When you’re humble and modest you don’t usually share your personal stories to the public. You keep to yourself and hope that someday you’ll achieve “greater” things.
Well, most human beings normally have that instinct of helping others, especially offering help to the ones that we care about so deeply, and that in itself is a great achievement. Therefore, after talking to one of my great Albanian friends and my colleague at Albania News, Olti Buzi, and after sharing our devastating thoughts about what happened in Albania, he encouraged me to for once, share my own story about how the earthquake in Albania has affected me and my family here in Kosovo.
Let me start by saying that while to some this tragic event may seem like just another story or just another shared post on social media, to me the earthquake in Albania was something that has deeply touched me, it in fact, took me back to the year of 1999 when I myself as a Kosovar Albanian had to flee the war as a refugee from Kosovo together with our family and ask for help in the Motherland of Albania. The war story, however, is one that I may share some other day as today is definitely not the day.
The morning of Tuesday, November 26th, 2019 was no different for me and for many Albanians inside and outside of the country. On Monday evening of that week I had gone to bed fairly late. I am definitely not a morning person, hence, late afternoons and evenings I enjoy quite a bit, whether inside or outside of the house. That night was no different, I had stayed up late and around XNUMX:XNUMXam, before turning all the lights off and heading to bed I stepped outside to check on the weather. I realized that it was extremely windy in comparison to other days. Little did I know that something really devastating was about to happen in one of my favourite cities of Albania, in Durres.
Considering that my religious views are not exactly those of a regular Albanian Muslim as the majority of Albanians are, to which I lean more towards the Agnostic side of the world, I certainly have no beliefs in fate, destiny, premonition or dreams for that matter. However, there is a reason why I mentioned this part as I continue with this tragic story, since that night something happened which somehow got me closely connected to the shocking events that were about to happen soon after.
Late at night, while I was asleep, I woke up feeling perplexed; I noticed that things in my room were moving at a rapid and strange pace. I had left the blinds half open therefore, the light from outside was movingly reflecting on the mirror of my wardrobe, I also noticed that a couple of things on top of my wardrobe were moving, including an accessory white box I had once brought back from London, Canada.
I had filled this box with tiny things from all over the world, such as things from Canada, Europe, China, Japan and the Far East, and those too were moving inside. For some reason, a huge frame I have with a picture of my best friend and I who now continues to live in Canada, and one which I had brought back home as well as a gift from her before I left was not moving, the frame was standing tall up there stoically without moving an inch.
Nonetheless, I kept looking around all the things in my room and the windows were moving a little too so I kept thinking to myself half asleep “the wind is so strong tonight that even the windows and some of our things are moving inside.” It is amazing the way our brain reacts to certain things when we are not faced with an immediate threat. Within about 10 seconds at nearly 4 o’clock in the morning everything stopped and I went back to sleep. Now, remember the part where I was talking about me being Agnostic and definitely not superstitious? Well let me tell you, as soon as I went back to sleep, I had one of the most vivid dreams in my life; in it I was apparently eating dates, baklava and all kinds of sweets in the city of Berat, Albania. I had visited this city with my friends and loved ones from Italy and Canada in the past and I absolutely love the city of Berat, too.
The elders say that when you eat something really nice and tasty in your dream at a particular place, however, it is allegedly a bad omen. Coincidentally enough, this sadly turned out to be true. When I woke up that morning at around 7 A.M. as I was getting ready for another regular day at work, I started checking my phone, going through my e-mails and messages and once I made it on social media, or Facebook to be specific, one of the first posts I saw was the devastating news about an apocalyptic earthquake that has shaken the country of Albania and the whole region. The earthquake was of a strong 6.4 magnitude in the city of Durrës and Thumanë. I couldn’t believe it, I was so shocked that it felt like my head was extremely heavy from what I had just seen and heard online.
Now, remember the part where I was talking about me being Agnostic and definitely not superstitious? Well let me tell you, as soon as I went back to sleep, I had one of the most vivid dreams in my life; in it I was apparently eating dates, baklava and all kinds of sweets in the city of Berat, Albania. I had visited this city with my friends and loved ones from Italy and Canada in the past and I absolutely love the city of Berat, too.
