A writer friend, Kathleen Stolle, who served in Albania with me as a Peace Corps volunteer between 1995-7, wrote about an amazing and tragic experience while teaching in Pogradec. Kathleen Stolle used to work as a journalist before Peace Corps, and actually came to my university via 10 hour bus ride to participate in a journalism workshop I organized. Even more amazing is that I never heard about the event she described even though we frequently came in contact. What a terrible burden it must have been for her to keep that sort of experience to herself.
As I stumbled along behind him trying to keep up, he told me that my colleagues from the village school were at the police station and that I was to join them. Despite a fascination with the Albanian language and a fair grasp of it, there were times, such as this, when I felt as though I were listening through a thick, warbled fog. The words I understood. But the collective meaning eluded me. Or the meaning I gathered made no sense. Why would my colleagues from the village be here, in town, at the police station? Many of them, like me, lived in town and commuted out to the village; perhaps one of them had arranged a ride from the police, I considered unconvinced. Or maybe it was another national holiday I didn’t know about.
Puzzled, I followed the young boy from the lakeside, into town, and up a side street I’d never traversed before. Up the lane I could see my colleagues, the women sitting on the curb, their skirts tucked beneath their legs, the men standing, smoking. As I approached I heard a silence I recognized from the morning my grandmother had died and I’d found my sisters and parents sitting in the family room, staring in silence. My colleague and closest friend Odeta rose and flagged me toward her, then looped her arm through mine in warm, Albanian fashion. Together we squatted to the curb, my eyes searching her unusually tired, pale face. C’fare? I asked, not prepared for her answer.