By Dr. Sadik Bejko
– From the notebook –
Memorie.al/ There comes a moment in life when you have to make a decision: “head or tail”, a decision to enter the sea on foot, even without knowing how to swim. Or to get out before the barrage of enemy bullets..! They shoot you with guns and you shoot them. This is neck-to-neck combat at the front. Here everything is taken into account, only the head is not. The head is told to go away. That’s why you’re a soldier. Letting go of your head…with honor…!
And I once made such a decision.
Why should I make such a decision?
The work had reached the point where it was no longer possible. I had done all the research. I had gone to the Prime Minister’s office, to the Attorney General, to my Association of Writers…!
Everyone gave up as if they were on fire from my case…!
“Ooo, an order has been issued for you by the Prime Minister. This is not a matter for consideration. You accept the guilt that they charged you with and follow the order to go work in the mine”.
No matter how much I tried to return the matter to the tracks of logical judgement, as soon as the formula that there is an order for you was mentioned, everything was torn apart and led me darkly towards… the mine.
I went there. I took note of the confrontation with the mine.
On January 24, 1974, I received my work book as an underground worker. I carried out the order. Point by point.
But even this was not so easy. Hell, the mine had rules; it wanted health reports, lab tests to accept you into its depths.
I went to Memaliaj and stayed temporarily with some of my fellow villagers and peers. Miners trapped in mining silos.
“I got you and you will get rid of it, my friend.” That’s what they told me.
I had to do the health tests. He had to be as healthy as a pilot who takes off in the sky and a miner who goes down the mine. I was young. Not even 31 years old. Slightly overweight. But strong.
The problem stuck with the eye tests. One of my eyes, the right eye, damaged since childhood in a game of dice, was not like the other eye: the eye with 100 percent vision. My right eye was at 30-40 percent vision. Almost half-blind eye. How did it happen?!
If the ophthalmologist wrote that you are not fit for the mine… I was expelled; I did not… follow the order of those from above to go down to the mine.
I knew this eye work and did my best to get ahead of it. I was determined to carry out the order of those from above.
In Memaliaj, the chief engineer, fortunately, was Martini. Martin Cukalla. I knew him. Martin wrote poetry. I liked them. We had exchanged letters together. I had insisted that a book of poetry prepared by him in those years be published. Was I stuck? Big word. Who was I? But as an editor of texts at the Albanian Radio-Television, as a poet for the time, I had insisted on the poetry editorial office at the “Naim Frashëri” Publishing Company, I had “shouted” orally and in writing, with a review, that Martini’s book to be published. Not that it was my friend, not that it was a mature book… but there were a lot of crap books being published back then. Martin, my friend, was a more mature man, more manly perhaps than his book.
That was my impression. And he didn’t lie to me.
When I went to the mine, Martin not only as a person, but together with his wife and his friends gave me a hospitality that embellished my life. For the first time after that filth that I had suddenly encountered… with people who did not want to meet me and who deceived me…!
Martin was playing the cavalier… the forgotten friend of those times.
Martin, I tell him one evening, I find it “technically” difficult to enter the mine. I have a serious problem with my eyes.
“You have you made up your mind that you are going to enter the mine” he asked me?
Yes…yes, I told him flatly. I have no other way.
“Then get a report from the specialist doctor to allow us in Memaliaj to put you in the mine.”
Martin, I said, I am entering the mine for a forgery which I did not commit, how can I ask such a thing of another?
“No”, he told me, “the doctor should really write down the condition of your eyes.” Then the doctor makes a recommendation: able to work in the mine… not able to work in the mine. Ask the doctor to write down the real condition of your eyes in black and white, without falsification, to make a recommendation for the medical commission of the mine where I, Martini, am the Chairman. The doctor, after determining the real condition of the eyes by percentage… let him write: my recommendation as a specialist doctor is that: he can also work in the mine, underground. The forensic commission of the Memaliaj mine… let it decide. Memaliaj to…decide”.
The ophthalmic surgeon in Gjirokastër, after examining my two eyes, discovered the defect in my right eye, an eye with half vision, and happily tells me: how good, you can’t work in the mine. I knew from her accent that she was a foreigner. She was Polish towards and away from Tirana. She understood that I was also an outcast from Tirana.
When I told her, Doctor, I want to enter the mine, she hesitated. Doctor, I’m officially being taken to the mine for a forgery I didn’t commit. Now I don’t want to falsify my health data to enter the mine.
