Albania: Kruja

Kruja is a small town in north central Albania that belongs to the cultural region of the Northern Highlands. Its population including villages in the surrounding county may be as high as seventy thousand. It is situated on the mountain of Kruja, which has many natural springs, perhaps the origin of its namesake: Krue in Albanian means spring. We do not have any mention of Kruja in antiquity. It seems to have been inhabited since the seventh or eighth century. Its possible that the Illyrian tribe, called the Albanoi by Ptolemy, lived in the nearby village of Zgerdheshi. These people may later have settled the area that became Kruja. The first written mention of Kruja occurs in a Christian record of the 9th century. Kruja likely was the first feudal Albanian state, of the Arbanum tribe, established in 1190. The town flourished during the 13th and 14th centuries but its development would be periodically halted by invaders.

The Turks first arrived in 1396, though it would take another twenty years for them to begin their assault. Though they captured the town, the people of Kruja put up a series of uprisings, a strong one of which was led by Gjon Kastrioti, Skenderbeg’s father. Then, when the son, Gjergj Kastrioti, Skenderbeg, came of age, Kruja became Albania’s strongest point of resistance against the Ottoman Turks. Once he captured Kruja, Skenderbeg’s principality remained independent for 25 years, for the remainder of his life, and it would take 10 more years after his passing for the Turks to capture his castle. However, the Ottoman attacks cost a lot to the town and Albania. Castles, churches, and old characteristic buildings were lost, including artistic and even literary works.

I have visited Kruja in the past and have been impressed by its rugged mountainous terrain and as well as its severe atmosphere. Is there a positive side to the ruggedness of the highlands? It’s possible. Skanderbeg, Albania’s national hero and greatest warrior in medieval battle was from the rugged highlands. Likewise, Gjergj Fishta, who wrote Albania’s national epic-a poem about war-was also from the rugged highlands. And Shkodra, another highland town is known for its fierceness in battle, preventing an Ottoman takeover of their citadel in two sieges. Likewise Marin Barletti, the medieval Shkodran scholar, had markedly heroic approach to his chronicles and he himself was a soldier in the siege of Shkodra. Although we definitely cannot prove it, it is possible this rugged environment bred clansmen with battle toughness, one unmatched by southern Albania. Southern Albania has not produced a warrior like Skenderbeg. Though it has produced a finer culture, with more intellectuals like the brothers Frasheri.

Yet at the same time, the Northern Highlands have suffered what sociologists call an “honor culture,” a culture of family feuds and vendettas which has been known to exist in other rugged highlands such as those of Sicily, Scotland and Appalachia in the US. Supposedly, this culture arose from the need to protect one’s cattle from theft. However, this culture did not take root in southern Albania, where shepherding is also common. Certainly, the rugged mountains facilitated this unfortunate custom. But it would seem, this is a regional cultural trait too. It endured until the Communists, who though discredited, did good to put a stop to the senseless violence. After communism, the custom sprang up again, but now this unfortunate culture thankfully seems to be put behind.

I really did enjoy my time in Kruja back in 2012. The best part of the town is the old bazaar, a tiny stone lane, said to be 5 centuries old, and offering all sorts of Albanian knickknacks and decorations a tourist could want. I met a shop keeper, a woman who spoke to me in the northern accent, which surprised me. Although I grew up in nearby Tirana, only 45 minutes south, Albanian there has a different accent. The lady did not have a trace of humor to her face, but was of a very sincere kindly disposition. Try as I may, I could not get a smile out of her. Yet, she took a liking to me because I told her I came from America, where her son had emigrated to. Now that I come to think of it, she was an embodiment of her environment.

