I have not a long story. Really a few snatched memories that I hope I have in the right order. My words might help you learn a little about me. I apologise for my limited English. I was innocent of that language in my early years and only picked it up, as best I could, once taken away from my roots. So where do I begin?
My memory is that I was cold a lot, it was worst when it was wet. Sometimes I was warm. I think sometimes it is easier to remember things you did not like, maybe even easier than memories of the not so bad. Not that I am to say that my early days were so bad, sometimes they were good. Helping with the sheep and goats was I think, a good memory. But I’m getting in front of myself.
Growing up in Mirdita Mat, close to Tirana was a sheltered, safe experience and although I had nothing to measure my thoughts against, I felt it was a poor area and families had to work hard fill their bellies. I had a not very loud early life and I don't think a lot of things happened to me. There was a lot of other things going on and I was good at not being noticed and I was good at listening and looking like I was not listening. I did not know what a lot of the things going on were, but I stayed quiet and listened anyway. People would often share my spot, not even noticing I was there. Nothing I would do would alter that state. In this fashion I learned so much about the past and present of my homeland.
Tirana, must have been near where I grew up because I heard that word a lot. I do know exactly where it is. It must be near the Balkans because I heard that being spoken as well. From my safe spot I heard that the area had a colourful and unsettled history, tragic some may say. Over the centuries, I heard all this as well, because I was good at listening, the Balkans has seen shifting frontiers, wars, battles, assassinations, claim, counter-claim, avarice and the pursuit of power, much based on myth and legend. Serb has fought Croat, Croat has betrayed Serb and both have wreaked terrible vengeance on the other, age and gender being no barrier to barbarous acts often carried out in the name of religion and honour. I can tell you I don't understand what all that means but it must be something that went on because I heard a lot about it.
Anyway, I will stop explaining myself and just tell you what I can tell you, because this is what I could hear.
I heard about Albanians, Montenegrians, Kosovans the Ottoman Empire, German attempts at creating an empire, Russia, not to mention the influence of England and I think for a very long time, probably before many of the old branches of my family, there has been a lot of fighting and falling out and I think everybody had suffered.
Not that I lived through these times, as I said, keep your counsel, listen and all will be revealed. Not that all that was revealed was about such grand historical events and influences, I happily took any snippet of information as worthy of logging. Pjeter Bogdani and Branka Zymberi provided me with a totally different experience. They often came near my secret place and obviously not aware of me talked about far away places, strange names, well to me anyway, dreams of escaping this place, of going to Italy, Paris, London and other names that I cannot recall. They always talked about Durres and getting a boat across the Adriatic. I had no idea what these words meant but I was still fascinated. I had no idea then that one day I would experience the Adriatic and a lot more. They talked of marriage, of love, children and of a better life, I could only listen and wonder. I would never know how they would fare because I was soon to move into another phase of my own existence.
It was early on a warm morning, a band of Gypsies had camped near my spot. I was not familiar with their tongue, they stayed up late and sang until the cold or something else overcame them. Early that morning just as they were heading on, two came upon me, one seemed very old and the other was young, with a donkey. I was helpless as they snatched me from my secret place. I would never return to that place and I would never hear or see any of the things I grew up with again.
The gypsies talked differently from the people I had been amongst, it was difficult to know the meaning of the words. I did get to know some in time and here are three phrases I remember;
'Ando gav bi zhuklesko shai piravel o manush bi destesko', 'bengesko niamso' and the other one was, 'I chatski tsinuda de tehara vai de haino khal tut.' I think that was how the gypsies spoke. It was not easy to know what they were saying. The first bit is something about if there are not dogs in a place, village? Then a man does not need a stick. There were a lot of dogs where my gyspies went and they did need sticks. The middle one is about swearing at Germans. I don't know what they are and I do not know why we should swear at them. The last one is that a real nettle stings right away. I think that is what these words mean. But I was struggling with most of the noises they made. When they got a chance my gypsies laughed a lot and they danced and sung songs and they made noises with strings on wood and other things. It was noisy sometimes.
