Sisterhood: Part 2

Two months remain in my service – whew!  Where did they go?  Making ajvar, traveling the winding road between the capital and my town, catching up with colleagues over coffee, hiking the Macedonian mountains, teaching English, leading a girls leadership club, avoiding bathrooms (!), determining polite ways to refuse eating more food than would be prudent, practicing speaking Macedonian and Albanian, being invited by random babas for tea and conversation….the list goes on and on. However, most prominent in my memories will be the Albanians and Macedonians who welcomed me into their lives with open arms and doors.

With the next few posts, I wanted to profile some of the women (and men) in Macedonia who offered me their friendship and cared for me as a sister (or daughter, in some cases!).  For my first post, I happy to introduce you to my dear friend Zana.

Tea and Coffee after Iftar

Tea and Coffee after Iftar with Zana and Family

I met Zana my very first day working at the municipality.  She seemed determined to take me under her wing (or perhaps I just looked thoroughly lost and confused and in need of a mother figure), despite the fact that I could barely understand Albanian and she did not know any English.  She did try speaking French and Macedonian with me, and at this point I knew more Macedonian than Albanian, so we managed some very basic communications.  Our conversations went something like this:

Zana: “A je e gati per kafe?” (Are you ready for coffee?)

Me: “Uh, po, faleminderit” (I did not understand any of the words except coffee, and decided that it was safe to say “yes” and “thank you” to something about coffee).

Zana: “Mire, hajde te shkojme ne lart.” (Good, let’s go upstairs)

Me: “Ok, faleminderit” (No idea what I was saying “ok” to – incidentally, during this period I may have erroneously answered numerous questions about America and my marital status – marital or dating status questions are popular to ask when meeting someone)

My Albanian began to improve over time, and as it did, I gradually learned more about Zana.  Zana was widowed at a young age, and lives with her sister and nephew. I also soon came to realize that everyone in town knows Zana.  I could not walk five feet with her downtown without someone – Albanian, Macedonian, or Roma – stopping her to chat.

During my second year of service, I made the decision to move out of the homestay that I had been living in, and to find an apartment.  In my community, it is rare for a woman to live alone, but Zana did not judge my choice and began helping me with my apartment search.  Most apartments in my town are empty during the year, but quickly fill back up in summer with families returning from abroad.  With nowhere to live, I worried that I would have to change sites and start over again in another location.  However, Zana ended up finding an apartment in her building – located just around the corner from my work.  The landlord seemed reluctant to rent to a stranger from America, but with Zana campaigning for me, he buckled.  It is thanks to her that I have lived for the last seven months in a safe, comfortable apartment – with great neighbors, of course.

On move-in day, Zana’s eight year old nephew was delighted to get a new neighbor (I think he thought that I would be more exciting than I actually am), and valiantly helped to lug the various items that I had managed to accumulate during my service up five flights of stairs.  Since then, he usually appears on my doorstep for English homework advice or to watch parts of Spiderman – in his words “filmi me i mire ne bote” (the best film in the world).

When I received news that my father was in the hospital and I was getting ready to fly home, Zana was the first person that I saw.  She had invited me down for caj rusi (Russian Tea), and I went downstairs to tell her that I could not stay for tea. She took one look at me, and soon the news came pouring out.  She and her sister were also the first people that I saw when I returned from staying with my father in America while he underwent multiple surgeries.  I had been back in my community for just a few hours when I heard a knock on the door and found Zana and Ana outside with presents for me for my birthday, checking in to see how I was and whether my father was better.

The above photo was taken one night when Zana invited me to her home for Iftar dinner (the dinner to break the fast during Ramadan).  It is a true honor to be invited to someone’s home for Iftar dinner, and a feast had been laid out by Zana and Ana.  After dinner, it is tradition in my community for everyone to walk through the center of the city and to go to one of the popular late night coffee bars and chat well into the early morning hours until Safir (the last meal before fasting begins again). We followed this tradition and stopped for tea and coffee at one of the most beautiful coffee bars in town, and one of the nuses (brides) in Zana’s family took this photo of us.


A Day Trip

As I sit at my desk, trying to manage the latest of many bumps in the road as I attempt to bring the youth drama that I have been working on for the past five months to the stage (I keep repeating the old adage “nothing worth doing is easy” to myself), my mind wandered back to a day trip that I took this past weekend.  A family that I am friends with invited me and another volunteer to take a road trip with them to Sveti Naum in Macedonia and two cities in Albania.  I am sharing a few photos from our adventures below:

Sveti Naum

A view inside the courtyard of the monastery at Sveti Naum.

