By Hajro Hajra
The fifth part
Memorie.al / An authentic narrative, lived and unadorned, drawn from the carved, but not sleeping, memory of the Albanian who experienced the communist hell, but who managed to escape from that hell thanks to the resourcefulness and great faith that only by coming out of that purgatory, you can fight that icy winter, that infernal fog that had covered Albania from corner to corner, you will read in this article about Remzi Barolli, sentenced to 101 years in prison by the communist regime of Enver Hoxha.
Continues from last issue
Suzana had been persistent and, after several conversations, had managed to get Remziu’s mother out of the camp. On July 11, 1990, she boarded a plane and headed for Switzerland, where her son would be waiting for her. He was crying all the way…! Remziu had gone from America to Switzerland, to Zurich airport, to meet his mother, whom he did not know and who also did not know his son.
The day his mother would arrive, Remziu had flown from New York to Zurich (Switzerland). Two hours after arriving, he went to the American Consulate.
– At the school where I worked – says Remziu, – we had an ambassador, Mr. Franky was his name. He had called the American consul in Switzerland and told him: tomorrow a man, Remzi Barolli, is coming to meet his mother who is coming from Albania and please help her as much as you can! When he went to the consulate, Remzi was received very well.
The plane from Albania was supposed to arrive at 5 or 6 o’clock. He had gone from the hotel to the airport by train. While waiting, he kept his eyes on the arrival schedule of the plane from Tirana. Some time had passed and there were no people to get off the plane that was supposed to come from Albania. He was asked by a man who worked at the airport and he told him that travelers from Albania were going through a special procedure, so they would be delayed a little. After a while, the travelers started to leave. Among them was a man whom Remziu knew.
Aziz Jermeni, they called him. He and his wife were returning from a visit to Albania. When he saw Remzi, he said to him: “Hey, Uncle Remzi, what are you waiting for?” – I’m waiting for mom, – Remziu had replied. – How? Mom? – Yes – Remziu had returned it. Aziz’s wife had told him: – There was an old woman behind us on the plane, she was crying all the time. It could be her, he said. – Don’t worry – Aziz tell him, now she is coming? They kept him longer, because he had no papers…!
When they had approached an alcove of the airport, they had seen that all the travelers who did not have documents had been put in there. With Remziu’s mother was Adibeja’s sister-in-law (Remziu’s brother’s wife). She knew Remzi and he knew her, because we had seen each other in photographs, while the mother did not know Remzi. When her sister-in-law had seen Remziu, she had approached and grabbed him by the neck. Remziu’s mother had also approached and in a scolding voice had said to Adibe: – Who is this man who is holding her by the neck? – Remziu, it’s Remziu – his sister-in-law had told him. – No – Remziu’s mother had replied, – he was thin, with white hair, with thin legs…! Look how old I am…! – Mother – Remziu told her and threw himself into her embrace, but she still didn’t believe it and she must have said to herself: – Who is this foreign man who comes out and waits for us?…
Then they took a taxi and went to the hotel. Remziu’s mother still did not believe. They had occupied two rooms in the hotel, one for the mother and sister-in-law, one for Remzi. Mother Aisha was wearing a pair of torn shoes with a cardboard spread on them. Remziu took it from him and threw it out the window…! The mother had said: – Look, he threw our shoes so that we wouldn’t run away. This man will kill us…!
– The mother did not believe that it was me – Remziu confesses. He started asking me questions: – Yes, where are you from? – He asked me. – I’m from Trestenik, – I told him. – What is your father’s name? – She asked me. – Rakip, – I told him…! – Eh, how well they have taught you… – she continued. Then he asked me: – What did you like to eat? – When I was little, you mother used to do a lot of good things, you made cabbage rolls, pies, yes you did good ones, especially potatoes with gravy…! At that moment she started to cry. – Hey, mother’s son, if you were old…! – What are you waiting for – I told him, – half a century has passed…! After that, the mother was convinced that it was me and calmed down.
The next morning they had gone to the consulate to get the American visa for the mother.
– When we went to the consulate, – recounts Remziu, we were welcomed as if the King of Albania had arrived. They treated us with drinks and sweets and gave us the visa. The visa was a formality that was completed in 5 minutes. From the consulate, after mother Aishja was provided with an American visa, they returned to the hotel. Meanwhile, on July 13, they went to Zurich airport. When they had reached the gate to enter the plane, Remziu had told the officials in a few words the story of the mother, he had told them that she came from the camp that she had suffered a lot under the dictatorship and so on, and in a few words he had told them the whole story.
They had taken Aisha’s mother in a special wheelchair, put her inside the plane and made a place for her near the cockpit, just like she was an important person. One of the flight attendants addressed the passengers who were on the plane and those who continued to enter, with the words: – We have a very special passenger on the plane…! Then almost all the travelers went and took mother Aisha by the hand and everyone gave her something, someone a scarf, someone money, someone something else. She had just watched in amazement at everything that was happening and it must have all seemed like a dream. He was coming from the camp where he had been treated inhumanely and he was experiencing something that the cure would not be able to believe…!
When they had reached New York, here was the next surprise, not only for mother Aishen, but also for Remzi. – From the airport to my house was about 60 miles (over 96 km.), – Remziu confesses. – When we came close to the house, there were full of people on both sides of the road. There were 400-500 people who had come out to meet us, many televisions and radios, and a large number of policemen were engaged to keep order. When the mother saw the policemen, she got a little scared. – Mother, – I told her, – here the police are not like in Albania, they come to save you, not to confuse you. – I told the police captain that my mother was in the camp and when she saw you, she got scared. He took his mother’s hand and hugged her. The mother, meanwhile, was impressed that the children did not speak Albanian.
