The view from Kalivia village. You can see Corfu in the background - Madnomad.gr
CAIRO - 5 June 2017: Here is our first correspondence of the action called “You’ve got mail”! Some time during the previous winter, I was in Chios, where I would make a beautiful presentation of my trip in Asia. There, I had the pleasure of meeting Xenia. She was working at Bar Rodi, where I made my presentation. Xenia came to Greece in 2004, when she reached her majority. Her older sisters were already living in Larissa, Greece, where Xenia joined them as well. In Larissa she met Kostas, a Greek who later became her husband. A transfer of Kostas lead the couple to Chios.
Xenia’s family come from Northern Epirus. What really stroke me the most of all the information I got from Xenia, was how different the people of Northern Epirus are in comparison with the Albanian people. Her grandmother doesn’t speak Albanian at all. She only writes and speaks in Greek. The generation of her parents, however, had been forced, by the Hoxha regime, to learn Albanian as well. They used to learn them at school, as a foreign language.
I met Xenia while being in Chios, for a presentation of my trip in Asia - Madnomad.gr
Having arrived in Albania, I wouldn’t miss for the world to pay a visit at these Greek speaking villages and experience from up-close how people live there. So, I went over the village of Kalivia, near Livadia. Many of the signs on the roads or on the facades of the stores were in Greek. We even saw signs, once written in Albanian, now covered by locals with paint and rewritten in Greek! When we were asking the locals for directions, we were really surprised to hear everyone speaking in perfect Greek!
An easily accessible dirt road of three kilometres climbed up the hill, leading us to the village. The locals pointed to the new, modern house owned by Mr. Vassilis, where, from the first moment, we had a warm welcoming. The view was breathtaking. You could even see Corfu in the distance! The familiar raki and meze were served in front of us in no time and the family started to gather up. I also met Xenia’s grandmother, who she was very vivid for her age and so much fun to hang out with! Just a minute… Am I really in Albania? Why do I feel like being in any Greek village? It’s quite hard to find a difference in what I experience here compared to what I have experienced in the villages around Greece. Wait, I’ve found something: what is this “krothopita” I’ve been hearing about? It’s the first time I taste a pie with rice and meat in it and I’ve never heard of this name before. When I looked it up later, I found out that krothopita was a local dish in Epirus, in today Greece, and, apparently, in Northern Epirus as well.
Xenia’s uncles were thrilled to have Greek guests. Someone pointed out to them: “Why do you call them “Greek guests”? You offend us! Aren’t we Greeks as well? Better say we have guests from Greece”. I was stroked by the fact that the people of Northern Epirus don’t like the Albanian people and vice versa. Every knavery there is being charged on Albanians. They associate with Albanians only if they have to and they prefer to socialize with their own kind. They even have a Greek political party. Because of the recent elections, we saw many signs on rocks and walls promoting the party.
Mr. Vassilis started to explain to us: “When the borders were opened, in 1991, it was like unlocking a prison and of course every single prisoner wanted to break free”! The people were poor and tormented by the illiberal communist regime of Hoxha. Everybody wanted to leave, to evolve his life. Greece was right next door, being the most developed country in the neighbourhood.
That was how Mr. Vassilis took his family and immigrated to Larissa, Greece. There, however, he found himself gathering cotton, tomatoes and other goods from the fields. Back in Albania, he had a good job on earthmoving machinery. He also had his relatives, his friends, his home, his farm… Immigration was not for him. After a few months, he decided to return back to Albania with his family.
Later, his three children, one by one, immigrated to Greece. They got married there, started their own families and built up a new life. Most of them don’t think about returning to Albania, as everyday life is still kind of hard there. But now that life in Greece gets harder and harder, many are those who return to Albania.
Bidding farewell to Mr. Vassili’s family, who opened the door of their house to show us how the people of Northern Epirus live today - Madnomad.gr
This article was originally published on Mad Nomad blog.