By Maksim Rakipaj
– Excerpt from the book “Alive after the sinking of the ship”, by the publicist, translator and writer Maksim Rakipaj, former officer of the Merchant Navy, who suffered in the prisons of the communist regime, as a political prisoner-
Memorie.al / September-October ’79. I have been in Spac for over three months. I continue with great effort the heavy work of the miner. The work becomes even more difficult because from the 7-8 atmospheres that should be the air pressure that must come to the hammer, it never reaches more than 4 atmospheres and baromina, it only makes noise and dust and does not open the holes in the rock. I like, surprisingly, to work on fronts where the hardness of the rock is very high. I have to sit for 4 hours in the dust of the hammer to barely complete the work cycle. I look forward to the end of the shift with great pleasure, wash with cold water inside the gallery, get dressed and go down with the brigade to enter the camp. I made many new friends here, from all over Albania. They come from different professions; teachers, such as: Ron Çobani and Visar Zhiti, writers such as Halil Laze, painters, etc. With different political beliefs: there are Eurocommunists (!), Ballistas, Zozistas, pro-Russians, pro-Americans, as far as I know. From all walks of life. There are some of them who were born in exile, who continue the family tradition in communist prisons, grandfather-father-son…!
Who is Maksim Rakipaj, from the family biography, to the arrest?
Maksim Xhafer Rakipaj, married, with two children, was born in Vlora on July 15, 1951. He graduated from the Naval School in Vlora in 1972. He worked as a deck officer on ships of the Merchant Marine Fleet, until 1977, when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment for agitation, propaganda and smuggling. He was released in September 1984.
He opposed the cooperation with the State Security; they left him without a job for 9 months. He started working as a miner in June 1985, in the coal mine in Manzë, Gërdec sector. After 1991, it resumed work on ships of the Merchant Marine Fleet. In 1996, he started working as Head of External Relations, Head of Protocol and Press Spokesman in the Municipality of Durrës.
In 1999, he resumed working at sea as a captain on various merchant ships. After 2002, he emigrated to Italy and lives in Lucca (Lucca, Tuscany). He has published the following books: “20 love poems and a song of sadness” by Pablo Neruda, translated from Spanish, TOENA publishing house 2003; “Prophet” Kahlil Gibran, translation from English, TOENA publishing house 2003; “Alive after the shipwreck”, prison memoirs, published by ISKPK (Institute for the Study of Crimes and Consequences of Communism), 2014; “Anthology of Arabic-Persian poetry” various translations, UEGEN 2015; “Trilusa m’Tirône” translation, UEGEN 2015; “Bukowski poetry”, translations from English, 2015; “The Complete Sonnets of Shakespeare”, translation from English, ADA publishing house, 2016; ‟The Prophet and the Garden of the Prophet” by Kahlil Gibra, translation from English, Toena publishing house 2016; “Kali Valltar”, by Jo Jo Moyes novel, translation from English, UEGEN publishing house, 2018; “I Survived”, reworked edition of the book “Alive after the shipwreck”, Publishing House “Two easts two wests”, 2018; “Anthology of Nobelist Poets”, Publishing House “UEGEN”, 2019; “Anthology of Dissident Poets”, “Jozef” Publishing House, 2019; “Poems from Maram Al Masri”, translations, “Jozef” Publishing House, 2020; “E Sigurt (Safe)”, novel by S.K Barnett, translation, Publishing House “Jozef” 2021; “Skin Color”, “Communism and the Logic of Beauty”, nonfiction by Manning Johnson, translation, “Jozef” Publishing House, 2021; about 20 titles.
Memories of Maksim Rakipaj
-With Dashnor Mamaqi, in the prison of Zejmeni-
Someone in a striped brown coat was not taking my eyes off me… I became curious, because it looked like a familiar face and cautiously, I asked someone close to me:
-Who is that guy over there?
– Mamaqi is in love, why don’t you know him…?!
-I would never know how weak he is. Only the nose remained deserted…!
Meanwhile, Dashnori approached me very politely and with that soft and melodious voice (only experts have this kind of voice), addressed me:
-Excuse me…! Your face reminds me of a friend of mine, when he was more or less your age…! I’m cutting it short: Don’t you have anything to do with Xhafer Rakipajn?
– Yes, it is my father, Mr. Dashnor.
-Ah, you know me too…? He expressed surprise – I don’t know what he said, but I loved Xhaferri a lot. I found him at home, in Mokrica in ’43. At that time Xakua, (that’s how my friends called him for short), was a ballist. Eh, that’s how it was during those years…! Ali bey Këlcyra used to go – he took them with Balli…! I used to go, take them with the Party, if only they would fight the enemy, they wanted boys…!