The elders say that when you eat something really nice and tasty in your dream at a particular place, however, it is allegedly a bad omen. Coincidentally enough, this sadly turned out to be true. When I woke up that morning at around 7 A.M. as I was getting ready for another regular day at work, I started checking my phone, going through my e-mails and messages and once I made it on social media, or Facebook to be specific, one of the first posts I saw was the devastating news about an apocalyptic earthquake that has shaken the country of Albania and the whole region. The earthquake was of a strong 6.4 magnitude in the city of Durres and Thuman. I couldn’t believe it, I was so shocked that it felt like my head was extremely heavy from what I had just seen and heard online.
After coming back home, sometime late in the evening I opened Facebook again and saw that a number of victims had been rising, at that time it was XNUMX people who had lost their lives caught under the rubbles of this earthquake. I couldn’t sit still, I knew that I needed to do more. Being from a tiny little wine town called Rahovec here in Kosovo, I didn’t think that we would have our own donation center in town, luckily I was wrong. The ‘Tosca Lounge Bar’ in Rahovec has taken the initiative to, in a very organized way, help our people in Albania too. Hundreds and thousands of people, mainly people of the civil society had brought so many things to the bar already, including, clothes, food and blankets, as cars and vans were parked by the bar getting ready to load everything and transport it to the city of Durrës, after midnight.
This time, I too started packing so many other things, I started looking through my closet, and packed things from socks to jackets and coats, gloves, clothes for man and women, clothes for grownups and children, boots and shoes, and a couple of purses. After I packed everything, I even managed to put in a couple of books for children to read, one of them was a book by Oscar Wilde that read “Stories.”
It was now XNUMX:XNUMX A.M. in the morning and I thought, I am probably done now so I should call it a night soon and send these to the Tosca Lounge Bar tomorrow morning as their mission was to collect as many donations as possible from people to send to Albania in the days to follow too.
Still, I knew I was missing something though, as important as it certainly is to include all of the things I mentioned above and take action to show love, compassion and solidarity with my Albanian friends, nothing ever fills you more than actual words itself that come from the heart. Therefore, I took a notebook, ripped a few pieces of paper of it and I started writing, I wrote a few similar notes and included them in the bags. Like the strong but yet compassionate woman that I am, I was still not tearing, instead I was just feeling numb and ready to complete my mission which may at least for a little bit ease the pain of my beloved people of Albania. I then wrote a few notes in Albanian, and I will share one of them with you here:
Date: November XNUMXth, XNUMX,
My dear friends of Motherland Albania,
It would have been embarrassing for me as Saranda Shala, a woman with the name of the most beautiful city in Albania not to offer you at least a little bit of help in these difficult days.
I hope that these things will somewhat ease your life at least a little bit these days…it is the least that I could do!
With lots of love,
It is important to mention that the word “miq” (friends) in Albanian means more than just a friend, it means your beloved friends, your comrades, and your allies who make you feel as one in the journey of one inseparable nation, despite having borders between Albania and Kosovo.
Back to the story, I then folded these notes in half and included them in the bags inside. At this point, I just wanted for dawn to come so I can send everything off with the hope that they will reach safely to the ones in need. It is in fact, this note which I shared with Olti privately that has got us both even more emotional and one that has encouraged me through him to pour my heart and soul in this writing.
Eventually, the morning of November 51th came, as I was getting ready for the next day and ready to complete my mission of humanitarian and well, humane actions really, I once again checked on the news, the number of victims has now gone up to over XNUMX lifeless bodies caught in the rubble. I couldn’t fathom the idea that Earth tremors could cause such fatalities and take the lives of so many innocent people, including women and children. But, unfortunately, I couldn’t fight and be angry with mother Earth, none of us could. We just had to do what it takes to take care of the ones that we can in many and varied ways. And that’s what we all did, people from KSF worked tirelessly to help our Albanian fellows together with their specially trained dog Satak, our Albanian friends from all over the country did the same, special emergency disaster forces came from Italy, Croatia, France, Serbia and many other countries to help as well and so did I, in my own way. That day, I finally made it to the Tosca Lounge Bar, included my bags, included a couple of sticky notes on each bag as I separated them into, “Clothes mainly for Men”, XNUMX bags of “Clothes mainly for women and children”, and one that said “Socks only”. I had then left the bags there and, today I strongly believe and hope that the bags made it to the right people and to those in serious need in these difficult days, since after all we are also approaching the yearend holiday season.