A Sveti Naum selfie!

A Sveti Naum selfie!

A view of the monastery roof and sky.

A view of the monastery roof and sky.

Crystal clear lake water - I can't wait until it is warm enough to go swimming!

Crystal clear lake water – I can’t wait until it is warm enough to go swimming!

This little cafe is perched right on the lake (Albanian side).  What a view!

This little cafe is perched right on the lake in Pogradec (Albanian side). What a view!

This house is where the Albanian film

This house is where the Albanian film “Zonja nga Qyteti” (the woman from the city) was filmed. There is a statue of the protagonist of the film located in front of the house (not pictured). It was mobbed by school children on a school trip!

Tushemisht is a quaint village outside of Pogradec in Albania.  The houses are colorful and gardens and intricate gates abound.

Tushemisht is a quaint village outside of Pogradec in Albania. The houses are colorful and gardens and intricate gates abound.

This is a view from the tower located in the center of the Albanian city of Korca.  You can see the Resurrection Cathedral at the end of the tree lined road.

This is a view from the tower located in the center of the Albanian city of Korca. You can see the Resurrection Cathedral at the end of the tree lined road.

This is Resurrection Cathedral (formerly Saint George Cathedral).  Saint George Cathedral was destroyed by communist authorities in the 1960s.  Resurrection Cathedral was built in the 1990s where St. Cathedral once stood.

This is Resurrection Cathedral (formerly Saint George Cathedral). Saint George Cathedral was destroyed by communist authorities in the 1960s. Resurrection Cathedral was built in the 1990s where St. George Cathedral once stood.

This is a notable Albanian language school, located in Korca. It was founded in 1887 and designed to allow Albanians to be educated in their native language and to push back against the Greek and Ottoman influences in the region.

This is a notable Albanian language school, located in Korca. It was founded in 1887 and designed to allow Albanians to be educated in their native language and to push back against the Greek and Ottoman influences in the region.

An example of some beautiful architecture to be found in Korca.

An example of some of the beautiful architecture that can be found in Korca.

Another Day in Macedonia…Oh! Wait, it’s Easter!

Living in foreign country with different cultures and religions, it can sometime be difficult to keep up with one’s traditional holiday calendar, which is how I almost forgot that today is Easter.

Without the commercial buildup found in America, or making plans with family and friends for celebrations, I have become a bit unmoored from my holiday schedule.  Orthodox Easter takes place next Sunday this year, and most members of my community are Muslim and thus do not celebrate Easter.  Today seems like any other Sunday. The shepherds are out and about, regardless of the sleeting rain pouring down on them.  When there was a break in the weather, my neighbors seize the opportunity to air out their bedding.  Little boys race out to buy loves of bread for breakfast for their families.

Sheep and Shepherd

Sheep and Shepherd

Last year, I had traveled to Ohrid to attend the Catholic Easter service.  This year I stayed in my community, and visited with one of the families that I am friends with for tea.  And that was about it.  I called and sent messages to my friends and family, and that was that.  A quiet Easter abroad.

Sisterhood: Part 1

“Rachael, you have a sister in America, and now you have many sisters here.” These were the words that my co-worker, Zana, told me as we left work together earlier this week.
Her words were so unexpected and kind, that I almost cried.  I am not normally brought to tears – indeed, I tend to be a very discreet person about my emotions, even with my close friends and family.  However, my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer has taken away some of my previously formidable emotional control.  Before this experience, I felt confident in my views of life and my self-concept. This experience has led me to re-examine many of my beliefs and how I view myself and the world around me.  When Socrates stated that “an unexamined life is not worth living”, he neglected to mention that the process of living an examined life can be quite challenging.
Culturally, independence does not appear to be a virtue for women in my community, rather it is the ability to mold and conform yourself to the needs of those around you that is most praised.  Women are held to extremely high standards of success – in the fields of work, physical beauty, “goodness”, dedication to family, and homemaking skills.  As someone who was used to living on my own, dependent upon take out for sustenance, and used to basing my success mostly upon professional achievements – there was an immediate disconnect.  I did not feel judged for my differences, but I struggled to identify how to develop a connection with the women in my community – a connection that was to be vital to my life here.
When I first arrived in town, fresh from two and a half months of language and technical training, I did not fully grasp the local context and how it would impact my life and work for the next two years.  I found myself warmly welcomed by my host family and most everyone in town.
Please be my friend.