Then, when my Hope was wounded, in the Winter Operation, I didn’t know anything…! It was Xhakua, who carried him for hours on his back. I never forget it…! I remembered one day with Spresa: Do you remember Spresa, I told her, when our beloved commander, the great Enver, came to our house…!
I couldn’t help myself, I removed the arm that you had put on my arm in a friendly way and I said, separating the words with syllables: – This is the last time we stay together. With all that you removed and are removing, with Hope and the children in exile, you yourself in prison… you still love the criminal Enver Hoxha?! Or don’t be afraid of me, and thus insult me even more! When will mints come to you more…?! Or when you have the firing squad in front of you, like your friends?
Even then you will scream again: Long lives that criminal?!
– I’m waiting, boy, keep your voice down, and deal with me, because they only give you 10 years, but I’m waiting for the bullet! I don’t even care about the family, the children… and he opened his eyes around, and only after making sure that no one was listening, he said almost in a whisper: “Ah, if only you knew him, my son, that dog as I know him… you must be really afraid of it! You have no idea what a monster criminal he is!”
-Okay, Dashnor, but there is no one else who thinks like you, there in the Bureau… the point is, why don’t they get rid of the devil…?!
Years later, I found out that the desolate Dashnor Mamaqi died in the prison of Saint-Koll, in Lezhë, without being able to hug his loved ones freely…! And he was not the only one who had such a fate.
Baba Mehmeti, who gave advice to Mustafa Qemali
In the camp of Ballshi, among the many, I also met many special people…! I will try to remember them and bring them alive for you, not according to their importance, nor according to any chronology, but simply, as they come to me… and one of them was a dervish: Baba Mehmeti was called, of Teqë i Fraşëri…! He was arrested in 1968, and sentenced to 15 years as far as I remember. When I met him, in 1978, he was about 85 years old, but very well maintained.
In the camp, there were many people who respectfully called him with the title of the Bektashians “Baba”, but he, embarrassed, answered “What, black Baba…?! Beardless father…”! He only accepted me with satisfaction, when I called him with the title “Dad”.
Since we were first introduced, I was surprised, because he knew my ancestors very well, starting from my grandfather, Sabriu, to my uncles, and my parents, and he knew their stories well. He had a melodious voice and preserved the characteristic speech of Naimi Frashëri, and when Baba Mehmeti spoke, it sounded like he was singing.
– Good morning, Dad! – I told him
– Good morning children! – he turned to me and his eyes were laughing.
– Will I come and give you the meeting coffee, because my friends came yesterday?
– Straight ahead, as soon as I finish a job, a couple of minutes and then…!
…It was good to talk, Baba Mehmeti…!
– Where did you study, Dad? – I asked him out of curiosity?!
-Istanbul, evlat, Istanbul. And I also met Mustafa Qemali there.
-Really? – I was surprised – But how, since?!
– I’ll tell you guys. I was a young man at that time, and I was just finishing my studies, when one afternoon on the 24th, I went to a tea house in Istanbul for a tea, because I said helbete, I don’t even see the company, because we used to drink with each other there , in teahouses.
When you want, some 20 people with rifles enter us in the bar, shouting: “On foot! Quick, on foot! And honor the great Kemal Ataturk! When they were shouting, I didn’t play from the place you say…! Did you see… Mustafa Qemali, sitting right at the table where I was. I stood up, I had nothing to do and I honored him…!
-What’s their name? – addressed me…!
-Mehmet, I tell him…!
-Where are you from?
-Albanian! – I say…! And he greeted me in Albanian, and… Spoke for almost 10 minutes on foot with me only in Albanian…!
– I recognized you as soon as I entered that you are Albanian, – he told me – Why didn’t you stand up when the soldiers told you?
– I got up, sir, – I replied – but not because of their fear, but because of the respect I have for you…! Mustafa Qemali, laughed the loudest with these words of mine…!
He was truly a brave man, Baba Mehmeti.
When they tried to destroy his teke, in 1967, the year when all religious institutions in our country were destroyed, Father took his rifle and shot first into the air, shouting like Ali Pasha Tepelena in Ioannina:
– Go ahead! Go crazy…! A party secretary approached, but Babaj never allowed anyone to approach him. Only the head of the Branch was allowed to enter the premises. They had been partisans together in the war. That Father, had been a partisan, and had even received the rank of major…! – Why did we leave? Tell me once? For Jesus to be laid cross-legged in our homeland?!
We didn’t talk like this in forty-three…! After a few days, they called Father to the Department of Internal Affairs, in Përmet: “Just for an explanation”! The mayor is happy to have a coffee with you, Dad! – said the policeman. And he drank coffee with the president…! From that day on, they never let Baba Mehmet out. He was condemned as an “enemy of the People’s Power”, and sentenced to 15 years in prison…!
