Recently SPC C and I went outside the gate to meet with a couple of local religious leaders. It's one of the things I enjoy most about being here, and is certainly a very different experience from what I was doing (for the most part) when I was in Iraq.
Someday I'll go into much more detail, but for the moment, this will have to suffice.
Our Albanian-speaking interpreter piled into our little pickup truck (SPC C really has to squeeze in, it's that small) and we took off for a little town that I'd never been to before. The fields have been harvested, but since the snows haven't definitively arrived yet, many have a lush green carpet of something growing on them.
Verdant, rolling hills punctuated with houses and barns -- as well as structures (obviously once houses) destroyed presumably during the war a dozen years ago -- under a sky filled with cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds, made for a very pleasant journey.
We didn't know exactly where we were going, but our interpreter Mr. A assured us all we'd have to do was stop and ask people where the Imam lived, and we'd get there.
He invited us into the compound that surrounds his house, and then asked if we'd like to go in. SPC C and I nodded in agreement as Mr. A told him in Albanian that we'd be delighted.
We of course had to remove our shoes -- or rather, combat boots -- before entering.
As my parents might tell you, I'm not much of a coffee drinker, but here I've probably had more coffee in the last month than I've had in the past five years. Oh well.
At least it's not booze!
I chatted (through Mr. A) with the Imam for quite a while. His home, with its extensive theological library, was the first home in the village that was burned to the ground when the war started. Many of the families that fled during those dark times have not returned, but he and his family rebuilt their home not long after the UN brought US forces into the region.
This man LOVES the United States military.
The Imam's very young grandson had met us outside as we arrived, and was both shy and curious at the same time. He later came into the room where we were meeting, so I asked his grandfather if I could snap a photograph of the two of them. When I noticed that the boy's mother was using a computer in the far corner of the room, I asked Mr. A to tell the Imam that I would send copies of the photos to her internet account.
Our predecessors had evidently arranged to meet with this Imam and tour his mosque, but never showed. This had worried him ever since, figuring that perhaps he'd angered those Soldiers somehow. So when he tentatively asked us whether we'd like to see his mosque, we enthusiastically agreed.
The mosque had been rebuilt about five years ago, and sits at the top of a very steep hill. It has a commanding view of the whole valley below. If one were to click on the photo of the mosque, it's possible to see SPC C, as well as the countryside in the distance.
After we dropped the Imam off (he insisted on walking part-way back home), SPC C, Mr. A, and I continued on to a Catholic church not too far away from the mosque. We met with the pastor of that parish and a priest from another part of the country, and finalized plans for our participation in the St. Nicholas Day celebration coming up. We also dropped off a small donation in the name of the Knights of Columbus from the Post where I live, so that all the children who participate will be able to receive a gift at the party.
Santa Claus will make a cameo appearance, I'm told.
It should be a blast. I'll let you know.
Blessings and peace to one and all,
Fr. Tim, SJ