For those of you checking in on life in Ethiopia, my apologies in advance but I’m going to enable a little escapism* for myself and you. So here are a couple great Eastern European drinking stories from that time I was in Albania. I think they’re particularly fitting for the mood.
An Albanian teacher took her class to the countryside to meet a farmer and his family. She wanted her class to see the traditional lifestyle and asked the farmer to tell the class about his day. He said, “Well, I usually get up early and while my wife prepares breakfast, I have a glass of raki.”
“Oh no no no,” interrupts the teacher. “Don’t say that, don’t tell the children bad things. Whenever you drink raki, just say you read a book instead.”
“Okay,” says the farmer and starts again. “So, usually I wake up and over breakfast I read a book.”
“And then?” the teacher prompts.
“Then I get ready for work and before work,” the farmer glances at the teacher, “I read a book.” The teacher harumphs.
“At work, well I work so there’s not time to read a book,” he admits and the teacher smiles.”
“But before I take a break for lunch, I read a book.” The farmer continues, “Lunch takes a while, so I read two books.”
The farmer begins to get into the story of his day and hurries along, “Then after work, I meet friends and we read books until we finish them all.”
“Oh dear,” the teacher tuts, “you have quite a thirst for knowledge. And then your day is done?”
“Oh no,” the farmer replies, “then we go to a friend’s house who runs a printing factory.”
In a village in the countryside, a teacher (oh those heroic teachers) was trying to get the town to drink less (it feels like a theme is building) and gave his village a lesson (of course, that’s what teachers do).
He gathered the villagers together and showed them two glasses. One was full of water and the other was full of raki**. The teacher dropped a worm in both.
The villagers watched as the worm in the glass of water survived while the worm in the raki died. So the teacher turned to his village and said, “See, the worm died from too much drink!”
And the villagers responded, “Yes, we know.”
“We drink for our health, not the health of parasites,” they explained. “Why do you think we drink so much?”
* Note 1
Cara is traveling, I have a puppy having a bad reaction to his chow, and I still don’t know how to process an election that says … well I have no idea what it says since the majority of people didn’t vote for a racist, misogynistic demagogue, and even some that did weren’t responding to those traits (I truly hope and believe this) but rather to the hopes and fears of the communities around them.
The irony is that now I’m being told that it’s partly my fault, because I didn’t listen enough—while I thought I was respecting my family when they asked for politics to be put away during family gatherings and for me to hide my online discussions from Uncle Abraham because it got him riled up—or was too harsh in my rhetoric—while a man who can call Mexican immigrants rapists en masse gets the commander-in-chief votes of family members who last Christmas gifted my wife and I the most lovely glassware from their trip south of the border.
I’m sorry, it’s not America that broke my fucking heart. It’s my family, who I had the most hope in that cut deepest.
** Note 2
Rakia is a (mostly) clear alcohol, which experience has shown tends to make the best cross-cultural moments. In Albania, thankfully rakia was abundant (or raki, with a dotted i), and in the evenings I tended to have a glass in one hand and my notepad in the other.