

The Jewish religion adopted the customs of the Land of the Levant (or what is known as the Near East) and the scribes wrote in the same style of imagery, maxims, and aphorism. The original manuscripts describe accurately the culture of the Land and in the same style.

Note 3: The Bibles are not famous for historical accuracies: they were not written by the dozens of scribes for that purpose.

The Bibles are excellent sources as repositories of the customs and traditions in the Near East, which are still practiced for over six thousand of years.  It has been said that if Abraham and his generation were resurrected they will feel perfectly at home and go about their daily routines and tasks as if they have just waken up from a dream.

Although “modernism” was forced upon the Levant, especially in the urban centers and megalopolis areas, the remote towns and villages have been practically spared and left untouched, even for cooking their weekly load of Levantine bread.  In this article, Near East means the Levant as one Land.

A brief Introduction:

Since time immemorial, the Near East was famous for exporting olive oil, grape wine and dried figs.  No wonder that grape vine, olive trees and fig trees are the symbols of prosperity and shade in this region where it does not rain for straight seven months. The coastal regions of the Levant imported all kinds of grains, especially, wheat and lentil.

The meals are frugal and consisting of thin large loaves of bread (khobz markouk) baked in special underground oven once a week, a few olives, tomatoes, onion, vegetable from the garden, and dried fruits in the off seasons.

Wheat was transformed in crushed wheat (borghol) for the kebeh and tabouli.  Dairy components were cooked into many varieties of cheese, yogurt, labneh, and keshk.  Meat was scarce and a single sheep was over fed during summer to be slaughtered in late autumn and the meat cooked and dried (kaworma) and saved for winter for the omelets.

A couple of goats or cows lived in the basement or a side room and chicken were raised for eggs and for the occasional guests.

Nothing would go to waste and summer time was a hectic period for all kinds of chores related to storing provisions for winter.

On the Written Style

The written style in the Levant is characterized by direct pronouncements expressing feeling and describing what is seen and heard.  The sentences are not encumbered by prefixes such as “I think”, “I believe”, “I am not sure”, “It is possible“, “There might be other versions”, “I might be wrong”, or “It is my opinion”, or what the western writers have adopted from the Greek rational style.

The style in the Levant sounds confident, categorical, and conveying the total truth though it does not mean that the people cannot discriminate or feel the variations and uncertainties.  The writers in the Levant simply feel that all these attachments are redundant since it is a fact of life that nothing is categorical or certain; thus, superfluous additions disturb the flow of thoughts and the ideas that need to be conveyed.  Consequently, the author feels that the western readers of the Bible should tone down their uneasiness with “outrageous” direct and assured pronouncements in the Bible.

On the Verbal Style

The verbal style tends toward the devotional and far from the business approach. The dialect in the Levant reveals the relationship with the Creator is the first of wisdom and spirituality is a foundation.  The recurring mention of God, the provider at the beginning of any reply or “peace of God be upon you” or telling a worker “God gives you health” or to the harvester “God bless your crop” or asking the shepherd “How are the blessed ones?” or saying “What’s its religion?” to get more information on the nature of a thing are all part of the daily utterances.

When the Levantine tells a story he is extravagant and the facts sound too far fetched simply because he wants to amuse and impress; the listener understands perfectly the intent of the fantasy and they share a good laugh.  The rational westerner gets the impression that the Levantine is not honest because he does not stick to the bare boring facts.

For example, when you wake up someone at seven you tell him “Get up, it is already noon and the daylight is over“.  When there is a large gathering we say “The entire town was assembled”.

Jesus said “if your right eye sinned snatched it out; better not your whole body ends up in the eternal fire” or “if someone asks to be clothed give him your robe and underwear too” or “Forgive seventy times seven a day” which drive the holy number seven to an extreme number of holiness; a number that should not be taken to the word but to drive in the message of ready forgiveness.

In the Bibles it is said “After six days” and you wonder starting from which date, which event?  Or it is said “They went up a high mountain” and you want to ask “how high?” and “which mountain?”  If you insist on the height of the mountain he would reply “it was so high it pierced the clouds”

The purpose of the story is to entertain and prepare for the punch line.  For example, John the Baptist is not in the mood of cajoling and says to the Pharisees “Sons of vipers, how will you escape the wrath of God? I tell you if God wished he will turn these stones sons of Abraham

The Levantine is ever ready to swear on his father, his head, his mustaches, and anything that is holy to convey the message of his sincerity.  It is this custom of constant swearing that baffle the westerner and increases his suspicions.  Jesus was aware of this custom and insisted on his disciples never to swear on anything but rather “let your answer be yes, yes or no, no”.  This summoning of Jesus had no effects whatsoever in our Land.

It is important to grasp 4 characteristics in the Levantine customs:

First, every region and every town has its own slang and it is the best proof of your origin. For example, the more Peter denied his knowledge of Jesus the more people were convinced that he was from Galilee. After the battle between the Galaad and the Efrem, prisoners were slaughtered because they pronounced “shiboulat” as “siboulat”.

Second, it is recommended to insist until requests are obtained; for example, Gideon insists on two material miracles from God to believe him; or when Jesus repeats three times “Do you love me Peter?” before he divulges the most important order of “shepherding the flock” of disciples.

Third, insinuation is not understood and abhorred and thus, a clear solemn affirmation is demanded.

Fourth, the Levantine does not appreciate constraining and transition expressions such as “As I see, or I think that, or it is alleged, or it is possible, and so forth”.  The Levantine verbal expression is of certitude and feeling, compatible to his spiritual and devotional nature.

On Business Transactions:

Abraham had no piece of land in Canaan; his clan let their goats and sheep graze in unclaimed lands. As there was a death in the family Abraham resolved to prepare for his burial; he sent a third party to ask Afroun son of Sohar of the tribe of Hath for a small piece of land to bury the dead. Abraham said: “I am a guest in your land. Could you give me a swath so that I may bury what is in front of me?

Every village had a burying ground facing east and guests, by the custom of hospitality, could be enjoying the same facilities. Afroun replied: “Abraham you are a reverend and I shall bury the deceased in the best of our graves” Abraham had set his mind to settle in Canaan and wanted his own burial ground, thus he asked to buy a piece of land.  Afroun replied: “A land of no more than 400 silver shekels should not be an obstacle” Abraham got the hint and sent the amount.

This polite and diplomatic negotiation is part of the Levant customs thousand of years before Abraham came to Canaan.

On Bread and Salt:

In the Levant, women leaven their dough overnight in clay pottery for the next day baking; the baking lasted a whole day for a week ration. The neighboring families would select a day to using the special oven dug in the ground.  The Jews were ordered to leave Egypt immediately.  They carried their unleavened dough in wooden boxes, as done in Egypt, and had to eat their bread barely leavened.  The shepherds in the fields in the Levant cook their own unleavened bread while at work.

Jesus said in the Lord prayer “Lord, give us our daily bread” The people in the Levant believe that their daily bread is not just from their labor; the Lord had participated from start to finish to offering the daily bread.

I cannot help but offer a current and political rapprochement: the successive US Administrations and the media “talking heads” would like us to believe that whatever prosperity is befalling other States it is simply because of US contributions. On the other hand, whatever calamities and miseries the world is suffering should not be laid on the USA: the USA does not bear any responsibility and should not be blamed.

It is the custom for a guest not to eat until he settles his recriminations with the host; thus bread and salt are the symbol of renewed friendship and loyalty.  The worst enemy is the one who shared your bread and salt and then shifted loyalty without any warning.  People never stepped on crumbs of bread (aysh meaning living); they pick up any bread off the ground, kiss it and then place it above ground level.

