Albania: The Amazing Race

I had completed my long awaited trip. I had spent four weeks in Albania. In this time, I had fulfilled my desire to “be in my country, to walk those streets, to eat that food, to breathe that air.” I had reconnected with my grandparents, as well as many relatives who welcomed me. Though I had been bored, and watched too much TV, though some of my relatives rejected me, and though i did not have the creature comforts of home, or the purpose of the natives and was merely a guest, I achieved my mission. The trip served its purpose. I had gotten Albania out of the system.

Now it was time for my flight back home. I said goodbye to my grandma and grandpa and my aunt and I passed through security. I took a seat in front of my small gate. There are only two at the Tirana airport. It was early morning. It was dark outside. I had been told by my mom that I would be meeting a friend at the airport. In fact, I was told it was a young lady who was perhaps five years younger than myself who was immigrating to the US, and I was supposed to help her along the way. Wanting to find her, I reached out to my neighbor who was a girl about this age. I leaned over and said to her, excuse me miss. However, this girl who apparently took herself to be very pretty thought that I was trying to hit on her, and she refused to turn her head towards me. I said excuse me miss, once, twice, three times. I could tell she could hear and even see me, but she would not turn her head. I knew at that moment that her behavior was characteristically the new Albania, souless to the very core.

Anyhow, be it as it may I gave up on her and sat very quietly. I then got up, walked over to the airport shop and picked up a bottle of water. I sat back down a few seats further out from the unfriendly girl, and perhaps had a sip or two. Meanwhile, another girl sat to the left of me, and soon after yet another girl. The two of them engaged in conversation, and soon enough I leaned over to one of them and asked, excuse me are you Albana? Yes, said she in a friendly and warm way. Albana had no pretensions to great prettiness but was simple, decent and kind. Once the souless girl saw me engaging in conversation with Albana and her friend she finally looked over my way, though she still refused eye contact in order to maintain consistency and her face assumed a friendly look. I thought I even saw a smile play upon her lips. Apparently, now she thought me a harmless young man and wished to be my friend! Hey, perhaps she wished to be friends with all of us. Well, regardless, now it was too late.

Albana was moving to Missouri. Her friend, who was with her mother, told me she was immigrating to Germany. As I heard her say that, I could not believe that people were starting immigration anew this day and age. Perhaps I thought Albania was too good to leave. Perhaps, I thought it absurd that someone should begin anew now that my own battle was over. Perhaps, both. But let the record show that immigration in Albania is still fever pitched. Everybody wants to leave. Even thirty years after isolation was broken and the border was opened, everybody wants to still leave. Sure, word has gotten out that life in the world out there is no easy feat for an immigrant. But this does not deter Albanians. They are willing to brave the disadvantages of being a newcomer. America is their number one destination followed by western European countries. However, one thing is for sure. The immigrants of today are not the immigrants of the early 1990s. They are much more advanced and better equipped. They have more skills. For one thing they can now drive. Secondly, they know some English. Thirdly, they have more money to start life out with. In a word, they aren’t as desperate as the immigrants of old. I’m not saying my family was desperate; we were just like everybody else. But the situation in the early 1990s was a desperate one.

We landed in Vienna. Albana and I were joined by another girl who was immigrating to Canada. We sat for coffee at a nice airport cafe. Here I was among my peers, setting off for a new frontier, and a new life in the new world. I was doing the right thing, the “in thing,” for that is the perception: “Blessed are the ones who leave.” Dismissive and forgetful are Albanians of the difficulties that await them, such as the low pay and fatigue of manual labor. Many Albanians trade in office jobs, or jobs where they lounge around all day, for the American dream. It is better to be struggling in America, than to live like a king in Albania, the thinking goes. I disagree. I personally like Albania.

In Washington DC something strange happened. Albana and I got separated. I was standing after her in line at customs check-in and she got ushered along without me. By the way, as soon as my feet landed on solid ground, I felt entirely disoriented. “Where am I? Albania? America? The moon!” You know how those international flights are; the jet lag makes you lose all awareness of your surroundings. I had not slept a wink all flight. I was as if in a dream state where reality lacked all clarity and nothing could be known. In this state of mind, I would lose my very own head if I could… so it’s probably no wonder that I lost Albana, the very person whom I was entrusted to look out for.

