Tuesday, August 14, 2018

So Your Character is From Albania ... Featuring Xhorxhina @ Inner Exploration

It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last time's So Your Character is from Bosnia & Herzegovina ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts is as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

I am Xhorxhina Bami, from Tirana, the capital city of Albania. I am a junior in college, double majoring in Public Policy and Economics, with a minor in International Relations at RIT Kosovo. Currently, I am having an exchange semester in Finland via Erasmus+. I have always loved writing considering that it has helped me be in touch with my inner self and the surroundings, understand and empathize with others more, and overcome many obstacles. I started blogging two years ago, but only recently decided to give it the right time and effort, therefore I launched my own website. I am posting my pieces there and also articles I might write or guest post for other websites/blogs/newspapers/magazines. You will find this one there as well.

What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
The most unique thing about my country is its alphabet which we call Shqip (Albanian) that comes from our word for the state Shqipëria (Albania) which means the land of the Eagles, a metaphor for the Albanian people.  The alphabet has 36 letters with 7 vowels and 29 consonants. Albanian language is one of the oldest Indo-European languages and is its own branch in the tree of languages. Talking about the Albanian language, I usually find it necessary to explain how my name should be pronounced. My name starts with the Albanian double letter “XH” which means that it should be pronounced as “Georgina” in English. 

Additionally, I believe that the second most unique about my country are its people who despite being constantly disappointed by the ones in power never lost the hope and the love for their roots. Albanians are one of the oldest inhabitants in more than five states in the Balkans where they have and continue to fight for their rights without losing their traditions and customs, the most famous being hospitality and besa (the importance of keeping promises and the given word).

Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Albania is full of environmental mysteries and also human-made (mainly medieval ones). One of the most beautiful must-see parts of Albania is the country’s seaside, especially the Albanian Riviera. From North to South the coast goes from the Atlantic sea into the Jon which is part of the Mediterranean. The Atlantic and Jon sea meet each other in the south of the city of Vlora, a southeastern seaside Albanian city. In the Albanian Riviera, one is able to see the merge of different environmental shapes such as mountains, hills, white sand and rock sand beaches. 

I absolutely love my country’s nature and climate. What I enjoy the most about the climate is that there is something in every season of the year: enjoy the sun by the seaside in the West in the summer; enjoy a hot cup of coffee in one of hundreds of cafes, or a warm traditional meal in Autumn while it is raining outside; go skiing in the mountains in the North in the winter; or explore the cities throughout the country in the cool and yet sunny weather in the spring. 

Additionally, if one is interested in ancient and medieval history Albania is the right place considering that in most of the cities you will find fortresses, houses, amphitheaters, or pieces of ancient civilizations. Another beautiful thing is the existence of catholic and orthodox churches together with mosques in the same areas. Also, Albania has a rather young population which has created room for a very lively nightlife throughout the entire year.

Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Albanian cuisine is highly influenced by the Mediterranean one and it consists of many products that are grown in the region and ingredients that are also produced by the locals in their households. The main ingredients are of course vegetables, milk, fish, and meat. The ingredients which are also homemade are olive oil; dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, butter; vinegar; jam from every kind of fruit; pickles from most of the vegetables but mainly cucumber, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, and peppers. 

The main meal in Albania is usually lunch which includes the main dish, called gjellë composed of vegetables and different kind of meat boiled together or baked in oven for a couple of hours, and a salad marinated with olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Studying abroad the lunches where all the family gathered together eating home-cooked meals is one of the things I miss the most. Another traditional food that you will find anywhere is the byrek which is basically salted pie made by foils of dough put one above the other and filled with vegetables or meat (for example it can be made by spinach mixed with cheese, or garlic mixed with meat and so on- most of the Albanian improvise in this case, you cannot go wrong with byrek mixture unless you put fruits or other sweet ingredients). 

Albanian gjelle with okra, garlic, tomato sauce, and probably cow meat cooked in the oven, accompanied with pickles mix.

Albanian meat and onions byrek accompanied by yogurt.
Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
The different language forms is one of my favorite topics. I even have written papers about it in college considering that Albanian has two main dialects which sometimes use completely different words for the same term which makes it hard even for Albanians to understand. The main dialects are Geg, which is spoken in the North and from Kosovo Albanians, and Tosk which is mainly spoken in the south. The standard language is a mixture of two, but mainly influenced by the Tosk dialect. 

I am from central Albania which is considered the south of the Geg dialect, so people speak a dialect similar to the standard one, but with more influences by the Geg dialect than the Tosk (standard is the dialect used in academia, textbooks, and television). Some words that are completely different are: dhelpër-skile (fox); gjalpë –tlyn (butter); fshatar-katundar (villager), but other have just differences in letters which make the words sound different, for example, bani-bëri (did).  

How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
It is difficult to compare the US and Albania considering that the former is one of the most powerful, biggest, and the most ethnically diverse state in the world, whereas Albania is a small country with a rather homogenous population trying to develop even further. However, considering that the US has helped Albania in its way towards development, and has helped Albanians in their path towards freedom (in the case of Kosovo Albanians) often Albanians and Americans get along pretty well despite the cultural differences. Studying at an American university in a state with a majority of the Albanian population, I have had the chance to see this interaction and ask American students and professors on what they find different when it comes to Albanians. 

