Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blood feud

“This belongs in a history text book, not an event occurring in the middle of Europe in 2010.”

So spoke the director of the Evangelical Alliance in Albania. We attended a rally on Saturday morning in the middle of Tirana, joining with 1000s from churches across Albania to protest the killing of a pastor in Shkodra. My husband worked with the pastor's sister in law. The pastor himself has left a wife, a 6 yr old & a 9 yr old. (Incidentally, the poster above says "No to blood feuds, yes to life.") The woman on the podium is the pastor's wife.

The killing was the result of a blood feud. (I'll tell you the story in a moment)

It was incredibly moving & yet incredibly surreal,because of what it was about. I've been teaching Romeo &Juliet this term & have got the students to research blood-feuds in Albania & compare it to 16th century Verona. It really has brought the play to life as they are living in a context where “ancient grudge break(s) to new mutiny” & “civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” Amazing, a 400 year old text, & it's still happening.

There isn't much history of protesting in Albania. I think it's the fear legacy of the communists probably. But the churches came out in force on Saturday morning to commemorate this brave man who died as a result of this anachronistic practice that still rages on in Albania.

In 2010. In a European country. One which is desperate to join the EU. It is scarcely credible.

Blood feuds were an ancient device (pre FIFTEENTH century) for resolving conflicts & bringing about 'justice'. It has been common in many cultures but rarely has it been so formally codified as it has in Albania in the Kanun (The Code) the code governed all aspects of life in the northern clans (marriage, property,taxes) & the 2 most important aspects were (& still are) Honour & Hospitality The Kanun also attempted to regulate revenge killings & reconcile feuds between rival clans.

If a man is killed by someone in a rival clan (even accidentally), then the family of the murdered man must preserve family honour by killing a member of the rival clan, preferably the murderer himself, but failing that any close male relative. It isn't rocket science to work out that surely that means eventually both clans will die out. But this went on for generations.

The Kanun method of ending blood-feud was 'besa' a truce brought about by negotiation; a marriage between families (Friar Lawrence's intention in Romeo & Juliet), a Meal of Blood truce, or the payment of a 'tribute' (that's cash not compliment) But it didn't always work & wasn't always permanent. And so the cycle would begin again involving the male members of society. This led to men locking themselves in a 'lock-in' tower for years sometimes, till a blood feud was resolved. Such as this one.

This is in Thethi, the only remaining one in Albania which is accessible to visitors. They wd climb up, pull the ladder up, climb up to the next floor & pull the ladder up again. With very little light & only slits for windows, it must have been a miserable existence. Because the women aren't vulnerable in a blood-feud, they would bring food to their men folk.

Communism suppressed blood-feuds pretty comprehensively for 45 years, (they were pretty good at suppression).However, they re-emerged in the 1990s & have become a serious & ongoing problem. The Code excludes women & children from revenge killing, but, whether because the Kanun code was maintained orally, (not written down until the 19th century), or whether it is just blood lust, is hard to say but the ancient Kanun customs have taken on insidious interpretations. Many young boys cannot go to school to leave their house (the Kanun says you are safe in your house but if you leave it you can be killed. Furthermore any male relative is now fair game, no matter how distant. In fact women & children have also been killed on occasion too.

The Director of the Evangelical Alliance who organised the rally, appeared on TV with four young Albanian boys who are “in blood”. Victims of a blood feud. They appeared on a talk show under police escort, wearing black hoods. One boy described how he had never left his house in 13 of his 14 years. This was his 2nd time out. He has had no education. The government pay the family 5000 Lek 'compensation' There are currently about 1350 families still caught up in a blood-feud.

Shkodra is particularly badly affected by blood-feuds. It is 2 hours north of the capital. The system of 'besa' has broken down too. One well known activist, of the Reconciliation Missionaries group who had helped negotiate hundreds of reconcilaitions between families, was himself murdered in 2004. A revenge killing of different sort.

The pastor in Shkodra had an uncle who had murdered someone. He was very careful for about 4 years, but then said that he was a pastor & he needed to attend to his people & church & couldn't do his job in hiding, & shouldn't live in fear. He had actually been interviewed on camera about it all a few months before but at a conference, not on TV. He had said that if he was killed, then at least that would save the live of the 23 other male members of his family as the family have said they do not intend to continue revenge killings to retaliate. He was shot in broad daylight outside his church office in the middle of a busy street.

Oh & get this. The mother of the murdered man, which precipitated the feud, would say to her other son every day for 7 years as she put his meal in front of him.

“How can you sit there & eat when your brother's death goes unavenged?”

It really is like something out of Shakespeare isn't it? It was Lady Capulet in her feud who called for Romeo's death “I beg for justice...Romeo slew Tybalt, Romeo must not live.”