Why are you going in?
I can’t say. I have a wife who may lose her job. I’m expecting a baby. What will I wear them with? The mine has money. So please don’t change anything from my eye gaze percentage.
Except I am writing as an opinion, as a doctor’s recommendation…that I can even enter the mine…don’t change the fact that one of my eyes is defective.
The doctor reluctantly wrote…as a recommendation that I “could also work underground”.
“Victory” Martin said, you’re going straight underground.
That night that the mining commission decided that I would be an underground worker, we celebrated in a bar with Eng. Martin. What I had never loved, I was now celebrating. Oh my god, my grandmother would say…! To walk headlong into the mine of my own accord.
“It’s a victory,” Martini told me. “If you were not accepted underground, you would crash in some village. You will get a job with less than 200 to 300 ALL per month. You are dying to eat. You want a recently published book, you want a literary newspaper on Sunday, a literary magazine of the month. Without these you would be nobody. This is your level. You know in whichever village they take you, forget books and magazines. A beggar… you will remain without family, without friends…! Well done, for accepting the mine. You have food treatment in the workers’ canteen. Get paid the same as you did at RTSH as an editor. Keep your head up”, said Martini. “Defect in one eye? No item. People on the verge of retirement who are almost half blind work in the mine. Don’t worry. You are my friend. You will work in places where you will not feel that you are defective. Repairing… mines where men around 50 years old work. Retirement threshold. The important thing is that you said to the mine “don’t scare me…”!
I didn’t know what mining was. I had punched his forehead and told him to accept the terror…don’t be afraid. Where would I go out?
Two or three years had passed.
Martin kept his promise. I started underground, in repair. With a shift. Just before the day. Two or three months and they broke his anonymous letters or with first and last name. Against Martin. He favors a “class enemy”. “A person sentenced to… hard penal labor. Assigns him to work in one shift. Easy job. And meet him after work as a dear friend”.
Martin was given a written warning on his registration card as a communist. Martin softened the class struggle.
After that I would sink into the deepest mine shaft. I was already without any friends…!
Far from me, I told Martin. I hurt you. I don’t want you to sink with me.
“I have responsibility”, he said. “I put you in the mine, thinking I could protect you. Now exit the mine. This job costs you. Show the defect of the eye. I don’t know where they’ll shoot you. Where even with four eyes you can’t stay alive”.
Martin, that’s how you got the job done. More and surer to go down to the mine on the third floor. Now I got used to it. Let them take me down to the fifteenth floor. Together here we part. We parted as friends.
And I had no more business with Martin.
The mine has its own magic. Some miners first get into its lair… for a year or two. And they stay there for life. After three or four months, I was drugged with poisons and drugs that sometimes become a part of us for life. I was living the mine. The work with head risk, which takes people’s heads, but also work that gives life.
One day my friend from those years, Pertef Liçi, tells me that with my work in those three years, I had a man who adored me in that city.
Why what have I done…?
“Nothing else. Besides how many years have you been a real miner now”.
Ha ha.. like I wanted the “real miner” promotion… heh heh, don’t make fun of me…!
With all the educated people of the city, since the forced breakup with Martini (Martini was now chief engineer in one of the most important mines in this country, then deputy minister…) I did not exchange a single word. They were all corrupt for a job in the administration, in the state. I was almost the man…before. We were on opposite sides of the rope. And each in his own place. No meeting point.
Who was this who worshiped me from the opposite side of himself?
I finally met him. With reservations.
“I adore you”, he told me. My wife cheated on me with another man and I still live with him”. Why? They told me: if you leave your wife, you should also leave your profession as a music teacher. Become a miner. It didn’t hold me. I’m not a man. How come you are a miner? No one in this town says you fall below any of the mine men in this town.
Ha ha…I felt like laughing… pa pa..pa! This was high rank. Miner like the best men in that mining town.
And no one knew that I was also half-eyed. That I had tricked the commission, I had introduced a friend so that they would accept me to work as a miner…to become such an important person in that town.
After some years I had an eye surgery. This operation brought me out of the underground. I worked in the outer wards of the mine. Now I was irrelevant. I lost my status as a fearless miner of the most terrifying depths of the underground.
Simply, I was a laborer punished with hard labor by the state. That’s all. I didn’t need more.