By Belinda Budini
– The rare testimony of Zhozef Makanga, the Congolese who came to Albania at the age of 8, and after being settled in the Children’s Home, together with his compatriots, were sent to Vlora, where he suffered for a long time, never filling his stomach with bread and when Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu went there, they kept them locked up, like “black children”!
Memorie.al / He grew up in Albania, but they never called him Albanian. He had Albanian friends, a house, a job and a wife in Tirana, but even this was not enough to feel Albanian. The language he knows best is Albanian, he writes poetry and sings Albanian folk songs, he dies of Skrapari raki and better than Albanian, he doesn’t know how to swear in any other language. Not only were these, but even 27 years of living in Albania, not enough for Joseph Makanga to acquire the status of Albanian. As if they were not enough for dozens of other black children, who in the 60s came to Albania from communist countries in Africa and who now wander around the world without an identity.
His drama is that he never managed to feel “like everyone else” in Albania, even though, like everyone else, he couldn’t get enough of bread at that time, he drank tea with chlorine and the rotten marmalade came to the tip of his nose Apple. Even after completing his higher studies in Medicine and while working as a surgeon at Hospital No. 2 in Tirana, he remained simply “Congolese” or worse still “black”, not to mention some Volhonian slang, which Jozefi says in his auto. – Irony.
After emigrating from Albania in 1992, like all others like him, who came to Albania in the same way, Joseph, on his first return, found an even stranger, even colder country, which however, it remains his second homeland after Congo, where he was born and lived until the age of 8. Albania is for him a contradictory homeland, which he loved but also despised, where he fell in love for the first time, but where for the first time they prevented his love, in all ways.
It was the place where he began to understand the world, but where he became aware that this world was not only wild and difficult, as it is for everyone, but especially unfair to him. He realized this for the first time, when they didn’t put the pioneer scarf on him like all other Albanian children, when they came of age, although his ears were full of propaganda for the party he loved so much, but that Jozefi, still young, was surprised at how he could not see her and even more so he did not feel her love for him at all.
He would have to grow up a little to realize that the greatest evil came from the color of his skin, but also from a regime that worked in a strange way, like the moon, that in the sixties he loved it, raised it and educated him, while after the seventies he despised him, saw him as a potential agent and kept him away. So much so that he says that, in the 13 years he lived in Tirana, first as a student and later as a doctor, he did not make any friends.
And there is no way that Tirana does not seem foreign to him after so many years, in his first return.
However, he says that he has followed its change as well as that of Albania during these years that he has been in emigration, through satellite television. “I only watch Albanian televisions, listen to Albanian radios and read Albanian newspapers on the Internet,” says Zhozefi, who has been living in Brussels since 1992, where he has already created a new family and has a beautiful four-year-old daughter, with his second wife, Elizabeth.
He learned another language, French, married a Belgian, did other supplementary studies and now works as a dentist in Brussels, and if he never got the Albanian citizenship, he now has the Belgian one. This certainly did not make him feel Belgian, just as he does not feel fully Congolese, although he found his mother and sister there again.
At the age of 47, Zhozef Makanga feels like a man without a true identity, just like his black friends from communist Albania who, in the Congo now call them Albanians and in Albania, they have always called them Congolese.
The unknown story of the arrival of black children in Albania during the communist regime, according to the confession of one of them, Zhozef Makanga. How did they come and leave Albania without ever receiving the status of Albanian?! How did they hide when Mehmet Shehu went to Vlora, people’s prejudices and branding them as agents…?!
Children of Africa in communist Albania
He was only eight years old when he left the Congo, his homeland. It is about the sixties when Congo was trying to get out of colonization. “The Congo had been a Belgian colony for about eighty years and in the sixties, the independence movements started. My father was killed during this rebellion”, recalled Joseph, who, after the murder of his father, who was against the regime, moved to another African country for two years, until at the end of 1965, he came to Albania together with other children, mainly from African countries.
“There were those who took them to Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries. They brought me to Albania”, he says, adding that a good part of these children had parents in high state positions and that due to the change of regime, they were in danger in their country. “There were many children of ministers and high state officials. It was even said that even Kabila’s children were in Albania”, – recounted Zhozefi, adding that some of the children who arrived were very young, while he was eight years old when he arrived in Albania.
“They first brought us to Tirana and told us that Albania was the country that would save us from the dangers that threatened us in the countries we came from. We were promised that we would be privileged children and that the Party loved us very much and would protect us”, – remembered Jozef, adding that this was not the case at all.
“A part of us was taken to Lezha and another part to Vlora. Due to the cold climate, we were immediately removed from Tirana where, for a short time, we stayed in the Children’s Home. I went to Vlora, where I would spend about 18 years. There they took us to the Medical School, “Jani Minga”, – continued Zhozefi, adding that it was in this school that he went through the greatest difficulties that other Albanians also suffered, in fact, such as extreme poverty.
“I don’t forget when the bread cart came and we ran like greedy people and we didn’t eat the bread normally, but we tore it with our teeth. These are not good memories. For 18 years, the breakfast and dinner menu never changed. We ate tea and cheese in the morning and tea and marmalade in the dinner, so much so that even now when I remember, I want to vomit”, says Zhozefi.
He remembers that the greatest happiness for them was when the high officials came to Vlora, because only then they ate pasta with sauce and yellow cheese. But he shows that he cannot forget a case when they hid all the black children so that they wouldn’t go out on the street together with the Albanian children, to greet Mehmet Shehu who was visiting Vlora.
“Even later when we grew up, we didn’t have the privileges we were promised. People looked at us as if we were samples, while from the regime; we started to be considered as agents without any cause. Many of us experienced real love dramas and some of them were transferred, as soon as they fell in love with an Albanian. And love stories were born full. I myself fell in love with an Albanian woman and she had to suffer a lot to crown her love with me”, – said Zhozefi.
But the biggest problem and the biggest debt that the Albanian state has to these people, according to Joseph, is the denial of Albanian citizenship, which has caused that even to this day those people wander around the world neither as Africans, nor as Albanians!
Difficult obstacle, without documents and Vital Pakasa, the only one who wants to return to Albania…!
He is the same age as Joseph, and when he left Albania for Congo, he didn’t think he would regret it so soon. “Everyone there calls him Albanian and he has not been able to integrate with the locals, as he has also had difficulties with learning the language. We only enjoy it when two or three friends from Albania get together to speak Albanian. And we only speak Albanian to each other”, said Zhozefi, adding that Vital Pakasa is the only one among his friends from Albania who wants to return to Albania to live, as the others have settled in other countries.
But he lacks Albanian citizenship, while living without documents, still as a refugee, in his homeland. Joseph also mentions the case of another friend, Jean Matte, who died in the Congo and never managed to make the documents as an Albanian, although he really wanted to do so. Among Joseph’s friends in Albania, there is only one doctor named Yrben Massena.
“How did they kill my child and my love in Tirana”?!
The biggest tragedy of Joseph’s life came together with the most beautiful thing that happened to him in Albania, meeting an Albanian girl, with whom he fell in love. “She was the daughter of a senior leader in the Ministry of Defense and had to face great misfortunes because of this love for me. They even removed her uterus, so as not to carry the child of a black man in her womb”, – said Joseph, overcome with emotion.
It is not easy to talk about this story, but he adds that it also caused the death of the girl’s father, with a staged accident, but which, according to him, is related to his daughter’s love. Joseph’s story with the Albanian girl lasted until 1998 and now she lives in America, while Joseph has created a new family, with a Belgian radio presenter, with whom he has a daughter, named Elyorissa. Memorie.al