My mom and I along with my aunt and cousins then walked past the bazaar which led straight onto the castle. Though the ravages of age such as an earthquake of 1617 and a further Turkish onslaught in 1832 after another uprising, had taken a toll, some of it was still standing and housed a historical museum dedicated to medieval Kruja and its heroic native son Skenderbeg. After visiting it, we ate pilaf in the patio of a restaurant housed at the end of the castle. The day was obscured by clouds, which seemed to hang near us on the mountain top. There were no other diners. But we were surrounded by a family of cats, aiming at our chicken bones, who called old Kruja, this tiny, secret gem their home. This day trip, as if one back in time, to the home of Skanderbeg, was quite special.


Kruja and Her Monuments
Shtepia Botuese 8 Nentori

Motivational Quotes 2/25/22

Each person is a piece in a puzzle assembled by God who finds the perfect fit for everyone in every situation to compose a wonderful picture of the whole world.

It’s not just survival of the fittest; it’s also survival of the ones who fit in, for acceptance into the group means survival, rejection means misfortune.

Only love breaks a heart – Modern Talking

Life is bestowed. Heaven is earned.

When you have nothing to play for, keep playing.

No one is judging you.

It is by seeing what we aren’t that we know who we are.

We see reality with our feelings not with our eyes.

Activity is a virtue. Passivity is a vice.

You already are a success.

Albania: The Ottoman Invasion

Albania came under the sway of the Ottomans in the early 1400’s and would remain in their empire-although not wholly and not all the time-until 1912. But who are the Ottomans? The people who came to be known as Ottomans were the Muslim Turcomans, or Turkish tribes who originated in central Asia and moved to Iran and eastern Anatolia. Many of them were nomadic. Partly owing to the Mongol invasions of the 1200s in Eastern Turkey, which oppressed them, they migrated west, and began settling near the border of the Byzantine Empire.

Once there, they embarked on a Gazi, or Holy War, against the Christians of the Byzantine Empire. The crusader with land closest to Constantinople was Osman, a capable soldier, who in 1302 led an ambush against the Byzantines in a decisive battle. Their win first established the Ottoman principality. He and his people wrested provinces in western Anatolia from Byzantium, and many Turks flocked to do battle with him, calling themselves Osmanlis. Their mission was holy war and colonization.

Emboldened by their seemingly easy conquests in the western frontier, the Muslim incursion of Gazi crusaders gained great momentum and the prospect of even entering Europe became a real one. Constantinople was very much occupied keeping the Balkan provinces in check; it didn’t have the capability to defend itself from the East. With each passing year, the Ottomans kept gaining ground and rising in power. By the 1350s the Ottomans had taken Salonica and Gallipoli. Then came Adrianople, which would be their capital for almost 100 years. Constantinople, was in such poor shape it hired Ottomans to hold on to its Balkan provinces. This portended a bleak future for its survival. The Ottomans could turn on it. But it was desperate.

There was a renewed campaign to unite the Orthodox and Latin church in order to strengthen the Empire. Appeals for protection were made to Western nations. A call was made for a crusade not recapture Jerusalem but to save Constantinople. But history was not on Byzantium’s side. Now at over 1000 years old, perhaps, the ravages of ages finally caught up with it.

Within the Balkans, Ottoman soldiers found plenty of work in the armies of feudal lords to fight neighboring peoples. Sometimes nobles of the same nation hired Turkish soldiers to fight each other. They were all playing with fire. Division within the Balkan peninsula along ethnic and religious lines greatly weakened it. Yet the new invader was not a scourge upon all. Bulgarians, for example, preferred Turkish occupation to Hungarian occupation. Likewise, Albanians also preferred Turkish rule to their Serb rivals. This only hastened the Ottoman incursion.

In 1385 the Turks first came to Durres as mercenaries of a local lord, who was fighting a fellow Albanian in the north. Three years after winning this battle, the Turks returned again, this time not under the command of a local lord but under the direction of the sultan himself to conquer for their own benefit. Although many feudal lords finally united, it was too late. They were beaten and soon enough each of them were forced to become vassals of the Sultan. Meanwhile in 1453 Constantinople finally fell to the long coming threat, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire.


