Albania: The Fulbright Application

I got an idea. This time around I wasn’t going to go to Albania just to visit. I was going to go there with a purpose; a purpose would sweeten the deal. My big idea: I imagined teaching English and perhaps American culture to local students in Tirana. I found a program called the Fulbright Foreign Exchange program which offers grants to do teaching and research abroad. I was not a professor, but Fulbright had a program for students or new graduates. I was thirty at the time but I fit the requirements because I graduated college late, at twenty seven. 

Fulbright for Students was a prestigious government program.  But I thought I had several qualifications. First of all I was Albanian. That should count for something; I mean I knew the language, I was born there, and I was well acquainted with the country. I had been there on three previous visits and had lived there until  age 9. Secondly, I was a writer; granted I had never written a scholarly work before, but nevertheless I had already written a poetry book and 2 novels. That certainly ought to count for something, and most of all, I had the strong desire to reconnect with Albania. Any immigrant who goes to a new country can never forget his motherland. The older I grew the more I became interested in my roots. Thus I thought that Fulbright would be the perfect opportunity for me to go and live in the place that gave birth to me, Albania.

I filled out the online application, I gathered letters of recommendation, I scooped up transcripts from my alma mater and I wrote a project statement. About six months later I got a reply from the Fulbright student program: “Mr. George Shetuni, you are a terrible writer; how dare you apply! Please, never talk to us, write to us, or even think of us ever again.” Kidding!  Nuk ja mbusha syrin, as they say in Albanian. “I did not fulfill their vision.” Maybe I was too qualified for their taste. Maybe they wanted someone the opposite of me, a slacker who partied his way through college with a D average, skipping all classes, attending all football games, and who can’t even locate Mexico on the map, let alone Albania.  Well, anyhow, be it as it may, being a writer, I can handle rejection. I’m used to literary agents rejecting me all the time. It doesn’t bother me. OK, maybe it does, for a day, but it gradually wears off.

My dreams of going to Albania and being officially affiliated with an Albanian university blew up in smoke. That achievement would have boosted my ego, given me a sense of pride, purpose and accomplishment and practically speaking, a lot of money. But I was not going to receive a grant; nor was i going to receive a class of students to guide; nor was I was going to live in Albania for nine months. But I would go there under my own initiative, independently, for one month, with my own money, and have no one to teach but my own self.

Today’s Albania video:

Jemima in Albania

Petro Marko (Albanian Writer)

“What are memories? Life lived with emotions, with all the weapons that keep it alive, with all the norms and canons which the assembly of centuries has created.
Once I have written eight stanzas about MEMORIES. And, as far as I remember, I said:
“O memories, o my life! Come out of there from where you’ve been thrown gathered with your determination, without any crush or threat, come out just as you were registered on the unending reel of my magnetic-brain. I need you now!”

Why did I ask for my memories to come out, to come out just as they were gathered from the emotions, visions, images, scenes, dramas, tragedies, tragi-comedies of my life? Because then when I wrote these stanzas, I was interned on the deserted island of Ustica, there on that lonesome bank, far from Sicily, far from Palermo. And the person separated from life, or better termed dead, because dead is he that lives with memories, winds his magnetic-brain and passes time quietly, by counting the steps of his feet and of his thought, of his heart and of his experience.

What remains in memory, has passed through the screen of years, of worries, and of dreams, of bare reality and of the deep footprints of emotions, images, visions, landscapes, hands, eyes, hearts, voices, lamentations, songs, dances, intrigues, passions, preoccupations, loves, flirtations, languages, sounds, daily shows on the endless screen of life . . .”

-Petro Marko, excerpt from autobiography, Interview with Myself

***

Across the street, mom and I saw a big sign that read: Petro Marko Library. We mentioned it to Uncle Ibrahim who proudly and confidently said Petro Marko is from Vlora. But who is Petro Marko anyway? Petro Marko (1913 – 1991) is an Albanian writer. I have read his autobiography. It is full of adventure. His opinion of himself is that he is a special person, shrouded in mystery. He is also a rebel. And no one can have Petro Marko. For example, one day, after graduating high school, he was leaning up against a wall in Tirana. He was jobless, sharing a shack with a few buddies, and next to starving. A government official, a big shot, pulled up to him with his car driven by a chauffeur.

He rolled down the window and said to Petro: “Sonny, why aren’t you eating lunch?” Petro replied: “May you eat for all of us, your Excellency!” But that big shot had a big heart. He was impressed and he made arrangements for Petro to go to a village in the south and work as a teacher. Later in life, Petro found himself in France. While there he got an innocent English girl to fall in love with him. But of course that could not work. She cried after him in letters, he says, and sadly, she wound up living in a huge estate with her wealthy grandma, a lonely maid for her entire life. But enough about Petro Marko. This is about me! We made it off the main street. It was dark but from what I could see Vlora did not look pretty on that night; broken sidewalks, dirty roads, and old, decaying apartments.

excerpt from my travel diary: Albania: A Visit Back Home (2012)