Ymer Shahini, 48 years
Firdes (Desi) 48
Anila, (Nila) 19
Leonard, 17 (absent)
Blerta, (Beti) 12
Nafie, 75 years
2 families of bees
May 4th, 1993
Pejoratively called the “mountainers”
4:00: Up and busying about in the kitchen, Firdes is packing food for her daughter Nila. What they serve us on the university campus is no good and not enough to survive she says. Now in her second year of medicine, Nila comes home once a month to refill her bag.
She goes up to the bedroom to kiss her younger sister goodbye. There is complicity between the two sisters and Nila knows Beti misses her when she is away. Maybe Beti will also leave the mountain village one day. It is not easy though. Beti will have, like Nila to succeed the entry exam at university. Only three in Nila’s class were admitted. “The students of the capital Tirana have always better scores.” Of all the rural population, it is “the mountainers” as are pejoratively called the population of the north, have the lowest.
Speaking with a different accent, which the southern criticize as not being nice, the mountainers, with strong traditions have difficulties to integrate themselves. With a history of brutal family clan struggles, some southerners are even afraid of them and few are those who travel to the mountain villages. With her long reddish hair enlighning her easy smiling face, Nila has nothing to scare anyone. Desi puts has two bags full for her daughter and sees her away. There is more food then usual. It is the St-George feast, a sheep was killed and every family celebrates spring. “An important Muslim holiday” say the villagers of Fullquet.*
In line through the field
5:00 Nila walks fast to join her father Ymer already leaving the extended family yard followed by his two brothers Abaz and Mysym going to work.
In line through the field to the nearby village of Pllichet the yearly riser then take a larger but still tiny and muddy rural road down the mountain. If the majority of the country’s rural population still has to walk one to three hours to reach school and work, for the Shahini ‘s 20 minutes will bring them to the small town of Kols in the Mat valley. Buses are waiting, in front of the secondary school and the run down apartment buildings. One will take la to the capital, another her uncles to the chrome mine. They will, however, leave behind the unemployed whose number has risen since every day since the fall of communism.
Desi has appreciated the presence of her daughter during these holidays and took pleasure in giving her attention. “Its fine now, she is a visitor but when she comes for the summer holiday she will have to join in more in the work around the house.
And work there is since the house has been turned into a farm for the family to survive. Desi, the village nurse is now a farmer too and before she is ready to service the sick, she must service the animals.
Her possibility as a woman
Desi is disappointed. To be back in the dirty farm is returning years behind, just like 40 years of her life had been erase. She remembers having to milk the cows when she was ten years old and it something she never wanted to do again. I hated it she says. With communism all farmlands were collectivized and the country’s animals were taken away to the cooperatives; owning even a chicken in one country house was not allowed. For Desi this was liberation. She finally became a real student. I was the first woman of the village to go to the city and follow higher studies. Many villagers did not approve of this. In the mountains where traditions have ruled life, women are made to stay home, marry and take care of the house and husband. The only girl in a family of 7, Desi is particularly thankful to her oldest brother who has fought for her, convincing their parents that Desi, as much as boys, had the intellectual capacity to study.
Desi was ready to fight for her possibility as a woman. She became a fervent communist, came back to the village city experience and education. She became representant of the women’s federation at the Tonya Curre Cooperative she fought for women’s emancipation, for their participation at work, for their access to education. She thought them to care for their children’s health and fought for the abolition of some traditional customs that limited them. “Here we marriages were arrange we were still laying in our baby crib,” she says adding still revolted by the idea “even worst, sometimes even when the baby was still the mother’s womb.”
The needles are old and rusted
7:00 Today, Desi feels lost and alone. “Beside the sick, I do not meet people anymore like when we all worked in cooperatives.” Is there a way to be half communist and half democratic she and her husband Ymer wonder. In her kitchen, Desi boils water on the small electric burner placed on the floor near the door. She must sterilize the few needles she has. They are old, rusted and have been used for some years now. But vaccinating the children, Desi knows, is necessary.
