status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage
My last sort-of-but-not-really boyfriend, an ethnic Hungarian from Transylvania, left his mark on my life in three very distinct ways. Firstly by putting me off relationships, possibly for all eternity. Secondly by introducing me to two women who are shaping-up to be lifelong friends. And thirdly, by stoking the flames of a previously dormant interest in Eastern Europe.
During my travels, I have always been more fascinated by the lives of displaced economic migrants than by the humdrum activities of affluent westerners seeking a more laid-back life in the sun.
When in Spain, a large proportion of my friends were from Latin America. Now it is the local Albanian community that has captured my interest.
Albania is a tiddler of a country, bordered by Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, Greece and the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. With today only just over 3 million inhabitants, its rich history and culture are coloured by the many invasions the country has experienced in the last two thousand years.
Although a combination of historical secularism, the monarchy and a long spell of communism ensured that the people do not have a particularly strong religious identity or belief, Albania is predominantly divided into Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic faiths (with the ever delightful LDS and JWs making inroads like opportunistic vampires at a sweet sixteen party).
It is a country with a linguistic influence that reaches far beyond its shores; with the language being spoken in Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Greece, Italy and Sicily. All of whom have historically important Albanian communities.
A very recent example of which has established itself in the heart of my very own little Italian village.
The original arrivals were a group of brothers and first cousins who settled in the area about fifteen years ago. Since then a veritable plethora of cousins, sisters, wives and nephews have appeared, and children been born, all of which has swelled this extended family to between forty and fifty people.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, their spoken Italian is exemplary. Like most economic migrants or those from linguistically obscure countries, necessity forces a language learning ability that does not come as naturally to people lucky enough to have been born into the main language groups.
They are also reputed to be hard workers; most of the men working in building, and although it is considerably harder for their wives to find employment, there are those who have found casual work cleaning, helping with olive harvests and similar.
They don’t tend to spend much money in the local drinking holes, expect on coffee or the occasional beer.
All in all, they live a fairly basic, modest existence. Working hard to send money back to their extended families, and to establish their own here in Italy.
Often their marriages are, after a fashion, arranged: when one of the young Albanians here reaches his mid to late twenties, he nips back home and choses from a selection of suitable matches. In cases like this, he will almost certainly have sown his wild oats, she will very likely still be a virgin. The engagement will continue over the phone for a while, and then he will pop back a summers or two later for a very showy wedding.
The happy couple then come back to Italy. He returns to work, and she gets on with her new job of cooking for him, cleaning his house, washing his clothes, and bearing him a couple of children.
There is without doubt a side to that which sets my quasi-feminist teeth a-grinding. But then I stop and think:
How comforting must it be to still have such clearly defined rules and roles? The men provide for their families. The women nurture their families. One role no more demeaning that the other.
The endless choices, the constant need to prove oneself, and the multitude of potential pitfalls that accompany total emancipation, do not trouble them. They just carry out their respective tasks, before coming together at the end of the day to enjoy the fruits of that labour.
A simple, and almost certainly much shorter, route to contentment than that which people from more ‘sophisticated’ cultural backgrounds chose to tread.
This is Status Viatoris, for whom sadly it is too late to return her emancipation to the supplier and reclaim her virginity (and besides, her cleaning is at best sporadic and her cooking is quite frankly crap), bursting blood vessels in an effort to prove herself, in Italy.