January 18th, 2015
Los Angeles, California
Milkjor Palaj was born on January 23rd, 1988. He grew up in a small village outside of Shkodra, Albania, called Shirq. He is the eldest of three children and his parents, who both are farmers, set strong examples of hard work throughout his childhood. Milkjor Palaj lived in a small town called Pistoia that is located in Tuscany, Italy for one year, and he is now living in Los Angeles, California.
Vanessa Villarreal (b. 1989) became interested in Albanian Studies while studying abroad in Florence, Italy. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Italian Studies, and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in the same subject at California State University, Long Beach. Her main scholarly interests include: nineteenth and twentieth century Italian literature and culture, women’s studies, the Arbëreshë of Italy, and Albanian culture and history. She is currently a Teaching Associate at California State University, Long Beach, where she teaches Fundamentals of Italian for Spanish Speakers. She is also the secretary of Club Italia, a club that promotes Italian language and culture at her university.
In this oral history, Milkjor discusses what life is like for his family in the small village of Shirq, Shkodra, Albania.
Interview recorded on an HTC One cell phone, using the Smart Voice Recorder application.
Transcribed by Vanessa Villarreal. Audited for accuracy and edited for clarity by Vanessa Villarreal. Transcript reviewed and approved by Milkjor Palaj. Transcript 7 pages.
BEGINING OF INTERVIEW
VILLARREAL: My name is Vanessa Villarreal. I am recording Milkjor Palaj. It is an oral history. It is January 18th, 2015, and this is taking place in Los Angeles California, at my home. Thank you, Milkjor, for agreeing to be interviewed for Albanian Voices.
MILKJOR PALAJ: You’re welcome, Vanessa.
VILLARREAL: Okay, let’s begin. Where were you born?
MILKJOR PALAJ: I was born in a village that is called Dajç. Dajç is a village outside of Shkodra [Albania], but I grew up in another village called Shirq.
VILLARREAL: How far is Shirq from Shkodra [Albania]?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Shirq from Shkodra is about twenty minutes driving. It is not that far.
VILLARREAL: How old were you when you left Albania for the first time?
MILKJOR PALAJ: When I left Albania for the first time, I was twenty one years old. I was going to Italy to look for a better future because I used to work with my dad, and my dad has a farm. I saw that it was not a good future for me and I was thinking to move on, to not stay in my country. I left my country and my family to look for a good future. When I moved to Italy, I moved with my uncle and I started working after two months. I worked as a gardener.
VILLARREAL: Besides your uncle, do you have other family that lives outside of Albania?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Yes, I have a lot of family that lives outside of Albania. I have uncles that live in San Diego, California. I have uncles that live in Florida. I have aunts that live in New York City. My sister lives in New York City. I have family that lives in Canada. I have family in Europe, too, like Italy, France, and other countries.
VILLARREAL: Do you know why the people from your family chose to leave Albania?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Because it is a hard life in Albania. You can work many hours and you cannot make good money for your future or your kids’ future.
VILLARREAL: Can you give me an example of how much people get paid in Shkodra [Albania]? For example, how much does a waiter get paid?
MILKJOR PALAJ: When I used to live in Albania, I had a friend that used to work as a waiter. He told me that that he got paid three dollars for eight hours. That is nothing to me.
VILLARREAL: Do you know if in Albania people give tips to waiters?
MILKJOR PALAJ: I cannot say all people because they do not all have money, but some of them, yes. They can give fifty cents to one dollar. That is nothing.
VILLARREAL: What about your parents? How did your parents make a living when you were young?
MILKJOR PALAJ: They have a ranch, so they used to work together, my dad and my mom. We sold milk and also, my mom made cheese and butter. That is life in my village. It is very hard to live there.
VILLARREAL: Can you describe a typical day in your house in Albania when you were young?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Yes, I can remember when my mom woke up at five in the morning and she warmed the milk and brought it to my bed to let me drink some milk. She left after to go and work and I kept sleeping a little bit more, because I was too young. After that, I woke up at eight to go and help them.