The man was caught (& will be out of prison in 10 years if he's good). Albanians have told me that the sense of honour is so strong that people don't mind being caught, in fact they are proud of what they have done for the family honour.

Of course many Albanians are appalled by this practice too & are desperate for their country to move into the 21st century, but so much here thwarts that goal. The government need to take it seriously of course & clamp down. But how do you begin to change attitudes? Suppression clearly didn't work, you have to change hearts.

Well, that's what Pastor Proj's life was about. He preached reconciliation & forgiveness. And love. He is a modern martyr & his death has certainly had a big impact. I hope it is not in vain.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Italian Foray

Sorry for a distinct lack of transmission recently. 2 reasons: the boring one is what seems to be our annual Autumn internet blackout, lasting 3 wks so far. The 2nd & much nicer reason is we have just had 'Fall Break' & been to Italy. One of the constant wonders (to someone from an island) is the serendipity of living with 4 countries on one's border, (incidentally do you know which 4 they are?) & Italy just across the water, which is, together with Greece, in fact the most visited of the 'spitting distance' destinations, (probably because it its the most developed).

Hoards of car ferries plough back & forth across the Adriatic sea leaving at 11p.m & arriving around 8a.m the next morning. They are all manned by Philippinos who work them 7 nights a week, floating (literally) stateless & living a life between countries & having an abode in none. They cram the cars & huge numbers of lorries in so tightly that when we came to return to our car, we had to weave back & forth in a metallic maze until we found a way to squeeze through the gaps between cars, only to reach a point too tight & so we had to double back & start again.

We were going to spend a week on the 'spur' of the heel of Italy's boot. A place called the Gargano promontory – limestone cliffs, beech forests, escarpments, wild & rocky beaches one side & sheltered powdery beaches the other. And of course endless white washed medieval towns with cobbled streets & bleached churches on rocky outcrops.

The south is becoming very fashionable, but it is still cheaper, slower paced, poorer, with strong traditions & family ties & much friendlier. In fact, more like Albania than Northern Italy, we felt. And the traffic? Not mad at all, very civilised in fact, but then I am coming from Albania.

We stopped off at a co-operative in Bitonto to buy some of the area's famous olive oil, & have breakfast. Much like Albania, many o f the caf├ęs & bar s only serve drinks, so we went into a little unassuming shop with the ubiquitous fly-screen tassles. I remember these from my childhood (IN Britain. Perhaps there were more flies 30 yr sago.......?) They are on every shop & apartment in this s area of Italy. This little shop sported a huge variety, for its size, of prosciutto crudo & hard gran padano style cheeses, so the shop assistant kindly made us rolls stuffed with parma ham & some salty cheese which we devoured sitting under this window.

We had lunch in this farm restaurant which was full of 3-generation-families enjoying lunch together, & consisted of whatever they had cooked that day, on this occasion, at least 10 mini courses of olives, antipasti, tiny soup portions, pasta etc., ending with

nuts, mini desserts & espressos. It took about 3 hrs. Fortunately our daughter

fell asleep, & our son had 'The Young James Bond' for company.

Then we stayed overnight in an old monastery in Trani where we breakfasted in a citrus tree-ed

courtyard. Our 10 y-o took this pot(below), experimenting with Mr Ingo's cast off camera. We were even served olive & sun-dried tomato focaccio bread. Salty, doughy & warm. You can get used to anything for breakfast in this kind of environment.

I must admit, loving cooking as I do, I was very excited at the prospect of eating genuine Italian food (as opposed to an Albanian version of it) & going to their food markets. We saw fishermen selling their catch from the night before & in Vieste men selling mushrooms in baskets.

Even the supermarkets sold huge brown multi floreted dark brown mushrooms which had more in comm

on it seemed, with alien life forms than those anaemic white things you get in blue plastic cellophane-wrapped tubs in the UK.

We spent our days on the beach surfing (the children in wetsuits), me doing life guard duty (spent too long in warm climes to cope with cold water anymore) & MrIngo surfing with no wetsuit, we also mountain biked in the national park & played beach cricket: as well , of course, as sampling the local red wine, cappuccinos & gelati & roaming round the little medieval towns' old quarters. On one occasion we stumbled upon a carabinieri Fiat Cinquacento in one of these impossibly narrow, hilly cobbled streets that locals drive around with such aplomb & alarming speed. The 2 policemen were escorting a young man, in hand cuffs from his home, pursued by his 'mama' clutching her cheeks & wailing dramatically. And we hadn't even stumbled upon a film set.

The only down side was our car breaking down but even that meant we got a new starter motor & a check up in a reputable garage with a mechanic who knew what he was doing & didn't rip us off. And the owner of our self catering apartment even offered us his car to use that evening should we have wished to go out somewhere.