“I can’t believe this,” thought I, as I exited customs. “That girl went on without me! Albanians are all crazy.” I looked left and I looked right, amidst a large throng of people. Nope, there was no sign of Albana. She did not even thank me. She did not even say goodbye. She plain old ditched me. How soulless of her! Totally, the new Albania… Well, be it as may, thought I, now I have to carry on alone, even though I was rudely abandoned. After all, I have a flight myself to catch or I may have to spend the night sleeping in ditch.

After I checked at the front desk, as everyone must re-enter, I began to get ready for security, yet again. And there, as I first approach, I see a person, a girl who just like myself, was totally lost. It was Albana! She had not ditched me… it was all just a terrible misunderstanding. Finally, my faith in humanity had been restored. I thought I knew this girl and I was right. She was decent, simple, and kind. “George, they won’t let me through,” she said. And it was my turn to “strut my stuff” and come to the rescue. Though I am no globe trekker, I know the basics of international travel. I rushed her to the front desk, got her a ticket for Missouri-coincidentally, the very state of this nice girl I had met last time in the DC airport-and we both went back through security. We then said our goodbyes and she was off to her new life in America. Meanwhile, I had lost so much precious time that my flight was departing in just five minutes. I went on a mad dash from security to wherever the hell that gate was, the fastest airport run walk I’ve ever done. By the time I arrive at the gate, there was no one there! The attendant pulled some strings and allowed me to pass. I was the last person on that plane. It pays to hustle.

Mom picked me up in Columbus and I was still on the high of travel. In the car, I madly gulped down a sweet frapaccino from a vending machine, as I had been dying of thirst on my last flight. Boy how I regretted throwing out in DC that full bottle of water I bought in Tirana. On the drive home, I dare say I felt better than the locals, for they had spent the month milling about town, while I had raced halfway around the world. I felt energized with the spirit of Albania deep down in my soul.

Soon enough, I returned to my aimless life here in America holding down some volunteer positions such as working in an animal shelter, going to the gym three times a week, and to my usual coffee houses almost five days a week. Though my life was not a paradise, certainly not the so-called American dream, now at least after visiting my country, reality, or at least my reality no longer seemed and felt bleak, for I now knew this: America, was my country. I am content to walk these streets, to speak English, to eat American food, to breath American air, and to flirt with American women! I am home.

Motivational Quotes 2/19/21

Sometimes we are to live with nothing to lose, while other times we are to live with nothing to gain

Don’t sweat the small stuff

That is what I want… but this is who I am

Want things… If you really want something it is not out of reach

You have no excuses not to change the world -Barack Obama

Choose challenge, not the easy way out

This is the time for bold measures. -Bono

Be content with what you have. And hope for a better tomorrow.

Destiny holds back what you want, and gives what you don’t, until you pay your dues.

This is our mission: to cast a ray of light and pass on -Maria Montessori

technology versus labor

Original Post Thursday, July 3, 2014

I am reminded of the fact that as technology improves less is asked of man but less is given to him too. If you dig a hole with a shovel, you will feel the pain and the pleasure, and get stronger. If a machine does it you will not feel either pain or pleasure and not get stronger. I can point to many examples of the same kind. The car has made life far more convenient, but is it not true that walking is healthier than driving? Another example is reading versus watching a movie. You can get the same basic story from a book or from the screen. But when you read you put in effort and engage the mind to decipher meaning. When you watch a movie, there is no mental effort; not on the same level, and thus no intellectual gain. A life of labor is less comfortable and harder, but by the same token it gives you the pleasure of work and makes you stronger.

Promotion

A collection of all self-help entries I blogged in 2020 is out now as an e-book.

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Albania: Exodus of the early 1990’s

In the early 1990s, after a 47 year isolationist dictatorial regime, Albania was starting to open up. The Berlin Wall had fallen, the USSR had disintegrated, and Romania’s dictator had been promptly executed. All signs pointed to the end of communism. This was the first time that we as a people were allowed to immigrate in almost half a century. And the general mentality in Albania was “Anywhere but here!” In fact, in 1990 when Europe saw that our borders could no longer hold us in, and that we were dying for a breath of air, they opened their doors to us. Embassies from major western European countries like Germany, France, and Italy set up shop and were filled to the brim with people desperate to immigrate. These people had nothing to lose. They tended to be a bit younger in age and perhaps a bit adventurous too. They stood in line, and camped outside from morning till night for days on end, hoping for the embassy doors to open. They did open and everyone was labelled a refugee and got instant political asylum.