I was soon at work for the old man and the young boy. My job was to control the donkey, although I sometimes worked among the sheep and goats. My life after that was all travel and we moved on through places I had never heard of. We spent the rest of the summer crossing the Proklethje Mountains, going through Kosova, Serbia and into Bulgaria and sometimes back again, passing such places as Kukes, Pec, Leskovac before arriving at the start of Autumn in a place I think they called Topli Do. On the way there were many detours and camps as the Gypsies earned a living by fortune telling, mending and sharpening farm tools and household implements. There were also lots of scrapes they got into and I was pressed into service on many an occasion to see off an assailant. My experience of life was growing and one thing I learned was that Gypsies seemed to have a lot of enemies and to this day I never understood why.
Something was different and one day my gypsies moved away. They stayed in quiet places a lot of the time. They were always following paths in the forests and seemed reluctant to move on the roads or busy tracks. It would not be unusual if they suddenly hid themselves in the deepest bits of the forest if they thought other people were coming along. I do not know why they were like this. Something was making them hide. Were they frightened about something? Sometimes they moved about in the dark, even with no moon.
I saw them talking to a group one time, I think they might be gypsies as well. They were wearing yellow cloth things on their arms. A word, zigeuner, was on the yellow cloth. That is a word I heard my gypsies say a lot. I think it might be a word for gipsy. They did look and dress like my gypsies. As time passed I saw more and more of the yellow cloth 'gypsies'. I know that my gypsies were moving in the same direction now, they were not criss crossing and they were not doing a lot of mending and the kind of work they did when they took me away. They were catching small animals and fish. I was helping a lot. Once I heard them talking quietly beside their fire one night, there was not a moon that night. I heard a word I never heard before, it was porajmos. I did not know about that word, but we moved quicker after that. I did not know where we were going, I was lost.
Then we were down out of the hills and forests and we were beside water. A place called Loviste. We were in that place for some nights and some of my gypsies stayed very quiet and the other ones wandered about near the water. I did not know what they were doing. Then we all got in a boat and we went onto the water. I was helping them get fish. We were a lot of nights on the water and we were at the side of it again. My gypsies talked about Adriatic and I think that was the big water we were on. I heard Pescara, something like that. I did not know what it was. The voices hear were difficult and I had no idea what was happening. All the time the boy gypsy, the same one who was with the old gypsy when they took me away, kept me safe and I was with him all the time.
Then we were away again and into strange land and forests. I think my gypsies were happy now and they played and sung and danced again. I think they got more things to eat, but in the woods I always helped them.
We were into high ground and it was cold and there was white stuff on the trees and on the tracks. But we kept moving. We were at a place called Sovicille and it was nice. We went up more high land and forest and we came to a small place called Simignano and we never moved again. My gypsies seemed very happy and when it was dark they sat in a place with all the buildings round about and they talked and smoked and danced and sung. They wanted to stay here for all the time I think. I was not so very helpful now. Sometimes I would help and would go with them when they were catching little pig things. I think that is what they were and they were very loud and grunted and squeaked. A lot of the time I was on my own. The boy gypsy was doing a lot of things and he did not need my help. I did help move snakes away from the place they were one night.
It was very cold and the white stuff was deep. I was helping again one night without a moon we were going up high in the forest. The gypsy boy fell and we tumbled down a steep bit and we got separate and I was covered in the forest and the white stuff.
I never saw my gypsy after that and I was alone in that place in the forest. And it got warm and the sun was out and the moon was out and it was dark and their was not any light and it was like that many times and I was on my own and I did not know where I was or what I would do. I heard gypsies somewhere and I heard them singing and making noise but I never ever saw them ever again and I just stayed myself in the forest for a long long time and lots of moons.
One time it was hot and I heard voices but I did not know what they were saying and one of them found me and took me with him. He was not a gypsy, well he did not sound like a gypsy.He had a very different sound.
Then he took me with him and we travelled very far and I have travelled very far before but I was in something I think was not a cart. I heard car but that was new. I am always hearing new things. And I was in an aeroplane, and I heard that as well but it did not mean anything, but I was in one.
Now I am in Scotland and I hear things about England and Ireland and America and something called the Middle East and terror and I am lost again. I hear about battles and wars and religion and honour and oil and clans and Bannockburn and William Wallace and I think I am back where I started, although I still have real trouble understanding any of the people. I am not very useful now. I get to go out when a dog is there but I do not go out a lot.
I was with these new strange sounding people the other day and we were near a lot of trees and the one who found me in the forest said my skin looked like walnut.
And you know, he was right, I am from a proud family that has lived through all sorts of bad and good times and not tried to take sides or hurt anybody, just be useful. My family is the Balkan branch of the juglans regia and I am happy about that.