By Rafaela Prifti / In the time of the pandemic, the Economic and Business series aims to inform and support the efforts of our community across the country. Initially, my conversation with Mynyr Nazifi, owner of Wingate by Wyndham Detroit Metro Airport, intende to prioritize the hospitality business in the time of the global crisis, his experience of previous economic downturns in the US and outlook for the future. Mr. Nazifi, who is a member of the Elderly Council with the Vatra Michigan Branch, covered these topics and then told me about his friendship with Xhevat Kallajxhiu, with whom he has had a long correspondence. It is our hope that one day these letters will be made available.
Mynyr Nazifi, an Albanian born in Prespa, a region by the highest tectonic lakes in the Balkans, came to the United States in search of better opportunities. As an immigrant he travelled wherever there were jobs or employment prospects, first to Alaska, Chicago, California before he settled in Michigan in 2005. I asked him about the situation of the hotel industry in the time of the Coronavirus pandemic. “For the most part, Albanian businessmen are owners of moms’ and pops’ stores, as well as construction and cleaning contractors. In the statewide efforts to manage the health crisis, their business and companies had to close down and not operate inflicting significant losses. As far as I know, I am the only Albanian hotelier in the community. Since we are located near the Detroit airport, the hotel has stayed open the whole time. The location worked in our favor. Secondly, some big contractors with trucking companies have been bringing us business at this difficult time for the country,” said Mr. Nazifi. Last January, Vatra delegates of the 2020 Convention hosted by the Michigan Branch stayed at his hotel. Being one of his guests there, I asked him about his memories. “It was the best time. Thinking back I realize how the timing couldn’t have been better. A few weeks later, the world changed,” said the Wingate owner. In response to my question about possible ways of overcoming the losses in the business owned by fellow Albanians, he was confident that the stimulus plans will really help pick up the businesses that are suffering. “This is truly new,” said Mr. Nazifi, “but we have always managed to get back on our feet,” referencing the previous crisis of the 1970s, the bubble.com and the 2008 collapse of the housing market. “We have seen time and time again that after the crush there is a rebound. This, too, shall pass,” said he. Where does his optimism come from? The human resilience in the face of adversity is the most amazing trait that fuels his hope for the future. For now, his family follows the social distancing rules. His daughter Bonnie told me that the priority “for me and my sister, Ardiana” is the parents’ wellbeing. “I would like them to be around for a long time and be there for their grandchildren’s weddings. During the virus restrictions, we do get our family time while respecting social distancing. My father stays involved with the hotel business remotely and, on rare occasions, drops in,” said Bonnie. She added that her father appreciates the Vatra members and friends who have called to check in on the Nazifi head of the family. His connection with the Federation arches back at the time he met with Xhevat Kallajxhiu at the Baba Rexhep (also spelled Rexheb) Teqe (Tekke). Both men were born in the town of Gjirokaster and shared a unique devotion for Albanian Bektashism, a Sufi dervish order. Records show that in 1929, Baba, then Dervish Rexhep and Xhevat Kallajxhiu were delegates at the Bektashi Congress held at the Turan Teqe outside Korca. Both men were forced to leave Albania after communists seized power and, years later, settled in the United States. Baba Rexhep was the founder of the First Albanian Bektashi Teqe and Mr. Kallajxhiu played a key role in its founding in 1954. Ten years later, Xhevat Kallajxhiu authored the book Bektashizmi dhe Teqeja Shqiptare në Amerikë (Bektashism and the Albanian Teqe in America) that records the crucial role of Bektashism in matters of religion and natinality for the Albanian people. During the frequent visits of Mr. Kallajxhiu with Baba Rexhep at the Teqe located in Taylor, Michigan, Mynyr joined in the conversation sessions sharing sorrows and laughter with them. A sincere friendship between a distinguished career journalist and a fellow patriot whom he called “little brother” continued for years. Mr. Nazifi recalls the letters he received from Mr. Kallajxhiu when he worked in Alaska and California. Mr. Kallajxhiu, who was Editor of Dielli from 1976 to 1986, was a career journalist widely respected for his professionalism, fierce penmanship and national pride. He has authored literature works, monographs and collection of poems. Mr. Nazifi has a number of the books signed by Kallajxhiu with affection and appreciation. Mynyr told me that he has made donations to help with the publishing of Xhevat’s books in the 80s. And he gets emotional when he recalls the last letter he received from Mr. Kallajxhiu before his passing. I asked if it would possible to locate these letters but it might be a tall order “since he has moved so many times over the years.” Mr. Nazifi shared some of his life struggles of an imigrant with such positive outlook and humble wisdom. The doors of Wingate by Wyndham in Romulus have remained opened during the pandemic, just like the heart of those Vatra community members who have shown each other consideration and mindfulness. My conversation with Mynyr Nazifi had mainly intended to bring to readers updates on the hotel and hospitality business in the face of these extraordinary times. As fortune would have it, the story revealed an enduring friendship founded on national pride and boundless love for the country.