BY MUÇI XHEPA-
Spring in Washington. A Japanese gift of 1912, magical cherry blossoms charm the banks of the Potomac river, the Roosevelt, Jefferson, Martin Luther King memorials and the National Mall. That year, the London Conference, also known as the Conference of the Ambassadors, partitioned Albania and left Albanian lands and people out of its boundaries.
Poets write poems about the beauty of their flowers. Albanian anti-Communist prisoners wrote about them too; however, they sang about the blossoms of a frail cherry tree growing within the barbed wire of the Burrel Communist prison. The tree did not wither and die – the heroes’ blood nourished it. Its flowers were a metaphor for life.
The capital gives me a feeling of peace, kindness and joy. Everyone minding their own business. I recently arrived from the anti-Communist revolution front, and the sadness I observed in the eyes of Lord Nicholas Bethell when he visited Elbasan was fresh in my mind.
“I met beautiful, smart people, wherever I went! Why this extreme poverty in the heart of lavishness? How did we abandon you?!”
He asked to visit a remote highland village. I chose Shmil, where I worked as a teacher, tragically the area that had sheltered *Nero.
Without settling into the new job, I called my grandfather’s friend Professor Arshi Pipa. They had been together in the Swamp of Death in Maliq. His voice sounded sweet and warm.
“Come to visit me when you’re free,” and he showed me how to get to his house.
I called him again on the weekend. The morning fresh breeze with the scent of flowers filled me with hope. He was waiting for me with open arms at the font door of his home.
“Welcome, agent of the Young Turks!” He laughed out loud.
“I come as a covert agent,” I cheekily replied.
The professor had written a long article in which he called the new administration officials “Young Turks.” His writing had left a bitter taste in the then foreign minister’s mouth.
The professor spoke at length about the suffering endured in the Swamp of Death and he gave me his book, “The Book of Prison” – a treasure of suffering and heroism. He had carried the pain with him and brought it to Washington with the great hope that it would motivate the US to send their troops to liberate Albania.
“I met with senior officials as soon as I arrived,” he said. “I was received with interest, they listened and asked questions. They wanted to know more than they could gather from their intelligence operations, but as time passed nothing changed. Then I asked to speak with the official who led the operations in the Communist countries.”
The professor lit a cigarette, sighed deeply, and continued.
“He received me in his office, listened attentively and, in the end, when he saw that I began to show despair and disbelief, he changed his tone. He opened the drawer of his desk and took out a locked file. As if we were friends for a long time, he said, ‘this is Albania; the time is not ripe for it to open. Start teaching at our universities, educate our students on what Communism is and share with them your bitter experience.’”
The Professor changed the subject. He started telling me about my grandmother’s brother, who lived in New York.
“Faik Miraku has been a good friend of mine since our early youth. Rely on him and our mutual friends, and you will learn a lot.”
Shocked, I left Professor Pipa while he was giving the last strokes of a philosophical article. I made my way to the subway on foot. *Leka Toto’s voice pierced my heart. When I left Albania to work at the embassy in Washington, D.C., Leka advised me to knock on every American administration’s office and request help.
“We will build up a free and prosperous Albania,” he told me full of hope.
It was the spring of 1994.
*Nero – The Communist dictator Enver Hoxha
*Leka Toto – A former political prisoner.