Here I am in the mountains near the Kosovo-Albanian-Macedonian border, and I am teaching creative writing at the American Corners in Totova. This morning we had 14 students in the group and almost all of them speak and write Albanian. They come from several of the villages in the mountains that live by an ancient code as well as the laws of Macedonia. Several of the students were two hours late because the travel time from their villages is so lengthy.
The ancient code, now adhered to only very rarely and in very remote places, requires avenging the honor of your family regardless of the law. It also allows a family without adult men to allow a virgin woman in the family to become a man so that she can represent the family in the market and mosque. Some of the very old women who have lived by this code have been interviewed in the media recently so this ancient practice is a popular subject of conversation among the teachers. They assure me that the ancient medieval code is only handed down by way of oral transmission and is only still obeyed in a very small mountainous region of Albania. Since I am surrounded by computers and all the modern conveniences, it is hard to imagine the code of honor that mountain families live by with its requirements of revenge, the danger that it could cause a family, and the amount of time some of my students are willing to travel in order to be in the creative writing workshop.
I have yet to see a drop of rain in Macedonian; nevertheless, the fields are full of corn, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and the markets sell tiny pears and apples, apricots, oranges, cherries, and green peppers which people carry home in great numbers. The people walk to the market in the morning and return home with their bags of vegetables, fruit, and bread. As they walk back home,they are tempted by the smell of bakeries and sizzling meat, either goat or sheep, on grills.
Totova is very peaceful now, but these people in very grave danger just a few years ago. There are metal racks of long, colorful skirts for sale to the Roma women who comprise a large minority of the people of this region.
This morning the government had doctors in the plaza taking the blood pressure and blood sugar of people who volunteered to be tested and many older Macedonians came to be tested. There are clearly many initiatives to make improvements in the quality of life of the citizens of Macedonia. Lawn mowers are busy cutting the green grass of the plaza, murdering beautiful purple and yellow wildflowers as they go.
More Anon from the Macedonian Express, Merrilee Cunningham, Writers in the Schools