Sunday, August 19, 2007

Profile of an Immigrant Family from Albania in Israel

Ha’aretz in its weekend magazine every week profiles one family living in Israel as part of an on going series that’s been going on for years and adds up to an amazing and fascinating mosaic of the Israeli landscape. This week the profile was of a family that immigrated from Albania in 1991
The full article on Ha’aretz website can be found here:
Family Affair / The Chilis
By Avner and Reli Avrahami Or Akiva

Chili: Means a lock of light hair on a dark head (in Albanian).

The cast: Agim (59), Anna (54), Daniella (29).

The home: Third floor (on the right), apartment building, 70 square meters, with a living room, three other rooms and a mall (Orot), visible from the window. They have been here since 1993 ("We were the first family"), paying the shekel equivalent of $67,000 ("All of it a mortgage"). They pay back NIS 1,430 a month and are pleased. "Our city is Or Akiva - we don't go to Hadera" (Agim).
the apartment is full of embroidered pictures (done by Anna), statuettes (from around the world), decorative objects and small red-and-black flags (Albanian). The large flatscreen TV is broadcasting Top Channel (an Albanian station), and resting in the narrow bureau is Skenderbeu, an Albanian brandy ("five star"), named for an Albanian hero who defeated the Turks in the 15th century. The tour begins.
Livelihoods and occupations: Agim has worked for Amnir, a Hadera-based plant that recycles plastics and paper, for 14 years. He is a shift manager ("from shredding to granulation"). He works in weekly rotating shifts - a week in the morning, a week in the afternoon, a week at night ("I prefer night") - and travels back and forth in a privately owned 2002 Fiat Punto.

Anna: Retired. She worked for Hogla, a paper products plant (in Hadera), and took early retirement in January of this year due to back problems ("I had an operation"). Until then she was in charge of the toilet paper machine. As a pensioner, she receives 70 percent of her former salary and is pleased with the arrangement ("I was smart when I worked out the contract"). At the same time, she is sad at having had to conclude a career as a gifted bowler.
Daniella: Almost a B.A. in English language and literature, which she studied at Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College ("I had two exams left"). She works a five-day week as a technical writer for Newstar, a firm that develops platforms for immediate messages on cellular phones in the high-tech area of Haifa. She travels to and from work by bus and receives traveling expenses. Her work consists of documenting (in English) every product made by the company and ascertaining that the texts are readable.

Agim's bio: Born in Tirana, Albania, in 1948. His father owned a printing press, which the government nationalized; it then made him work in it as a laborer ("We were considered capitalists"); his mother was a housewife. After graduating in economics from the University of Tirana (1969), he worked in a trucking company as director of wages and transports planner. In 1991, a year after the communist regime collapsed, he and Anna immigrated to Israel with the family. Six years earlier, Enver Hoxha, who ruled Albanian for 41 years and made the life of the population hell ("He was worse than Stalin"), died.

The Hoxha years: Fear ("The first lesson of education was to keep quiet") and hunger ("We received 600 grams of cheese a week"). Agim relates that two of his uncles were executed and an aunt was tortured so brutally that she became barren. The collapse of the regime was like a dream for him ("Until I actually boarded the plane, I didn't believe it would happen").

Anna's bio: Born 1953 to the Matityahu family in Vlore, a port city in southwestern Albania, the eldest of three children (she has a brother who is a violin maker in England and a sister who lives in the United States). Her family is originally from Greece. Her father and mother worked as accountants for collective farms. Her elementary school was on a kolkhoz for which her father worked (near Tirana), and she spent her high-school years at a teacher-training boarding school ("I did a lot of crying there"). After graduating (1971), she was sent to teach in a poor village in the north of the country. It was in this period that she met Agim.

The meeting: 1972, on a train to Tirana. She, a teacher, was on her way home from the village where she worked; he, an economist, was on the way home from the transportation cooperative, where he worked. They sat opposite each other, and not by chance. Anna knew a woman who was engaged to a friend of his. When they parted on the station platform, they knew their story was just beginning.

The wedding: 1977, at home ("There was no banquet hall). Before the party they went to the interior ministry with two witnesses ("Every neighborhood had an interior ministry"). Her mother made the wedding dress, his suit was made by a tailor whom Agim invited to his home. The party lasted two days: Saturday in the bride's home, Sunday in the groom's. They ate a lot of meat, drank "Tirana" ("a better beer than [the Israeli brew] Maccabi") and raki, a homemade arak (which is kept in their home in Israeli mineral-water bottles), and then went on honeymoon.

Honeymoon: Two weeks in the "Workers' House" of Vlore ("free").

Immigration to Israel: March 1991 ("We waited for the Gulf War to end"). Agim encountered the first pizza of his life at the airport in Rome ("We ate nonstop"), and they spent the entire sum that they received from the Jewish Agency on sweets. They arrived in the Galilee town of Carmiel at midnight and found the apartment they were housed in depressing, but a visit to the supermarket the next day raised their spirits ("We filled up a cart without knowing what we had taken"). Carmiel was filled with Albanians, and Daniella had no integration problems.
Dreams: Agim - "A trip to Europe"; "I have a dream that I don't want to reveal now," says Anna, looking at Daniella; "Mom - enough!" Daniella says.

Daniella's dream: "What Mom said."
Romance: Coffee among the archaeological ruins at Caesarea (Anna and Agim).

God: "There is no God," Agim states. Daniella agrees. Anna can't say that.

Quarrels: Plenty. Agim says there are fights of a minute and a half ("Daniella is the referee"). Their wish for her is that she finds someone who understands that "family is sacred."

Politics: "I am for peace and against occupation," Agim says. In the big picture, he thinks highly of Shimon Peres ("the best"). Anna agrees. Both of them are in favor of equality in the country (Agim: "Everyone should either do army or two years of national service"). Daniella did her military service in the Israel Air Force as a secretary ("I had a terrific time").

Israeli-born friends: They have none ("Only Nehemiah and Aada from Nir Zvi") and don't understand why.

Happiness quotient (scale of 1-10): Everyone - 10. Agim: "Believe me, it is not my country, but I'm happy."

Albania: "My country" (Agim); "I won't forget Albania, either" (Anna).


Anonymous said...

Your article may be interested for our Albanian Canadian League Information Service (ACLIS) webpages, of course if you allow us to publish that ! Please let us know to our e-mail: , your decision regarding our request

bathmate said...

wow nice article