We were shopping for last-minute souvenirs in Beirut’s City Mall when the power went out.
“Ah, must be 6 o’clock already,” my colleagues and I agreed.
As we said this, the saleswoman could only laugh, marveling at the fact that her North American visitors already had become familiar with one of Lebanon’s less delightful idiosyncrasies.
Yes, at 6 p.m. each evening, the power goes out. The government provides 12 hours of electricity per day, we were told. Afterward, the nation is powered by backup generators. So for a few moments, an entire country is literally powerless.
To some extent, this circumstance is a great equalizer. We saw it happen in a dreary Palestinian refugee camp and also in the elaborate meeting room of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch.
In the latter case, the Catholicos of Cilicia, Aram I Kashishian, simply kept talking without skipping a beat.
In the former, the darkness fell just as I had raised my camera to photograph two young women working in a small market in the Dbayeh camp. As they waited for the light to return, the girls laughed and joked good-naturedly in French, pretending as though they were on a modeling shoot. “Ah, c’est jolie! Magnifique!”
On yet another occasion, the power flickered out at Notre Dame University during the middle of the day, during an interview with a class of very bright, engaged students. Seeing a photographer panic at the loss of light, one student chuckled and said simply, “Welcome to Lebanon.”
In the moment, I marveled at the ability of the Lebanese to accept the situation and make the best of it without complaint. There I was, traveling thousands of miles from home, and I fretted nightly over not having faster wireless in my hotel room.
This week, our offices here at St. Anthony Messenger Press were plagued by a server crash Wednesday afternoon. We didn’t come back online until Friday morning, but to our computer-centric staff, the “dark time” felt like weeks.
Whatever would we do without e-mail? Without the Internet!?!?
It’s amazing what we take for granted, isn’t it?
How lucky we are to be so comfortable in our daily lives!
Since I’ve gotten home, I’ve been trying to recognize 6 p.m. each night, to remind myself of the many people I met in Lebanon who inspired me and touched my heart.
Their spirit is, without question, a brightly shining light.