Moreover, I kept seeing a lot of different tragic videos of people working tirelessly to get the victims out of the rubbles, words of wisdom coming out of the Albanian Prime Minister Mr. Edi Rama, videos of children crying, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, and grandparents feeling sad and traumatized while sitting outside in open air or tents, hoping that their loved ones would be safe and sound and me watching helplessly and hoping that the number of victims doesn’t go up any further. The final death toll of this earthquake went up to 51 victims unfortunately, and we will never be able to recover the pain of the loved ones in those families, but hope for a better future in Albania and the Western Balkan region is what still keeps us alive. Hope that we will most certainly learn a lesson from these tragic events and take more responsibility for our actions and not allow for the past to haunt us. Hope that in the future we will learn to work together more often, hope that people have understood or will soon understand that humanity comes before anything and everything else, the same hope that doesn’t question our borders, hope that humanitarian actions come way before our political interests of our countries or nations, hope that one day too, Kosovo, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, North Macedonia or any other county of the region will be working together more often at the time of peace and not only when emergency settings are needed.
Anyhow, back to my story, it wasn’t until I was done with everything, however, that something hit me real strong. One of the main images that would struck me every time I’d see the videos in Durrës it was a building on Road 18 that got shattered to the ground. This building constantly caught my eye and every single time I’d see it something would tear at my heartstrings. As per coincidence, a couple of years ago, during the month of November I spent one of the most amazing vacations in Durrës together with some of my Italian friends and some friends from the Far East. For nearly three weeks, we have really enjoyed our time there, we had booked the place through Airbnb through a young couple that lived in Tirana, initials N. & E. but whose parents lived in Durrës. Thus, the person’s parents who lived in Durrës were the one to take care of us upon our arrival for our vacation there. They were a really kind older couple who got the house ready for us and who welcomed us all in the most hospitable way possible. They also accompanied us to the bus station on the day we left Durrës, which was sometime around the end of November a couple of years ago.
As a result, I just couldn’t get over that building, eventually, I went on Airbnb, checked the couple on one of my Far East friends’ profile who sort of happened to be the classy geek (I call most people with any technology skills geeks by the way, even if it has to do with the simplest online booking) who initially took care of the booking on Airbnb and where they exchanged writing reviews on each other’s profiles, only to find out that the couple from Tirana was no longer on Airbnb. My heart nearly dropped, I immediately thought that something may have happened to the parents. The whole evening of November 27th, and morning of November 28th (the day which was supposed to be our national holiday in normal circumstances…) I kept checking on them and searching for them online since I wasn’t the one to have done the booking and thus, didn’t have any of their contacts. I couldn’t remember the street name of the building and neither could I find any details about the place, but I was bound to find that place in hope that the parents, the family, the apartment itself and the building was not the one I was seeing on the video. Eventually on November 28th, around early morning, I started thinking of all the details that the place had, in that moment I remembered that the apartment had a sea view, I just once again Googled them with this line “sea view apartment in Durrës, Albania” went to images, scrolled nearly all the way down and finally I saw their place listed under B&Bs on TripAdvisor. I immediately wrote to them in Albanian, asking if they are all safe and if the apartment wasn’t damaged. They wrote back to me shortly after it and thanked me for a heartfelt message in English, since they also knew that I wanted to share that message with non-Albanian speakers as well. They told me that they all made it safe and sound, that they are scared and traumatized but that their parents are safe and that the apartment has suffered minor damages only, such as broken glasses. It turned out that the apartment was on “Rruga Pavaresia” (eng.: Independence Road), and it wasn’t the one I’d seen on any of the videos online. I was very happy to hear that and that’s when I finally got to relax a bit. Of course, I have contacted all of my friends in Albania, who mainly reside in Tirana, Berat, Shkodra and Saranda, and my other Albanian friends who lived abroad, such as in Italy and other parts of the world, luckily all of their friends and family members were safe as well.
To conclude, as I mentioned above, although there may not be much that we can do when natural disasters such as this one occur, one thing I know for certain that we can and should all do is to be a little more humble, caring and compassionate not only in times of crisis but during our everyday lives as well. I also appeal to the local and central governments of both Kosovo and Albania for them to check closer with the private building owners, with private investors and the way their buildings have been constructed, strengthen the rule of law a bit too because as much as I want to stay apolitical and want to reason with everyone, a lot of these occurrences during the latest earthquake in Albania were also as a result of careless ways of building constructions.
Please, my people try not to forget your Illyrian roots, for once focus a little more on the needs of our people and a little less on personal material gains.