Zavalani, Tajar. History of Albania. London: 1963. Robert Elsie and Bejtullah Destany 2015.

Inalcik, Halil. The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300-1600. Phoenix Press, 2013.

Motivational Quotes 1/28/22

There is a buildup to luck; once a special event occurs, luck is spent, and it takes time to build luck up again.

The objective to life is to fulfill your destiny.

It doesn’t matter what others may think of us; it only matters what we think of ourselves.

Be fair to others; be fair to yourself. Judge not others; judge not thy own self.

To start is always the hardest part.

Everything starts off with enthusiasm; the trick is to keep going when the enthusiasm wears off.

Work makes rest better. Rest makes work better.

How am I to get through this day? And only this day.

Cope, manage, deal.

Albania: Brave Old World

Recently I’ve been rereading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. This book was a high school favorite of mine for the reason that it discusses forced conformity and brainwashing, two things that I faced and that I think every young person is faced with to some degree from his peers and false friends. Here I am, all these years later, relating to this story now for the opposite reason; Now instead of being faced with brainwashing, in order to arrive at “stability,” I have essentially arrived at the perfect point of stability, and I didn’t have to sell my soul it! It just came about naturally. How? With age, of course! Time heals all wounds, and time cools all heads. The only problem is that the adult mind is too stable, and not exciting like the spirit of youth. Regardless, although life doesn’t have the thrills of youth, it does have more peace. Yet age brings physical health problems, which make this stage of life harder, but I can’t blame that on a conformist society that tries to brainwash its members.

Now let us move on to the Albania blog. Let us pose this question: Can one draw an analogy between the US and Albania, where the US represents the Brave New World and Albania represents the Indian reservation? Certainly we can. Here is the comparison. Like the Brave New World, the US is a more perfect society: quiet, clean, law-abiding, and orderly. By comparison Albania is more “savage”: messy, noisy, hectic, unpleasant, disorderly, and chaotic.

In the US, to quote Huxley, “there isn’t any need for a civilized man to bear anything that’s seriously unpleasant.” If true, this certainly draws people to come here. But by the same token, the US is a much less soulful country than Albania. Stability gets rid of soul. A messy country is full of soul.

“My dear friend, civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism,” says the Controller, dismissing the good qualities born of strife.

“But tears are necessary,” says the savage. You’ll get plenty of tears in Albania, if not literal, proverbial. Life there is more of a rollercoaster ride than the US. One has to endure a dizzy array of “flies and mosquitoes”; where it be open sewers, fellow passengers breathing down your neck in a city bus, or drivers who feel pedestrians get the right of way only if they earn it.

“Charming! But in civilized countries,” says the Controller…there aren’t any flies or mosquitoes to sting you. We got rid of them.” In America, everything is spic and span, or if not spic there is general standard: the busses are empty, the sewers are lidded, and pedestrians always get the right of way. But by the same token America somehow got rid of the pedestrians!

“You got rid of them. Yes that’s just like you,” says the Savage, “Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it.” By getting rid of the inconveniences, we reduce our own ability to cope/fight/and grow from difficulty. In Albania there are plenty of unpleasantries to fight and grow from. Yet, by the same token, life there is more uncomfortable.

“What you need is something with tears, for a change,” the Savage goes on, “Nothing costs enough here.” True, this makes us ask: Have we gone too far? Is America too quiet, too comfortable, too peaceful, too perfect? Yet, there are parts within America that are anything but “nice and clean.” i.e. the inner cities.

“I like the inconveniences,” says the savage, preferring an imperfect society, perhaps one like Albania.

“We don’t,” says the Controller, “We prefer to do things comfortably.” He prefers America.

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” says the Savage. He wants to live life to the fullest.

