Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Old Wives Tales

Every culture has them-- stories and medicinal cure-alls that are passed down from one generation to the next. Each one seems to be more grandiose and outrageous than the next but the mysteries behind them are spoken as though they are gospel. I call these stories old wives tales. 

I remember my own Polish Nana sharing her own tales.  She'd hiss at my brother that he shouldn't cross his eyes otherwise they would "snap" and stay that way.  When questioned she insisted it was true because when she was a child this happened to a boy in her block.  She also warned of the perils of having a red headed child- they were the spawn of the devil (Nana did not live to meet my red-headed husband or my strawberry-blond son) and she insisted that a glass of wine every night cured and even prevented all possible ills.  These were but a few of her beliefs.

As I got older I forgot about most of these stories- after all, one doesn't often hear tales from the old country when living in a cosmopolitan city.  Two years ago when we started our Albanian language classes, these old wives tales came rushing back to the forefront of my thoughts. 

It was late spring and Sidney had been spiking a raging fever for several days.  The Children's Tylenol that had been prescribe by his pediatrician was helping in bringing down his temperature but once the dosage wore off, the fever was returning. My Albanian language instructor- a college educated woman who I considered my contemporary insisted that I soak his socks in vinegar then put them on his feet.  She told me that this was the only way to break the fever.  I was skeptical. After all, I didn't see the correlation between my son smelling like a pickle and his fever dissipating.  I didn't take Manushaqe's advice and Sidney's fever disappeared and as I packed up our consumable goods for our overseas move I made sure I had plenty of pediatric medicine on hand.

Fast forward two years and we're now living in Albania.  To date I've heard my share old wives tales for what some might deem holistic remedies for common ailments but I've been able to dismiss them.  Our nanny regularly sips a tea that smells like a cross between wet dog and dirty feet but I stick to my teabags filled with peppermint leaves and green tea.

And then I got sick. Really sick.  The cold, or as Albanians call it gripe, that had been making its way through the Embassy community, hit me hard. My OTC cold medicines imported from the United States did nothing to diminish the awful symptoms I was feeling.  If anything, they just resurfaced in another form.  I kept up a brave front and insisted to those who inquired that I was "me mire" or getting better.  The people closest to me weren't convinced and offers for special teas started coming in.

As week one of being sick moved into week two, the number of Albanian cures that were sent my way increased.  Each offer of tea promised to be better than the last.  I steadfastly refused all of them since I couldn't get past the smell.  A few people told me a shot of raki would do the trick but I dismissed those as jokes.

Yesterday, as I struggled to finish my work in the office before rushing home to cater an evening reception my Albanian office assistant told me I needed to drink Albanian punch, a concoction comprised of raki and sugar.  I gave her a vague promise to think about it as I dashed out the door.  At home our Albanian nanny suggested the same thing- she said I would be cured if I drank this potion. Or at least that's what I think she said since my foggy brain couldn't couldn't fully comprehend what she was saying to me in rapid-fire Albanian.  The housekeeper- a woman two generations younger than my nanny- echoed the same suggestion.  Albanian punch would make me feel better. 

Later that evening, having struggled through preparing copious amounts of food I staggered back into the kitchen and finally succumbed to what I had been hearing for close to two weeks.  Albanian punch would cure my ills.  Under the watchful eye of my nanny I prepared the punch using the "right raki" (apparently most of the raki in the house was deemed unfit by her standards). I slowly simmered the raki and sugar combination then allowed it to cool to a drinkable temperature.  Just before slipping into bed, and much to Glenn's amusement, I hesitantly sipped the concoction. 

I admit, it wasn't bad. It certainly wasn't good but it wasn't nearly as bad as I had imagined.  I think I cooked off most of the pungent alcohol and the sugar did temper the drink's bite.  As I lay in bed I felt the good old raki burn penetrate through my chest and up into my sinuses.  Somewhere along the line I fell into a deep sleep that was only disturbed by occasional night sweats (no one warned me of this but then again maybe they did and the language barrier kept me from fully understanding).

I awoke this morning feeling so much better.  I had a healthy color on my face and a slight bounce in my steps.  I'd like to think that after two plus weeks the cold had finally run its course and I was naturally on the mend.  Maybe my OTC cold remedies were finally working their magic.  Or I could give credit to the Albanian punch.  Maybe old wives tales aren't so outlandish after all.  Whatever the case, I won't be throwing out my Nyquil just yet. I might, however, keep a stash of raki close at hand.

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