About 7 years ago, I uprooted my (hurly-burly) life in NYC and moved to this small, remote, isolated village in Northern Albania. I did this quixotically, with no planning or financial strategy, in a few suitcases. And no legality. After 6 years of uninterupted life here, I am now (I guess) firmly illegal everywhere. Not only in Albania, for visa reasons, but I imagine in America, for simply not existing there, by which of course I mean not paying taxes (not that I’ve earned anything – I haven’t! I swear!). Quite possibly, I will end my life like Baron Corvo, breathing my poverty-stricken last under an upturned rowboat – the thought does in all sincerity haunt my early morning waking hours.
This is a fact.
On the other hand, there are other facts. I noticed today that someone posted something in facebook – a journalist in some Balkan language I do not (to my shame) recognize. The post contained a picture of me and the journalist, and there were some few comments. The first of them was by an Albanian who wrote simply (in English) “Katrina is one of us.” I don’t even know this person. And yet he wrote with complete confidence this statement of (as he perceived it) fact. My heart swells. I feel grateful, I feel humbled, I feel indebted, I feel reconized. I feel . . . loved.
I’m not sure anyone in America, my birth place, would ever have written “Catherine is one of us.” I’m not sure there is an “us” in America, to refer to. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that I needed to move to Albania, in order to feel adopted. In order to feel recognized. In order to find a place that I would fight for. But isn’t that the definition of home, beyond what you do with your hat? The place you would fight for? Oh not with guns, or arms, or stones or sticks – although in truth I imagine I would pick those up, if offered enough reason, for this place. I would. But fight for. On bad days, I wake up thinking “oh god, I can’t,” but then I do, because after all, you can’t lie in bed all day. On good days, I can’t wait to bounce out of bed, to get to the computer, to go to the school, to see the children, to be with people, to fight. To live. On good days, I am even cheerful about the dishes, the laundry, the sweeping, floor-mopping, the fires to be lit, the bread to be baked, and all the other things that are part of everyday life here, if you’re a woman, which, as it turns out I am.
But besides “about,” I do know how it feels, exactly. It feels right. Despite, in all honesty, how cranky I might be about the cleaning and cooking, if Albanians are happy to have me, then I am happy to be theirs. Yours my dears. Heart and soul, as I would say. Or Blood and Salt, Bread and Home, as you might say, as I could say now, perhaps barely understanding, but beginning, and hoping, and promising.
What does it mean when someone claims you, when someone you don’t even know says “she is ours”? It means you can’t possibly answer anything else, but “Yes. Yes I am. I am yours.” For better or for worse, for now and for always. We’ll fight together, learning from each other, for this home.
Me buke e kripe e zemer tone.