Since I've been spending so much time at home lately, I decided to clean out my closet. I have a little "keepsake box", inside of which is proof of some of my life's accomplishments (should anyone ever care about them after I'm gone). This box has long been stored on a shelf, behind all my sweaters, out of sight and for the most part, out of mind. In amongst the musical memorabilia, tattered yearbooks, and old love letters, was a purple journal. I haven't been very good at documenting how I've been keeping myself busy for the last several decades and the older I get, the more difficult it becomes to recall that information. So when I found this dirty little relic, all covered in fly guts from using it as a swatter in the tiny apartment I was living in with no screens in the windows, I was curious what kinds of juicy details about myself I might encounter. I'm going to share a little passage from the journal with you.
3/12/08 Today we decided to visit a couple of monasteries in Western Macedonia. When we arrived at the first one, which was purported to be run by all men, the little monk at the gait told me I needed to put on a skirt before I would be granted entry. I let out a little chuckle and curtsied to show that I appreciated his sense of humor, but rather than returning my quip, he opened a primitive-looking wooden chest and gestured inside at a pile of floor-length skirts for visitors like me, who evidently threaten their traditional gender stereotypes. I was outraged by this ridiculous and unnecessary request and refused. Since when were women in dresses the only ones allowed to enter God's house!? I could tell that my travel companion was embarrassed by my defiance, so, more for him than for the monk, I sighed and complied.
When we entered the chapel there was a pregnant woman slithering around on the floor, trying to squeeze her round frame underneath a low-hanging painting of some religious figure, which had been mounted in the center of the room. She was covered in sweat and chanting. I was equal parts confused and worried that she might overexert herself and go into labor and I would be expected to assist in delivering a baby. My companion told me that she did this to ensure good health for the baby. I told him that I had seen enough and would be waiting outside the chapel. As I departed I was quickly scolded for not walking out backwards. I had turned my back to the altar and that was a bad thing. I should have read an instruction manual before making this pilgrimage.
Our next stop was an all-female monastery. I wasn't asked to don a skirt and the nun who greeted us was sweet as pie. She exuberantly told us a wild tale (in Macedonian) about the icon of a saint, which was created not by a human hand, but by the hand of God- and as such, any human who would dare lay a finger on the icon would lose said finger as a punishment. As in, if you touch this painting of this religious person, your finger will burn off right in front of your eyes. Wow! I wanted to give it a try, in part, just to show the nun and my travel companion that nothing would happen. But sadly, we were miles from the monastery when I was given the translation.
On the ride home, we decided to stop off for a relaxing picnic. We drove our borrowed car up onto an inviting grassy embankment right next to a babbling brook. It was so beautiful and serene, like a scene from a storybook. Serenity was short-lived however because soon the car began to sink as if it was engulfed in quicksand. We toiled in vain, frantically transporting large, flat stones from the river and shoving them under the muddy tires, but to no avail. We had no choice but to call a wrecker. This was mountain country and the temperatures were dropping as quickly as our spirits. At last, a tow truck from a neighboring town arrived, which is when the next catastrophe ensued. The wrecker's tow cable wasn't long enough to connect to our car's frame since we were so far off the road. The driver decided to risk pulling forward onto the grass and was instantly sucked in and sinking just as we had been hours before. He did manage to hoist the car onto the bed of his truck, but we weren't going anywhere anytime soon. A second wrecker was called.
In the meantime, a truckload of young, testosterone-filled Albanian men saw our dire situation and rushed to our aid, heaving and grunting like wild boars. They did manage to actually move the wrecker a few feet, but it was clear that we needed more than their muscles and enthusiasm to get us out of this jam. By the time the second tow truck arrived, it was nearly dark. I was hungry and surrounded by people speaking languages I didn't understand. I had a small emotional breakdown. The second wrecker was able to free the parade of vehicles from their sludgy confines and we were left with a filthy borrowed car, a small fortune in towing expenses, and damaged pride for our stupidity. We did come away from the experience having learned something though...
Always leave an offering.