When Gideon gathered his “large army” to fight the Midyanites, God ordered Gideon to select the soldiers that stooped in front of the stream and drank off the palm of their hands.  That was the custom of the noble citizens in the land; the common people knelt and drank directly off the stream.

Thus, Gideon ended up with 300 soldiers who were deemed courageous, sober, and worthy to fight.

On Handicapped persons:

Handicapped individuals have a hard life in the Levant; they are nicknamed according to their handicaps. Up very recently they were hidden from the public.  In Jesus travels handicapped individuals had hard time approaching Jesus; the crowd would prevent them from coming close because handicaps were considered punishment from God.

A handicapped woman got her courage and dared to touch the robe of Jesus and was cured.  Jesus told her: “Woman, it is your faith and not my cloth that cured you. Go in peace” Jesus was alluding to the custom that touching anything holy would cure or satisfy a want.

On Injustice:

Carrying the cross Jesus said “Sisters of Jerusalem, don’t cry over me.  Those who manhandled moist branches what they wouldn’t do with the dry ones?

If the sacerdotal caste could sentence to death an innocent man then what you, sisters of Jerusalem, expect them to do with you and your children?  You should be starting to cry over your coming miseries and injustices.  Aphorisms on moist things versus dry ones, or bitter versus sweet tasty foods are many in the Levant.

On Animals:

Jesus warned Peter that he would repudiate him three times before the second crow of the cock.  There is a custom in the Levant when guest hear the second crow of the coq to start leaving.  The host has invariably to retort “You guys are mistaken, this is the first crow“. You may search Google for how many times a coq crows per day but in the Levant we maintain that coq crows at sun down, midnight and at dawn.

Jesus said about the surprise visit of sudden death: “Stay awake; you don’t know when the Master of the house will show up; in the evening, at midnight or the last crow of the coq”.

The oriental Christian communities used the nights to pray and watch for the second coming of “Son of God“, (be ready for leaving to the other life)

Pigs are considered the dirtiest and lowest of animals.  When Jesus chased out the demons off a crazy man then the evil spirit entered pigs that rushed to the lake.  The younger son who asked for his inheritance ended up caring for pigs (the lowest job anyone could get) and could not even eat what the pigs ate though he loved “kharoub” which fills the stomach.

On Wheat Grinding:

On the theme of sudden death Jesus recount another aphorism of the Land “Two of you are grinding wheat in a quern (hand mill), one is taken away and the other saved”.  It was the custom for two women friends to undertake the boring task of grinding wheat grain in two circular stone querns; a strong woman could do it alone but it is more fun to pass the time when two are chatting away.

Thus, you can never know when your closest friend will die.  Nowadays, in remote areas, the hand mill or “jaroush” is used to convert wheat grains into crushed wheat which is a staple ingredient to many traditional dishes like “tabouli”, “kebeh, and countless varieties.

On Revelations:

Revelations abound in the Bible to the prophets, Elizabeth, Marie, and many times to Joseph who obeyed and executed the orders promptly.  Revelations are common phenomenon in the Levant.  A family would pay visits to shrines dedicated to a saint for fertility or for kinds of handicaps; the family would stay at the shrine praying and fasting as many nights as necessary until a revelation related to their wishes descends.  The families visit shrines confident that their “demands” would be exhausted.

For example, Hanna, the mother of the Virgin Marie had a revelation that she would be pregnant, so had Elizabeth (Alisabat), the sister of Hanna, who begot John the Baptist, so had Marie who gave birth to Jesus, so did the mother of Melki Sadek, the highest priest of the Land and King of Jerusalem to whom Abraham paid the teethe (tenth of income) as did Isaac and then Jacob, so did the mother of Samuel (Name of El), so had the mother of Jeremiah (Aramia) and countless others.

Those mothers vowed (nezer) their offspring to monasteries that were common in Phoenicia and Galilee.  The offspring who stayed in these monasteries for a large part of their youth were called Nazereen.  Jesus stayed in the monastery of Mount Carmel and administered by the Esseneans, adjacent to the Great Temple, from age 6 until he was in the age of aiding the family earning a living.

That is why Jesus was said to be a Nazarenos or who lived in the region of Galilee of the Nazarenes.  The town of Nazareth did not exist until the second century after Christ and Jesus roamed Lebanon, the ten main cities in Syria and Jordan (Decapolis) while preparing his disciples to spread his message.

On Shepherding and Faith

Jesus said “I am the good shepherd who is ready to sacrifice for his sheep”. The shepherding was the oldest and most common job in the Levant and people learned leadership, and enjoyed freedom and solitude.  The shepherd, during the extended dry season, would lead his flock “the blessed ones” to the upper lands for grazing by mid March as the sheep or goat gave birth.

The shepherd would carry the new born and the mothers would follow him, confident in her shepherd.  The shepherd would arrange a stockade (hazeera) of stones about 5 feet high and top it with brambles and sleep at the entrance in a makeshift tent with his dog. “The truth is anyone who does not enter the stockade by the entrance is a thief; the shepherd enters from the door and the sheep hear his voice and their names and they go out to graze” because the stockade could be climbed with minor scratches.

By mid October, the shepherd dismantles his stockade and moves his flock to lower altitudes where the sheep are horded in a one room basement (mrah) with no windows; Isaiah said: “My residence was dismantled and taken away from me as the shepherd tent”

Shepherding requires skills in tight passageway amid the orchards that were not usually fenced.  The shepherd had to pay for whatever the sheep ate if he was unable to control his flock; the town people would not let the shepherd cross the village if they could not trust his guiding skills.  The flock trusted the shepherd because he would ward off wolves and hyenas and even follow the scavenger to its lair to retrieve the sheep or part of it and return it to the flock if alive.

Jesus said: “A shepherd would leave his flock to go after the lost sheep“. The flock is not afraid of narrow hazardous paths taken by the shepherd “the shadow of death valley” because it trusts its leader.

Grape vines:

When Jesus mentions “The product of grape vine” is meant wine; though grapes were customarily dried (zabeeb) in abundance.  Kids would always carry handful of raisins in their oversized pockets as sweet and also to bribe other children; when long caravans of camels arrive at the market place, kids would bribe the conductors with raisins for a ride to the wells.  Women would get frustrated because camels drank most of the well and the women had to dip their buckets far deeper.

Grape vines were used as aphorism such as “I am the vine and you are its branches” or “Your wife is like a fecund vine around your house. Your sons like olive trees around your dinner table”.  The Prophet Micah said “They will sit under the vine and the fig tree and nothing will scare them”

The ceremonies of grape pressing by men’ and boys’ feet lasted days and nights until the juices were flowed to special receptacles of stones and clay. The press was made of a large stone vat set up on the roof of the house with a certain incline for the flow of the juice. The settled grape juice (rawook) was drunk by the poor people who could not afford wine “the (poor) pressed and felt thirsty”.

The rawook would then be boiled at various degrees; sour wine was preferred by men but sweet wine needed high boiling temperature because preferred by women. When the juice was destined to prepare molasses “debs” then white clay was added to the grapes before pressing for more efficient filtering of organic components.  Isaiah (Ashaya) said “Why your robe is reddish and your cloth looking as you were pressing grapes?”

Nowadays, the national drink is arak or ouzou in Greece and it is basically the condensation of the boiled grape juice through alembics; it is called “mtalat” when the process of condensation is performed three times for a content 97% alcoholic.

Gideon wanted to avoid paying tax on his wheat harvest.  The grape was not ripe yet and thus, Gideon used the top of his house to beat the wheat where grapes were pressed by feet though it was not yet the season of grape pressing.  He was hoping that the Midyanites would not discover his subterfuge.

