Day 2: The Bodyguard, The Kid, and The Baba
Our first full day in Skopje resulted in great food, new friends, and a life long lesson in humanity.
I woke up at 2:30 am after going to sleep at midnight and went back to sleep only to awaken at 4:00am with the same feeling, except this time I was wide awake.
Jet Lag Tip: Before you leave the country, set your clock to the local time overseas and adjust your sleep schedule to it. –courtesy of Randy
Fortunately, when I went down to the lobby I wasn’t the only one. Rabbi Steve was wide awake and writing emails. Since we both couldn’t sleep he decided to accompany me to morning prayers at the mosque I had visited the night before. Too bad the mosque was actually closed (we missed prayer time), so we ended up walking around exploring the streets of the old city some more.
Well worth it.
We were fortunate enough to meet an inquisitive shoe salesman who was setting up his shop and asked about our origins. After he learned we were tourists he hurriedly gave some money to a little boy who then rushed to a shop and came back with smoking hot tea in his hand.
What a guy.
He didn’t know much English, so we resorted to sign language and a calculator for communication. We learned that our new friend is a kick boxer and he has three kids of which one is in Oslo and happens to be a professional kick boxer. Apart from that we weren’t able to communicate much, however the lack of verbal exchange in place of assuring nods and slight laughs was just enough for a wonderful conversation.
After we parted, the Rabbi and I walked around some more and briefly stopped to eat at a bakery situated in the middle of the town underneath trees and surrounded by closed shops. It reminded me of a Shipley’s except it had freshly baked bread and freshly squeezed juice instead of greasy bread and Tropicana. As the sun crept further along, the morning chill was ever present and and at times it seemed to get a tad colder. The Albanian’s were slowly coming out to open their shops and as the streets gained life we headed back to the hotel after two hours of strolling which proved to be beneficial and tasty.
The Bodyguard and the Kid
Our first meeting of the day was with members of a faith based group called Renewing Our Minds (ROM). ROM focuses on gathering young people from different ethnicities all over the Balkans and engaging them in dialogue in Fuzine, Croatia. They spend two weeks together every summer focusing on different subjects with the hopes of reconciliation.
Through these functions every summer for the past 10 years, they have been able to connect young people and train them on dialogue, peaceful negotiation, conflict resolution, and more under the auspices that Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of living.
After two hours and a very interesting and heated debate between the former bodyguard of the late President Boris Trajkovski, who was involved in the conflict, and a young ROM student (watch below), we headed out to the city of Tetovo to meet with the mayor and the Baba (spiritual leader) of the Bektashi’s as well as tour the Colorful Mosque.
Since their inception, the Bektashi’s haven’t been looked upon very highly from mainstream Muslims because of enormous differences in ideology and interpretation of Islam. Observing their place of worship and listening to the Baba speak struck two different chords in my heart.
Note: I didn’t know much about Bektashi’s going in, but here is a link for you to do some light research on their beliefs. Keep in mind that it is Wikipedia and should be taken lightly : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bektashi
On one hand, observing their place of worship and hearing the Baba speak about his beliefs made me very uncomfortable because to me it seemed an extremely far off interpretation of the fundamental beliefs of Islam; the core of which didn’t seem to be Islam at all.
On the other hand I felt conflicted as I looked around at my peers. They didn’t show signs which read discomfort or rejection, instead they read empathy and sadness as he talked about the plight of his people. After the discussion was over and we made our way to the shuttle to depart, I realized that I had lost my objectivity.
I focused too much on the content instead of the person.
It brought to mind a story of men who were sitting on the side of a road as a procession of adversaries passed by carrying one of their dead. The leader of the men rose up and stood in honor as the procession passed by and his men asked him why he had done so. His response was simple, “Doesn’t he have a soul created by God?”
The idea is not to focus on the content, in this case the ideology, instead the focus should be on the person. As a human being. Someone different from myself upon different beliefs, but worthy of my respect simply because the person is endowed with a soul bestowed only by our Creator.
My biggest lesson today was the idea to not just focus on myself, my family, my friends, and my community, but to consistently focus on humanity.
Tomorrow: Off to the Monastery, the Boris Trajkovski foundation to sit with the former First Lady, and a Turkish school which is at the frontlines of bringing all ethnicities together.