If you've got it, you've earned it.
I'm stealing a term. The Balkan Gloom. This was a term that was passed to me by way of a Peace Corps Bulgaria volunteer via my dear site mate Brenna who had previously traveled through Bulgaria.
"He called it, The Balkan Gloom... do you know what I mean- like-" My other site mate Garrett and I nodded emphatically. Yes, we know what The Balkan Gloom is. It was as if we were cave men who had learned the first adjective ever uttered. It was an ineffable* and all encompassing feeling that had not previously been named, but since it had been named we understood what was happening to us and could fight against it. Like the scene in the movie when the scientist in the HAZMAT suit** holds a vial up to his eye, clenches his gloved hand and says to the others, "We've got it. Now we just have to cure it."
Let me explain. When I first got to Albania, I noticed that everyone walked around with a generalized scowl upon their faces, whereas in America we walk around with an tight-lipped grin. However, their scowl in no way denotes unhappiness, just as our grin in no way denotes that we have just received five dollars from a creepy stranger. Upon entering Albanian society, I wondered what the origin of the scowl was. I now know. The origin is the Gloom.
Imagine a cold, clammy, grandmother's hand massaging the back of your neck. Not your grandmother, just A grandmother. Imagine a one legged man playing an out of tune violin while standing on a stone bridge, at a foggy twilight, as he considers leaping off... on a Tuesday. Imagine an old woman in a headscarf still talking to her dead husband. Imagine a three legged dog... any three legged dog. Imagine the feeling of being grey. This my friends, is the Gloom. If you spend enough time in the Balkans the Gloom becomes you. And the Gloom must be fought mercilessly, just like Dustin Hoffman fought that disease in Outbreak.
One time Garrett and I were traveling through Kosovo to get to the Capital of Albania. Flurries of snow were blowing sidelong and the mini-bus had stopped for it's usual coffee break. Garrett and I watched as an old man stood shivering in the cold... eating a lemon. He wasn't just eating a lemon, he was devouring it like an apple, skin and all. With each bite he looked up, his face locked in the awful rictus that can come only from consuming a lemon like an apple. Snow piled on his shoulders and he finished the last horrible bit of the lemon. The worst part was, there was a crate of oranges directly to his right. We wanted to cry out to the man "NO! YOU DON'T HAVE TO EAT THAT LEMON! THERE ARE PLENTY OF OTHER, MORE DELICIOUS FRUITS INCHES FROM YOU." But we know it would have done no good. The Gloom wants what the gloom wants. His gloom wanted a lemon, peel and all.
At many points, we have all fallen victim to the Gloom. Over the snow deluged winter I once found myself scowling at the movie "Garden State" and thinking the thought, How dare you over and over again, for no reason. I once killed a scorpion in my apartment and left it's corpse out as a warning to others. Another time I read Camus' "The Stranger" just to sigh and say...you are so right before playing my violin while downing a bottle of cognac and then sweeping all of my papers off of my table and hurling the bottle into the roaring fire I had built in my fire place***. But part of having the Gloom, means that you have earned the Gloom. Because you have earned the Gloom it is yours to submit to or defeat****.
*Adj. unable to be effed.
** Like Dustin Hoffman from Outbreak.
***None of that is true.