Please be my friend.

Staring is a local past - time by men and women. Enter a kafe, and this is the effect.

Staring is a local past – time by men and women. Enter a kafe, and this is the effect.

Without consciously realizing it, I began to form my “sisterhood”, the women who advised and guided me. Directly and indirectly, from them I learned the ins and outs of the “Dibran culture”, the complicated nature of what it means to be a woman in this community, and the complex relationships that link this community together.  They also have formed part of my safety network.
At times, I have found myself extremely frustrated by the local gender expectations.  I think that I have a very specific face when I learn something that counters my sense of justice and equality – a girl beaten by a scorned boy, men being considered for a position over a woman as a woman has “too many obligations at home to dedicate the time to the job” – as my local friends will take one look at me and sigh, and say “This isn’t America , Rachael.”  These things happen in America too, the difference here is that these occurrences are accepted as a fact of life.  Here, I live in a society which has traditionally provided more privileges and opportunities to men, that divides the genders into very specific and defined boxes.  I witness the impact of these traditions first hand.  I live with a host family where I see these roles play out day in and day out.
Zana’s words came the day that I had told my host family that I was looking to move into an apartment (another example of my strange Americaness,  a women living alone here is viewed as quite peculiar) and I was walking home to see my host family for the first time after I had told them my decision.  My host brother had become engaged and his nuse (bride) would be moving into the house, and I had decided that it was time for me to look for my own space.  I was nervous about my host family’s reaction, and had asked Zana and the other coworkers that I usually meet for coffee to help me to look for an apartment.  I think Zana sensed my worry – she looked at me kindly as we parted ways near her apartment, waving to me and telling me to come over for coffee soon.  I smiled at her, and waved back.  Thank goodness for my Dibran sisters.

Среќен Бодник и Божиќ (Macedonian Orthodox Christmas Eve and Day)

Среќен Бодник! Среќен Божиќ! Христос се роди!  Orthodox Macedonians celebrate Christmas on January 7th, alongside other Orthodox Christians around the world. It is a very festive period, filled with family, food, tradition, and the spoiling of small children.

I returned to my Macedonian host family to celebrate бодник (Christmas Eve) and божиќ with them as most of my community is composed of Macedonian and Albanian Muslims, who do not celebrate божиќ.  I also realized that this is my last opportunity to celebrate божиќ with my host family, as my service will be over by November of this year – I’m not sure that I can wrap my mind around that fact!

Оn Christmas Eve, I hopped on a minibus for a three hour bus ride to the capital, Skopje, where I paused for a quick lunch, and then caught another bus from Skopje to Kumanovo.  I hoped to get off the bus on the highway near my host family’s village (and avoid going into Kumanovo, walking to the pazar and getting on a kombi to the village).  In my rough Macedonian, I was able to get the idea across and also attracted the attention of the entire bus – all of whom appeared curious about an American traveling to a small village on Christmas Eve.  The bus ride only proceeded to become more interesting when a rather inebriated passenger climbed aboard the bus (someone must have started celebrating early in the day).  My understanding of Macedonian, particularly intoxicated Macedonian is not that strong, but I gathered that he became convinced that I was from Germany and wanted to become Facebook friends.  I could hear a few quiet “леле’s” (kind of like a scolding “oh my god”) coming from other passengers. The bus driver proceeded to spray the air around him with air freshener (to get rid of the smell of alcohol, I suppose?).  Our new passenger also insisted upon giving me an apple and some walnuts.  I have become accustomed to receiving fruit and food from strangers, and refusal is not possible. He stumbled off the bus, and I was safely delivered to the side of the highway, where my host дедо (grandfather) waited for me.

I was happy to see Kiro, who carefully guided me across the freeway and the snow-covered fields of Romanovce.  We stopped for a moment to watch Millan, a host cousin, struggling to get his tractor out of the snow pile that it was stuck in while one of Millan’s friends gleefully snapped a few photos of the incident. A few minutes later we were home!  With three kisses cheek to cheek, I greeted my lovely host баба (grandmother), Ruja.  I settled in to catch up on the latest gossip, drink a little rakija (potent Macedonian liquor) and eat a bit of salad.  It was toasty warm with the шпорет (woodstove) running, and I felt right at home.

