The father of 2 of my close friends died yesterday and I was at his funeral today.
One of the best ways you see 2 different cultures in Shkoder is in respect of death.
The Catholic and the Islamic tradition are different, although they have many things in common.
Now for a foreigner like me, this can be all very confusing, and to be honest “deaths” are probably the time I feel less comfortable in Albania. The women and men are in separate rooms…the women usually with the body, the men in a different room. So, my wife is in a different room, and I am “isolated” to show how ignorant I am of “traditions” and greetings, and for how long I should stay, or what should I say.
I usually mumble a “Qofshi vet” or “Zoti ju forcofte” – although no-one can really tell me why (“Qofshi vet”) is said, or it’s real meaning! ( I think it has something to do with a comforting greeting from the Kanun of Lek Dukagjini.)
At death, the body of the deceased is taken to the family dwelling place.( if not already there) It stays there till the funeral. Friends and family go to pay their last respects. This can go on all night, depending on the time of the death. In both cultures, they usually have a very quick funeral.
In this instance, the death occurred yesterday at 6a.m. and the funeral was today at 12 noon.(the reason for the delay was to allow family living in Italy to return for the funeral)
As the body is taken out of the house, the family line up at the side of the road and then the friends pass by again paying their respects.
In the Catholic culture, the friends shake hands with the family members, however in the muslim funerals they pass by with their open right hand held up by the side of their face.
The Catholics usually have this greeting at the graveyard, whereas the muslims at the side of the road, before and after going to the grave.
Often the coffin is left open for the family to see and to speak one last time to the deceased.
Following the burial, earth is thrown on the coffin and friends and family take it in turn to throw earth or “spade” the earth on top of the coffin.
On return from the graveyard there is a meal in a restaurant.
The muslims do not serve alcoholic drinks, whereas the Catholic funerals have “raki”( local alcoholic drink made from grapes). However, although the Catholics will toast the family to comfort them, they will not “click” their glasses together, as this is reserved for times of joy.
Even here you can see the 2 different cultures. The muslim tradition is to eat very quickly. I think this is to emphasise that they are not gathered together to speak, but to pay their respects to the deceased. Again the meal is either men by themselves or women by themselves and never together. The meal in the Islamic culture does not last very long. Maybe about an hour at the very most. It is usually soup, rice and then a sweet called “hallv”(if I have my Albanian spelling right – although I believe it is actually a Turkish word!)
The Catholic meal is different. They serve raki, and for example today was a meat stew, rice and boiled meat, and no sweet. Although there was plenty salad and cheese on the table. The Catholic meal again is quicker than a normal Albanian meal, but often lasts a lot longer than muslim meals.
Again there is greeting to be said…as I have mentioned I am not an expert, but I think that “për të mirën prej soti” is what I usually try to say.
In the days that follow that you see further difference in the cultures.
muslim – people go to visit the family the first day after the funeral. Then, on the first Sunday after the funeral.
These visits usually last only a few seconds. You go to the house. Outside there will be members of the family and you greet them by raising your open hand up to the side of your face as you pass them by. At the door of the house/apartment there will be more people and you give them a similar greeting. You enter the house, giving a similar greeting and sit down. You express your condolences, are offered a cigarette and then usually you get up and again greeting the family you leave.
The women go on the 7th day after the funeral, and then have a meal 5 weeks later.
Catholic – people go to visit the deceased’s family anytime after the funeral.
As I say it can be all very confusing, and it appears they add stress to the family that is suffering at that time. Maybe one day I will be able to understand it, and know what to say. It is a long learning process though!!