After 8 years of living in Albania, I learned a new word last summer: Thashetheme. I was trying to tell my neighbor and friend Raimonda that I had a funny story to tell, featuring me as a sort of hapless clown-hero. I told her “I have some GOSSIP” meaning, “I have a funny story.” In our broken languages, connected by our affection for each other, she figured out – kind of – what I was saying, and said “oh! Thashetheme!” Which made sense to me, because if you break it apart, the word translates as “I tell you, you tell me” – but then, after we were agreed on the word, and got done congratulating each other on discovering and understanding it, she said flatly: “I don’t do that.” And her kind face was so closed, that I realized that I stepped on or in something nasty. Thashetheme. Nasty stories. Speaking badly about each other. Rumors, lies, scandal. Thashetheme is things said about other people, for the sheer joy of spreading destructive nastiness.
Oh no, I wanted to say to her – I only tell silly stories about what an idiot I am.
But we dropped it. And I never got to tell her the funny story, which, come to think of it, did feature someone else trying to get something over on me, and my own ignorant struggles in their coils, so perhaps, since it didn’t really matter, just as well. God Bless Raimonda, for a good, upstanding, kind woman. Who won’t listen to unkind nastiness.
But now, the strange thing, for me, is . . . how did I manage to live 8 years here without this word? Because now this word, and its idea, is popping up in my life all over.
I have noticed that people in Albania like to say “So and so is doing such and such, for this and that reason.” Over years, I have noticed people – even people I respect – stating what is actually the purest speculation as an absolute fact, confirmed merely by the coincidence that they were clever enough to think of it. And I used to think it was just unfortunate and the result of sloppy thinking. People in Albania make these statements, about what other people are doing, with absolute certainty, and with absolutely no proof. First of all, they have no proof whether the person in question is in FACT doing any such thing. It’s only that they heard they are doing such a thing, because a cousin told them so, or a friend of a cousin told them so, or that someone is doing it, so it must be THAT person specifically, or even that it’s only just this moment occurred to them to THINK that the person might be doing such a thing. That is enough in the Albanian mind – the possibility that someone might be doing something – to automatically transfer a vague suspicion to the publicly stated fact. Then the next thing you know, their own belief that such a thing is happening has become a positive statement.
As for WHY the person might do such a thing, well, they pull that out of the air as well. And nevermind whether there’s any logic or proof. The personal suspicion is enough.
I have long suspected that those of us who attribute nasty actions to others, those of us who imagine what others are up to are drawing on our own identities, more than on the reality of what others are actually capable of. As in: If I come up with an imaginary scenario, then it is MY imagination I am drawing on. When I make baseless, unproven claims, what I say has more to do with what I can imagine I might do in such a situation, than with what I say other people are doing – no matter how personally sure – “in my bones” I may feel.
This is very simple. If I believe someone would cheat in this situation, it is because I might cheat in that situation. Cheating is the solution to the situation, says my brain. For me. In that situation. The Albanian brain logic says: if I might do it, so it is a positive fact that the other person must be doing what I would do.
But this is the interesting thing about Thashetheme. It doesn’t really say so much about other people, as it says about us, ourselves.
As it is largely imaginary in the end – ASK someone for their proof – they never have any – the evil deeds we project onto others are actually the product of our own imaginations. They are what WE might do. Our Thashetheme speaks not about others, but about ourselves, in the end.
And in the meantime?
In the meantime, while we struggle and thrash, to be more clever, to not be taken in, not to be caught innocent and sleeping, to know before we can know the evils that others are up to, while we produce evils from our own imagination and fear, in the meantime, while we struggle with all this need to be clever . . . the real criminals proceed, at a dignified pace, to tear apart the fabric of our lives, to steal, and take and destroy.
That sounds dramatic, even to me. But I mean it. In Valbona, for example, we are under real threat. And a Valbona under threat is a threat for all Albanians. Because Valbona is yours. Whether you enjoy it today, or tomorrow, or whether you leave it for your children to enjoy, it is yours. You have a right to know it is there, this legendary land, protected, for you, whenever you want it. You have a right to go there, and find it, “as god made it” if you believe in such gods – but as it was and has been. It is a protected area, protected for you.
Instead, it is being destroyed slowly, torn piece by piece, while those who would protect it argue about whether they can trust the people protecting it.
We have REAL enemies, but it seems to me of late we spend not so much time attacking them, but instead, by the rules of thashetheme, we help the real enemy, by attacking each other.
I have made some rules, personally. I will not listen to anyone, telling me anything, about anyone else, unless they have concrete proof, which shows it’s important I listen. I try personally never to say anything about anyone else, which I wouldn’t say to them directly. This is hard, as a discipline, as I would like to pass time talking about other people, to complain, just as much as anyone else. To feel better about my own short-comings. But I don’t. Wisely or not, I do not react to thashetheme repeated to me, against me. People are free to think what they want, to imagine what they want. If they chose to waste their time making up imaginary enemies, that is their choice. If they chose to spend their time making ME into an enemy, that is also their choice. My choice is whether to react or not. I won’t.
I HAVE an enemy. I have the company trying to destroy Valbona, and the government which seems to support them. That is enough for me. I don’t need more.