At the same time, there were heart wrenching scenes of large cargo ships being stormed by thousands of people who climbed aboard via ropes! These ships were for the daring and desperate. They sailed to the nearby Italian coast; this journey took place a few times until the final one sunk under suspicious circumstances. The most accessible destination was Greece; it was reachable by foot over mountain and field, or by vehicle. Being the most developed nation in the Balkans, and part of the European Union, it was the default destination for countless Albanian refugees, mainly from the south. It is fair to say there was an exodus of Albanian immigrants in the early 1990’s; something that was bound to happen after a nation was forced into isolation, and thus into poverty, for over 45 years.

America was the ultimate dream for us Albanians. There a culture reigned where America was and is beloved. I don’t know when the love of America began; perhaps it began at the very beginning when America defeated Great Britain to become civilization’s final frontier in 1776. Although, historically, I don’t know when the first Albanians started immigrating to America, by 1900, the largest community was in Boston numbering at about 50,000. Other large cities such as New York and Chicago may have had similar sized communities at the time. Then in 1944, our communist government put a stop to all emigration, particularly to America. We were now allied with Russia, and later with China. These Eastern powers became our mentors, and we were made to believe America was our enemy.

Albania has always looked up to America, and with good reason. It can be argued America is Albania’s greatest ally. In 1920, America came to our aid at the end of the first world war. At this time, our Slavic neighbors, and Greece wanted to use the chaotic opportunity to partition Albania altogether and take it for themselves. Their armies invaded the country and and our very existence was threatened. Although, other major European powers like Italy, Austria, and France were actors in the decision as to Albania’s fate, it would be America under the leadership of President Wilson that supported and conclusively reaffirmed our independence. This made our countries allies. In 1999, it would be with the aid and protection of America that Kosovo’s Albanians would survive the Serbian campaign of genocide. In 2008, our alliance was renewed yet again when Kosovo declared independence, with support and recognition from America.

On top that, like it does to much of the world, to us as people, America gave us hope; in the early 1990s Albania was a small eastern nation with a troubled recent past, and bleak immediate future. By contrast, here was America, a big western nation, powerful, with a storied past and a promising future. We were all dying to come here! It was a dream so big that we dare not dream it. America in our eyes was larger than life. Certainly, part of this impression had to do with the fact that no one had ever come to America and lived to tell about it. America was the dream of the unknown. Although, our dictator had tried to brainwash us that America was an evil imperialist who had intentions of invading Albania for decades on end, and he even forced us to build thousands of unsightly “defensive bunkers,” which littered neighborhoods and the countryside alike, by the fall of his regime we were free to think for ourselves.

Our natural inclination was to look up to America. Not Russia, not China; as the communist regime had bade us do all those decades, but America, the forward thinking western super power. We all dreamt of coming to America. Of all possible destinations, America the best; a nation built by immigrants for immigrants. In my family, in the early 1990’s, my dad really wanted out of Albania. But God knows my family was not “the cargo ship” type. Dad was a musicologist. He didn’t have that sort of daring in him. Dad thought of all possible destinations particularly the ones where he had contacts, through work. In Europe, this included Romania, England and Austria. But none of them came to pass.

Like other western embassies, the American embassy also opened in Albania at this time. There were rumors they were even offering Fulbright Grants to those few who dared apply; this was the type of daring appropriate for dad. He was an academic. However, earning a Fulbright was impossible at first. There were none! However, dad got a chance to meet the person in charge of the Fulbright Program in Albania, a man called John. Dad gave him a copy of his book; this gesture, and the fact he even had written a book, I believe impressed John. John was a kind man, but he could not help dad; there simply were no grants left, for any one. It was a game of numbers; too many applicants, too few grants. The small budget was already spent. Yet, as fate goes, after months and months pass, John calls dad with great news. A few Fulbright Grants had come in from America and he told dad to apply. He applied, and the rest is history. In the meanwhile, dad invited John over to our apartment for dinner; it was a celebration. We never heard from John again. As we left for America, he left for Asia.

