One of the very rare things my grandfather used to tell about his time as a disbanded soldier in Albania, was that he was forced to eat land turtles in order not to starve. It was such an important fragment for me. What intrigued me the most is that upon arriving in Albania, I discovered that Italians are called Breshkaxhij – turtle eaters. This definition originated during the Second World War, (but it is still in use today). “Debatik” is a popular Albanian movie by director Hysen Hakani confirming this. How have I lived until now without this piece of information?
It is as if the stereotype of the Breshkaxhij validated the veracity of my grandfather’s story, revitalized it, breathed new life into it, materialized it, expanded it. It is no longer just my imagination, it is no longer just my private memory. In Albania
it has become a reality. The funny paradox is that every time I mention this piece of trivia (not without a certain awkwardness) everyone brushes it off as the stuff of urban legends. It was I who confirmed that it is indeed a fact, who reclaimed that truth, which gave a new meaning to my story.
In Buzëmadh, I found the descendants of the man who hide my grandfather for more than one year, Muharrem Sulo.
Muharrem Sulo’s nephew Isa and his wife Suzana welcomed us for a delicious lunch at their property in Buzëmadh. They recounted what they remembered his grandma used to say about Pepi (my grandfather) and Mario.
Muharrem was Kryeplaku (Village Chief) until 1946, when the party confiscated his land. The family has got the land back after 1997, and I could visit the places where my grandfather worked for more than one year as a “sbandato” (straggler).
I naively asked Isa if his land was full of turtles. When he asked me why, my answer made him laugh.
As soon as I was leaving
Muharrem Sulo’s property, a violent
storm broke out. A few meters
from the gate of the property,
in the middle of the road, we
met the turtle. It was your way
of saying thank you. And I thank
you, Grandpa, for making this
journey an endless quest.