My host brother Andre came downstairs, having just woken up, and was busily playing video games on his new phone. Kiro ran in and out to take care of the cows and pigs.  It was very cold out, with plenty of snow and ice on the ground, and he and Ruja had to keep hot water prepared for the animals.  The village cats were crowding around the house’s windows, trying to stay warm.

Ruja had prepared a feast for бодник –  fish, salads, bread, pasta, beans, pita, peppers of all varieties, fruit, baklava, wine, soda…yum.  Christmas Eve marks the last day of a 40 day fast, during which no meat other than fish is eaten.  In one of the loves of bread was a coin, the recipient of which was granted good luck in the year ahead.  Ruja and Kiro’s son Zoran arrived home from work along with his wife Irina, which meant that it was time for the Christmas feast to begin!

Ruja set aside three loaves of bread first, one for god, one for the house, and one for the family, then the basket was passed to everyone. Andre was convinced that he knew which loaf contained the coin, suspiciously (in my eyes), he selected the correct loaf…hmm.  At first I misunderstood and thought that we had to stay awake all night, sitting at the table. It turned out that we merely were not supposed to leave the table while eating, and we left the food and dishes out all night (for the dead).  We watched the news and some Christmas specials after.  I learned that early in the morning on Christmas Eve, children go door-to-door singing.  They are welcomed and given fruit – apples, oranges, and nuts – chestnuts, walnuts, etc.  Suddenly the gift I received from my inebriated friend on the bus made a bit of sense, though I am certainly past the age of being considered within the realm of childhood.

Irina and Zoran were meeting with Zoran’s sister and her husband to go into Kumanovo to see the bonfire there and to sample some of the hot rakija that was being given away.  They invited me along and we all bundled into the car and made our way very carefully on the icy roads leading outside of the village.  There are usually bonfires on the day before Christmas Eve and the day of Christmas Eve.  Sadly we arrived at the end of the event, after a few moments of indecision, we decided to go to a cafe and ordered tea and desserts instead.  All-in-all, I preferred this ending to the evening, as it was freezing outside, even if there had been a bonfire and hot rakija.

Christmas morning came, and with it, plenty of na gosti’s (visitors).  First came the next door neighbor, Venka, with meat, sirenje (cheese) and desserts.  She sat down for a bit of breakfast with us, and she and Ruja traded desserts – a great way to increase the breadth of your dessert options. Next arrived Ruja’s daughter Elena, with her husband and one of their sons.  Next came Ruja’s other daughter, Biljana, with her husband and their daughter and son.  The children were presented with money from Ruja and Kiro, as well as bags of candies and treats from their aunts and uncles.  Lest you think me a scrooge, I too had brought gifts!  The rest of the day was spent socializing, eating, and drinking some of Kiro’s homemade wine.  Kiro and Ruja seemed a bit perturbed to see how quickly the wine was disappearing.  I would see Kiro dash outside every 30 minutes or so to fill another bottle for the table. Poor Kiro was exhausted after having woken up early in the morning to milk the cows and having helped Ruja get ready for божиќ, and disappeared for a period of time to sneak in a nap. Gradually the night wound down, and Elena and Biljana and their families made their way home.

The next morning brought an end to my visit.  Ruja, ever concerned that I am eating enough, packed a jar of ајвар for me, along with a bag of fruit and кифле (homemade pastries).  Zoran, Kiro, Ruja and I packed into his car.  We left Ruja at the graveyard to pay her respects to her brother and mother (as the day after Christmas is a day to visit the graves of family members who have passed), and Zoran dropped off Kiro and I in Skopje on his way to work.  Kiro walked me to the bus station, and made sure I was all set for my trip, before leaving me to go to the bank in the center of town.  How lucky I am to be included in the lives of such a lovely family.

божиќ feast!

божиќ feast!

