I’ve been tutoring a judge here in Shkoder (who shall remain anonymous) for about 6 months here, and I can honestly say that she’s taught me just as much as I’ve taught her. Seriously. Sitting down for an hour with her is like being transported back to communist Albania with the passion that she tells stories and explains the intricacies of life back then. I feel like I could write a whole novel and fill them with her stories, but I’ll try not to get carried away. So the other day we were debated the marriage equality laws in America when the coversation took a turn to marriage in Albania way back when. And this is what I learned:
Did you know that during communism they often used a formal to determine the age at which a girl would marry? If you took the age of the man and divided it by 2 then added 7, that should be the age of the woman (well, the maximum). I’m not joking. So this judge’s grandmother was 13 years old when her mother brought her into a room and told her to peak through the key hole at the man in the adjoining room. He was old, with a big gray mustache and a round potbelly. And he would be her husband. They had 13 children, but only 12 survived and only 6 made it past age 20.
During communism the government gave families and extra monthly stipend for every 8 children they had, so at least they enjoyed that luxury for awhile. But of course, her husband died while her children were still young and she was forced to raise them on her own. After World War II ended this wonderful woman went on to be one of the first women in Shkoder to hold a job outside of her home. She went to work at a kindergarten and a village orphanage just to earn the equivalent of $30 a month with which to feed her family.
When a woman marries a man in Albania, she goes to live at his house with his family. And if he dies before her, sometimes she can bee freed (if his family is an honorable one). She can be allowed to return to her house with her respective family and even take the children with her, but not the sons. Or her late husband’s family can offer to marry her to another brother, if they are lucky enough to have multiple boys of age. And she would be honored to accept the offer. This way she can continue to live with her children under the guardianship of her late husband’s family.
But this amazing woman was so enamored with her late husband that she wanted to honor him in death by remaining loyal, so she decided to go it alone. She would not remarry. Instead, she survived Italian occupation, German occupation, World War I, World War 11, and a 50 year communist dictatorship. All on her own. Simply amazing.
Stories like these are the reason I’m so thankful to be living and working where I am. These people are so in touch with their history and where they came from. They are so appreciative of every little thing they have. And they never turn up their nose or sneer at their neighbors who have less. Because they still remember when…
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”