some 12 years ago, i had my appendix removed. in the best albanian custom it took me one month to recover, during which all my cousins, friends, their cats and gerbils came to visit and offer me wishes for a fast recovery. what i remember best is coming home from the doctor’s visit, to find a group of high school friends, all boys, waiting for my return. i remember like it was today, all five of them sitting on the long and uncomfortable sofa, my grandmother on the other side asking the famous question: “whose son are you, anyway?”
my grandmother was a formidable woman. at the time she was still in full swing, the matriach of a four sons who idolized her, for daughters-in-law who gave her respect, two daughters and their loving husbands and a slew of grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins, neighbours who all fell over each-other trying to show her favors. I felt pity for my friends, cowering behind the handmade figurines and trying to be one with the rug she’d made herself. oh no inquisition had nothing on my grandmother. each one of them gave their full name, their family name, their father’s name, the region of their origin and possibly the shoe size although i never heard it. my grandmother was relentless in her pursuit and would stop only once she’d made a connection with their family and somehow placed their origins on the social map she had etched in her head.
it was interesting to hear my friends answer. fascinated, i learned things i never knew about them, even if we had been through 4 years of high school and hung out together even through college. yet, here they were, reduced into little beads in the family string, colored the same, textured the same, of the same size an shape as their mommies and daddies before them, their children already taking shape after them. i think new understanding about my unjustified self-assurance and unexpected mule-ness came into their eyes, as well as a glimpse of what i’d look like when i was 72. not too bad, i always thought. i knew i’d be a beautiful old woman, just by looking at my grandmother.
i found myself doing the same thing at a cafe’ two weeks ago. i asked and asked true grandmother style, and came to my own conclusions about the people sitting next to me and in front of me. knowing their roots helped me to know them, although i am not sure what good it did in the long run. as i asked, they also asked, and came to their own conclusions. sadly, none of us was able to raise above their conclusions and try to refind the spark that had brought us together in the first place. possibly, i was willing to do that. possibly they were not willing to do that.
which is why my dear homeland has not changed and will not change, for all those 50 years of dictature, and 15 years of tragicomedy that followed, topped by two years of returning to our respective roots. the only hope i hang on to right now, is the fact that my roots are healthy, and that i know they will bear me, no matter how low i fall or how high i grow. the rest is just foliage.