The Roof Tops:

The houses in the Levant used to be of just one large room where the entire family slept and ate in the winter season; the adjacent split room or a basement sheltered the chicken, goats, cows, or donkey.  The rest of the dry seasons that extended for over 7 months the main meeting place was the roof top; a makeshift tent of dangling grape vines and dry branches, and called “alyyeh“.

The roof was built with supporting tree trunks at three feet intervals and cross branches with no gaps and then 12 inches of dirt rolled over by a cylindrical stone at every season.

Official announcements or the arrival of caravans or any kind of major warnings such as the voices of field keepers (natour) were done by climbing a roof. Jesus advised his disciple to announce the Good News from the roof tops so that every one should hear the message clear and sound; that is what Peter did.

Families would go up to the roof tops to pray and cry and the new comer Hebrews didn’t like this custom of the Land.

When a paraplegic was dangled from a roof top for Jesus to heal the friends dug out the dirt and removed a few branches and made enough space (kofaa) then placed the sick man on a blanket with the four corners attached to a rope.

At the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples are eating on the roof top of a house, the “alyyat”; the family gathers in that shed during the hot seasons that extend for seven months from Mid May to mid September. Jesus and the disciples are sitting in a circle around several large platters of various dishes; everyone extends his hand to dip his piece of bread in the platter of his liking; there are no spoons or forks.

The scene is not as represented by Leonardo Da Vinci in the customs of Florence.

A server pour the wine in a single cup, starting by the most ranked in the gathering.  Before drinking the cup in one shot the guest wishes long life to his friends and ask them to remember him if he is about to leave them for an extended trip; then he selects the next guest to drink and the server pour wine for the selected person and in the same single cup.

After supper, the cup is passed around and everyone takes just a sip.  Jesus said “I longed so much to eat this supper with you before I suffer”

Jesus said: “The first one to dip his bread in my platter will deliver me tonight” was confusing to the disciples because they all dipped in Jesus’ platter one time or another. Judas was always the second in command and must have arranged to have his favorite platter close to him and Jesus for easy access; thus, Judas was the most plausible one to first dip his bread in Jesus platter.

Young John loved Jesus and expressed his feeling as to the customs of the Levant by reclining his head on Jesus’ shoulder.

Jesus adhered to the customs of eating supper and his salutes about eating his flesh or drinking his blood in remembrance of him had a spiritual undertone and suggesting that he was to leave his disciples for good.  Jesus dipped a piece of bread in a platter and specifically offered it to Judas as a symbol of friendship no matter what is in Judas’ heart and mind.

Jesus presented the box of money to Judas, the treasurer, as a sign that nothing is changed in Jesus faith to Judas loyalty in matter of financial transactions. Anyway, Judas was from a rich family and didn’t need small changes.

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus expresses his feelings of sorrows and pains as a Levantine; he lets his feelings pour out and wants his closest friends to share his feelings.  Three times he invites Peter and the sons of Zebedeh to keep the wake with him because “my soul is sad to death”.  Jesus was praying with such earnestness that his “sweating was of blood”.

Jesus had no choice but to obey his father and urged God “Father, if it were possible to take away this bitter cup, but it is not as I wish but as you want”

Judas approached Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and kissed him several times on the cheeks. Judas was thus telling Jesus, according to the Levant customs, that as of this instant they are on a par in ranks and that Judas decided that he no longer considers Jesus as the Messiah. Some one of a lower rank would shake hands and fake to kiss the right hand and the higher ranked person would fake a kiss on the cheek. Judas was using a custom for greetings that could also be used as a sign for the soldiers to get hold of the leader.

On Obeying Parents:

Obeying parents is not just a filial feeling in the Levant but a religious duty.  The command is “Obey your mother and father” and God punished Adam for simply disobeying him, period.  The story of Luc when Jesus, aged 12 then, was found discussing among the priests in the Temple as the clan went on pilgrimage is revealing. Jesus had priority of which parents to obey first: he reminded his parents that he has a duty to obey his God El first.  In the Levant, no family starts or leaves on a trip before counting and making sure of the presence of all the members of the family.

After the count, Jesus decided to return to the Temple. After the count, his family didn’t worry about Jesus because he was supposed to be amid the wider clan of relatives and because the Great Temple on Mount Carmel (not Jerusalem) was a familiar visiting place and no more than half a day walk to “Bethlehem of Tyr or Efrateh” where they lived, on the east side of Mount Carmel in Upper Galilee.  In none of the parables you find the eldest son depicted as the villain or disrespectful of traditions.  Eldest sons represent the fathers and the continuation of customs.

On Kingdom of Heaven

In the Levant we understand intuitively the figures of speech and parables that the West has hard time to comprehend; we understand and readily accept the meaning though it takes a life time to assimilate the true meaning.  Jesus said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a person who is convinced that there is a treasure hidden in a piece of land. He gathers all his saving a buy the land” The predicators in the West would like to interpret this sentence as a gold or silver mine in the land that need to be excavated and they go at great length into legal terms to differentiate among the words “hidden and buried”.

The customs in our Land was to bury the jar of saved gold and silver coins in the garden or an unclaimed piece of land because the habitat was small (barely one large room where the entire household sleep and eat in) and could not sustain serious hiding places.  Tribes would hide their treasure in the desert before waging a battle and many would never survive to dig up their treasures.

Thus, the individual who bought the land, if he were lucky would have to dig up most of the land anyway to find the jar of treasure.  The meaning is in order to reach the Kingdom of Heaven you would have to go through the same process of fulfilling a dream by investing money, time, and effort most of your life. Consequently, faith is a good starting point to sustain the duration of the long haul but it is not enough if you lack charity in your heart; you have to learn to care and love and support your brothers and neighbors. It is a hard and long endeavor to pass through the “hole of the needle

For example, many predicators in the west tried their best to explain the concept of “a hole in a needle” when Jesus said “It is easier for a camel to go through the hole of a needle than a rich person to go to heaven”.  The predicators in the west invented a more plausible and palatable explanation by saying that “the hole in the needle” was the small door in the huge gate reserved for the passage of individual; they said that a camel could pass through if not loaded with baggage; another nice figure of speech though not correct.

In the languages of the Land, Arabic, Aramaic, or Hebrew the names of the small doors in gates were never called by anything referring to needle. The language in the Levant is extravagant for describing the almost impossible tasks that require perseverance and ingenuity.

Jesus goes on: “Kingdom of heaven is like a land that was sawn with good grains of wheat.  At night, an enemy comes and saw “zouan” (a grain that resembles wheat but causes pain, dizziness, and suffering for many days when mixed with wheat grains; it is mostly used to feed chicken).  The cultivators (slaves) asked the master permission to sort out and pull out the “zouan” from the field. The master said that it is useless since the whole field is ruined” In dire periods of famine many would mix “zouan” with wheat to make profit regardless of the consequences.  The honest master would not take the chance of being perceived as a fraud if his good grain was inadvertently adulterated with “zouan”.  In another verse, Jesus told the servants to patiently and meticulously remove the “zouan” from the wheat then gather around a bonfire to burn the “zouan”

The same idea relates with leaven that was saved in a bag of wheat in order not to rot quickly; in another verse in order to leaven the entire bag of wheat flour.  In ancient periods, people would eat unleavened bread because it was very hard and difficult to keep usable leaven in hot and desert regions.  Thus, leaven had the bad connotation of spoilage agent, such as when Jesus warned his disciples “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” but the disciples didn’t understand this figure of speech: they lived at an advanced and urban period when leaven was no longer associated with spoilage but as a good catalyst.  Consequently, the parable of Jesus “Kingdom of Heaven is like a leaven that a woman hide in three bags of wheat flour until all the bags were leavened and ready to bake refers to the good use of small quantities to affect large lots.

