On the Dubious but nonetheless Glorious Triumph of Being [Recognized]

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.

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6 Responses to “On the Dubious but nonetheless Glorious Triumph of Being [Recognized]”

  1. JoNo Gravatar says:

    Great post, the irony of so many Albanians living and working “illegally” across the globe to support their families and you an American living and working “illegally” in Albania, we as human beings should be able to move and work freely where ever we like and where ever we feel we want to make a contribution, why should borders restrict us. You are a great ambassador and defender of Valbona, I have been to Tirana many times but hadn’t heard of Valbona until I stumbled upon your blog and I’m sure I will visit this beautiful area before too long! Keep up the good flght!

  2. PhilipNo Gravatar says:

    Beautiful and moving commentary, Catherine.
    Best of luck in your commitment to save the
    last wild European rivers in Albania and in your desire to
    be part of a group that welcomed you as one of them.
    A friend of mine just did a long, solitary trek there; the type of trecks he savors the most: in silence and in communion with his environment, the people and all creatures in it.
    Upon coming back, he commented to me that Albanians
    were the last welcoming and truly friendly people in Europe.
    My best to You.

  3. SarahNo Gravatar says:

    How lucky they are to have you, my extraordinary friend.
    Happy Birthday dear one.

    Love and raucous rivers,


  4. RyanNo Gravatar says:

    We’re planning another trip to Albania (our second since staying at Rilindja) and I thought I should check in. I’m glad I did.
    Much love,
    Ryan from Florida
    (husband Damen, daughter Jude, and new son Arber born last year)

  5. NangulaNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Katerina, I will be traveling to Albania’s northern frontiers in September, for the first time this year. I wanted to do some hiking this time around and checked out Valbona Valley. It sounds like the kind of place I’d like to see over a weekend. Any recommendations about howto do this low key but with some guidance? It is best to join a group, or hire a guide (preferably English speaking)? Should I book in Tirana (or ahead of time online) or is it easy to jump in wit some people at this time of year?
    I loved your candid post, and I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to see this part of Europe (I guess with my Romanian heritage, I feel drawn…)
    Best regards,

  6. MacNo Gravatar says:

    I stumbled upon your site by accident but i am so eager to visit your new home for the peace and quiet offered vs the hustle and bustle of American life. I must save up some funds but i plan to visit next year. I will stay in touch. If there is anything i can bring to you from state side please contact me. I woukd be more than happy to help out. Long live freedom to live in peace wherever we choose

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