Contains excerpts from my essay: “How did I get here? Out of the Old country and into the new World.”

Motivational Quotes 1/29/21

Every human is a reality.

Nine times out of ten, the trouble you run away from is nothing compared to the trouble you run into. Face up to trouble. (Lassie)

How am I to get through this day?

Be kind; Kindness works better than hate.

Part of me knows i’m growing too old -kongos

I don’t believe in luck; I believe in hard work and preparation -Jeff Gordon

Sing, dance or run up the stairs; capture an ordinary moment with a burst of enthusiasm

At the end of the day we are happy for no other reason than our aches, pains and troubles are for now over

Happiness is when the soul shines through the face and body.

We did nothing to earn this life, so of course it would be only half a blessing. But the next life we earn by this life’s toils; of course it must be heaven!

Jorgo: the lost Socratic dialogue

I was walking to my car after visiting a diner in the Short North, an artsy old fashioned neighborhood near downtown Columbus. I had ordered a slice of pie. It was pecan and overwhelmingly sweet, thus immoderately good. But it was overheated and I burned my mouth at first, about which the waitress apologized. She was a friendly woman, about my age and tried to make me feel at home. And then she brought me my bill: Four dollars and forty cents. I was shocked, how can you charge four dollars and forty cents for a slice of pie! Nevertheless I made not a peep about it, rounded the total up to five, and left on foot. All the way back to my car, I kept indignantly repeating to myself: “How can you charge four dollars and thirty cents for a slice of pie. How can you possibly charge four dollars and thirty cents for a slice of pie.”

Instead of going to my car, I decided to take a walk through the park. This park was large and though not ever busy, on nice days, like this warm and sunny Spring morning, had a sparse amount of pedestrians. In the end I sat on a park bench to gather myself. While meditating, as I stared at the small pond ahead of me with ducks in the corner and the small fountain at its center, I couldn’t help but fall asleep. And I dreamt as if I had somehow travelled in time and found myself in the midst of a Socratic dialogue in an open air amphitheater of ancient Greece. Upon seeing me, Socrates, interrupted his talk, and called me down to center stage.

Socrates: Who are you and whence come you?

Me: My name is George and I come from the future.

Socrates: Have you lost your wits?

Me: No, sir, I come from the year 2021.

Socrates : Your name is foreign. What country is it from?

Me: America.

Socrates : Never heard of it. I shall call you Jorgo. How is life in the year 2021?

Me: Terrible, currently a huge pandemic has plagued our world.

Socrates: You are given to dreaming my son.

Me: I am not lying.

Socrates: And what is it that you are wearing?

Me: Jeans and a T-Shirt.

Socrates: You look terrible. Is this the fashion of the day or are you the only one without any sense of taste?

Me: Everyone dresses like this in the future.

Socrates: Tell me something else about the future.

Me: Greece is not the best country anymore.

Socrates: Shame on you, you lack wisdom! Greece will last forever. And what else is new?

Me: There is a lot of technology now.

Socrates: Such as?

Me: Computers.

Socrates: What do they do?

Me: They can be used to type, surf the internet, videochat, or hang out on social media.

Socrates: Hold on there, just a minute, you really have lost me. Is there no philosophy in the future?

Me: Not a single word.

Socrates: Really, is there no cultivation of virtue in youth?

Me: Not really.

Socrates : Is there no study of logic?

Me: Not really.

Socrates: What do you mean? Is there no philosophers in the future?

Me: There are some… but not like you and Plato.

Socrates : How so, how do they differ?

Me: In many ways.

Socrates : In dress?

Me: Yes.

Socrates : In hair style?

Me: Yes.

Socrates : In shoe style?

Me: Yes.

Socrates : In outward appearance, you mean to say?

Me: Yes

Socrates : Well, what about their thoughts? Are they sound? Or do they go on ringing in a long harangue like brazen pots which when they are struck continue to sound unless someone puts his hand upon them?

Me: The philosophers of the future are eminent professors in universities, but perhaps, now that you mention it, they do go on ringing in a long harangue like brazen pots…

Socrates : Young man, all of this talk of the future is empty and hollow. The technology you have mentioned is hogwash, your clothes lack style, the philosophy of the future is a non-starter, and the idea that Greece is to fall is a big goose egg. If this is our future, I weep for it, and am so very glad I shall never see it!