7:30 Fatmira, a woman from the village, comes with her 10-month baby. Desi is a well reputed nurse. Compassionate and most of all honest she is known for never asking — as many nurses and doctors did — anyone for money in return of her services. “Like everyone, I received my salary from the state,” she explains.
Girls are made to work
8:15 Beti has slept until the last minute and her father was not there to pass any comment. “I am ashamed, girls are made to work”, he always says. Beti smiles indifferently at her father’s comment. Her blond hair tied, the blue jeans and red sweater and tennis shoes her brother has sent from Greece she leaves for the village’s primary school, looking like all European children. They are the only clothes that makes her feel modern and she wares them everyday.
With her sportive and Tomboy walk, Beti follows the fences of branches that have been put up to separate the new divided village plot returned to the original owners. This post-communist policy bas transformed the country site. There were no divisions for the eyes but large big farm. Here in Pllitchet the ambulanca –health center — has been taken over by a family that claims the land it was on is theirs. The bakery has closed and as everywhere in the country the government buildings are now skeletons. This leaves Desi the chair and bed in her kitchen with hardly any resources to service the sick.
There is not much left of the school Beti enters in ten minutes after having left home. The broken cement floor is dusty and there are no more light bulbs. She sits down at the double desk with a classmate so they can share a book. No more books, no more writing pads and pencils left, the wind comes through the glass broken windows and in one corner the old wooden stove used for the winter cold days. The math teacher uses the leftovers of a chalk to write a problem. It can hardly be read on what used to be a blackboard but which is now used and gray. “The lack of materials in the country does not stimulate us to give classes and all the opening up to the world make the children less attentive then before.” says the teacher.
Nevertheless, tsi! tsi! tsi! tsi! tsi! like bees and with their bands up, the children are calling their teacher to be the one chosen to answer. One more year in this rundown school and Desi will walk down to Klas for her highschool studies.
Welcomed warmly with the traditional words
10:00 Her last patient has not come. Desi looks at her agenda. Today four families cannot bring their children and she will go to them. She will also make her daily visit to one very sick child. His mother has lost her first baby and this one bas been sick since birth. Something is wrong with his bones and Desi would like to save it as she knows it would very painful for his parents to loose him.
In each bouse, she is welcomed warmly with the traditional words: Si jeni? sija çoni? A Ulodhet? Mirë me shendet? Po prinderit mirë jani? Po fëmijët? How are you, how is your health, how is your family, your husband, your children ••• ? She takes off her shoes and is invited to sit on the floor of the colorful carpeted guest rooms with their central fireplace. She is then offered milk or coffee. Even if tradition does not allow guests to refuse, her host however, accept if Desi refuses to eat knowing she must go from house to house and it would be difficult for her to eat so much. They bring her their children their vaccine against tetanus and diphtheria.
To be a simple farmer
10:30 Ymer after having spent time with his friends is walking back the mountain from Klas. This is where he has worked, where he knows people and he comes every day. He has been promised to pass a contest to teach biology and is waiting. Ymer was respected and imposing as a party member and an agronomist teacher could be in the country and he accepts with difficulty to be a simple farmer. He does not want to be looked like one either. Dressed in his used suit and sweater, he walks the muddy roads his bands in his back always kept up straight. He walks proudly saluting the old women whose family duties are to keep the sheep and everyone he meets. He stops to talk to two men who have just dynamited a big rock and carrying the stones to build their homes. A certain progress, my father had to carry the rock from the river down the valley.” says Ymer.
Once home he brings the cows to a grazing field that now belong to him and his brothers. There is really not enough land for either of them to live out of farming. The old stone house has also been divided and Ymer has a bedroom in it for his family. In the courtyard is the pit toilet (latrine) and in the back a small kitchen with a table and two beds which are used for sitting and where Ymer and his wife sleep when all the children are home. His brother Myslym has managed to build a cement house beside the old one and now their old mother and father live there.
