David asked our students to write an anonymous statement of what "the face of the other" meant to them. This was also the assignment he gave the students at the Skopje summer school.
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I see an old Albanian woman sitting on a city bench in Ohrid. She is wearing a dark, long, and heavy looking head scarf and the traditional long and dark clothing of Muslim women. Her eyes seem empty; she is staring but not seeing.
I see a Macedonian orthodox priest at a monastery in rural Macedonia. It is the same hot day. He is also dressed in long and heavy black robes and is praying, eyes transfixed on the symbols of his faith that surround him.
On the stone bridge in Skopje I see a young boy cradling an infant, begging for money, no parent in sight. The boys eyes are angry, pleading.
Later I see children playing in Ohrid, eyes alive with happiness and fun.
Across the stone bridge I see old men, passing the time outside dirty stores and cafes. As we pass they stare. Their eyes are curious, yet resentful, perhaps, of our intrusion into their daily routine.
I meet a beautiful young Macedonian woman, smiling and warm. Her eyes sparkle. She sees me and we talk. I meet her family. They are also warm and friendly with eyes that shine and welcome, and with hearts that are amazingly generous and accepting to me, a stranger.
I meet with women who are Macedonian authors, scholars, students, and teachers. They are also warm and friendly with eyes that invite me in.
I meet storekeepers, guides, waiters, waitresses, maids and hotel clerks, artists and craftsmen, taxi drivers, priests and bartenders. The people I meet are Macedonian, Albanian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Bosnian, and more, I am sure. They are sometimes distant, sometimes friendly and curious about why I am in Macedonia. They are almost always polite, and almost always they smile at me with their faces and their eyes when I say “fala mnogu”.
I see statues and icons all through Macedonia. Some of them have blank and staring eyes, but some look sorrowful. Some even look like they might be friendly if only they would come alive and talk with me. I buy the icon of Sveta Petka because she looks friendly , kind, and not too sad.
These are the faces of The Other
and I can see them all any time I care to look in the mirror.
You gave me the gift that is of the utmost value: a new perspective. You gave me a human face to go with the images that I see flash before the television screen. You helped bring new meaning to conflicts that are described to me in simple terms, but are not simple at all, nor contain simple solutions.
You shared your families with me and talked with me about what you value most. Your struggles, you allowed me to participate in and gave me time to make sense of all my frustrations. You praised me and encouraged me in my work and endeavors. I cannot thank you enough for not treating me as a stereotype and I can only hope to look at others in that same way. Your courage and dedication to see a peaceful resolution to the conflicts in your country are commendable and the willingness to see the faults within while struggling to grow.
Thank you for sharing a piece
of yourself with me and becoming vulnerable to other's images of yourself.
By sharing who you are, you influence others to do the same. Hopefully
as others let people see themselves as well, peace will be the outcome.
The Other speaks a foreign tongue. The God of the Old Testament realized this. By changing the languages of those constructing the Tower of Babel, God prevented man from uniting in an attempt to surpass His greatness. And the different groups of men “were made strangers by this difference of tongues… and never again worked together.” The discord resulting from different languages is still felt today in many parts of the world, including Macedonia.
Language is a most powerful tool. It allows humans to express their thoughts, emotions, convictions-- everything that makes us human. If a man found himself in a strange land where his language could not be understood by anyone else, a great deal of his humanity would immediately be lost. Rather than judging this man by his statements, the content of his soul, those who encountered him would attempt to understand him through less accurate forms of communication. They might observe the way he is dressed, his physical appearance, and how his foreign tongue sounds to them. Inevitably, he would be dressed differently and his appearance would be foreign to them, but these aspects would become much more troubling because of the fact that his language could not be understood. His intentions could not be known with a certainty and his behavior and appearance would necessarily be viewed with suspicion. He would be the stranger, the Other.
My impression is that the way people conceptualize the Other in Macedonia is rooted in differing languages. When Gina asked people about education, one of the things she found out was that language divided school children from a very young age. This was viewed as a right of each group to have their children taught in their native tongue. However, many also acknowledged that dividing the school children in this way prevented them from getting to know the children of the other ethnic group and in this way encouraged the stereotyping of the Other. Language can be viewed as the basis of the Other because many of the aspects of the Other spring from the discord caused by differing tongues. People view with suspicion those they do not understand. They are viewed as different, evil, and possibly allied with mysticism because of the foreignness of their speech. We know that the structure and vocabulary of a language has a profound affect on its speakers. So speakers of different languages may indeed have different ways of viewing the world, even if they share the same environment, as they do in Macedonia. A culture, then, is closely allied with its language. Often language differences are preserved in the name of culture. Such pride in one’s culture and language is often paired with hatred for the Other. Thus the cycle continues.
The God of the New Testament
anointed the followers of Jesus with tongues of fire, giving them the ability
to speak different languages in order to spread the gospel. I find
this to be a comforting counter-point to the Tower of Babel: uniting through
language, rather than dividing with it. Yet there does not seem to
be such a straight-forward solution to the divisions which Macedonia is
In the mirror, looking at me,
is the face of someone else
In the mirror, staring back,
is the voice of incoherence
In the mirror, looking at me,
is the face of myself