A family from Manastir had a large restaurant. The owner was Milaim Lika. His son, Ferizi, when he found out that Remziu’s mother was coming, offered and brought food for 400 people.
– We had arrived with the mother on Saturday, July 14. On that day, my daughter, Veronika, was getting married. We had 350 people invited to the wedding. Although people had come for the wedding and Veronika getting married should have been the center of attention, the wedding party had the mother as the center of attention.
For mother Aishen, this new beginning had been very difficult. Coming from a hell, as Albania was then, moreover from a camp-hell where she had spent all those years of anxiety straight to a bright world, as was America, it was a change like night and day. However, mother Aisha, although she carried the heavy weight of the past, in the new environment, surrounded by care and love, she would slowly recover.
Commitment to the unification of the Albanians of Arizona
It was the last years of his stay in noisy New York. He was already at an age when he needed a little more peace, but not rest, because he has never stopped his activity for the benefit of the Albanian cause. He suffered a lot in his late childhood and early youth, so he could not help when a fellow countryman was sick and needed someone to lend him a helping hand. And, Remziu did not extend that helping hand to anyone out of pity, but because he has a very noble soul.
After a nearly forty-year stay in the largest city of the USA, in New York, and after a fruitful activity in that huge city, Remziu comes and settles in Arizona, a place with a very hot climate, but especially suitable for the third age. Together with his wife Meri, with his son Rakip, who bears the name of Remzi’s murdered father, they settled in Phoenix. Here Remziu worked at the “International Institute of the Americas” college (he taught accounting and finance) until 2006, when he retired.
Later, Remzi’s eldest daughter, Aishja, will join the Barolli family in Feniks, to whom she has given her mother’s name, since she was born at a time when it was not known whether Aishja’s mother was alive or not. Meanwhile, Remzi’s other daughter, Veronika, also lives in Feniks.
– I came to Feniks in 1993, – says Mr. Barolli. Then there were only 17 Albanian families, mainly from Dibra. Almost all of them worked in pizzerias and almost did not engage in any activity, citing that they did not have time. They, most of them, really worked hard, but as they were, completely unorganized, they were completely useless. Together with Petrit Çami, an Albanian from Dibra, we tried to do something. It took six months of effort to convince the Albanians to form the community. We founded the community in 1995 and baptized it with the symbolic name “Albania of Arizona”.
Immediately after the establishment we had our first picnic. Then we celebrated November 28 and our activity slowly began to expand.
The establishment of the Albanian community of Arizona, at the head of which Remzi Barolli was elected, is of particular importance; first of all for the Albanians of Feniks themselves, the city where almost all the Albanians of Arizona are located, but also for them help the Kosovo issue. Before they were organized in the community, the Albanians of Arizona contacted each other, mainly on the basis of family ties, and the information they received about the events in Kosovo and in other Albanian lands was more individual. With the establishment of the community, the vibrancy began. Albanians held meetings, contacted each other, and organized joint picnics, where many American friends were not missing.
In support of the Kosovo war
When the war broke out in Kosovo, the Albanians of Arizona mobilized. At their head was Remzi Barolli, who had his wife, Mrs. Meri, as his right hand in all the activities developed since the first day of the community’s foundation.
– The first work that our community did after the beginning of the war in Kosovo, – says Remzi Barolli, – was to collect aid for the Kosovo Liberation Army. In the beginning, Shahin Berisha (an Albanian from Pristina, Doctor of Science, and Professor at “Gateway Community College”) collected the donations. Then we sent the tools to the “Vendlindja zruket” Foundation. They collected from 15 to 80 thousand dollars, depending on the possibilities. Bardhyl Kosovrasti and Abedin Ollomani, both owners of pizzerias, gave the most help.
In 1998, and especially in the winter-spring of 1999, when the war in Kosovo reached its peak, the Community organized several successful demonstrations. In addition to the Albanians, many Americans also participated, among them the students of Remzi Barolli. There were also members of other communities who joined the Albanian protesters. Besides organizing protests, the community contacted many congressmen through e-mail, with numerous telegrams and various letters.
– We have written to Mrs. Ollbrajt – says Remziu, – and we have asked her to be fully committed to the Albanian issue. Senator McCain’s lady, at our invitation, participated in a meeting of our community and supported our demands, that is, the demands of the Albanian people of Kosovo. Our demonstrations were covered by almost all Arizona radio and television stations, as well as the main newspapers of this state. I have met with many personalities of political life, but also with others, such as the well-known boxer Muhamed Ali, who is also committed to the issue of Kosovo.
Remzi Barolli and his wife, Meri, were responsible for organizing and holding the protests. She wrote on the computer the texts of the banners, the invitations that would be sent to prominent American personalities of Arizona, the numerous telegrams that were sent to Washington, she sent electronic letters, etc. Remziu provided permission for the protests, notified the media, provided Albanian and American flags, as well as Arizona flags.
It is interesting to watch a televised debate from that time on FOX10 television. Facing each other were Remzi Barolli and Andrei Simic, a professor of Anthropology at the University of Southern California (‘University of Southern California’), son of a Serbian diplomat from the former Yugoslavia. The Serbian professor, although born and raised in America, showed the same views as those of Milosevic’s aggressive occupation policy. Without having any argument in hand, in that televised duel he had tried to justify, to justify the war that Serbia had waged in the former Yugoslav republics and the war that was being waged in Kosovo. Remzi Barolli, meanwhile, had responded with numerous arguments to his views, his positions, which were in line with those of the current politics of Serbia. Memorie.al
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