This is the title of an article by the writer and photographer Quinn Hargitai which appeared last September in 15 Travel section of BBC.
At a time when refugees are being removed from the borders of the whole world, there seems to be a lot to learn from Albania's predisposition for hospitality.
"There were refugee camps for Kosovars all over the country. Albanian families would go to a camp, find a family and then take them home. These were not relatives or friends, they were foreigners, but the Albanians brought them home, fed, dressed, treated as if they were part of the family. "
Sipping a macchiato in a small cafe in Berat, the famous city of Albania from the 1.001 windows, Quinn listens to Nevila Muka recalling the effects that the Kosovo war has had on his country of origin. In order to escape the death and devastation brought by Serbian military forces in the 1990s, more than 500.000 refugees, mainly ethnic Albanians, fled Kosovo to seek salvation in Albania over the course of just two years.
"It's the Albanian way. It's the Besa. "
"My grandmother hosted a family. I was young, so I remember playing a lot with their children. I remember they were good bakers, they made the best bread I've ever tasted. For us it was not difficult, but for many families it was a struggle, many of them did not have the money to host the Kosovars. Many were in debt to offer the necessary help, but they would never have brought anyone back. "
When Quinn asks Nevila why, she replied "It's the Albanian way. It's the Besa. "
Quinn had already heard the word Besa, something like belief, trust or faith, but he had never contextualized it. It is like a code for the Albanians, one that dictates their generous hospitality. If someone comes to you for help, you will give them a place to stay. It's that simple.
Quinn is fascinated by the concept of Besa and contacts Orgest Beqiri, an Albanian university student and history buff who he had met during his stay in Albania.
"Shpija para se me qenë and Shqiptarit, asht and Zotit dhe and mikut"
When they met, explained the Kanun of Lek Dukagjini, a code of customary laws, which have been handed down orally for centuries. Although the Kanun is often considered the origin of the Besa, many argue that the tradition is actually even older and that the Kanun simply put words to the existing tribal traditions even before.
"There is an old proverb written in the Kanun," explains Orgest. " 'Shpija para se me qenë and Shqiptarit, asht and Zotit dhe and mikut', which means "The house before being Albanian is of God and of the guest”
"It is a strong tradition, and in ancient times, if you were a traveler or sought refuge, you could knock on the door of the first house you were in and ask" Host, do you want guests? "And the owner would have hosted you. The Kanun says that the landlord should always have a bed ready at any time of day or night, in case a guest arrives unexpectedly.
It is a duty, but most Albanians really like having guests. It is a point of pride for them. In fact, there is an ancient story about a northern city somewhere that rebelled when a hotel had to be built there. All the people went to the town hall and complained, saying that the people who need a place to stay would have been enough to come and knock on their doors ”.
Although some of the more rigid aspects of the Besa have lost use over time, the general sense of duty and hospitality has resisted in the Albanian people.
Little known for the most part, Albania was one of the few European countries to save almost all Jews from before, offering refuge to more than 2.000 others from surrounding countries. Despite the Nazi occupation, the Albanians refused to give up their guests, as this would not only cause great shame but would have obliged the landlord to "clean the blood", that is revenge.
The truth is that this Balkan nation is small and poor, and as such, it hardly receives international attention for its actions. Yet, at a time when refugees are being driven away worldwide, there seems to be a lot to learn from Albania's predisposition for hospitality.
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