I am in the Ballshi camp, year 1978. There are many elderly, sick people here; there are people who have been in prison since “People’s Power” entered. Here you can meet Zef Mala, the chairman of the “Communist Group of Shkodra”. Everyone calls him Professor… he is almost completely blind, but he remains a person who commands respect with his dignity, wisdom and the vast culture he possesses. Another highly respected professor is Nikollë Daka.
Ramiz Alia was once a professor of Latin and ancient Greek, and one of his students. After “liberation”, like the majority of intellectuals, he was either in prison or a worker in a brick factory.
An excellent man, like most Shkodrans. Cherish many fond memories of him. He translated Petrarch for me, but when I was transferred, he could not give me the translation, as they did not allow him to approach our group, which is leaving for Spac.
There was also the champion of the prisons, an elderly man from Gjirokastria, arrested and sentenced without trial as early as October 1944. By ’78, he had only been out of prison for 10 days. Why had he been put in prison? What was his crime?! He had accompanied the German troops as a translator, after being forcibly taken by the Germans as a translator in 1943.
It was known that he had studied apothecary in Vienna, and that he had saved many himself from death by his services as a translator, but none of their testimony was worth it!! There I also found a Vlonjat, Kastrioti or Kači for short, a sailor of the ship “Dajti”.
Kaçi had been there for about a year and knew all the prisoners and their stories. The first days, Kaçi, who was the jailer for me? He happily told me stories to different prisoners and you didn’t need to beg him too much, it was enough for him to see that you had cast your eyes on someone and Kaçi would immediately think…: “Wow, you don’t know this?! What do you say hour? Listen; listen to your brother…!” That’s how I aim to learn the story of F., a story worthy of a thriller…
You had caught my eye, since the first days, this F., he looked young, but his age was not well understood, you could give him 25-30 or even 40 years old. His face was distorted by a facial paralysis, an almost paralyzed hand that he held in front of his chest with an open palm and trembling fingers and one leg that dragged him a little…!
He did not hang out with anyone, except for a boy from Laçi, who helped him (Kaçi told me that they are both from the same city and have known each other since their free lives). Kaçi, pleased to be the first to reveal the story of this character, invited me to listen in detail… and he told me, as if he had lived it himself…!
“Around 1975, a 20-25-year-old boy was caught by the border guards, after he had been seriously injured, while trying to escape to Greece. The Ministry is notified and they urgently come from Tirana and take it…! During the torture, the lonely boy told them that he had intended to go to his uncle in West Germany.
He had all the documents and photographs with him, which would prove that he was the son of his brother, the one who lived in Germany, a ballistic missile and exponent of anti-communist immigration in Germany. That’s it and it is not known what happened to the person caught at the border.
You mean, what does this F. have to do with this story…?! There is, there is… because he had such a great resemblance to the one who was caught at the border, and they were even from the same province…! One day they called this boy, in a secret way, those of the Security, they convince him, they train him, they teach him the whole history of the tribe of that black luck who was caught at the border, they also taught him the codes and the ways to connect with the leaders of operation and they started to cross the border, all this two or three weeks after the real grandson was caught and flayed by those butchers.
Now, his task was to meet his “uncle” in Germany, gain his trust and wait for orders from Tirana to act further. After spending some time in Greece, this is brought to us by the “uncle” in Germany, informed by the Greek authorities. The uncle, already old, and had not created a family, the arrival of his brother’s son (who was rotting in prisons in Albania), seemed like a gift from God.
He looked at the pictures of his relatives, which his nephew had brought him, and burst into tears…! He adopted him as his own son, enrolled him in school and loved him like the eyes of his forehead. When the nephew started to be interested in the uncle’s activities, he didn’t tell him anything…! “Enjoy life my son, study, finish university and live like a man, you don’t have to worry about anything, my wealth will be yours one day…!
Learn, become a man and get married, I’ll see a grandson from you too…! And F. lived like this for several months, leading a life that you had never seen before… and he forgot the orders… and why they had brought him to Germany…! The security that always had him under surveillance, one day, decides to end the game, bringing the uncle “postal package” to Albania…!
They took a walk, near East Berlin – according to the nephew’s information – after they drugged him, packed him and brought him to Albania, and together with the “nephew” and F., he returned to his small town…! For him and his psyche, it was a heavy blow…! Life abroad was not what he had learned in school…!!
They ordered him not to open his mouth to anyone about anything, not to tell anyone, because otherwise…!
Apparently, F., talked to someone, and soon one fine day he found himself in the dungeon, tortured and covered in blood…! They gave him the “costume” of 10 years and ordered him again not to open his mouth to anyone…!
But now, as he was frozen, even if he wanted to, he could barely speak, and even when he spoke, he couldn’t understand what he was saying, because of that facial paralysis, even though he was a little over 30 years old…! Memorie.al