Sunday, September 11, 2005

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been, Part 2.

The "Trip" Begins....

Sometime in the early 80's or so, I heard for the first time about an odd little Communist country, virtually isolated from the rest of the world, the communism was so strict there. A country that was different from all it's neighbors-in culture, in language, in outlook on life of it's people. A country called....Albania. Even the name, I found, was fascinating! And for some reason, I felt like I wanted to know more about it....why it was different from it's neighbors, how it got to be like it was, what the people there were like, etc. So sometime around the mid 80's, I started begining to read about this tiny place. Except there was one problem-not too much stuff about it was available. But what I could get my hands on, I read. And as I read, I started to realise at the bottom of my consciousness that there was something more to that place and it's people for me than just mere weird curiosity. I began to become aware that there was some sort of affinity there, which I could truly not understand or explain (I think at that point I wasn't even yet consciously aware of what it was exactly that made me feel attracted to Albania and it's people, just that something, for some reason, did). And all that did was make me want to know more.

Flash forward to 1991-end of the Gulf War. Shortwave radios, which had been scarce and expensive during the crisis, were now plentiful and if not cheap, at least a bit more reasonable. I got my first shortwave that spring, and among other things, one of the radio stations I determined I wanted to listen to was Radio Tirana, the "official" radio station of the newly democratised Albania. I discovered from the shortwave guide I bought that there were several emmissions to N. America from Albania on SW at that time. There were only two very brief ones in the evening in English, but a much longer one-4 hours!-each night in Albanian, for those in the "diaspora" community. So I started to listen, when I could pick them up, to the English broadcasts (I hadn't took upon myself to learn Albanian yet). They were nice, though too short to be anything "special". There was one thing that *was* special about them, though: They always played one or two Albanian songs. From the moment I heard the first song for the first time, there was something that resonated in my heart. Now music has always been important to me, and I have found spiritual sustinance in many different forms of music. But nothing, not even liturgical music or Gregorian chant, did to the innermost fibres of my being what this music from this "strange" little country did. It set off a vibration inside me unlike any I'd ever felt before or since. One more thing, one more very profound thing, that said to me that "Somehow, for some reason, there is something about these people I identify with, and I need to know more".

April 1993. I had started in the last two years to check out books from the UW Library on Albania. And it was starting to get clearer and clearer in my mind, between the reading and listening to the music on the shortwave broadcasts (which by now I was listening to the Albanian language ones exclusively, even though I had no idea what they were talking or singing about exactly!) just why I was attracted to this people and their lands. I was starting to realise that for the first time in my life, I had encountered, if only so far at a "distance", perhaps the first group of people in my life whose experiences on a corporate level matched mine on an individual one. Like them, I knew what it was like to get dumped on for being guilty of nothing more than being just a little bit different from everybody else around you. I knew what it was like to take hassling and harrassment from others, all for the supposed "crime" of being myself, and having the guts to be so, and so did they know what this felt like.

And I discovered we shared the same values. In a world where a person's "word" seemed to mean less and less all the time, Albanians considered a promise a sacred trust. And so did I. Albanians believed in sticking up for what you believe in and standing by your friends always, without exception, no matter what the cost. And so did I. And so in the spring of 1993, I embarked in the next part of the journey, a part that something inside me told me would be a major part-indeed, a necessary part-of the key to understanding just why I felt this affinity for a people that I'd still never had yet met before. I started to teach myself the Albanian language.

Coming soon-Part 3, In which the last pieces of the "puzzle" fall into place!
What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been, Part One


When I started this blog, I promised that I would detail how I managed to get involved with, and eventually become, a member of the Albanian community. I decided to title this entry "What a long, strange trip....", not because *I* feel in and of myself that there was anything strange about it, nor that my Albanian friends (more like brothers and sisters now) feel there was, but rather that I recognise that to most (non-Albanian) folks, it may seem strange, considering how in "Anglo-Saxon" (i.e. Standard American, esp. Standard Middle American) culture, things like family, ethnicity, where and to what you should belong and why, etc., are often defined by people rather differently than I define them.

In other words, most folks I run into, though they respect my relationship with the Albanian community, and seem to be glad for me that I've found a place where I feel comfortable and "at home", nonetheless are a little perplexed that a guy like me, white, of western European extration (French, German, English, Scottish, Irish), Christian (though that's another area where people find out I don't exactly fit in with the mainstream, though that's a post for another time), in otherwords more or less like them and everybody else around them, felt the need to associate myself with a people and a culture from eastern Europe. Well, like a lot of things in my life, it is both very simple, and not that simple at all to explain, and it's been many years since the last time someone felt compelled to ask me about it, but I'm gonna try to (once again) explain how all this in my life came about.

I guess I should start by saying that I'm a bit of what used to be called by sociologists a "marginal man", a person who has enough in common with various divergent social groups that he can flit between them socially, yet not have enough in common with any given one of them to truly "fit in", to truly be accepted by the members of that given group as "one of them"; in other words, to truly find a home amongst one (or more) of them.