I then woke up, as a baby in a stroller, being pushed by a mom was crying aloud. I gathered my wits, wiped the slobber off my face, and became well aware of my hapless situation. It was a strange dream indeed, thought I. I looked around the pond, saw a few people walking, including office workers on lunch break, a young couple, and the same ducks by the water fountain. The sky was blue and the sun was shining. I got up and walked to my car, meditating on my dream. I got to my car, opened the door, and drove off. So charming left Socrates’ voice, that I the while, thought him still speaking.

The End

(Contains phrases from Plato)

A strange day in our history

What happened to our country? I am not a political pundit. But I will say a few words about what happened on Wed. Jan. 6, 2021. I turn on the TV and see a mad mob storming the capital ready to do “God knows what”. And I learn the mob was doing the president’s bidding; Our president’s bidding! Not the bidding of a president of an enemy country… As I was watching in real time, I felt stressed out and even traumatized. Whether you are Republican or Democrat, it is undeniable that this was a malicious act.

What deeper lessons are we to learn here, besides politics? The most important one is words have power; they are converted into deeds. Good words inspire good deeds. Bad words inspire bad deeds. Mr. Trump, through bad words, brought out the worst in his followers; anger, hostility, and hate. They took these negative emotions and ran with them straight to Congress, and in their gestures: punching, kicking, screaming, his followers revealed what they felt deep down inside: anger, hate and hostility. At the whole world! They were suffering and they sought relief in violence against their enemies, the public officials who prevented their leader from his perceived rightful position in society: president.

Trump made his followers suffer his pain. His rioters were under his spell of hate. The truth is hate only hurts him who feels it. What his followers really needed was a message of kindness. They also needed to be taught about tolerance; tolerance of defeat, tolerance of one’s political opponents and of opposite points of view, tolerance of those who are of a different race, color, or creed. Trump’s people had been consuming the wrong message far too long far too fervently.

Where does the country go from here? Well, now we have a “normal president.” Mr. Biden is well past his prime, perhaps too old for the job, not charismatic like Trump, nor an idiot savant, but he appears to espouse the right values: Kindness, tolerance, gentleness. Perhaps that is what the country needs at this point in time. Maybe it’s good to have a boring president because politics should be boring, if it is done right. Trump was an entertainer… while he did some good things, his style was too exciting to be good. He espoused the wrong values. Now it’s somebody else’s turn…

Albania: Feudalism of the Middle Ages

The feudal system of the Middle Ages that we associate with western Europe from about the 9th to the 15th century, was also a part of Albanian society. Although Albania was part of a larger empire, the Byzantine Empire, owing to wars and invasions, the power Constantinople had over Albania was not absolute. The local governors had to have their own armies for protection. Invasion was a constant threat. The commoners had to seek protection from these governors who exploited their power. They took the property of the poor either through unfair rates, or force and turned the peasants into serfs on their large estates. Thus a new aristocracy was born.

Although the emperors from Constantinople attempted to thwart this new societal development, history was not on their side. Moreover, sometimes emperors such as those of the Comneni dynasty supported feudalism, so long as the landlords agreed to go to war for the empire. With time the landlords refused even that, and they were aided by certain events, such as the capture of Constantinople in the fourth crusade (AD 1203). This crusade weakened a crumbling empire, and made it possible for a foreign invader, the Ottoman Turks, to capture Constantinople permanently in the 15th century.


They feudal lords called themselves Dukes, Princes, or Despots, and married only among their own rank; sooner marrying outside their nationality, than outside their caste. They built castles to live in and ran organized societies with their own military, city councils, or even money. Their serfs supplied them with goods as well as money. Peasant life was tough; not only did they suffer hard labor but also tyranny; and this moved them to revolt, from time to time. One revolt in 1336 first brought Turkish soldiers to Albania who were hired to crush it by Emperor, and crush it they did. At that time, peasants were freer on the mountains, as the mountains were inaccessible to the feudal landlords. These communities bred animals and were most independent. But by the same token, owing to isolation, they were less civilized.

