Monday, September 29, 2008

Ramadan Ends - Bajram Begins

Prayer Beads

Every year, Muslims spend one entire month in daytime fasting.

Ramadan is the holiest month on the lunar Islamic calendar — a time for fasting, taming human passions, and developing compassion for those less fortunate ("O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may aquire self-restraint ". (Qur'an 2:183)

In 2008, Ramadan began on Monday, September 1 and continued for 30 days, ending on Tuesday, September 30. Traditional fasting during Ramadan begins at sunrise or Fajr, and ends at sundown or Maghrib, when foods prepared especially for the month of Ramadan are eagerly devoured!

The entire month finally culminates in the Festival of Fast-Breaking or "Eid-ul-Fitr" which is observed by families or entire neighborhoods who come together to worship and celebrate the end of Ramadan in thanksgiving for life's many bounties. The end of Ramadan begins with the first sighting of the new moon in the night sky.

In Macedonia, there is more celebrating than worshipping that occurs. It is the main Albanian holdiay of the year and is celebrated just like Orthodox Christmas is here AND more along the lines of "Thanksgiving" in American (this last observation is from Habibe).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Night at the Opera

Habibe, Agim and the girls invited us to an evening at the "Albanian Opera House" in Skopje. It was a surprise because it was in "English" and was written by an American composer. The title is "The Captivation of Eunice Williams".

There were Albanians, Macedonians and some visiting partners from the International Fund of Music and Art who participated in the production. It was held in the the Albanian Theatre in Skopje:

The story (a true one) behind the opera is explained at the end of this blog posting:

It was very interesting that this opera was performed in an Albanian Theatre House during Ramadan (Islamic Holy Time of Fasting), but the Albanians who were in the opera were portraying Puritan and Catholic characters. There was a time in the opera where the father (who was a minister) opens a copy of the Bible and reads from it. Then everyone was speaking English. The best English speakers were the Albanians, so we assumed that they also understood more of what they were saying and singing than did the Macedonian performers (who consider themselves to be Christian and would have no problem speaking as such in a play or opera). Very unusual performance.

Here are scenes from the opera:

"The Captivation of Eunice Williams"
Eunice Kanenstenhawi Williams was born in Deerfield, Massachusetts, on 17 September 1696, the daughter of Puritan minister Rev. John Williams and his wife Eunice Mather Williams.
On 29 February 1704, the Williams' home was attacked during a raid led by French and Mohawk fighters that became known as the Deerfield Massacre.

Eunice's six-week-old sister, Jerusha, and younger brother, John, Jr., were killed by hatchets inside the Williams' home. Eunice, her parents, and four of her siblings siblings were taken captive and forced to set out on a strenuous march northward. The next day, her mother was killed by a hatchet after she fell while crossing the icy waters of the Green River.

Eunice and the surviving members of her family reached Fort Chambly in Quebec six weeks later; from there she was taken to Kahnawake, a settlement of Christian Mohawks near Montreal, where she was adopted by a woman who had recently lost her own daughter in a smallpox epidemic.

Eunice was given the symbolic name Waongote, meaning "one who is planted like an Ashe", and was instructed in the Mohawk language and customs, and catechized in the Roman Catholic religion.

As soon as the residents of Deerfield learned that their captured relatives were being held in Quebec, they commenced negotiations through various intermediaries to ransom them. During these months, Rev. Williams was allowed to meet with Eunice on two occasions; both times he responded to her requests for guidance by telling her to frequently recite the Puritan Catechism. When his freedom was finally arranged, he sought to have Eunice reunited with him but was told by an intermediary that this was impossible because the Mohawk people with whom she was living "would as soon part with their hearts as the child.”

The Reverend John Fessenden (1804-1881), pastor of the Deerfield church, delivered this sermon in 1835 before, among others, a party of St. Francis Abenakis. The Native people who "attended the service on Sunday in a divine and orderly manner" claimed to be descendants of Eunice Williams on a visit to the graves of her mother and father, the Reverend and Mrs. Williams.

The thesis of the sermon - that all people are of one blood descended from Adam and Eve - underscored the connection between the Williamses of Deerfield and their "cousins" in Canada, the descendants of Eunice and her husband, Arosen.

An encampment of Abenakis from St. Francis in areas around Greenfield and Deerfield caused local people some uneasiness when they were first discovered. The Indians were descendants of Eunice Williams, seven-year-old daughter of the Reverend John Williams, who was captured during the Deerfield Raid in 1704 and carried to Canada. Eunice married a Mohawk and spent her life in an Indian village in Canada. The twenty-five Abenaki were described in the article as "comfortably well off" with a good supply of blankets and robes.

Eunice died on November 26, 1785 (aged 89)in Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada.

When we came out of the theatre, it was just after 11:20 pm. What a great 2 1/2 hours of entertainment. And how sweet of Agim and Habibe to plan this surprise for us.

The end to a beautiful evening.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Margo's 50th Birthday

We took Margo out for her birthday celebration. It was a wet and much-needed rainy day and we had a great time together.

We went by their apartment and picked them up for lunch (2pm here). We went to the Kamnik Restaurant (set in a wooded area of Skopje). This photo was taken from the steps of the Restaurant entrance.

Kamnik Restaurant

Some of the decorations in the restaurant:

The food was wonderful. This is the country-bread dish that Margo had:

Everything was beautifully presented:

And was served on these Czech Republic dishes.

We were at the restaurant until almost 7 pm. We have LONG, LEISURELY lunches around here. And as good as the food and atmosphere were, the fun and fellowship were even better.

Arville and Brane

Then they brought the cake and we sang "Happy Birthday" in English (which has become a Macedonian tradition, I think). All the children know the "Happy Birthday" song -- but only in English!!!

Tiramasu Cake

Margo opens her present from me - a new blouse and these earrings.

When we took Margo and Brane back to their apartment (after hours of remembering all the past occasions over the past 9 years that we have known each other), she opened her purse and pulled out a card from the first birthday celebration we had for her. It was a watercolored card with a note that I had written to her 7 years ago. She said that she has kept all of them - and would add the one I gave her this year to the collection - but that she always carried the watercolored card in her purse with her. I cried of course!!! That is probably why she saved that bit of information until we got back to their apartment. HA!

On our way home, there was an important person coming to Skopje, and there were police officers everywhere. This is the traffic we were in for about 20 minutes - just waiting for the security vehicles to come through.

I turned around and saw this scene behind us. So I made good time of the wait - even though I did have to stand in the rain for a few minutes to get this photo. Lovely view, isn't it?

On the way to our apartment, we pass the new American Embassy being built in Skopje. It is supposedly the largest in Europe --- does someone know something we don't know?? This is a picture of it on the hill.

We arrived back at our apartment around 8pm (yes, from lunch!!).

Our Apartment Building

And our elevator (we live on the 5th floor). Doesn't this panel in the elevator make one feel confident??? The elevator was made in Zagreb in 1973 but it is still working.

(Mary Beth, this photo is for you. HA!)