Mainly, Americans are easier going than Albanians. As a professor of mine once said: Albanians do not trust you until you show them otherwise whereas Americans trust you until you prove them otherwise. Maybe this is a broad generalization, but I have come to realize that it is rather true. Also, Americans are of a more individualist culture than Albanians. For example, it is not that big of a deal if an Albanian that is 25 years old lives with their parents as much as it is for Americans. My generation actually tries to be independent in that sense, but my parents’ generation tries to keep their children at home for as long as possible, and we don’t really mind that. It is important for the children to personally take care of their parents when they get old, as well, which is why not many old people go to elders’ facilities. 

Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
The main historical event I would say is the independence declaration on 28 November 1912, after about 5 centuries under the Ottoman occupation. 24 March 1999, NATO bombs Kosovo, which is an important date for Albania as well because the Albanian population in Kosovo was experiencing terrors in the ground and NATO bombings helped prevent what would be considered a genocide. 8 November 2010, EU approves the visa liberalization for the Albania which allows the citizens to travel without the requirement of a visa within the Schengen zone and stay for a maximum of 90 days. This has been a very important day for Albania considering that many people benefited from it because they finally had the chance to visit family that lived abroad, had the opportunity to travel, to participate in conferences or explore other opportunities and so on. 

What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
One of the worst stereotypes about Albania is that it is a country with the majority of criminals and minimum of people who try hard and are successful in their fields. Many of my foreign friends have had such opinion on Albania when they first met me and it is rather disturbing. Albanians constantly work hard to achieve their dreams, and because the country is in its path towards development, many of us have to try twice as much as the rest of Europe for example. In many movies Albanians are portrayed as part of mafia such as in the movie: “Let’s be cops 2014”, or “Taken”.

What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
However, Albanian culture is well portrayed in other media such as in art competitions. Albanian dancers or singers have often succeeded in Italian shows: Klaudia Pepa in Amici, Elhaida Dani in The Voice of Italy. A movie that represents an important Albanian reality is the Kosovo production of the Oscar-nominated film “Shok/Friend” which shows the reality of the Kosovo-Serbian war and that people moved on but the terrors were always with them. 

Who are your top three favorite fictional characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
One of the characters that represent Albanians is Constantin from an old Albanian legend. In Albanian, the legend is titled Kostandini dhe Doruntina? (Constandin and Doruntine?). The legend emphasizes the importance of the Albanian besa. Constantin is the brother of Doruntine who is married to a man whose family lives far away from Doruntine’s village, therefore she has to move there. Her brother, Constantin promises to bring her home to visit their family very often, by giving his word/Albanian besa. After three years, Constantin wakes Doruntine up and sends her home over night. He leaves her at their old home’s door and leaves. When the mother opens the door and finds out how Doruntine ended up at the doorstep, the women are shocked because the mother reveals that Constantin has been dead for three years now. This legend shows that there is nothing more important than the given word for an Albanian and not even death will stop them from keeping it. 

Another character is Milosao from Këngët e Milosaos (Milosao’s Songs) a poem written in 1836 by Jeronim De Rada, a member of the Albanian community in Italy. The poem revolves around two loves, the romantic one and the patriotic one. Milosao is able to defeat the social prejudices and able to marry the love of his life, but he has to go to war and despite his wife and child dying he does not stop the fight for his country. It shows that Albanians are very strong and they will not give up when it comes to their dreams, fight for the ones they love, and even give everything up when it comes for the common good and the rights of their country. 

The last one that I will mention is the book Gjenerali i Ushtrisë së Vdekur (The General of the Dead Army) by the internationally known Albanian writer Ismail Kadare. It shows the journey of an Italian general and an Italian priest to collect the remained bones of the Italian soldiers that died in the Albanian territory during the Second World War II. It is framed in the 1960s when Albania was a communist state. The symbolism is so accurate that the book was not censored during communism because it was considered as a claim that communism brought peace and better life in Albania. However, how I see it, is the journey of a foreign general who discovers himself while trying to bring dignity to its state’s fallen soldiers within a rather grey and disturbing reality of a small communist state where however, many strong people who still hope and fight for survival on a daily basis but are yet full of life. 

Thank you, Xhorxhina, for this very informative post! Come back next week for a post all about Latvia!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com. I'm especially looking for Cuba, Venezuela, Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Iraq.

Do you have any characters from Albania? Did this inspire you to write an Albanian character or set a book in Albania? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Xhorxhina? Be sure to thank her!

You may also like:
So Your Character is From Bosnia & Herzegovina ... Featuring Azra @ SimpleSerenity
So Your Character is From Bahrain ... Featuring Marwa @ Adoreabook
So Your Character is From Israel ... Featuring Zoey @ Magiverse
So Your Character is From Mozambique ... Featuring Dicxita @ Dii Blogs
So Your Character is From Egypt ... Featuring Nada @ Early Bookish Birds

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