September 26, 2006

setting my face like flint

Every so often I get a slight surge of learning and finding myself really "here", adapting ever so slightly. It's not that I am distant wishing myself to be away from Albania - it's more that I am a stranger to this people and this land and its culture, identity and "being". The great thing is that I have a desire (sometimes stronger sometimes weaker) to understand, to know, to allow into my heart Albanians, Albania and its life, losses needs and strengths.

I've come to understand better the fear of me being out alone as the sun begins to set, and why and older lady in church would say - "don't speak to your neighbours". I just couldn't get it - what is up with people - will they attack me, will they be decietful to me? Why do people speak about their own people this way - are they not one of whom they speak? Will I ever be able to be "me" here? I met with another loving and wise woman from the church and she tried to explain things to me. I'm not sure that she told me any thing new - but somehow Gods Spirit gave me a flash of intuition or something registered in me, and I saw how I could adapt and begin to express myself in relation to these "rules"

It's about public opinion. There is such a strong sense of people needing to appear right in the sight of others. And this for may reasons... When it comes to girls they need to be so chaste. If there is a hint that a girl is seen with a boy or man alone - even out in a busy public place, then there is the insinuation that talks are being had and an engagement is being arranged. This girl would lose her chances of marriage with anyone else. Marriage is extremely important, and it is the desire of every family and even the neccessity that the daughters be married. If they reach the age of 23 without being married - then there is a lot of shame really and the girl is pitied. It's very difficult for Christian girls as there are not many young Christian men, so they end up marrying Muslims or unbelievers - through the demands of their families. It is unheard of for a single girl to live alone. I have alot to prove in regard to my reputation. Here in Albania - there is a great call to be respectable. (which is why it is so confusing with the western way of life pouring in to Albania - such strong deep traditions and consience with an exploding revolution of morals and thirst, hunger and greed for material bettering and gain)

I could go on and write a lot more - but I better not. But I have found that I need to be respectable by Albanian standards to be respected - and that will take a good year or two to prove. I am being watched constantly, I have been told. I need to be serious and show that I have purpose - I am not here to play around and be frivilous, so therefore I greet my neighbours and interact respectfully with them, but I don't extend my own conversations, smiles, laughing and extra's. I go out on my bike and no meandering here and there - I don't make myself look out of place. Women here don't go to cafes alone, and there are only certain cafes a woman can go. Women don't do anything out in public except walk with sisters, mothers, aunts or male family members, buy the shopping and return home. A woman should never be out alone after the sun sets. I think women have few rights here - though they are not always under the heavy hand of the patriarch as once all were, they still have far less rights or value or freedoms. I don't talk to men at all - though I can extend a greeting like good morning to those who I see often - like my neighbours. I can respond - but very sensibly and courteously. So no great smiles and hand waves and conversations with the people out on the streets. I love to smile and say hello to people! But this "setting my face like flint" is really good for me here. It's good to be direct and sure and be done away with what I have known as just being friendly. In this context it is good. And I will abide with what is right here. I can be respectable to others, and I can show that I am respectable, and to be respected too. And when the time comes for people to trust and really connect genuinely - they can come to see that I am warm hearted with Gods love! And I do still smile, when I can... and I make it as warm as I can.

I want to understand much deeper - who and why the Albanians are.

It was funny last night. I left my bycicle locked up at the bottom of the pallati (apartment block) and I forgot it. My neighbours on the fifth floor had packed up there little market stall where they sit each day and they - husband and wife made their way home. I really like this couple - I greet them each day and have had very small conversations. They are Muslim. Well the wife knocked on my door - it was unusual as it was dark and getting late. She quickly said - "Quick - go down and get your bike. Quick! Quick!" She did me a good favor. She told me off a little - but she did from a point of my interest. I felt that I could trust her a bit more because of that, and I felt a little Albanian too! Getting a telling off from an elder!

I'm going to find my place in Albania - unique land of the eagles.

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