Thus, a term could be used to convey contradictory meaning if we are not conversant with the customs and period of the saying.  In the Levant, cultivators believe that “zouan” will grow among wheat no mater how careful we proceed in sawing fields. Consequently, it is advisable to rotate the field to grow other kinds of harvests in order to have the opportunity to pull out all the “zouan” that spoiled the field for later wheat harvests.

Jesus said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman who had misplaced one of her ten coins.  She searches all nights and all days (when the husband is not home), she searches in every nook and cranny and she sweep the floor until she finds the missing coin.  Then this woman would call up her neighboring women friends to join her and celebrate” (Most of the time they spend more on these gathering than what the coin was worth).  People worked hard to earn a coin and the man of the house would invariable express his displeasure for a missing coin and every women had gone through the same experience many times in their lives and it was a real occasion for women to gather, recount, and recall their daily troubles.  There are times for anxiety and relentless searches and times for relaxation and sharing.

There are moments for prioritizing our quests and leaving many tasks undone to focus on an urgent one, such as saving our soul in order not to anger our Lord.  This story is almost identical in meaning as the shepherd who leaves 99 head of sheep grazing unattended in order to find the lost one.

On Women:

Regardless of exterior behaviors of “non-polite” communication with women, men have utmost respect and considerations for their wives and sisters and girls. Inside the homes the couples are at par in responsibilities and duties if not biased toward the wives; “When there is love affectation is redundant”.  In that spirit, it is the good intensions that count and not the actual behaviors.  The Levantine regards the expressions “If you please”, or “be kind enough” are superfluous because love and respect are natural and come with the territory.  This behavior is compatible with the simple and rough daily living; houses are simply furnished with the basic necessities and the entire family members sleep and eat in one room or two; there are no exclusive rooms or quarters for the grown ups; and thus privacy is not a priority.

The tradition of nomadic tribes raiding sedentary affluent villages and taking women captives heightened the protective customs in the Levant and restricted women’s work within the villages.   Women were restrained from showing off and retorting vehemently in gatherings of men.

The attitude of men of adopting the two extreme behaviors of sanctifying women (horma) and occasional “contempt” might convey a feeling of disdain but it is basically a childish behavior coupled with lack of a cultural life that the harsh demands for survival do not reserve time for “luxury”.  The Hebraic laws considered women with no soul and thus could be transacted as chattel; this is not the case for the rest of the people of the Land; and thus this huge cultural difference between the Hebrew Mosaic traditions and the traditions in the Levant.

“Thus spoken God; they will come carrying the little girls over the shoulders.  Kings will be your vassals and queens will nurse you”  The custom of carrying kid girls over shoulders is widely practiced in the Levant; mother resumes her daily tasks while the kid girls sit on their shoulders while getting a hold on the head. The prophet Isaiah (Ashaya) speaks in imageries what the “noble” class in the Levant expects the common people to practice in their presence.

New Borns were wrapped like mummies; first they are washed with lukewarm water and their bodies rubbed with salt and then scented before a square piece of cloth join their arms by the side of the body and the legs stretched.  An unwanted baby or when someone is cursed the maxim says “You were not rubbed with salt when you were born”

On Feet:

Feet were considered dirty parts and sources of impurity, as the left hand was:  people went barefoot or wearing thongs at best, and wiped their behind with their left hands. The same is true when John the Baptist said about the coming Messiah “I will be most honored if he permit me to untie his shoe lace” because stooping near feet is not acceptable and thus, the custom of sitting by the feet of a nobility is a mark of homage bestowed on him.  When the sister of Martha, Mary of Magdala, pours expensive perfumes on Jesus’ feet and rubbed them with her hair she was expressing her complete humiliation and attesting to the Messiah status of Jesus. 

Note 4:  I have published five posts on the theme of customs and tradition in the Near East extracted from the Bibles, Old and New, with some development and clarifications to the benefit of the western civilizations. This post is a compilation of my previous posts.

Note 5: This series of posts was inspired by the book that I reviewed “The Syrian Christ” by Abraham Metrie Rihbany; it was published in the USA and in English in 1916 and I read the Arabic translation.  I thought that it was a good idea to attach relevant contexts to the fragment of verses that Western predicators are found of using on the ground that abstract concepts don’t need any historical, geographic, or people’s customs context.

Note 6: The people in the Levant are people of faith; they refrain from rationally structuring their religion into dogma.  The early Christian communities relied on the custom of brotherhood and faith in the community. It is only when Christian communities were established in Greece and Rome that structuring got underway.  Hundreds of Christian sects mushroomed in the Levant according to a few alterations in the re-structuring of the dogma that spanned into political and self autonomous sects.

After the conclave of Nicee (Turkey) in 325, during the pagan Emperor Constantine, the Church got highly structured and hierarchical; the pagan ceremonies, symbols, and pageantry were introduced to win over the pagans who were in the majority.  Since then, persecution of the “heretic” Christian sects started and is still alive into modern time.

Note 7:  I am no theologian, and frankly, I don’t feel hot for any structured and formalized religions.  I am a guy who is appalled by sects abusing religion for political ends, for institutional profit, and for personal aggrandizement.  Occasionally, a few books of historical nature in matter of religion drop into my hands and they expose a few lethal fallacies; I have no choice but to react, expose the confusion related to abstract concepts out of their historical, geographical, and cultural context.

I cannot withstand sects that abolish individual reflection for the benefit of the “collectivity” or their close knit communities. I disseminate what my personal reflections feel right to inform and educate.

Background to the Near East Dilemma; (Part 1, May 16, 2009)

Note:  This essay is of two parts.  The first part lay down the background story and issues; the second part will explain in details the positions of the various Syrian political parties and intelligentsia of the period during and after the First World War.

The year 1919 was critical for the Near East (Levant) and the entire Arab World.

At the time, Syrian was the name of the populations comprising the current States of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and current Jordan.

Before that date, the Syrians were called Turks because they held a Turkish (Ottoman) passport.

After almost a century, the people in this region are reaping the consequences of the resolutions of the League of Nations that met in Paris for many months to divide the spoils of the First World War.

Jean Dayeh is an author and a veteran journalist investigative reporter; he published recently “Jubran Tueny Sr. and the Century of Renaissance” in the Near East.  The manuscript contains two great chapters on the case of the Syrian dilemma and the Palestinian/Zionism problems.

From old published articles and replies by different daily journalists, thinkers, and politicians Dayeh explained the premises for the confusion and disunity in the Syrian societies of Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and the current Syrian State; the ideological and political divergences prevented an alternative resolution for populations that were just getting out of the hegemony of the Ottoman Empire that lasted over 5 centuries.

During the war, the British encouraged the Shereef of Mecca Hussein al Hashemy to join the allies for fighting against the Ottoman Empire.  The British promised Hussein of Mecca mandate over Syria and Iraq.  In the same time, Britain and France had a more real politics plan for the Near East.  The diplomats of the two nations Sykes and Pico agreed in 1916 to divide the region so that France would have mandate over Syria and Lebanon and Britain mandate over Iraq, Palestine and Jordan.  Britain Foreign Affairs Balfour had promised the Zionist movement a State in Palestine.

The sons of Hussein were appointed Kings; Faisal on Syria and Abdullah King on the newly created State of Jordan by Britain.  “King” Faisal entered Damascus as the Turkish army withdrew.  A nucleus of a new Syrian army was formed; the soldiers had to swear allegiance to the King of Mecca and agree to fight in the Arabic Peninsula if duty called.