The battle of the two societies mentioned above can also be framed as the battle of the society of peace versus the society of excitement. The Controller of the Brave New World prefers peace. The Savage of the Old World prefers excitement. America is the society of peace. Albania is the society of excitement. The society of peace is sophisticated and perfect. The society of excitement is unrefined. The epitome of peace, cleanliness and order, is the suburb, coveted by all well-to-do Americans as the ideal dwelling place. Meanwhile, the downtowns of cities are anything but peaceful, and this is why Americans, who crave peace and quiet, avoid them. Albanians crave noise! The culture is one where people covet living in the big city. The closer to the action the better. Tirana, Albania’s capital, is a buzzing beehive! I have been to Chicago, New York, Miami, and none of them are as energetic as Tirana. At the same time American architecture is massive and unmatched in size and scope by Albania or even Europe. Conversely, there are parts of Albania which are peaceful; villages. Unlike suburbs, they are very small, just a handful of houses, and are out not part of a city, but rather are out in the fields. They may have farmland nearby and even farm animals.

Albania: Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa is the most internationally recognized modern Albanian figure today. Her name has entered into the mainstream both in the East and the West. Her impact is global. Upon her death the order of nuns that she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, stood at 4000 strong and had houses that cared for the poor, sick and destitute in over 90 countries all over the globe. This diminutive woman born of a common Albanian family was a force of God. The indomitable nun as she came to be known truly was unstoppable. Because she did not meddle in politics but merely wanted to have mercy on the poor, she was usually welcomed all over the world. She had a universally liked personality and charisma. Moreover, she never took no for an answer. It is only through immense persistence that we may imagine she set up her missions everywhere.

Mother Teresa was born as Agnes Bojaxhiu in Shkodra, Albania on August 27, 1910. In youth, her family moved to Skopje, Macedonia. When the Ottoman Empire fell Macedonia and Kosovo were incorporated into Yugoslavia. Her father who was a political activist for Kosovo, the Albanian majority region, was poisoned by the Serb authorities. From her youth little Agnes showed the signs that would distinguish her in adult life: she was principled, religious, and compassionate. She often visited a poor widow in the neighborhood while her siblings would not.

One day when she was 12 a Jesuit missionary group came and spoke to her class of their mission in India. This talk captured her imagination and was the spark that lit the fire for the religious life of a nun. At 18, after receiving her mom’s blessing-who was initially astonished- Agnes left for Ireland to train with the Sisters of Loretto. A mere two months later, Agnes went with the mission to India. She adopted the name of Teresa in reverence of St Therese of Lisieux who believed in simple goodness and died at merely 25.

In 1934, she heard news that her mom and brother and sister had moved to Tirana. However, time would prove this a costly move. Albania would soon be run by a severe dictator who ridiculed religion and persecuted her family on account of her renown. Meanwhile Sister Teresa was promoted to Mother Teresa at merely 27. She still kept her usual duties of prayer and teaching children whom she was particularly fond of. However, World War II would bring a terrible famine to India. 2 million souls perished.

After 17 years of service to the sisters of Loretto Mother Teresa heard a call from God. She must live among the poor. She was haunted by poverty and felt the only way to truly care for them was to become one of them. She became a beggar for beggars but before long other nuns came to her side, and she would set up an new, independent mission under the Catholic Church. Although she would never accept official church funds, the money always turned up, as if miraculously. The rich gave a lot and the poor gave their last coins. She set up houses to care for children, lepers, the homeless, the sick and dying. From Asia to Europe, to North America to South America, to Africa; perhaps in every continent; It is no wonder that she was universally beloved. She met with heads of state. She even tried to reconcile Saddam Hussein and George Bush to prevent the Gulf war; afterwards in Iraq, she would set up a mission to care for wounded civilians.

She flew around the globe to her dying day and was recognized by prizes for her work everywhere, including being awarded the prestigious Nobel prize. In 2016, she became canonized a Catholic saint. Interestingly, the only two places where she was rejected were her homeland of Albania, where the dictator persecuted her family, and Northern Ireland, which refused to have a Catholic mission, especially one founded by a nun who had first trained in its rival, Ireland. Mother Teresa is an example to all of us: to care for those less fortunate than ourselves in the name of God.