Trendevski Family

Trendevski Family

Trying to keep up with the bigger napkin folders

Trying to keep up with the bigger napkin folders



Puppies and Breakdowns

I was woken up by insistent, unending crying outside of my window one morning earlier this month.  The sun was just beginning to rise, and I was still clinging to sleep.  There are occasional dog and cat fights during the night in my neighborhood due to the large population of stray animals, and as I lay in bed – resisting waking up – I thought of all the possibilities that could be waiting for me outside.  What if there was an injured animal?  What would I do? After determining that the idea of staying inside simply because I was afraid of what I might find outside was ridiculous, I kicked off my blankets and made my way outside.  The first thing that I saw was an adult dog and her puppy.  The mother seemed beaten down, cowering away from me.  The crying continued, but seemed to be coming from my neighbor’s yard.  As I leaned over the fence, I realized that the crying was coming from a concrete hole, about 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep.  I approached cautiously, watching the mother carefully to see if she became aggressive, and peered into the hole.  Inside were two small, furry puppies – exhausted and deeply offended by their current situation.

I reached down cautiously (the puppies seemed too young to be aggressive) and I scooped one up easily, and deposited it near the mother and the other puppy.  The next puppy, while unhappy in the hole,  did not like the idea of being scooped up, and burrowed into the least accessible corner.  Fifteen minutes of huffing, puffing and contorting myself into a myriad of uncomfortable poses was rewarded, when I succeeded in using a hose to pry the puppy up and to place it near the rest of its family.  I felt like a super hero – the puppies and their mother were reunited and happy, and through a simple act, I had been able to help them.

PuppiesPuppies with MomThe hole

The next few days were spent taking care of the puppies – I felt as though the mother and I were sharing custody.  She would leave them during the day to join her pack and to rummage through dumpsters for food.  I would bring them water and milk, and play with them after work.  At first, I minimized contact, worried that she might abandon the puppies or become aggressive toward me.  As the days passed, we came to have a tacit agreement – she tolerated (and dare I say, appreciated) my presence and help, and I loved seeing the three little furry bodies that would come hurtling toward whenever I brought water or food for them.  I deluded myself into thinking that this would continue – that I would be able to help protect and care for these three little lives.

I grew up around dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, goats, chickens, horses, etc.  I love animals, and it is very natural for me to surround myself with them, and to care for them.  However, in Debar people rarely keep pets and stray dogs are treated with fear and revulsion.  It was also explained to me that in Islam, dogs are considered to be ritually unclean, and are to be avoided.  As the majority of the residents in Debar are Muslim, it is very unusual for dogs to be kept as pets.

After work one day, I went to the pharmacy to pick up flea shampoo for the puppies – they would whine out of pure frustration from itchiness.  I returned home to find that the puppies had disappeared.  They were always in one area of our neighborhood – mostly in the next door neighbor’s yard – a neighbor who lived in Italy most of the year.  I looked and looked for them.  I told myself that they would probably show up – they could not have wandered far.  My biggest fear was that they had been dumped somewhere; they had not been a popular addition to the neighborhood, but had been mostly tolerated by my family and our neighbors.

Two days later, when I was walking  home, I heard a familiar whining.  I realized that the puppies were living in the trash dump area close to the main road.  I saw that one puppy had an eye infection that had worsened, and that it could no longer move one of its back legs.  I felt so sad and helpless.  I brought them food, which they gobbled up.  That night, I skyped with my family, as soon as my father asked me how I was, I lost it.  I had not cried since I left America for Macedonia, and my walls came crashing down.  Everything that had been building up – issues around of gender equality, the overwhelming  feeling of being a stranger in a strange land, exhaustion from always being “on” – bubbled up from from the anger and sorrow that I felt about the puppies.  I turned into a blubbering mess.  After the conversation, in which my father and stepmom were amazingly supportive and kind about my sudden emotional meltdown,  I looked up a prayer written by Albert Schweitzer for animals (I have included the prayer at the end of this post).  I do not often pray, but I found comfort in saying the words and resolved that I would do what I could to help these animals, with or without support from anyone else.

The next morning, I spoke with my coworker to ask if she could show me where the veterinary hospital is located.  She responded that her cousin is a veterinarian, and she offered to call him to explain the situation.  He said that he would be happy to meet us after work to see the puppy with the eye infection and injured leg.  My coworker and I waited by the trash dump for him to arrive, drawing curious stares from passersby.  He arrived, and and while gently examining the puppy, explained that he and some of his colleagues from Switzerland (where he had attended school) had implemented a program to vaccinate and fix the street dogs in Debar a number of years ago, but without new funding and support, it was not possible to sustain such a program.  He said that he could help to wash the puppy to get rid of its skin infection, provide eye drops for the eye infection and provide vaccinations, but that it ultimately needed an owner.  I so badly wanted to be able to say that I would keep it, but I live with a host family, and keeping the dog was out of the question.   We agreed to meet the next day to take care of the puppy.  The next day arrived, and the puppies had again disappeared. I saw the mother, and I tried to follow her to find the puppies, but they were nowhere to be found.