The flag of Mecca was raised in Damascus and postal stamps and coins left no doubt as to the plans of the King of Mecca to joining Syria in an Arab Nation.  The worst part is that Faisal had promised the Zionist movement during the meetings of the League of Nations in Paris that if the Jews become majority in Palestine then they could form a confederate State with the Arab Nation.

It is to be noted that the concept of waging war, then and now, that only those parties or nations that effectively participated in the war were eligible to divide the spoil.  The Syrian population did not have an army to fight and they were suffering famine and calamities due to locust invasion and the perpetual requisitions of the Turkish army in foodstuff and coerced soldiers.

President Woodrow Wilson of the USA was suffering of critical health problems during the Paris Convention and died shortly after; thus France and England decided on the Middle East spoil.  Nevertheless, the USA sent a fact-finding commission King-Crane to comprehend the wishes and desires of the Syrian populations.

England and France declined to join the commission because they had already decided on the spoil and their armies were on the ground in the Near East and pressured the populations to be biased.  With all the political pressures of France and England, a few Christians in Mount Lebanon preferred a French mandate, a few Palestinians opted for a British mandate, many were in favor of a USA mandate but the vast majority of Moslems and Christians wanted an independent State with Faisal as King in Damascus.

The Christian Maronite Patriarch Howayek hurried to Paris for the convention and harassed Clemenceau to decide on a Greater Lebanon by adjoining many parts to Mount Lebanon in return for a French mandate. Clemenceau dispatched an army in 1920 and defeated the small Syrian army in Mayssaloun.  King Faisal was sent packing to reign as King in Iraq.

By 1920, the Zionist movement managed to lure a few Jews to establish agricultural colonies.  Tel Aviv was the main coastal colony.  The Jewish Diaspora had felt the impossibility of establishing a Jewish state and money was trickling.  The Jews in Tel Aviv went on a rampage and confiscate the Zionist money in order to buy food; and the Rothschild delegate in Palestine was ordered to stop payment on land purchased for new colonies.

Nevertheless, the Zionist movement refused hopeless Jews visa exit out of Palestine.  The Palestinian government, under British mandate, had permitted to add Hebrew names to the English and Arabic administrative institutions. Things have changed since then.

The Bibles: A Repository of the Customs in the Near East (March 25, 2009)

  

Note 1:  I have published 5 posts on the theme of customs and tradition in the Near East and mostly extracted from the Bibles, Old and New, with some development and clarifications to the benefit of the western civilizations. 

This series of posts was inspired by the book that I reviewed “The Syrian Christ” by Abraham Metrie Rihbany. The book was published in English in 1916 and I read the Arabic translation.  I thought that it was a good idea to attach relevant contexts to the fragment of verses that predicators are fond of using on the ground that abstract concepts don’t need any historical, geographic, or people’s customs context.

The customs and traditions of the Land in the Levant were practiced thousands of years before Judaism came to be. 

The Jewish religion adopted the customs of the Land and wrote in the same style of imagery, maxims, and aphorism. The original manuscripts describe accurately the culture of the Land and in the same style.

Note 2: The Bibles are not famous for historical accuracy: they were not written by the dozens of scribes for that purpose. 

The Bibles are excellent sources as repositories of the customs and traditions in the Near East, which are still practiced for over 5 thousand of years.  It has been said that if Abraham and his generation were resurrected they will feel perfectly at home and go about their daily routines and tasks as if they have just waken from a dream. 

Although “modernism” was forced upon the Levant, especially in the urban centers and megalopolis areas, the remote towns and villages have been practically spared and left untouched, even for cooking their weekly load of Levantine bread.  In this article, Near East and Levant group Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria as one Land that the Bibles describe the customs and tradition of its people.

 

A brief Introduction:

Since time immemorial the Near East was famous for exporting olive oil, grape wine and dried figs.  No wonder that grape vine, olive trees and fig trees are the symbols of prosperity and shade in this region where it does not rain for straight 7 months.

The coastal regions of the Levant imported all kinds of grains, especially, wheat and lentil.

The meals are frugal and consisting of thin large loaves of bread (khobz markouk) baked in special underground oven once a week, a few olives, tomatoes, onion, vegetable from the garden, and dried fruits in the off seasons. Wheat was transformed in crushed wheat (borghol) for the kebeh and tabouli; diary components were cooked into many varieties of cheese, yogurt, labneh, and keshk. 

Meat was scarce and a single sheep was over fed during summer to be slaughtered in late autumn and the meat cooked and dried (kawarma) and saved for winter for the omelets. A couple of goats or cows lived in the basement or a side room and chicken were raised for eggs and for the occasional guests. 

Nothing would go to waste and summer time was a hectic period for all kinds of chores related to storing provisions for winter.

 

On the Written Style

The written style in the Levant is characterized by direct pronouncements expressing feeling and describing what is seen and heard.  The sentences are not encumbered by prefixes such as “I think”, “I believe”, “I am not sure”, “It is possible”, “There might be other versions”, “I might be wrong”, or “It is my opinion”, or what the western writers have adopted from the Greek rational style. 

The style in the Levant sounds confident, categorical, and conveying the total truth though it does not mean that the people cannot discriminate or feel the variations and uncertainties.  The writers in the Levant simply feel that all these attachments are redundant since it is a fact of life that nothing is categorical or certain; thus, superfluous additions disturb the flow of thoughts and the ideas that need to be conveyed. 

Consequently, the author feels that the western readers of the Bible should tone down their uneasiness with “outrageous” direct and assured pronouncements in the Bible.

 

 On the Verbal Style

 The verbal style tends toward the devotional and far from the business approach. The dialect in the Levant reveals the relationship with the Creator is the first of wisdom and spirituality is a foundation.  The recurring mention of God the provider at the beginning of any reply or “peace of God be upon you” or telling a worker “God gives you health” or to the harvester “God bless your crop” or asking the shepherd “How are the blessed ones?” or saying “What’s its religion?” to get more information on the nature of a thing are all part of the daily utterances.

When the Levantine tells a story he is extravagant and the facts sound too far fetched simply because he wants to amuse and impress; the listener understands perfectly the intent of the fantasy and they share a good laugh.  The rational westerner gets the impression that the Levantine is not honest because he does not stick to the bare boring facts.  For example, when you wake up someone at seven you tell him “Get up, it is already noon and the daylight is over”; when there is a large gathering we say “The entire town was assembled”. 

Jesus said “if your right eye sinned snatched it out; better not your whole body ends up in the eternal fire” or “if someone asks to be clothed give him your robe and underwear too” or “Forgive 77 times 7 a day” which drive the holy number seven to an extreme number of holiness; a number that should not be taken to the word but to drive in the message of ready forgiveness.

In the Bibles it is said “After six days” and you wonder starting from which date, which event?  Or it is said “They went up a high mountain” and you want to ask “how high?” and “which mountain?”  If you insist on the height of the mountain he would reply “it was so high it pierced the clouds” The purpose of the story is to entertain and prepare for the punch line.  For example, John the Baptist is not in the mood of cajoling and says to the Pharisees “Sons of vipers, how will you escape the wrath of God? I tell you if God wished he will turn these stones sons of Abraham”

The Levantine is ever ready to swear on his father, his head, his mustaches, and anything that is holy to convey the message of his sincerity.  It is this custom of constant swearing that baffle the westerner and increases his suspicions.  Jesus was aware of this custom and insisted on his disciples never to swear on anything but rather “let your answer be yes, yes or no, no”.  This summoning of Jesus had no effects whatsoever in our Land.

It is important to grasp four characteristics in the Levantine customs:

1. first, every region and every town has its own slang and it is the best proof of your origin. For example, the more Peter denied his knowledge of Jesus the more people were convinced that he was from Galilee. After the battle between the Galaad and the Efrem prisoners were slaughtered because they pronounced “shiboulat” “siboulat”.

