From Albania to America

In the early 1990’s a lot of foreign visitors were coming and going in our apartment. They were contacts of my dad. And he was kind enough to invite them for dinner. And of course, he was hoping to get something in return! At any rate, my mom was the one who had to bear the brunt of the burden as she was the one who did all the cooking. One of them was an English man from America, named Ian, whom we knew for a long time; another one was an Aromanian man from Romania, and then there was an entire family from England who decided to vacation in Albania in our home! My dad went around the whole country with them, and it was all for naught! Not only did the Englishman not offer any invite to us in England, he brought his neighbor with him!

The American Embassy had really opened shop in Albania at this time. They were even offering Fulbright Grants to those few who dared apply for them. A Fulbright Grant, those of you “not in the business” is essentially a year of university research abroad. And if there is a daring man out there, it is my dad. He really wanted to get out of Albania. I probably would have stayed put! So tipped off by a colleague of his at the Art Institute, my dad heard about these great grants and he headed off right away to the American Embassy. But as these things usually are, once he goes there, he finds out they had already run out. They had only a few. So my dad, I imagine, was very disappointed, but while he was there he met the man in charge of the Fulbright Program in Albania, an American called John. My dad gave him a copy of his book, and this gesture and the fact he even had a book, I believe impressed John. John was a kind man. He felt sympathy for my dad, and he was in a tight spot himself having no Fulbright for him, but he could not help him. Yet, a couple of days more pass, and again as these things usually are, John calls my dad with great news. A couple more Fulbright Grants had come in from America and he told my dad to apply. My dad applied, and the rest is history. In the meanwhile, my dad invited John over to our apartment for dinner; this dinner however was different in that it was a celebration. We never heard from John again. As we left for America, he left for Asia.  (Excerpt from)

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Why the Pilgrims?

On this Thanksgiving, let us discuss the Pilgrims, the people who began this tradition. Who were the Pilgrims? The Pilgrims, in fact, were religious extremists, in the sense they were willing to die for their religious beliefs, or at least suffer greatly for them. More so than your average man or woman, i.e. moderate Christians. They were outcasts in England. They were a group of about 100 people, who lived communally, a society segregated from the rest. And were thus dismissed, despised or even threatened by the English government to worship and live in and among ordinary society. This threat was enough to push the Pilgrims to immigrate to Holland.

Once there they settled into their “society within society.” They worked in the factories, and got adjusted to their new home, which was no easy task. They did not know the language, nor the culture. But what they did have was the freedom to live together and worship freely. Again, they went against the norm. They lived in Holland 10 years as a segregated group of citizens. Their project was clearly sustainable in Holland. But as is usually the case with immigration, it was the children that the parents worried about. The adults felt the next generation would be absorbed into larger society and the segregated community with its religious ideals would die out.

The Pilgrims felt they needed total detachment from encroaching society, whether it be Dutch or otherwise. This kind of freedom could only be found in a place that was thought empty: America. They arrived in Cape Cod, losing many members along the journey. But they were aided by their sailors… their colony made it, though they were plagued by illness, hunger and violent clashes with Native American tribes.

Let us conclude by asking this question: Why the Pilgrims? What made them able to become the first successful English colony of settlers in America? Let us remember others had tried but failed. At least one colony before them was lost.

The reason for their success is unique to them: practice. The Pilgrims started colonial life in England, when they separated themselves from ordinary society. They lived this way for several years. When they immigrated to Holland, they gained ten more years of practice living as a colony, under more challenging circumstances. It was this practice that gave them the confidence and intuition for success in an “empty land”. Without prior separate communal life in England and Holland, the Pilgrims would likely have never survived in America.

Within ten years a flood of settlers began to arrive in New England. The Pilgrims were soon absorbed… This time, however, they welcomed integration, for they viewed all newcomers as separatists.

America

A German named America,

But he named it after an Italian,

Yet this all happened in France,

But America was discovered by Spain,

And the most astonishing fact is that

In America we speak English.

 

Today, we have people here from all over the world,

And the whole world looks to us.

A big nation in a big land in the west,

It’s great and all-encompassing,

But most importantly free

We call it America!

 

this poem is from my book Poems for a Good Occasion