Hurley, Joanna. Mother Teresa 1910-1997: A Pictorial Biography. Philadelphia: Courage Books, 1997.
Image: Mother Teresa accompanied by children at her mission in Calcutta, India 05/12/1980 (Getty)

Motivational Quotes 12/10/21

The best version of yourself is the happy one.

You have no choice in choosing yourself, which is the most important choice you’ll ever make.

Somewhere deep inside there is a real me! -The Offspring

It doesn’t matter what the truth is; it only matters what we think the truth is!

Speak of anybody, and he will appear

Ignorance is bold. Knowledge is hesitant -popular

Opportunities find you when you are not ready; when you are, they are long past.

In life, we all go through the same things, just not at the same time.

Chance encounters must fit the bill of time and place; love can only find you when you’re already in heaven, hate can only find you when you’re already down and out.

To love the world is to be happy; he who loves the world and everything in it is found. He who hates it is lost.

Albania: Thoughts on Economics

The standard of living that we all talk about is material: who can get the most goods and services at the lowest price. But there is a spiritual standard of living; the spiritual is founded on the material. One can’t be happy when one has no material goods or services. That’s why we lament poverty. But is there not an expression that says: Money can’t buy happiness. People always prioritize the material, so they immigrate. But the spiritual standard of living back home may have well been higher; friends, relatives, an easy-going pace of life. Just like economics which is founded on trade-offs, the standard of living is a trade: the material for the spiritual.

Communism tried to put the spiritual before the material. Socialization was prioritized. Good for the spirit, bad for goods and services. Socialization matters, but it cannot be the foundation of economy. Communism did not fail. It succeeded at its goal: a communal society. The Albania of Communism was warm and highly communal. Communism is not so much an economic ideology as a social ideology. Let’s not work! Let’s socialize. But socialization cannot come first. It does not produce the fruits of labor. One must put work first. Capitalism is a good economic ideology precisely because it is not a social ideology. It rewards work, and discourages socialization.

Capitalism is practical, fit for the entrepreneur. Communism was full of ideology, fit for the bookworm.

Economy is everything. People judge you by the goods you produce. The fastest way to become a good country is to produce high quality goods. “Turkey makes low quality goods,” true, but at least they produce! and export

I compare Albania to Greece and Italy but a more accurate comparison is to Macedonia Kosovo and Montenegro. They are Albania’s peers. Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro; all are small, thus unheard of

They say poor economy, bad living. But I’ve never seen as good a living as in Albania; a country with a very weak economy. Albania is great for rest and relaxation. It’s Europe’s vacation zone.

In their own place, Albanians are well off. Most people, or at least many, have the purchasing power to live well. Perhaps it is not easy to find good work but the same is true here. You can lead just as good a life in Albania as in America if not better. You will probably not achieve as much, but you may even have a better lead life with more leisure.

I read that to the Roman, a never ending empire was more important than the personal standard of living. Do we not feel this today? Of course, our empire secures our standard of living. In some level we know there is to be no personal prosperity without country. Thus we care for the greater good as our own good.

To be rich is to be safe.

The value of money is perception and status, not merely economics.

Everyone benefits from trade.

Learning beats labor. Skills raise economies.

Albania: the big news

It’s funny how two different people can perceive the same exact news in a completely different way. When my family received the big news that we were moving to America my brother cheered and jumped for joy. I, on the other hand, was indifferent. He was excited. I did not know what to think or what to feel or what this meant. Perhaps, I was too young to know or to have a clear reaction, yet my brother was not much older than I, and he had a definite reaction.