Soon summer will come to the rescue
13:00 Desi has set lunch on the table for Ymer and Desi. April and May are the months where there is the less food for her to feed her family. Beside pieces of salted meat and potatoes there is nothing left from the winter stock. The garden is still not producing this year’s food, the bread price has gone up 500% and the lack of sugar made it impossible to have conserves-jams through the year. The Mat region is however luckily green and privileged compare to the dry rocky mountains surrounding the valley. Soon summer will come to the rescue and the trees will give the Shahini apples, figs, nuts, raisins, pears, marons, cherries and all the vegetables of the garden.
Ymer is eating his soup watching television, which is always open when he is in the house. He tries the country’ s channel. He can hardly see the image but hears the sounds. “Its all the same politics” Ymer says. “Once again it is all about what the new politicians are doing and this is the same as before when the only thing we were shown were pictures of the great leader. Politicians are waiting their election and Ymer is waiting for nothing at all now that his salary is among the lowest in the world. He however does not know where to place his faith and as disillusioned as his wife he is also angry. Like all, he has been told all his life that the Albanians were among the happiest people in the world, and the most intelligent of the Balkans. He does not accept the defeat to learn that this is untrue and the shame of being pushed aside at his age. Ymer feels hopeless while always busy with house and farm. Desi keeps silent her frustration.
If rain does not come
14:30 Ymer saddles the donkey to fetch water at the fountain fifteen minutes away. Outside his sister-in-law is turning the soil in the aisles of the new-planted garden. It has rained during the night and everyone is happy about it. There has been little snow during winter and the water level in the mountains and rivers is too low for this time of the year. If rain does not come, summer will be difficult to go through. A rich harvesting of the garden is important. If the government does not give them bread the Shahini will need corn and wheat to make their own. “We do not know what tomorrow will bring and we do not know how poor we will get” they say.
Ymer, holding the donkey walks down the mountain. He could not keep his son home for help. He even encouraged him to go. Leonard was among the estimated 500,000 people (13% of pop.) who fled the country the minute the communism system fell apart. Leonard is now in Greece. Every week Ymer and Desi hear about violence and even killings between Greeks and Albanians. They know Leonard works at low wage for a village farmer. Illegal, he does not have any papers and Ymer has heard that if arrested he will be put in prison. Ymer is worried. His son and daughters have always been his pride. He always tried to give them the best so that his family would among others, look the best.
Desi’s eyes become immediately wet with tears the minute she hears her son’s name. Having heated water for washing dishes, she takes some and goes out into the latrine in the yard where she showers. Always dressed in black and self-controlled, Desi leaves for the fifteen minutes walk through the country’s paths to visit her widowed mother. Not only has her son gone, she has lost her father three months ago.
Beti get the cows
5:00 Ymer’s is out cleaning the lean-to shed used as barn when his mother comes with the family sheep that the shepherd has brought back for the night. The old Nafie with her scarf that surround her tanned skin smiles and, her dark eyes immediately shine erasing her tiredness. At ninety-eight years old, her husband Ahmet, demands much attention. He is old, blind and deaf and requires intensive care.
The sun’s light is warming the field where the corn poppy are starting to come out as it does the mountains whose summit are still covered with snow as Desi walks back from her mother’s. She crosses Fullquet where like in all places in Albania, people get together to walk, share, see and be seen. Beti is there playing with the boys and beating them too.
5:30 Desi is home and the villagers know that they can now come for any medical need. She sends Beti to get the cows and when Ymer has enter them into the barn and her visit hours are finished she will milk them.
Easier for us in the country
19:00 Electricity is cut off. “It always, like this. It comes and goes.” Electrification of Albania was a strong communist program all houses have electricity. With more and more electrical appliances in every household, the supplies are not enough. “If I would have been asked, between having water in the house or electricity, I would have chosen water” says Desi. “To be without electricity is easier for us in the country” says Ymer. The city dwellers, them are restrained in their small apartments and with no wooden stove and means to cook. And without electricity they cannot pass the evenings watching television.
21:00 Ymer sits in his brother ‘s house to talk, Beti goes up in the bedroom and Desi takes Rossi out of his dog-house where he as been tied up all day. The night is his and he will bite if you don’t believe it.