I got to celebrate my first here holiday with my host family! Being a predominantly Muslim country, Albania celebrates a national holidays called Novruz Day on the 22nd. They make a huge plate of byrek (traditional pastry) and fill it will as many green foods as they can. My family just had a regular byrek so I was happy. Then they hide a coin in the middle, and whoever gets the piece of byrek with the coin will have good luck for the rest of the year. Sound familiar? I tried to explain to my family that a lot of people in the US do the same with king cake on Fat Tuesday before lent. It’s honestly surprising how similar our celebrations and holidays are all around the world…even between such different faiths as Catholicism and Islam. Albania is really not that different from the US.
Of course this got us all talking about religion (a big no-no in the unofficial peace corps handbook for being a successful volunteer) At first I got the obvious questions of, are you Christian or Muslim? I knew they wouldn’t care either way, that they were just curious; so I tried my best to explain that my family is Christian but I don’t practice any faith because I’m open to them all. Nicely played, I thought. Way to wiggle around the question so you don’t have to disclose information that could them judge me the wrong way. But no, I was wrong. What they understood was that I was an atheist who believes in nothing. Judging by the looks of disapproval and confusion on their faces, I quickly backtracked. I tried to explain that I do believe in faith, I just don’t identify with or practice anything. “Po, po, po” (Yes, yes, yes). Thinking I had eloquently cleared that hurdle, I smiled and continued eating. Not 5 seconds later, they turn to me and ask, so do you believe in aliens then? Now this I had no idea how to answer. This one was definitely not in the manual. How does being Christian or atheist mean I believe in alieans again? Someone remind me because for the life of me I could not figure out how I steered the conversation into this murky water. Ummm, when I see it, I’ll believe it! I joked. Finally she smiled and muttered, Shume mire, shume mire (very good very good). Hopefully this one won’t come back to haunt me later.