We’ve been at site for 6 months today. Lent starts Sunday.
Kosova is very seasonal, especially in the villages, and we’re all waiting out winter. The weather keeps taunting us with spring, but doesn’t actually thaw anything. The snow thats been sitting in the shadows for the past two weeks. The unheated bedrooms. The blocked water pipes, which we forgot to leave running a few days ago.
Reports of pre-industrial Europe are basically Game of Thrones without the dragons. While the warrior class killed one another, peasants hibernated through the winter, sleeping together under heaps of blankets on floor pads, and eating pickled cabbage and stale bread. Not much happened in the winter. Ladies might spin, knit, and bake. Men might drink hot ale and fight. Post-industrial Europe is still like that is in poor rural areas, only with electricity, running water, and television. So much television. And much less spinning. Only the machines spin, which is convenient, but also something of an impoverishment. When I made a seasonal schedule back in pre-service training, January and February had “school” and a picture of a cup of macchiato. That was it. In villages without cafes, there aren’t even macchiatos.
When I went to one of the big tourist cafes downtown, I was surprised and perplexed to encounter a colony of rabbits, hopping about under the tables and in the planters. They were a sorry lot, all damp, greasy, probably living off of leftovers too rich for them, kicked and dropped, held by their ears and given to clumsy children. Still, there they were, coming up to and under tables, foraging for treats. I had just bought some oatmeal, which was tucked into my bag, and at one point there were ten little bunnies nosing the bag to see if there was anything for them. I tried asking the waiter, but he either didn’t hear, or chose not to. So it remains a mystery. Last time I was at the restaurant, drinking a macchiato and writing, the waiter traded pens with me because he liked the translucent blue on my credit union pen, and has a whole collection of pens at home.
Today our school had a little three dog circus, where the showman juggled (rather poorly), and got the dogs to jump through hoops, roll cylinders, ride a tricycle, walk on their hind legs, and jump over or push children and one another around.
Last Sunday was the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and it was pretty festive. There was a choir and some others visiting from Belgrade, singing beautiful Slavic harmonies during Liturgy. The church was a little heated, and my feet didn’t go numb, even though we were in the spacious cathedral. The bishop of Prizren was there for the first time since I’ve been going. Afterwards, we all went to the giant new guesthouse at the old Archangels Monastery just outside of town, and had a festive meal featuring, among other things, wine, rakia, and pork. The choir sang hymns, and some of the boys played folk songs on accordion, drums, and violin, and people danced in the isle. They found me an air traffic controller to sit across from and speak English with. It was lovely.
We had another Peace Corps training last week. It was nice to see the other volunteers, but I otherwise didn’t get what I had hoped out of it.
Social life is hard. Not so much in the cities. There we can have mixed groups of Americans and Albanians, sometimes Serbians, speaking mostly in English, with some Shqip mixed in. It’s hard in the village, where every visit is an inter-generational house visit, entirely in Shqip. The most unexpectedly difficult thing about social interaction is how difficult it is to even want to hang out with people when the TV is on all the time. And it’s on pretty much all the time, in every house I’ve been in.
After several years of meaning to, I finally finished reading The Sun Also Rises by Earnest Hemingway. Mostly it just made me even more tired and apathetic than I already was. Outside the context of the communities in which they are celebrated, fiestas and cafe hopping are, as it turns out, much less interesting than one would hope. Meet some people, get drunk with some other people, get in a fight, make a short term friend, drink some more, make some poor relationship decisions, drink a lot more, run out of money, pretend like you haven’t. There’s so little context for any of what’s happening, aside from the fact that none of it matters very much. I can’t imagine from what context this book would be a good one. If you’re already living this cycle of superficial friendship out, it’s depressingly familiar, and if not, it’s a rather dull story about directionless people.
At the recommendation of a friend, I also read Foreign to Familiar, a short book about the general distinctions between “hot climate” and “cold climate” cultures, terms which are a little misleading, since Northern tribes are “hot climate,” whereas large cities anywhere tend to be more “cold climate,” regardless of the climate they live in. It’s pretty good for what it is, though not so revelatory as the author sometimes makes it out to be. It covers some of the basics: in some cultures politeness might require you to defer a few times on invitations, while in others you won’t be asked a second time. In some cultures you’re expected to get right to work on projects or meetings, and in others you’re expected to socialize and create positive feelings first. In some, you should get to events right on time, where in others, you should start getting ready at the announced time. The relational/time flexible values tend to clump together in “hot climate” cultures, whereas the task oriented/time specific values tend to clump together on “cold climate” cultures. It’s a good generalized guide to some of the different cultural styles in the world.
If you’re wondering about the post title, it’s from the lovely Triodion hymn, Open to me the doors of repentance.