2. Second, it is recommended to insist until requests are obtained; for example, Gideon insists on two material miracles from God to believe him; or when Jesus repeats three times “Do you love me Peter?” before he divulges the most important order of “shepherding the flock” of disciples.

3. Third, insinuation is not understood and abhorred and thus, a clear solemn affirmation is demanded.

4. Fourth, the Levantine does not appreciate constraining and transition expressions such as “As I see, or I think that, or it is alleged, or it is possible, and so forth”.  The Levantine verbal expression is of certitude and feeling, compatible to his spiritual and devotional nature.

 

On Business Transactions:

Abraham had no piece of land in Canaan; his clan let their goats and sheep graze in unclaimed lands. As there was a death in the family Abraham resolved to prepare for his burial; he sent a third party to ask Afroun son of Sohar of the tribe of Hath for a small piece of land to bury the dead. Abraham said: “I am a guest in your land. Could you give me a swath so that I may bury what is in front of me?”  Every village had a burying ground facing east and guests, by the custom of hospitality, could be enjoying the same facilities. Afroun replied: “Abraham you are a reverend and I shall bury the deceased in the best of our graves” Abraham had set his mind to settle in Canaan and wanted his own burial ground, thus he asked to buy a piece of land.  Afroun replied: “A land of no more than 400 silver shekels should not be an obstacle” Abraham got the hint and sent the amount.  This polite and diplomatic negotiation is part of the Levant customs thousand of years before Abraham came to Canaan.

On Bread and Salt:

In the Levant, women leaven their dough overnight in clay pottery for the next day baking; the baking lasted a whole day for a week ration. The neighboring families would select a day to using the special oven dug in the ground.  The Jews were ordered to leave Egypt immediately.  They carried their unleavened dough in wooden boxes, as done in Egypt, and had to eat their bread barely leavened.  The shepherds in the fields in the Levant cook their own unleavened bread while at work.

Jesus said in the Lord prayer “Lord, give us our daily bread” The people in the Levant believe that their daily bread is not just from their labor; the Lord had participated from start to finish to offering the daily bread.  I cannot help but offer a current and political rapprochement: the successive US Administrations and the media “talking heads” would like us to believe that whatever prosperity is befalling other States it is simply because of US contributions; on the other hand, whatever calamities and miseries the world is suffering should not be laid on the USA: the USA does not bear any responsibility and should not be blamed.

It is the custom for a guest not to eat until he settles his recriminations with the host; thus bread and salt are the symbol of renewed friendship and loyalty.  The worst enemy is the one who shared your bread and salt and then shifted loyalty without any warning.  People never stepped on crumbs of bread (aysh meaning living); they pick up any bread off the ground, kiss it and then place it above ground level.

When Gideon gathered his “large army” to fight the Midyanites, God ordered Gideon to select the soldiers that stooped in front of the stream and drank off the palm of their hands.  That was the custom of the noble citizens in the land; the common people knelt and drank directly off the stream.  Thus, Gideon ended up with 300 soldiers who were deemed courageous, sober, and worthy to fight.

On Handicapped persons: 

Handicapped individuals have a hard life in the Levant; they are nicknamed according to their handicaps; up very recently they were hidden from the public.  In Jesus travels handicapped individuals had hard time approaching Jesus; the crowd would prevent them from coming close because handicaps were considered punishment from God.  A handicapped woman got her courage and dared to touch the robe of Jesus and was cured.  Jesus told her: “Woman, it is your faith and not my cloth that cured you. Go in peace” Jesus was alluding to the custom that touching anything holy would cure or satisfy a want.

On Injustice:

Carrying the cross Jesus said “Sisters of Jerusalem, don’t cry over me.  Those who manhandled moist branches what they wouldn’t do with the dry ones?”  If the sacerdotal caste could sentence to death an innocent man then what you, sisters of Jerusalem, expect them to do with you and your children?  You should be starting to cry over your coming miseries and injustices.  Aphorisms on moist things versus dry ones, or bitter versus sweet tasty foods are many in the Levant.

On Animals:

Jesus warned Peter that he would repudiate him three times before the second crow of the coq.  There is a custom in the Levant when guest hear the second crow of the coq to start leaving.  The host has invariably to retort “You guys are mistaken, this is the first crow”. You may search Google for how many times a coq crows per day but in the Levant we maintain that coq crows at sun down, midnight and at dawn.

Jesus said about the surprise visit of death: “Stay awake; you don’t know when the Master of the house will show up; in the evening, at midnight or the last crow of the coq”.  The oriental Christian communities used the nights to pray and watch for the second coming of “Son of God”

Pigs are considered the dirtiest and lowest of animals.  When Jesus chased out the demons off a crazy man then the evil spirit entered pigs that rushed to the lake.  The younger son who asked for his inheritance ended up caring for pigs (the lowest job anyone could get) and could not even eat what the pigs ate though he loved “kharoub” which fills the stomach.

On Wheat Grinding: 

On the theme of sudden death Jesus recount another aphorism of the Land “Two of you are grinding wheat in a quern (hand mill), one is taken away and the other saved”.  It was the custom for two women friends to undertake the boring task of grinding wheat grain in two circular stone querns; a strong woman could do it alone but it is more fun to pass the time when two are chatting away.  Thus, you can never know when your closest friend will die.  Nowadays, in remote areas, the hand mill or “jaroush” is used to convert wheat grains into crushed wheat which is a staple ingredient to many traditional dishes like “tabouli”, “kebeh, and countless varieties.

On Revelations: 

Revelations abound in the Bible to the prophets, Elizabeth, Marie, and many times to Joseph who obeyed and executed the orders promptly.  Revelations are common phenomenon in the Levant.  A family would pay visits to shrines dedicated to a saint for fertility or for kinds of handicaps; the family would stay at the shrine praying and fasting as many nights as necessary until a revelation related to their wishes descends.  The families visit shrines confident that their “demands” would be exhausted.

For example, Hanna, the mother of the Virgin Marie had a revelation that she would be pregnant, so had Elizabeth (Alisabat), the sister of Hanna, who begot John the Baptist, so had Marie who gave birth to Jesus, so did the mother of Melki Sadek, the highest priest of the Land and King of Jerusalem to whom Abraham paid the teethe (tenth of income) as did Isaac and then Jacob, so did the mother of Samuel (Name of El), so had the mother of Jeremiah (Aramia) and countless others.

Those mothers vowed (nezer) their offspring to monasteries that were common in Phoenicia and Galilee.  The offspring who stayed in these monasteries for a large part of their youth were called Nazereen.  Jesus stayed in the monastery of Mount Carmel and administered by the Esseneans, adjacent to the Great Temple, from age 6 until he was in the age of aiding the family earning a living.  That is why Jesus was said to be a Nazarenos or who lived in the region of Galilee of the Nazarenes.  The town of Nazareth did not exist until the second century after Christ and Jesus roamed Lebanon, the ten main cities in Syria and Jordan (Decapolis) while preparing his disciples to spread his message.

On Shepherding and Faith

Jesus said “I am the good shepherd who is ready to sacrifice for his sheep”. The shepherding was the oldest and most common job in the Levant and people learned leadership, and enjoyed freedom and solitude.  The shepherd, during the extended dry season, would lead his flock “the blessed ones” to the upper lands for grazing by mid March as the sheep or goat gave birth.  The shepherd would carry the new born and the mothers would follow him, confident in her shepherd. 

