On June 15th I was able to experience my first Bajram in Kosovo, on August 21st I was able to experience my 2nd Bajram, and on September 23rd I finally got around to posting a blog about experiencing my 2nd Bajram on August 21st.
For context: the 1st Bajram in June (also known as “Big Bajram”) celebrated the ending of Ramadan, and the 2nd Bajram in August (also known as “Little Bajram”) focuses on honoring Abraham’s sacrifice of his son.
This Bajram was significantly different from my first one… for several reasons. The biggest reason, I like to think, is how much I’ve changed in my short time here, so my experience / approach / attitude was very different. The more obvious reasons it was different were because it’s not the same celebration, I’m in a different region, in a different village, and with a different family. But I like to naively focus on self-growth first and foremost on occasion.
Last Bajram, I went with my sister, brother, and parents in my PST host family to visit several different extended family members and their families in our village and a few surrounding villages. The visits were spread out, entailed a lot of different fruit juices and various sugary treats, and I thought that day was filled with a lot of socializing.
This Bajram, I was all over the place.
I had been told that I should be ready around 8 (same as last Bajram), and I was. I came out to the living room to all my siblings (remember… I have 7) wearing the new clothes they had gotten just a few days earlier, all holding new bags, and ready to start the day. We went outside, took some pictures, and walked next door.
Once we arrived next door (to a family I had visited a few times before… they might be related to us, but I honestly don’t know), I was genuinely surprised when we didn’t start taking off our shoes to go inside. Instead, the grandma of the family brought out a bowl of candy and started handing out pieces to everyone to put in their various bags/purses. Then… we left. I already had it in my head that this Bajram would require a lot of house-hopping (so I had worn the appropriate shoes this time; last time I wore shoes that were difficult to slip on and off), but I was unclear about what was going on now.
We walked back to our house, my oldest sister left and asked if I wanted to go with her or stay with the younger kids, I said I would stay (to investigate more what was going on), and my 6 other siblings and I were off.
We met up with some cousins, went to another house, got more candy, and left to go to another house… to get more candy. This repeated with several other houses. If it sounds like trick or treating, you would be right! It felt exactly like trick or treating. Except instead of saying: “trick or treat!” the kids would say: “perhajr Bajrami!” and instead of walking around in the dark in costumes, celebrating a holiday with arguably pagan roots, the village was celebrating an Islamic holiday.
While we were walking around the village, I noticed all of the village kids were out, dressed up, and holding purses or bags. I was easily the oldest person out participating (even my 16 year old sister was “too old” and back home), but I’m so thankful that I was able to witness this super cool/interesting/different tradition for multiple reasons:
- …it was just a super cool/interesting/different tradition to witness. I love learning and experiencing different cultures, and to get to experience this completely new thing to me first-hand was awesome.
- It served as a not-so-weird introduction of myself as the American living in the village for 2 years to teach English to several families in the village I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be (non-awkwardly) introduced to otherwise. I would walk up with my siblings and cousins to the door of a house, they would all say: “perhajr Bajrami!” and the woman giving out the candy would ask my sister who I was, thus beginning the same introduction and exchange in Shqip.
- I was able to meet some really interesting people. At one house, I talked to a man who was in his 40’s and visiting his mom who lived in the village. He lived in Norway (?? super weird considering half my family is Norwegian), worked in the oil business, and had been to Houston, TX a bunch of times for business/visiting friends (?? again, super weird considering I’m from Texas). He told me to come back and visit his mom a lot. At another house, several men were sitting around a table outside talking. Myself and my siblings/ cousins (about 10 of us in total) went to the woman at the front door who gave us all candy, her and my sister went through the same introduction of me, and one of the men heard I was American. He called me over and asked about what I was doing here, so I briefly told him. He invited me to sit down with him and the other men (…uncommon in Kosovo, unless you are American. Men and women generally sit separated, especially young/old). We talked a bit; he was super well educated, knew English, Shqip, and German, told me him and his family lived in Pristina but came here to visit family occasionally, and that I should come back over to see his library on the 2nd floor of his house (?!?!). One of the men that had been sitting around the table with us then proceeded to bring me sweets (pastries, baklava, etc.) and Coke, pouring me refills when I had drank some of it (…very uncommon in Kosovo. Women generally serve guests; men don’t). The same man who refilled my Coke also joked (in Shqip) about how I would be here longer than 2 years if I married an Albanian man (…very common in Kosovo, at least for me. I get talked to about marriage fairly regularly. I laugh it off, saying: “jo, faleminderit” (no, thank you)).
**Bonus encounter: my siblings, cousins, and I went to a house where they were butchering a cow in the front yard. For some quick context: it’s common for families celebrating the 2nd Bajram to sacrifice either a lamb/ram or cow, alluding to Abraham’s sacrifice of his son.
So… I wasn’t “surprised” to see a dead cow (‘dead’ used in this context is a euphemism for ‘completely dismembered’), but that didn’t stop me from uncomfortably laughing as myself and my siblings/cousins (whose majority age range is 4-9) walked to the front door, past the hanging cow, wheelbarrow of organs, tarp with pieces of meat spread out, and blood everywhere.**
After several more house visits, my siblings and I went home for lunch. The rest of the day was spent entertaining family I had never met before, going to visit family I had never met before, and understanding about half of what was being said. Visits and socialization continued until around 9:30 at night. There was still a family over, but I was too tired to keep up the socializing, so I pulled a classic “natën e mirë!” and went to my room.
I went to bed exhausted but also so thankful to be able to celebrate this holiday with my new, big, loving family in my new village, both of which I already adore.