“Even the Grave Won’t Keep You”

When young, she’d clothed herself in boy garb. “God is always looking after us,” Lume said, after showing us into her house and offering us a couch in the living room. Her sister-in-law shuttled in tea and soda as Lume sat, her elbows propped on either knee. “When I was about 12, I said, ‘Please God, help me. I pray to be a burrnesha until the end.’ “ Then she talked to her baba — or father — and he understood. He gathered Lume’s four brothers and, according to Lume, told them, “Herewith forward, this girl is a sworn virgin and will live like a man. These will be her affairs. You worry only for yours.”

Michael Paterniti on the dying Albanian tradition of burrneshas — women who live as men (sort of, it’s complicated) despite the “ultraconservative mores” of their society. (Jia fell into a Wikipedia hole about them once.)


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