Albania: Culture Shock

Albania in 2012 was special. In 2014 the lustre of Albania had worn off. It no longer felt wondrous or special. Now it all just felt messy. Moreover, often times I was struck by the sentiment that I hated being a guest. “I wouldn’t wish being a guest on anybody,” thought I. “My relatives go about their lives, and here I am, sitting on the couch, doing nothing, or even worse, watching too much TV.” Part of the problem was this trip came “out of time” My previous visits to Albania had all been spaced four years apart.  I rushed this return home, reappearing on home soil less than a year and a half later. My relatives felt my return too sudden, and did not yet miss me enough, to feel warmly towards me.

I don’t want to sound like sour grapes, but in Tirana, I felt no one welcomed me. Sure, my grandparents loved and welcomed me. But not my aunt and her twin sons. They worked all day, came home late, ate dinner and left early in the morning, without even saying good bye; they were not to be found till Sundays, their day off. I also felt a few other relatives in town made no effort to see me, or even call me. I suppose when one lives so far, for so long, the ties that bind weaken…or apparently break altogether. The mood of the country felt very foreign and cold to me. It wasn’t just “long lost relatives” such as myself that were being forgotten and dismissed. It was everyone!

Today Albania leaves you cold. Nobody cares for family anymore. Everybody was cold and it was the norm to be cold. This fact was true particularly of the new generation, my generation that is. I was not asking my relatives to go out  of their way; all I was asking for was that they acknowledge my visit; even a phone call would have done the trick. When this did not happen, the rejection fell on my mind, and it stung. That being said, even in these hard social times, good people are still good and will always be so under any social order; only the bad turn cold.

Nowadays, the people of the old school, the elderly, are the only warm generation. By nature the elderly are kinder and more loving towards the young. Moreover, they grew up under a different social system. Say what you will of communism economically, but it was a warm and decent society where people upheld their duties and obligations towards one another. In the Albania of Communism, no one could have gotten away with snubbing a relative who is visiting from halfway around the world. In the new Albania, snubbing immigrant, long lost relatives is common practice. Some people perhaps are petty enough to even relish it. In this sense I could not believe what was happening. This is not the Albania I left. It was my experience with culture shock.

But is not every immigrant who returns to his beloved home in for a rude awakening? Faik Konica, the early 20th century Albanian writer and politician when visiting Albania in 1913 was in for a rude awakening:

“I decided to set off for Albania, convinced that I would find as likable and becoming a world as the one I had described to outsiders. My awakening was horribly rude-and laughable. After a few months of strolling among sour and unshaven faces, one morning in the late fall of 1913, I was handed an “official” ticket in Durrës that was strange, and this ticket, still written in Turkish and in a military style, ordered me to, “break your neck and get on the ship heading for Brindisi today because we have no need for your kind” … Such wounds never heal completely and if they close, they leave an eternal scar in the soul. But there’s one good thing about them: They become a lesson for the future.”

Of course, because when one is away for so long his memories of home turn romantic. And he forgets the reality. Moreover, he has evolved into some other being inconsistent with the land that bore him; while his home has also evolved into some other being that knows not. He is naturally impressed by its progress, yet upset by its regress; for both processes happen over time. But he does not want his home to change! He wants his home to stay the same, as he always remembered it, a good and kind place.

 

Albania: The Persuasion to Visit

Where should I begin? Let’s begin where I last left off. “I was depressed, for one whole month,” wrote I at the end of my essay, “Albania: A Visit Back Home,” which recounted my last visit to Albania in 2012. I was depressed for one whole month? That was not enough or even accurate; try for one whole year and half, for it is true, friends, I missed my country, and i wanted to go back there.

I kept leading an aimless life here in America holding down some volunteer positions in the meanwhile. I worked as a librarian, shelving DVDs. Other than picking up a movie after work to reward myself, it wasn’t very rewarding. I worked in an animal shelter, and got to pet cats and walk dogs, but that wasn’t my passion. I went to the gym three times a week, but it was all for show. I was no body builder, nor a fitness buff. I went to coffee houses almost five days a week, to the point of boredom. I always sat alone, even though I would have preferred friends. At my favorite shop, there was an elegant brunette making coffee behind the counter who I always looked at. She knew I liked her, so she made sure to avoid my glance. There was no point in attempting to ask her out. I would certainly have been denied and so I never did.
All the while reality, or at least my reality seemed and felt bleak, for what I desired was to be back in my country, to walk those streets, to speak that language, to taste that food, and to be denied by those women! I suppose I just felt things would be better there. I couldn’t wait and so I made sure to go back there a year and a half later in April of 2014; to Albania, that I thought was a beautiful place. i thought i would have a wonderful time.

However this time around, unlike my previous visit in 2012 nothing was the same. It appears that history is a sequence of opposites. While everything went wonderful then and it was the vacation of a life time, the vacation in 2014 was anything but, and perhaps that is why i have yet to write it down until now, 5 years after the fact. But today I’m writing it down because I’m bored and what do writers do when they get bored? They do the same thing everyone does. They practice their craft, and so I will practice mine.

to be continued…

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Today’s historical reading:

excerpt from Lord Byron’s letter to his mother (1809)

To me he (Ali Pasha, Albanian tribal chief) was indeed a father, giving me letters, guards, and every possible accommodation. Our next conversations were of war and travelling, politics and England. He called my Albanian soldier who attends me, and told him to protect me at all hazards. His name is Viscillie and like all the Albanians, he is brave, rigidly honest, and faithful, but they are cruel though not treacherous, and have several vices, but no meannesses. They are perhaps the most beautiful race in point of countenance in the world, their women are sometimes handsome also, but they are treated like slaves, beaten and in short complete beasts of burthen, they plough, dig and sow, I found them carrying wood and actually repairing the highways. The men are all soldiers, and war and the chase their sole occupations. The women are the labourers, which after all is no great hardship in so delightful a climate.

I could tell you I know not how many incidents that I think would amuse you, but they crowd on my mind as much as would swell my paper, and I can neither arrange them in the one, or put them down on the other, except in the greatest confusion and in my usual horrible hand. I like the Albanians much, they are not all Turks, some tribes are Christians, but their religion makes little difference in their manner or conduct; they are esteemed the best troops in the Turkish service. I lived on my route two days at once, and three days again in a Barrack at Salora, and never found soldiers so tolerable, though I have been in the garrisons of Gibraltar and Malta and seen Spanish, French, Sicilian and British troops in abundance.

Full Letter: Albanianhistory.net

Today’s Albania travel video: Jack and Gab in Durres, Albania

photo: AdventurousKate