"Generally, the familiar, precisely because it is familiar, is not known." (Hegel)Day 4 in Kosovo: I take the same routes every day: to the store, to the language center, to the cafe to meet a friend. If I stray off the path, I might get lost, and the only way I know to describe where I live is to reference a sports center and a park, and hope a stranger will direct me back home. But even in my known path, I have to treat each step as new, eyes on the ground to avoid open, uncovered drains in the street, deep ditches left unguarded when the construction workers go home. Will this ever feel familiar to me?
In Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, John O'Donohue warns about the familiar, and explains that it is merely a facade. "Familiarity enables us to tame, control, and ultimately forget the mystery. We make our peace with the surface as image and we stay away from the Otherness and fecund turbulence of the unknown that it masks. Familiarity is one of the most subtle and pervasive forms of human alienation."
Yesterday, as I waited for the bus to take me to JYSK (the Ikea of Kosovo, pronounced "Yoosk") I felt the familiar sense of being isolated. The women on the street here are so close to each other, walking arm in arm, laughing and kissing goodbye, and seem to eye me with a questioning look. I also think they're judging my shoes. They're very European, wearing fabulous heels and boots that I doubt they carry in my size (BIG). Most likely I'm reading into this, but I find it very difficult to connect and break that language and cultural barrier with women. I felt myself closing off, trying not to smile at strangers, which is my normal way of greeting people. (I was once told by a grip on a film set that he thought I was "simple" when he first met me, since I smiled all the time.)
Reading O'Donohue and Hegel's quote, I was reminded that if I shut off from engaging in each day, as I am, open and present to the mystery that surrounds me in the familiar, I will miss out on life. So I hope that as I study the Albanian language and Kosovo culture, I can bring my own open eyes/mind/soul to it, to stay aware of the "turbulence of the unknown."
JYSK, by the way, is a Danish company, and FAR more expensive than I expected (a wool throw for 50 Euros? Really?) I bought new sheets and pillows, and baffled by the use of centimeters on the packages, ended up buying twin sheets for my double bed. I cuddled into my too-small sheets last night, thankful that nothing yet is too familiar.