Although Albania was often made part of larger empires, often led by outsiders, such as the Byzantine Empire, or the Bulgarian Empire, or short lived empires liked the Serbian Empire, Albanian towns always had some degree of self governance. After the 12th century, major towns like Durres, Shkodra, and Lezha became largely independent. These free cities sooner had to struggle against the feudal princes nearby than against the emperor in Constantinople. These princes waged a heavy tribute tax on these tows. But as tyrannous and miserly as the feudal princes were, it was even worse when independence was lost altogether to a foreign power, like Venice, and soon after the Ottoman Empire.

Source:
Tajar Zavalani, History of Albania

Motivational Quotes 12/18/20

Good decisions are made in good times; bad decisions are made in bad times

Timing is the source of luck; both of the good and the bad

Luck is another word for fate; they’re opposite sides of the same coin

Every face is a mirror and reflects you your own, in a way no other can

The eyes like a familiar face since long absent

Beauty eases pain

Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall -Shakespeare

How often have the good suffered only because they were within the scope of influence of the bad…

We often dislike those we’ve hurt -Gretchen Rubin

To be good is to be happy; he who is good is happy, and he who is happy is good

Albania: Memories of Durres

During this visit i had a most unremarkable time in Durres; being so near Tirana, less than one hour away, my company and I drove there haphazardly one Sunday, coupling it with a visit to the Bay of Lalzi; a secluded beach that in my view outdoes the one at Durres. At Lalzi, we parked our car, walked past the woods and to my pleasant surprise were met with a white sand beach strewn with cute wooden umbrellas the kind of which I’d never seen before. The only catch was it was a cool, cloudy and somber day and not a soul was around. We strolled a bit, jumped back in the car and zigzagged through a suburban neighborhood of nice, gated houses; a concept that didn’t even exist back when I was growing up here. We only stayed in Durres for lunch, eating in the restaurant of a random hotel. The food was average, the weather dreary and rainy…

I prefer to remember the Durres of my youth. Back then, Durres was a popular beach destination. Being on the Adriatic coast not too far from Tirana, though back in those times one took the train, it was the default destination for middleclass Albanian families of all nearby towns. We went there every summer, for one or maybe two weeks.

One particular vacation to Durres that comes to mind is 1990. I know this because it was a World Cup year, and being a young Albanian kid, I was mad about soccer. I was only seven but I understood the game and I loved watching it and playing with my friends outside on the dusty asphalt of our apartment building. Today, except for the World Cup, you can’t pay me to watch your soccer! I prefer football but back in that time and place I was a fanatic, like my brother and our friends. All the men in the country were soccer heads. All the women never watched a single game! But now times have changed there and girls and women participate in athletics.

That year a friend and colleague of my dad’s was also vacationing with his family in Durres. This guy had a kind of gift at getting ahead in life under communism. He always found a way to make friends with those in power and in turn secure advancement for himself and his family under the most meagre of material circumstances. Well, in Durres, he did it again! He had pulled some strings, and booked a room for his family in the fanciest hotel in town, reserved at that time for western tourists and the political elite only. We would visit them daily and live the high life which to me today seems standard, but back in that day when material possessions were so very lacking, everything this hotel had was a big deal.

It was the at that very hotel that I first became exposed to color television. At home, all throughout my life we only had black and white TV. Seeing this new color TV set in the lobby of the hotel was a huge deal. It was a new thing for us. Moreover, it was absolutely awesome because that World Cup I mentioned was taking place at this time. We could watch games on color TV! Boy oh boy, I have seen one of the wildest soccer games of my life on that TV. It went into overtime and then into penalties. We were loving every second of it, only as a fanatic can!

Another incident that took place at this hotel was more comical. It was here that I tasted Coca Cola for the first time in my life. But not in the usual way, where one buys a drink and enjoys it. No, we weren’t staying at the hotel so I suppose we weren’t allowed to buy anything. Besides we didn’t know what coke was. Anyhow, my mom, my brother and I, and her friend and her two sons went up to an empty table spontaneously on a patio cafe where the privileged westerners had just leisured and left all their pop cans. Well, we saw the remains of a dark fizzed drink at the bottom of their glasses. Out of curiosity to know what it was, and perhaps to see what the fancy tourists were having, we picked up their cans and had a taste. It was awesome! It was Coca Cola. It was also pathetic that our country’s economy could not even provide us that…