Sunday, September 11, 2005

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been, Part 2.

The "Trip" Begins....

Sometime in the early 80's or so, I heard for the first time about an odd little Communist country, virtually isolated from the rest of the world, the communism was so strict there. A country that was different from all it's neighbors-in culture, in language, in outlook on life of it's people. A country called....Albania. Even the name, I found, was fascinating! And for some reason, I felt like I wanted to know more about it....why it was different from it's neighbors, how it got to be like it was, what the people there were like, etc. So sometime around the mid 80's, I started begining to read about this tiny place. Except there was one problem-not too much stuff about it was available. But what I could get my hands on, I read. And as I read, I started to realise at the bottom of my consciousness that there was something more to that place and it's people for me than just mere weird curiosity. I began to become aware that there was some sort of affinity there, which I could truly not understand or explain (I think at that point I wasn't even yet consciously aware of what it was exactly that made me feel attracted to Albania and it's people, just that something, for some reason, did). And all that did was make me want to know more.

Flash forward to 1991-end of the Gulf War. Shortwave radios, which had been scarce and expensive during the crisis, were now plentiful and if not cheap, at least a bit more reasonable. I got my first shortwave that spring, and among other things, one of the radio stations I determined I wanted to listen to was Radio Tirana, the "official" radio station of the newly democratised Albania. I discovered from the shortwave guide I bought that there were several emmissions to N. America from Albania on SW at that time. There were only two very brief ones in the evening in English, but a much longer one-4 hours!-each night in Albanian, for those in the "diaspora" community. So I started to listen, when I could pick them up, to the English broadcasts (I hadn't took upon myself to learn Albanian yet). They were nice, though too short to be anything "special". There was one thing that *was* special about them, though: They always played one or two Albanian songs. From the moment I heard the first song for the first time, there was something that resonated in my heart. Now music has always been important to me, and I have found spiritual sustinance in many different forms of music. But nothing, not even liturgical music or Gregorian chant, did to the innermost fibres of my being what this music from this "strange" little country did. It set off a vibration inside me unlike any I'd ever felt before or since. One more thing, one more very profound thing, that said to me that "Somehow, for some reason, there is something about these people I identify with, and I need to know more".

April 1993. I had started in the last two years to check out books from the UW Library on Albania. And it was starting to get clearer and clearer in my mind, between the reading and listening to the music on the shortwave broadcasts (which by now I was listening to the Albanian language ones exclusively, even though I had no idea what they were talking or singing about exactly!) just why I was attracted to this people and their lands. I was starting to realise that for the first time in my life, I had encountered, if only so far at a "distance", perhaps the first group of people in my life whose experiences on a corporate level matched mine on an individual one. Like them, I knew what it was like to get dumped on for being guilty of nothing more than being just a little bit different from everybody else around you. I knew what it was like to take hassling and harrassment from others, all for the supposed "crime" of being myself, and having the guts to be so, and so did they know what this felt like.

And I discovered we shared the same values. In a world where a person's "word" seemed to mean less and less all the time, Albanians considered a promise a sacred trust. And so did I. Albanians believed in sticking up for what you believe in and standing by your friends always, without exception, no matter what the cost. And so did I. And so in the spring of 1993, I embarked in the next part of the journey, a part that something inside me told me would be a major part-indeed, a necessary part-of the key to understanding just why I felt this affinity for a people that I'd still never had yet met before. I started to teach myself the Albanian language.

Coming soon-Part 3, In which the last pieces of the "puzzle" fall into place!

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