The shepherd would arrange a stockade (hazeera) of stones about 5 feet high and top it with brambles and sleep at the entrance in a makeshift tent with his dog. “The truth is anyone who does not enter the stockade by the entrance is a thief; the shepherd enters from the door and the sheep hear his voice and their names and they go out to graze” because the stockade could be climbed with minor scratches. By mid October, the shepherd dismantles his stockade and moves his flock to lower altitudes where the sheep are horded in a one room basement (mrah) with no windows; Isaiah said: “My residence was dismantled and taken away from me as the shepherd tent”

Shepherding requires skills in tight passageway amid the orchards that were not usually fenced.  The shepherd had to pay for whatever the sheep ate if he was unable to control his flock; the town people would not let the shepherd cross the village if they could not trust his guiding skills.  The flock trusted the shepherd because he would ward off wolves and hyenas and even follow the scavenger to its lair to retrieve the sheep or part of it and return it to the flock if alive. Jesus said: “A shepherd would leave his flock to go after the lost sheep”. The flock is not afraid of narrow hazardous paths taken by the shepherd “the shadow of death valley” because it trusts its leader.

 

Grape vines:

When Jesus mentions “The product of grape vine” is meant wine; though grapes were customarily dried (zabeeb) in abundance.  Kids would always carry handful of raisins in their oversized pockets as sweet and also to bribe other children; when long caravans of camels arrive at the market place, kids would bribe the conductors with raisins for a ride to the wells.  Women would get frustrated because camels drank most of the well and the women had to dip their buckets far deeper.  Grape vines were used as aphorism such as “I am the vine and you are its branches” or “Your wife is like a fecund vine around your house. Your sons like olive trees around your dinner table”.  The Prophet Micah said “They will sit under the vine and the fig tree and nothing will scare them”

The ceremonies of grape pressing by men’ and boys’ feet lasted days and nights until the juices were flowed to special receptacles of stones and clay. The press was made of a large stone vat set up on the roof of the house with a certain incline for the flow of the juice. The settled grape juice (rawook) was drunk by the poor people who could not afford wine “the (poor) pressed and felt thirsty”.  The rawook would then be boiled at various degrees; sour wine was preferred by men but sweet wine needed high boiling temperature because preferred by women. When the juice was destined to prepare molasses “debs” then white clay was added to the grapes before pressing for more efficient filtering of organic components.  Isaiah (Ashaya) said “Why your robe is reddish and your cloth looking as you were pressing grapes?”

Nowadays, the national drink is arak or ouzou in Greece and it is basically the condensation of the boiled grape juice through alembics; it is called “mtalat” when the process of condensation is performed three times for a content 97% alcoholic.

Gideon wanted to avoid paying tax on his wheat harvest.  The grape was not ripe yet and thus, Gideon used the top of his house to beat the wheat where grapes were pressed by feet though it was not yet the season of grape pressing.  He was hoping that the Midyanites would not discover his subterfuge.

 

The Roof Tops:

The houses in the Levant used to be of just one large room where the entire family slept and ate in the winter season; the adjacent split room or a basement sheltered the chicken, goats, cows, or donkey.  The rest of the dry seasons that extended for over 7 months the main meeting place was the roof top; a makeshift tent of dangling grape vines and dry branches, and called “alyyeh“.  The roof was built with supporting tree trunks at three feet intervals and cross branches with no gaps and then 12 inches of dirt rolled over by a cylindrical stone at every season. 

Official announcements or the arrival of caravans or any kind of major warnings such as the voices of field keepers (natour) were done by climbing a roof. Jesus advised his disciple to announce the Good News from the roof tops so that every one should hear the message clear and sound; that is what Peter did.  Families would go up to the roof tops to pray and cry and the new comer Hebrews didn’t like this custom of the Land.

When a paraplegic was dangled from a roof top for Jesus to heal the friends dug out the dirt and removed a few branches and made enough space (kofaa) then placed the sick man on a blanket with the four corners attached to a rope.

           

At the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples are eating on the roof top of a house, the “alyyat”; the family gathers in that shed during the hot seasons that extend for seven months from Mid May to mid September. Jesus and the disciples are sitting in a circle around several large platters of various dishes; everyone extends his hand to dip his piece of bread in the platter of his liking; there are no spoons or forks.  The scene is not as represented by Leonardo Da Vinci in the customs of Florence. 

A server pour the wine in a single cup, starting by the most ranked in the gathering.  Before drinking the cup in one shot the guest wishes long life to his friends and ask them to remember him if he is about to leave them for an extended trip; then he selects the next guest to drink and the server pour wine for the selected person and in the same single cup. After supper, the cup is passed around and everyone takes just a sip.  Jesus said “I longed so much to eat this supper with you before I suffer”

Jesus said: “The first one to dip his bread in my platter will deliver me tonight” was confusing to the disciples because they all dipped in Jesus’ platter one time or another. Judas was always the second in command and must have arranged to have his favorite platter close to him and Jesus for easy access; thus, Judas was the most plausible one to first dip his bread in Jesus platter. Young John loved Jesus and expressed his feeling as to the customs of the Levant by reclining his head on Jesus’ shoulder.  Jesus adhered to the customs of eating supper and his salutes about eating his flesh or drinking his blood in remembrance of him had a spiritual undertone and suggesting that he was to leave his disciples for good. 

Jesus dipped a piece of bread in a platter and specifically offered it to Judas as a symbol of friendship no matter what is in Judas’ heart and mind. Jesus presented the box of money to Judas, the treasurer, as a sign that nothing is changed in Jesus faith to Judas loyalty in matter of financial transactions. Anyway, Judas was from a rich family and didn’t need small changes.

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus expresses his feelings of sorrows and pains as a Levantine; he lets his feelings pour out and wants his closest friends to share his feelings.  Three times he invites Peter and the sons of Zebedeh to keep the wake with him because “my soul is sad to death”.  Jesus was praying with such earnestness that his “sweating was of blood”. Jesus had no choice but to obey his father and urged God “Father, if it were possible to take away this biter cup, but it is not as I wish but as you want.

Judas approached Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and kissed him several times on the cheeks. Judas was thus telling Jesus, according to the Levant customs, that as of this instant they are on a par in ranks and that Judas decided that he no longer considers Jesus as the Messiah. Some one of a lower rank would shake hands and fake to kiss the right hand and the higher ranked person would fake a kiss on the cheek. Judas was using a custom for greetings that could also be used as a sign for the soldiers to get hold of the leader.

 

On Obeying Parents:

Obeying parents is not just a filial feeling in the Levant but a religious duty.  The command is “Obey your mother and father” and God punished Adam for simply disobeying him, period.  The story of Luc when Jesus, aged 12 then, was found discussing among the priests in the Temple as the clan went on pilgrimage is revealing. Jesus had priority of which parents to obey first: he reminded his parents that he has a duty to obey his God El first.  In the Levant, no family starts or leaves on a trip before counting and making sure of the presence of all the members of the family.  After the count, Jesus decided to return to the Temple.

After the count, his family didn’t worry about Jesus because he was supposed to be amid the wider clan of relatives and because the Great Temple on Mount Carmel (not Jerusalem) was a familiar visiting place and no more than half a day walk to “Bethlehem of Tyr or Efrateh” where they lived, on the east side of Mount Carmel in Upper Galilee.  In none of the parables you find the eldest son depicted as the villain or disrespectful of traditions.  Eldest sons represent the fathers and the continuation of customs.

 

On Kingdom of Heaven

In the Levant we understand intuitively the figures of speech and parables that the West has hard time to comprehend; we understand and readily accept the meaning though it takes a life time to assimilate the true meaning.  Jesus said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a person who is convinced that there is a treasure hidden in a piece of land. He gathers all his saving a buy the land” The predicators in the West would like to interpret this sentence as a gold or silver mine in the land that need to be excavated and they go at great length into legal terms to differentiate among the words “hidden and buried”. 