The next few days were filled with puppy sightings – of every puppy except those I was looking to find.  While walking to the grocery store, I saw a dead puppy on the sidewalk, with flies hovering over it.  While looking around my neighborhood in search of the puppies, I saw a white, Labrador-looking puppy, being tossed out of a yard and landing with a yelp on the ground outside.

When I described everything that I had seen to my coworker, she suggested that I put forward an idea for a project on the street dog issue at a meeting we were having later that afternoon with members a local associations and NGOs.  I doubted that the idea would be taken seriously and was surprised when members indicated that they supported the idea.  Out of twelve ideas put forward, it was agreed that the street dog project would be the first project that the group would collaborate on – it would not only affect the lives and health of the dogs, but also of the community.  We are currently looking at similar projects that have been executed in Macedonia to put together a project plan that would be appealing to funders.

You can access more information on street dogs in the Balkans (it is a region-wide problem), via the following links:

Solving stray dog problem proves difficult in Balkan countries

Balkan Underdogs

A Prayer for Animals (Albert Schweitzer)

Hear our humble prayer, O God,
for our friends the animals,
especially for animals who are suffering;
for animals that are overworked,
underfed and cruelly treated;
for all wistful creatures in captivity
that beat their wings against bars;
for any that are hunted or lost or deserted
or frightened or hungry;
for all that must be put death.
We entreat for them all Thy mercy and pity,
and for those who deal with them
we ask a heart of compassion
and gentle hands and kindly words.
Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals,
and so to share the blessings of the merciful.

Ramazan in Macedonia

Ramazan officially began this past Saturday, which means that the majority of my friends and colleagues are fasting from about 2 am in the morning until 8:30 pm at night.  No food, no water or other drinks.  I was in Skopje for the weekend and returned on Monday night to the sound of drums and a large iftar meal (the meal eaten to break the fast). Children play the drums, walking from neighborhood to neighborhood.  They are provided with some gifts (money) as go.  Sounds like a pretty good gig , right?

Onions are the prominent vegetable in the iftar meal.  The most traditional dish is made of onions that have been cooked down for at least four hours, ground beef is added, and once the four hours have passed, eggs are cracked over the hot mixture.  My host mom purchased 15 kilograms of onions to prepare this dish – which will be served at every iftar meal.  I was hesitant to try it at first, given my stomach issues, but I threw caution to the wind and prayed that the water had not been shut off (it usually is shut off for a few hours every day in the summer) in case I had a need for the toilet *ahem*. It was absolutely delicious – the taste reminded me a bit of sloppy joe filling.

After dinner, my host mom offered me coffee as she joked that she had not missed eating food all day, but missed coffee. I politely declined as I was uncertain of how my stomach might respond to this volatile combination.

It is interesting how the dynamic of the town changes during Ramazan.  The coffee bars and sidewalks are usually packed with people during the day, but during Ramazan the streets are empty.  Most people are relaxing and sleeping at home.  The real party begins after the sun sets – after the iftar meal families, children and teens spill out of their homes to walk around town and to meet with their friends for coffee.  During Ramazan the activities of day and night are almost reversed.

This morning, I decided that I would try to fast, which was a short lived experiment.  The office that I work in does not have air conditioning, and while the floor to ceiling windows surrounding the office are beautiful, they also insulate the room – creating the sensation that you are baking in an oven.  I admitted defeat, filled my water bottle and grabbed a banana.  I am impressed by those of my Muslim friends and coworkers that do observe the fast for Ramazan – it is an especially difficult time of year to abstain from drinking water.

I should mention that not every Muslim fasts for Ramazan, for a variety of reasons, and the fasting portion of Ramazan (to my understanding) is only one facet of observance.  Indeed, it seems that this month is a period of particular spiritual and religious observance for Muslims, when expectations for striving to follow the tenets of the Islamic faith are high.

Now, I am off to meet with some friends to go out for coffee after finishing my vezë dhe qepë (eggs and onions).  Gezuar Ramazani!  Happy Ramazan!