For the past week I’ve had a pinched nerve in my back, which for now means that I’m learning to sleep on the floor and trying not to cry (even more than usual) every time I am squatting over a pot of water to wash my hair. My family has noticed, mostly because every time they knock on my door or try to get me to do something I say, “I can’t! My back hurts!” True, but I may have made an error in letting them in on this.
Macedonians believe in promaja (pronounced pro-mai-ya), a deadly cross breeze that as far as I can tell can be blamed for any and all ailments but is especially likely to cause facial paralysis and back problems. I admit that I can’t entirely let go of American superstitions (I know that opening an umbrella indoors won’t cause any harm but I still have to look away when I see someone do this at work; I won’t walk under a ladder), but I know that they’re superstitions, that no harm is ever going to come to me because a black cat happens to walk in front of me.
Only, promaja isn’t a superstition, it’s a fact. I might think that the reactions to promaja, like not opening the windows to an un-air-conditioned kombi on a sweltering summer day, are more harmful than promaja itself, but my landlords are sure that promaja is the cause of my recent back troubles. Not, say, that I somehow wrenched my back out of shape on my six hours of kombi rides last Monday, then aggravated it by exercising, enthusiastically, for the following four days.
I’m taking “medicinal” Macedonian-speed walks daily, and on my way out this morning my baba and mother stopped me. My baba started telling me about the risks of promaja, running her hand along the left side of her face (facial paralysis), and then they counted up the windows I have open. Which is two: one in my kitchen and one on the second floor. (Can open windows on separate floors of a house really create this deadly cross breeze?)
For now I’m managing to nod along when my family tells me about promaja, but if I have to hear it one more time I fear I’m going to explode and tell them, “There’s no such thing as promaja! A slight breeze will not paralyze your face! Your back troubles are due to genes, lifestyle, something, but not promaja!” It’ll be nice to get back to America, where we only believe in things that are real, like fan death.