Into the Land of Mosques

Trip Start Aug 31, 2007
Trip End Apr 19, 2008

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Flag of Macedonia  ,
Sunday, November 11, 2007

Today, I visited Tetovo, a town about an hour away from Skopje and center of the country's Albanian ethnic minority, which makes up 23% of the population as a whole. Stepping off the bus and walking down the main thoroughfare, the first thing I notice is an utter and total lack of women. I am suddenly self-conscious of my blonde, uncovered hair and pants, as opposed to an ankle-length skirt. there are only men on the sidewalks selling vegetables, only men talking on street corners, only men behind the counters of the stores I pass. In my whole time in Tetovo, I don't see a single woman working. It's a shock at first, but after ten minutes or so, my eyes adjust to this new reality, and I don't notice it any more.

I set off first for the Sarena Djamija mosque. The town is full of mosques as the majority of the Albanians are Muslim. The mosque would have been quite easy to find, if Lonely Planet knew the difference between left and right (there is no map, so I'm following their written directions) and if the Albanians believed in street signs. These things not so, I spend quite some time wandering the streets around the main square, picking out a minaret above the skyline and moving towards it until I reach its mosque. Although this method fails to bring me to Sarena Djamija, it does lead me through many winding backstreets, past a group of men ogling over a new motorcycle and a fruit vendor hosing down his sidewalk. I'd like to report that I bought a banana from this man, but fruit has never been my forte and truth be told, I actually purchased a Snickers from the kiosk next to him. I never eat Snickers at home, but there's something about that mixture of salt and caramel and peanuts that just makes them irresistible when I travel.

Eventually, I manage to make it back to the main square and procure directions from a trio of friendly taxi drivers. The mosque, built in 1459 with money from two women, Mensure and Hurshida, who are buried on the grounds, is one of the finest pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. The exterior is a mixture of wood and painted while plaster, and the courtyard is filled with men washing their feet before filing in to pray. As mosque-type things seem to be going on inside, and I am unsure of protocol, I elect not to enter.

The second site I visit in Tetovo is the Baba Arabati tekke, a dervish monastery on the edge of town. Surrounded by a stone wall, the grounds exude relaxation and meditation as I stroll among the 18th century prayer halls, lodgings, and dining areas. As with the mosque, there are many men here praying, while some children also play in the grounds. I see a girl of no more than seven, running about in a bright green head scarf, and I wonder if she ever questions why she wars one and I do not, or if she even cares.

It is time to go, and I make my way towards the bus station. At 3:02, the bus to Skopje approaches me. I stick out my arm and flag it down, paying the driver as I board. I am getting better at this.
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