Saturday, September 24, 2011

Northern Trek - Home to Lord Voldemort

July 2011

The far north of Albania had been off-limits for Peace Corps Volunteers until May of this year. So, needless to say, it had been somewhat of an interest and mystery to us PCVs. We had all heard how beautiful, clean, undeveloped, and, of course, how Lord Voldemort had lived here during his years in exile, but none of us had seen or experienced this part of Albania.

Naturally, a group of us planned a multi-day hike and camping trip. We began in a tiny, tiny town that you cannot reach during the winter because of the large amount of snowfall in that area of the country, called Valbona. From there we hike up and over a peak in the Albanian Alps to another small town, named Theth.

Theth is known as one of the last places in Albanian where blood feuds have lasted. The Kulla, a tower where those who committed murder went due to the protection is granted for the first 30 days after the committed crime, is still in Theth and one can still enter to see and learn about the process of the town's council of elders when a blood feud was in full swing.

For those of you who don't really know much about blood feuds, it follows a code of law called the Kanun. The Kanun includes how to treat guests, ritual funerals, and, of course, blood feud customs. If a man in your family killed someone in my family, my family would then go after that man in your family, then your family would come after the man in my family who first murdered someone in my family, and so on. This cycle will continue until there is no one left or the feud can be terminated by a 'sworn virgin.'

A 'sworn virgin' is a woman who takes on the role of a man by becoming the head of the house, does not have children, cuts her hair short, and usually wears male clothing. By doing this the woman is ending her family's lineage and eliminating the possibility for another male to be born. This is really the only way blood feuds between families end. If you are interested in learning more on this subject, there is a fictional book, Broken April, by Ismail Kadare that is strictly about Albania's blood feuds. There is so much more about this old tradition, but what I have mentioned above are the basic concepts.

The other reason why visiting Theth is at the top of many PCVs lists is because of it's natural beauty, numerous outdoor activities that can be pursued in this area, and the lack of modern luxuries. Electric wiring were just installed into the Theth valley less than a year ago. Theth is located in a valley completely surrounded by the Albanian Alps, therefore it is only possible to get there during the summer months.

Theth is definitely one of the most beautiful places in Albania. I can see why Lord Voldemort chose to live there during his several years in exile from Great Britain.

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