Monday, January 31, 2011


I've heard it often from friends and strangers, "You sure are taking a big risk living in Albania!"  The can't imagine giving up the comforts of American society with all its law and order and cleanliness.  Sometimes I take the time to give them a more realistic idea of what my life is really like here.  Other times I let them persist in their perception of me as a modern-day Byron or a cross-dressing Edith Durham, braving the hardships and insecurity of inscrutable Albania.

The truth is I live in central Tirana, have a decent apartment, drive a nice car, and have the luxury of  choosing when to expose myself to the more remote areas of the country.  I'm firmly connected to the expat community and am financially secure.  Living in Albania requires no more heroic commitment from me than living in Albany might.  I would probably suffer more in upstate NY as it is a heck of a lot colder there.

There are occasionally people here who demonstrate real commitment to immersing themselves in Albanian culture and society.  The Peace Corps volunteers, for example.  Granted, they are supported by the U.S. government and have a "bail-out" lifeline if things get too tough.  Former Peace Corps volunteers who stick around after their assignment is over form the next level of commitment.  They liked it so much and became so attached to the people or places they served that they choose to stay.  I've met them in Tirana, Elbasan, and even Gjirokaster with no official lifeline, only their informal contacts with the Embassy and their own initiative.

Then there are people like Catherine Bohne.  I came across her article today and was floored by what she was doing.  Read the whole article because my account will not do justice to her writing.  She's ditched everything to live in the Tropoja region, starting in the middle of winter: 

I have given away my business, sold my apartment for break-even, and moved with a few suitcases of random possessions to Albania -- specifically to Northern Albania, the District of Tropoja, to this point possibly one of the most backwards, impoverished and forgotten regions of Europe. To absolutely damn the impracticality of my decision, I should add that I have no income, no plans for any income and no clear thoughts about what my future looks like.

 I'm caught between scoffing at her recklessness and jumping up and applauding her willingness to jump in at the deep end.  This, I will tell my friends, is what commitment looks like.  Comparing my commitment to hers reminds me of the old saw, "The chicken is involved with making omelets; the egg is committed."  

I hope she continues to write with such keen observations and moving prose.  I'll risk tiptoeing over the line into copyright violation to entice you to read the whole article, in case you have clicked the link yet:

On the television, we watch as a handful of men mill around the side gate to the Kryeministri. Suddenly -- the video has no distinguishable sound -- one man falls silently to the ground. He has been shot by one of the snipers on the roof of the government building. The old man nearest him looks down, as if to say, "What are you playing at?" Then realizes. He moves to stand over the body, his arms thrown out at his sides as he cries and calls for help. Others rush in to carry the body to safety. Do you see what I see? Nobody ran away. They didn't run from bullets. They ran in, to help.

 Just before we leave Kamenica, I am sitting in the snow on the edge of the wall surrounding the entrance to the house. One of the daughters of the house crouches beside me. Together we gaze out at the snow-covered hills, absolutely silent and gloriously empty. An enormous mockingbird plays in a frozen fruit tree, knocking lumps of snow to the ground. "You like Albania?" she asks. "Oh yes," I say, "I love it." I turn and we look into each others eyes, smiling happily "You?" I ask. I watch her as she returns watching the mountains. "Oh yes," she says, still smiling. "Yes."

1 comment:

Mark de Zabaleta said...

Good article.