The customs in our Land was to bury the jar of saved gold and silver coins in the garden or an unclaimed piece of land because the habitat was small (barely one large room where the entire household sleep and eat in) and could not sustain serious hiding places.  Tribes would hide their treasure in the desert before waging a battle and many would never survive to dig up their treasures.

Thus, the individual who bought the land, if he were lucky would have to dig up most of the land anyway to find the jar of treasure.  The meaning is in order to reach the Kingdom of Heaven you would have to go through the same process of fulfilling a dream by investing money, time, and effort most of your life. Consequently, faith is a good starting point to sustain the duration of the long haul but it is not enough if you lack charity in your heart; you have to learn to care and love and support your brothers and neighbors. It is a hard and long endeavor to pass through the “hole of the needle

For example, many predicators in the west tried their best to explain the concept of “a hole in a needle” when Jesus said “It is easier for a camel to go through the hole of a needle than a rich person to go to heaven”.  The predicators in the west invented a more plausible and palatable explanation by saying that “the hole in the needle” was the small door in the huge gate reserved for the passage of individual; they said that a camel could pass through if not loaded with baggage; another nice figure of speech though not correct. In the languages of the Land, Arabic, Aramaic, or Hebrew the names of the small doors in gates were never called by anything referring to needle. The language in the Levant is extravagant for describing the almost impossible tasks that require perseverance and ingenuity.

 

Jesus goes on: “Kingdom of heaven is like a land that was sawn with good grains of wheat.  At night, an enemy comes and saw “zouan” (a grain that resembles wheat but causes pain, dizziness, and suffering for many days when mixed with wheat grains; it is mostly used to feed chicken).  The cultivators (slaves) asked the master permission to sort out and pull out the “zouan” from the field. The master said that it is useless since the whole field is ruined” In dire periods of famine many would mix “zouan” with wheat to make profit regardless of the consequences.  The honest master would not take the chance of being perceived as a fraud if his good grain was inadvertently adulterated with “zouan”.

Jesus told the servants to patiently and meticulously remove the “zouan” from the wheat then gather around a bonfire to burn the “zouan”

 

The same idea relates with leaven that was saved in a bag of wheat in order not to rot quickly; in another verse in order to leaven the entire bag of wheat flour.  In ancient periods, people would eat unleavened bread because it was very hard and difficult to keep usable leaven in hot and desert regions.  Thus, leaven had the bad connotation of spoilage agent, such as when Jesus warned his disciples “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” but the disciples didn’t understand this figure of speech: they lived at an advanced and urban period when leaven was no longer associated with spoilage but as a good catalyst.  Consequently, the parable of Jesus “Kingdom of Heaven is like a leaven that a woman hide in three bags of wheat flour until all the bags were leavened and ready to bake refers to the good use of small quantities to affect large lots. 

Thus, a term could be used to convey contradictory meaning if we are not conversant with the customs and period of the saying.  In the Levant, cultivators believe that “zouan” will grow among wheat no mater how careful we proceed in sawing fields. Consequently, it is advisable to rotate the field to grow other kinds of harvests in order to have the opportunity to pull out all the “zouan” that spoiled the field for later wheat harvests.

           

Jesus said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman who had misplaced one of her ten coins.  She searches all nights and all days (when the husband is not home), she searches in every nook and cranny and she sweep the floor until she finds the missing coin.  Then this woman would call up her neighboring women friends to join her and celebrate” (Most of the time they spend more on these gathering than what the coin was worth).  People worked hard to earn a coin and the man of the house would invariable express his displeasure for a missing coin and every women had gone through the same experience many times in their lives and it was a real occasion for women to gather, recount, and recall their daily troubles.  There are times for anxiety and relentless searches and times for relaxation and sharing. 

There are moments for prioritizing our quests and leaving many tasks undone to focus on an urgent one, such as saving our soul in order not to anger our Lord.  This story is almost identical in meaning as the shepherd who leaves 99 head of sheep grazing unattended in order to find the lost one.

 

On Women:

Regardless of exterior behaviors of “non-polite” communication with women, men have utmost respect and considerations for their wives and sisters and girls. Inside the homes the couples are at par in responsibilities and duties if not biased toward the wives; “When there is love affectation is redundant”.  In that spirit, it is the good intensions that count and not the actual behaviors.  

The Levantine regards the expressions “If you please”, or “be kind enough” are superfluous because love and respect are natural and come with the territory.  This behavior is compatible with the simple and rough daily living; houses are simply furnished with the basic necessities and the entire family members sleep and eat in one room or two; there are no exclusive rooms or quarters for the grown ups; and thus privacy is not a priority.

The tradition of nomadic tribes raiding sedentary affluent villages and taking women captives heightened the protective customs in the Levant and restricted women’s work within the villages.   Women were restrained from showing off and retorting vehemently in gatherings of men.   

The attitude of men of adopting the two extreme behaviors of sanctifying women (horma) and occasional “contempt” might convey a feeling of disdain but it is basically a childish behavior coupled with lack of a cultural life that the harsh demands for survival do not reserve time for “luxury”.  The Hebraic laws considered women with no soul and thus could be transacted as chattel; this is not the case for the rest of the people of the Land; and thus this huge cultural difference between the Hebrew Mosaic traditions and the traditions in the Levant.

“Thus spoken God; they will come carrying the little girls over the shoulders.  Kings will be your vassals and queens will nurse you”  The custom of carrying kid girls over shoulders is widely practiced in the Levant; mother resumes her daily tasks while the kid girls sit on their shoulders while getting a hold on the head. The prophet Isaiah (Ashaya) speaks in imageries what the “noble” class in the Levant expects the common people to practice in their presence.

New Born were wrapped like mummies; first they are washed with lukewarm water and their bodies rubbed with salt and then scented before a square piece of cloth join their arms by the side of the body and the legs stretched.  An unwanted baby or when someone is cursed the maxim says “You were not rubbed with salt when you were born”

 

On Feet.

Feet were considered dirty because people went barefoot or wearing thongs at best. The same is true when John the Baptist said about the coming Messiah “I will be most honored if he permit me to untie his shoe lace” because feet were considered dirty parts of the body and stooping near feet is not acceptable and thus, the custom of sitting by the feet of a nobility is a mark of homage bestowed on him.  When the sister of Martha, Mary of Magdala, pours expensive perfumes on Jesus’ feet and rubbed them with her hair she was expressing her complete humiliation and attesting to the Messiah status of Jesus. 

Note 1: The people in the Levant are people of faith; they refrain from rationally structuring their religion into dogma.  The early Christian communities relied on the custom of brotherhood and faith in the community. It is only when Christian communities were established in Greece and Rome that structuring got underway.  Hundreds of Christian sects mushroomed in the Levant according to a few alterations in the re-structuring of the dogma that spanned into political and self autonomous sects.  After the conclave of Nicee (Turkey) in 325, during the pagan Emperor Constantine, the Church got highly structured and hierarchical; the pagan ceremonies, symbols, and pageantry were introduced to win over the pagans who were in the majority.  Since then, persecution of the “heretic” Christian sects started and is still alive into modern time.

Note 2:  I am no theologian, and frankly, I don’t feel hot for any structured and formalized religions.  I am a guy who is appalled by sects abusing religion for political ends, for institutional profit, and for personal aggrandizement.  Occasionally, a few books of historical nature in matter of religion drop into my hands and they expose a few lethal fallacies; I have no choice but to react, expose the confusion related to abstract concepts out of their historical, geographical, and cultural context.  I cannot withstand sects that abolish individual reflection for the benefit of the “collectivity” or their close knit communities. I disseminate what my personal reflections feel right to inform and educate.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

May 2020
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