I wonder if something about my fate in America might have been foreseen in that reaction, or at least something about my character. Maybe I was not happy because I knew this was not necessarily good news. Maybe I foresaw hardship and difficulties. But can a kid of nine foresee the hardships of immigration? I did not reject the news deep down or outwardly. I did not have a deep negative premonition, which even kids can have. I was not necessarily unhappy, but I was not excited and certainly not exuberant. Looking back, I am inclined to believe I wanted to stay put. I had nothing against America, but I was “happy enough” in Albania. I had my school, my neighborhood, my grandparents. So why mess with a good thing?

            Truth be told, as I remember it, we as a family had a good life, though we were living in what was supposedly a bad country. Sure, by the late eighties goods and services were lacking. But society had some sense of harmony. People in Albania were nicer back in those days. I am not defending Communism categorically. There was a dark side: no freedom of speech, persecution, imprisonment, and economic subsistence. I am just sharing my experience. In my opinion, my life in Albania up until age 9 in 1992 was very good, as good as the life of any child. It could have been no better in America. Why go through all the trouble of moving… to the other side of the world! My brother meanwhile felt quite differently. He stopped going to school as soon as he heard the big news. I went to school to the last day! His impression of America was no greater than mine. We had both heard of the Chicago Bulls, Madonna’s songs, and Michael Jackson. And the rumors that America was the greatest land on Earth; we were bombarded by those. I suppose these things had an effect on my brother. I was not moved; not enough to move!

For the past year, I had seen the same scenes as everybody else. I saw poor grandma get up at six to wait in line for our daily bread, literally. I saw the trees in our neighborhood being chopped for firewood; wonderful olive trees mind you. I saw  I saw our school vandalized, broken windows and clipped hanging lamps. I saw the common power and water outages. I saw a mad swarm of people board a cargo ship and set sail for Italy. I saw a wild gypsy woman rob a poor teacher of her foreign aid box in front our school in broad daylight. But did these things alarm me? No, not at all. Did they alarm my brother? No, not at all. It was not the miserable conditions he wanted to escape. It was the wonderful picture of America he wanted to become a part of. Hey, can I blame him. The way America is shown on TV, who doesn’t want to move here! Yet, I instinctively was not excited to be leaving my home, the only home I had ever known; this must mean something about my character, I suppose. My unsure, unenthusiastic reaction proves to me that even at such a young age, only nine, I was an Albanian at heart. Certainly, of the two of us I am the more Albanian spirited. Bro makes fun of me for being so, “Come on, are you still writing on Albania? Enough man!”

I do not regret immigrating to America. America has been good to my family. That is not to say life has been easy here. Far from it; life has been hard. Yet, I am wise enough to know that immigration comes with a heavy price. You don’t fit in at school; foreignness is a stain on your biography, to use a communist phrase. Serious bullying, less friends to pick from, and even the friends who do accept you, you do not fit in with. Your parents are demoted in their careers and money is tight for the first years. Dad eventually picked himself up, and carved out an academic career, but he had to work far from home for fifteen years. However, who’s to say life would have been easier in Albania? Life is hard everywhere on Earth. Though I am reminded of a saying from Lassie: “Face up to trouble boy! The trouble you run away from is nothing compared to the trouble into.” Aren’t all immigrants people would don’t face up to trouble? Aren’t they all runaways? Don’t they all run into trouble that is much worse than the trouble they left behind? I cannot answer these questions. But I have been in hard situations before where flight is the only way to survive. Perhaps this is the thinking of the immigrant: Flight is the only means of survival.

Photo: the actual apartment building I grew up in. Wow!

Motivational Quotes 10/22/21

Shiny apple skin can never compensate for rot at the core

The price for being good is not being bad; the price for being bad is not being good

One’s being is founded upon his definition of good

You believed at one time; now you stopped believing

Popularity is always a costly temptation

We always shun our equals in favor of our betters

Your life is the greatest story you will ever tell

Haven’t we all played each of life’s roles, the good, the bad, and the ugly?

The fool pays for his bliss with ignorance. The wise man pays for his wisdom with bliss.

Health is only valued by the sick.