By Carrie Hooper
I began learning Albanian in October of 2008 after I had a student from Albania in my Italian class. At first, I used a Braille book that I ordered from the Library for The Blind in England. My student also helped me with the language. Furthermore, I bought an Albanian-English/English-Albanian dictionary and a woman in my area transcribed the Albanian-English section into Braille. Besides that, the Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille sent me a book on audio cassette with Albanian folk tales. In the summers of 2009 and 2010: I took Albanian language courses at Arizona State University in Tempe. Nowadays I read articles from the Albanian newspaper The Sun using my Braille computer. Also, my friend Tim Hendel, who lives in Huntsville, Alabama, records Internet radio programs for me in Albanian. In addition, I practice speaking Albanian by talking to Albanians on the telephone.
In September 2010, I presented a concert of Albanian songs at Saint Elia Orthodox Church in Jamestown, New York. In October 2010, I sang at Saint George Albanian Orthodox Church in Boston, Massachusetts. In June 2011, I sang during the Albanian schools’ end of year celebration in Toronto, Canada.
In April 2012 I participated in the 100th anniversary celebration of the founding of Vatra. As part of this event, I sang the American national anthem and I performed an original composition with an original text in Albanian called O popull i dashur (Beloved People.) In June 2012 I gave an interview for an Albanian film produced by Piro Milkani and directed by Petrit Ruka. This film explored the history of the Albanian national anthem. During the interview, I sang the Albanian national anthem. The film won a special award for the 100th anniversary of Albania’s independence. At the end of June of that same year, I gave two presentations at Arizona State University. In my first presentation, I discussed learning Albanian as a blind person and the accommodations that I needed to accomplish this task. In the second presentation, I talked about learning Albanian and I sang several Albanian songs.
In October 2012, I visited the Albanian school in the Bronx, New York. I gave a presentation for parents and students in which I talked about learning Albanian. I also performed several Albanian songs. In June 2013, I participated in the end of year festivities at the Albanian school in the Bronx by performing four Albanian songs. I also attended Mass at the Albanian Catholic Church Our Lady of Shkoder in Hartsdale, New York. After Mass, I met a priest named Gjergj Meta who was visiting the church. He lives in Durres, Albania. Father Gjergj Meta wrote an article about our meeting which appeared in the newspaper Mapo. During that New York visit, I became a member of the ensemble Bashkimi Kombetar (Albanian Unity) directed by Gjergj Dedvukaj and I now play the cifteli. For those not familiar with this folk instrument, it is made of wood and has a long narrow neck and a bowl-shaped bottom. It has two strings that you pluck with a special pick. I participated in a concert presented by Bashkimi Kombetar at Saint Paul’s Church in Detroit, Michigan in July of 2013.
In recent years, I have given interviews for Gazeta Dielli (The Sun), for journalist Raimonda Moisiu, for journalist Beqir Sina and the newspaper Bota sot (The World Today), for journalists Kozeta Zylo and Zyba Hysa, for Flora Durmishi’s program on Radio Kosovo, and for Radio e diela, a program broadcast on CHIN AM 1540 in Toronto, Canada. I also participated in a television program called Shqiptarët e Amerikës (Albanians In America) which is produced in New York by Qazim Doda.
I have written poems in Albanian and some of them were published in The Sun and in the magazine Kuvendi. Several years ago, I gave presentations about Albania for various clubs in my area. During these talks, I also sang Albanian songs. Furthermore, I gave two presentations about Albania at Elmira College, the college where I teach.
In Honor of the Albanian Language
“I am from Albania,” my student said. Who would have thought that three such small words would have had such a great impact on a life? But that is what happened that unforgettable day.
“I am from Albania.” That simple sentence called to mind a girl, eleven or twelve years old, who heard the name Albania for the first time. I was that girl.
In the awkward moment that followed his utterance, I wanted to show that student that I knew at least one thing about his country. I wracked my brains trying to remember the capital of Albania. I had learned it long ago but in that precise moment, I had forgotten it. Of course I remembered it as soon as he told me.
This unexpected experience ignited the flame of curiosity and thus was born my desire to learn Albanian. Nothing would stop me! I had to learn Albanian come what may! I searched diligently until I found the only Albanian textbook available in Braille from the Library for the Blind in England. This book would serve as the key that would open the door to that mysterious and different language and culture. I cheered so loudly the day the book arrived that surely the whole world must have heard my excitement!
The more Albanian I learned, the more the language held me in its grip. How often my head ached with the effort. Nevertheless I did not give up.
I asked myself many times if I would ever understand Albanian. I remember the joy I felt when I said my first word in Albanian. I remember the pleasure I felt when I understood one word on the radio. I remember my gratitude for the ability to write one sentence in Albanian.
O language of Albania, the music of your words fills my spirit with joy! Your expressive words fill my heart with joy! When I hear your words, my whole being is filled with joy! Through you I have come to know a strong, brave, and courageous people, who have survived the oppression of foreign rulers and an evil dictatorship.
Resound, O beloved language, no matter where your people live! May you live forever, O beautiful Albanian language!