For example, I have always been a Science Fiction fan. However, my prefered "manner of ingestion" of that genre is, and always has been, in "media" format, i.e. movies, TV shows, old radio shows, games, etc. I'm not, and never have been, that big a reader of *literary* fiction, regardless of genre. And while most SF fan communities are pretty tolerant of those who are mostly media SF fans, the SF community in the place where I settled (Madison, WI) is predominantly literary in nature-they're way more into books than they are movie and TV SF. Also, they tend to be pretty political, esp. on issues of church-state separation, feminism, and so forth, which I'm not (not that they aren't important, just that neither is something I feel the need to get overtly political about).

Another example: I also like RPG (role-playing games), esp. D&D, but I am also a staunch monotheist-even in my fantasy worlds. I've always insisted in creating "parallel earths" (think the show "Sliders", if you're not familiar with the concept), ones where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam exist, just like in our world, for those playing in my campaigns to run their characters in. Only thing is that for a lot of D&D (and other Fantasy RPG) players, polytheism, i.e. "da gods", is an important part and parcel of the game. They like their "gods", like having their characters interacting with them, etc. While I, on the other hand, feel uncomfortable in the main either playing in or running such a world, even though it's only "make-believe". Hence, it has always been hard for me to find and attract people to play in my campaigns (though there are other factors as well, ones that affect every campaign, like free time available, scheduling, etc.). Oh, there've been people interested, just that from the total possible pool of players, those who think playing in a monotheistic world is "cool" are pretty minimal. And so, I often found that I was a less-than-perfect fit within the gaming community, even though I love D&D and other RPGs.

So there have been many groups that I've been associated with, but never felt like I truly belonged in, mainly because the members of said group caused me to feel that way-like I was just a little too "outre" for them; just far enough outside the "minimum requirements" to fit in. Among other groups where I've experienced this, I'd include SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism-nice people, but largely Neo-Pagan, which I'm not), and organised Christianity (I'm a Unitarian Christian, and it's harder than heck to find Unitarian churches that are explicitly Christian....outside of the proverbial "neighborhood of Boston", that is).

Another thing is that I've always been fascinated by things that others might consider "strange", or "unusual", or "odd". A "xenophile", in other words. I've always wondered why they are, how they got to be that way, why people in the main consider them "strange" or "weird" or whatever, etc. I often think part of this comes from being around my Dad. He was a sociology prof for over 30 years, so I guess the nut doesn't fall far from the tree. :) I've always been curious about things that were "different", and what made them tick, even if I felt no particular affinity-or even downright revulsion-for the thing or social phenomena in question.

Coming in Part 2-The "Trip" Begins!

Monday, September 05, 2005

President Rugova stricken with lung cancer

I hope everyone will pray, or at least send positive thoughts/vibes the way of Pres. Rugova in his time of need. I know lung cancer is one of the most deadly forms of that horrible scourge on mankind, and pray that they caught it in time like they did with my dad (almost 22 years cancer free now).

Kosovo president has lung cancer
Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova says he has been diagnosed with lung cancer, but will not step down.

Mr Rugova, looking weak and frail, said in a TV address to the people of the UN-run province he would have intensive treatment and "overcome this battle".

He will continue to seek his goal of independence from Serbia, he said.

Mr Rugova, regarded as a moderate ethnic Albanian and re-elected last October, was reported to have fallen ill with flu last week.

He cancelled some engagements, and spent several days at the US military medical centre in Landstuhl, Germany.

"Doctors have found that I suffer from a localised lung cancer and they have assigned me an intensive healing therapy," he said.

"I am convinced that with the help of God I will overcome this battle."

Kosovo has been under UN administration since 1999, when a Nato bombing campaign against Serbia stopped Serb forces expelling the ethnic-Albanian majority during an Albanian separatist insurgency.

Mr Rugova led passive resistance to Serbian rule in the 1990s.

Correspondents say his illness could endanger talks planned for later this year on the province's future status.

The minority Serb population is bitterly opposed to independence.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/09/05 11:04:02 GMT

I shouldn't have to say this, but....

If you haven't contributed to any of the relief efforts for hurricane Katrina, then PLEASE, DO SO NOW!

For those reading the blog who are Albanian, or friends of the Albanian community, there is an Albanian community in New Orleans too, as well as a large, well-established, long-term Arberesh (Italo or Sicilio-Albanian, for those who've never heard the term before) community, too. So we have our own amongst those who are suffering right now. But that shouldn't be the reason you contribute to any relief efforts. The reason should be that, no matter what our origins, or how much pride we take in them, when it comes right down to it, there is only *one* race-the human one. And right now, there are hundreds of thousands-indeed millions-suffering in LA, MS, and AL. They need our help. Whatever you can do, no amount is too little, and you can never give too much. So give, and give as much as you can, to the charity or aid organisation of your choice. Falemnderit.