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Promaja: The uncatchable Balkan serial killer and bane of every Babushka

Have you been the victim of promaja too? witness!

Babushka on draft / Photo: Morozko movie screenshot

If you’ve ever been anywhere on the Balkans you must have heard some of these warnings: “Close the door in the kitchen, there’s promaja!” “Forget about the heat, just don’t open the window cause promaja will kill you!” “Whatever you do, don’t sleep with an open window or two open doors in the house- promaja will stiffen your neck and you’ll wake up with a crooked back!”

Sounds pretty serious, huh? Well, you’ve just read the most common and most significant Balkan health advice which considers “promaja” as the worst possible threat to any human being. Pronounced as “pro-ma-ya,” this word can be simply translated to “draft”- a current of cold air being drawn indoors. However, when put in a Balkanian context, this word represents a complex phenomenon that has been interwoven in the lives of all the generations. Regardless their age, the Balkan people can be are frequently heard complaining about a nightmarish toothache, terrible headache or someone ill in the family, all due to promaja.

Enemy at all seasons

In order to ward off this natural disaster, people on the Balkans often neglect or ignore the change of seasons. No matter the season, promaja lies in wait, always ready to attack. If it’s winter and it’s cold, you must certainly not think about opening two or more windows at once- the promaja will enter and then only god help you! “Promaja penetrates through the bones and then you end up having rheumatism!”- often warn the elderly who are the experts and survivors of all the disastrous cases of promaja. Summer heat doesn’t help since the promayan threat remains. The rules remain the same and it’s best if you wear an undershirt that would protect your back from the breeze at night. “Don’t be fooled by those 45 Degrees Celsius! If you sleep with an open window at night, you’ll suffer greatly tomorrow!” It’s not rocket science, right?

Another preferable precaution measure is to have a thick piece of clothing, blanket or socks always close at hand. Don’t even think about traveling without these and make sure you have some in spare for your guests. You wouldn’t like to see them in pain just because your kids forgot to close the window of their room before they went out. Still suspicious about the power of the cold wind? Well, you’re not the only one. Most of the foreigners who visit the Balkan countries are astonished to find out that people fear draft as it was a contagious disease or plague. Those who have the luck to become a part of a Balkan family must be ready to face an endless debate over the “promaya effects” and be sure that regardless their scientific proofs and arguments they would undoubtedly lose.

Promaja as phenomenon to tourists, expats and foreigners

One of the non-believers of promaja, Mr. Cody Brown has discussed and examined this subject on his blog zablogreb.hr. Brown is an American who lives in Croatia and who, being provoked by the constant complaints of promaja in his new environment wrote a humorous account of the “fear of promaja” and its mythical status. According to Brown, he and his American friends are used to sleeping with an open window at night and enjoy the wind, so they can’t accept the fact that draft might harm them. Moreover, they find this claim to be extremely funny and consider it no more than a superstition.

If you Google “promaja” in order to find a text about its side-effects, you will hardly run into any serious medical study that dealt with this subject. In fact, most of the doctors on the Balkans claim that there is still no firm medical evidence about the consequential relationship between the draft and the neck or back pains. One of the doctors reported a hilarious case in which one of his patients claimed to have gotten a fever due to promaja although the doctor reassured him that that is impossible since fever or cold are caused by viruses which in neither way could be transmitted through the cold draft in one’s home. The patient, however, kept on looking at the doctor’s diagnosis with doubt, unwilling to bust the myth of such a powerful wrongdoer as the infamous promaja.

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