Next time we'd like to go down to the heel & also in Basilicata, visit Matera, with its ancient cave dwellings inhabited since the Palaeolithic Age & the Mediterraneean's most extensive troglodyte complex, now , of course turned into hotels & houses, but still awe inspiring. A UNSESCO world Heritage Site. Mel Gibson's Passion Of the Christ was filmed here. This is definitely one of the perks of living abroad, the accessibility of travel options.

A welcome break, I've finally kicked off my chest infection & it's still warm back in Albania. And I have a large stash of imported olive oil, red wine & other food goodies to see me through the winter.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Wee Celebration.

My daughter is 6 years & 5months. She has worn nappies for 6 yrs & 5 months. Until September 20th 2010. On that day we went cold turkey. Complete withdrawal from nappies.

A friend back in the UK told me what she had done. I decided to take her advice. She bought 2 mattress protectors, & made the bed up twice over so that in the night when her daughter wet the bed, she would just strip off the 1st sheet & protector to reveal the next layer of sheet & protector. She said her daughter just decided to stop wearing nappies. It took 3 wks of 50% wet, 50% dry nights until she cracked it.

So I drew a deep breath & decided I would try it. After all, I could manage 3 wks couldn't I? My 6 y-o has never been dry at night. Aged 2 ½ she went about 7 days of dry nights, & I thought 'Great, we're nearly there'. She never did it again for 4 yrs. I can count on the fingers of (possibly) both hands the times she has had a dry night.

Her paediatrician in the UK has always said not to worry, some children just are late, no investigations till she's 7, don't 'lift her' at night, wait till she's ready. So I waited. And waited.

Of course I felt somehow it was a failure on my part. My parents (the Dr Spock generation) had us all dry, by day, at 18mths, with the 'catch whatever's passing through after a meal' school of thought. I don't know when we were dry at night but certainly we weren't late. Until I admitted it to someone & suddenly the stories came 'flooding' out, I had had no idea that statistically, in fact, it's very common.

My son was potty trained really quickly, & very annoyingly, by my husband. There was I, going by the book, doing star charts, soft rewards, lots of praise etc. but still we had very regular 'poo' accidents. So Mr INGO took it upon himself to ask a good friend of ours who had had 4 children what she would recommend. She said, without hesitation “Bribe him, with edible treats.” So he decided chocolate biscuits were the order of the day. Reader, it worked. Immediately, instantaneously & without a blip. Grrrrrr.

Our son also decided he wasn't wearing nappies at night & aged 3 was dry at night. I remember one night waking up rather startled to hear the sound of someone in the bathroom. But my husband was in bed next to me. We had no guests. Was it the Phantom Bathroom Burglar?

Nope, it was 3 y-o. He had got himself up, walked up the two little steps into the bathroom, done a stand up wee, in the dark- (gets that from his father), & retraced his steps, all without putting a light on, or calling for us. To coin a phrase I was 'gob-smacked'. Where did he learn to do that I wondered? Maybe that had been part of my husband's alternative potty training methods.....

So I assumed this was genetic. Early potty trainees. Hooray. Imagine my surprise when my daughter followed no such pattern. Chocolate biscuits? If only.

She had accidents every day at a nursery aged 2 ½, then managed to survive the 3 hours at nursery “pantus intactus” as it were, only to wee on the floor of our garage in Sri Lanka, as soon as we got out of the car at home. It was so perfectly timed, I found it hard to convince myself it wasn't deliberate. Potty training whilst living in Sri Lanka, at least, was easier climate wise. Tiled floors, hot weather, no clothes needed.

But on 20th September, I decided I would just have to 'hit the wall' & run through the pain barrier of being a 44 yr old having to cope with broken nights. So I did. And we had a dry night. Then another, then another. From the day of removing her nappy, my daughter has been dry every night for 2 wks without fail. I am ecstatic & she is pretty pleased with herself too. Though I do find myself wondering if she was perfectly capable before but just couldn't be bothered....

And like her brother, she gets herself up in the night & takes herself off to the loo. Unlike her brother, the 1st night this happened, she just yelled for me from her bed telling me she needed the loo, so I escorted her, then got her a torch & told her she could go by herself & so she does now, most nights, wakes herself up & goes to the loo.

So it seems it's actually much more a mental thing than a physical thing. I am now kicking myself at the pounds I have wasted on nappies wondering whether she could have done this aged 5,4 or even 3.

But my daughter, in so many ways, is a law unto herself. She just lets me think I'm in charge, when really, she knows the truth & every now & then gives me a little clue to prove the point. Mum training the child....? Ha, you wish....