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  • Jerome Kocher

43. Where do Albanians Live?

Not in Albania! The majority of Albanians live outside Albania.

Of three million, maybe two million live abroad. The Albanian diaspora can be attributed to those who fled Communism and the youth who fled the rural poverty of opportunity post Communism.

There is a huge Albanian population in New York City, especially the Bronx. Ironically while I’m in the small, small village of Theth I’ve twice experienced the owners of two different guest houses reuniting with their Albanian family members from New York. One owner’s mother and father emigrated to New York fourteen years ago, after surviving Communism and the economic collapse post Communism. Every summer the mother returns. The father is working. At another kulla guesthouse we were enthusiastically greeted and then sat down for a cold drink with the local owners and of course, their two relatives from New York.

A third explanation for Albanians living abroad is that a huge majority live in the surrounding countries that border Albania, like Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece. While political boundaries have changed, the people have not moved. Albania is surrounded by Albanians. In fact, it’s the only country in the world surrounded by its own people.

So here I am in the alpine village of Theth and discover that there are more Albanians from Theth living in New York than there are in Theth. And to complicate it further, some of those in New York now have returned here during the summer to the same guest houses I’m in. And often when those emigrants return they contribute something back to the local community.

The Theth church has recently been remodeled thanks to donations from Albanians abroad. Last night on an evening walk, there was a simple monument off the gravel road. With an phone light we tried to illuminate the darkness. I don’t understand Albanian, but in the text was the word “Amerika.” And between the two relief figures was carved the American flag. Albanians are giving back to their own country from abroad. You may leave your homeland, leave the soil, but you don’t leave your home.

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