VILLARREAL: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Yes, I have two. I have a brother and sister. They are younger than me. They are twenty three and nineteen. My brother is twenty three and my sister is nineteen.
VILLARREAL: Do you think life is easier for your family today? Or has it stayed the same?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Hmm, it is not easy. It still the same, I can say. I talk with them and they say that it is getting worse in Albania to live. Everything is expensive and they get paid with nothing.
VILLARREAL: When you were young, did you ever have a job that was in the city?
MILKJOR PALAJ: I never used to work in the city. I always used to work with my dad.
VILLARREAL: What about your brother?
MILKJOR PALAJ: No, my brother too. He worked with me and my dad because we have a family business.
VILLARREAL: Can you describe eating at home with your family? Who cooked and what did you usually eat in your house?
MILKJOR PALAJ: In my family, there were three people who cooked. It was my grandma, my mom, and my sister. When my mom and my sister were not home, my grandma used to cook for us. She always used—I don’t know how to say, meat, french fries, cheese. It’s ready, but we always used to have cheese because we love cheese. Beans, soup, salad, and those things–fish.
VILLARREAL: Can you describe your favorite meal?
MILKJOR PALAJ: My favorite meal is meat with lemon, and fish.
VILLARREAL: Is there a specific Albanian dish that is your favorite?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Yes, it is called byrek. It is our traditional dish.
VILLARREAL: Can you please describe it?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Hmm, I do not know how to describe it very well in English but it is with meat, or it can be with yogurt and onions. It is very good.
VILLARREAL: Besides your mom, dad, brother, and sister, did anybody else live in your house when you were young?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Yes, my grandma and my grandpa. They were living with us.
VILLARREAL: Can you explain why they lived with you?
MILKJOR PALAJ: It is a tradition in my country when the parents have to live with the youngest son.
VILLARREAL: Okay, so in your village, it is normal for the youngest son to live with his parents?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Yes.
VILLARREAL: Does that still happen today?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Actually, right now, I don’t know. When I used to live in Albania, yes.
VILLARREAL: What is your best childhood memory?
MILKJOR PALAJ: My best childhood memory was playing soccer with my friends.
VILLARREAL: Describe what it was like.
MILKJOR PALAJ: It was like, all my friends calling each other at the house to be together three or four times a week. We would go at school and play soccer together in the afternoon.
VILLARREAL: Where did you play?
MILKJOR PALAJ: We played at school.
VILLARREAL: In Shirq [Albania]?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Yes, where we were studying.
VILLAREAL: Can you describe Shirq [Albania] for me?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Shirq is a small village, not big, with nice people. I love it and I miss it.
VILLARREAL: Is it quiet?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Yes, it is quiet.
VILLARREAL: Would you say that everybody knows each other?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Yes, I can say yes because it is too small. I think everybody knows each other.
VILLARREAL: Do you think that boys and girls get the same freedom in your village?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Hmm, not really. They cannot because to us it is not the same. If a girl hangs out too many times, as a man, they are going to start talking about her. They are going to say the worst words about her. They do not have the same freedom.
VILLARREAL: Can you explain how the life of a girl is different in your village? What does she do that is different from the life of a man?
MILKJOR PALAJ: She cannot hang out as many times as the man can hang out.
MILKJOR PALAJ: Yes, outside. She has to ask for permission. If she has to hang out, she has to hang out with her friend, or mom, or somebody from the family. She cannot hang out by herself because people are going to start talking about her, asking where she is going and what she is doing. Maybe she is going to do something that people do not like.
VILLARREAL: How does her family expect her to behave when she goes to important events like weddings?
MILKJOR PALAJ: She has to be quiet, not talk too much and be serious, not laugh that much. People can look at her and say she is a nice girl or she grew up in a nice family.
VILLARREAL: In your village, did you ever see people taking their boyfriends and girlfriends to each other’s houses?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Not really. We cannot do that because people start talking and saying that you can do that only if you are engaged. If it is your fiancé, you can do that, but just boyfriend and girlfriend, the family don’t give the permission to do that.
VILLARREAL: Can you explain what getting married is like in your village? How does a girl get engaged in your village?
MILKJOR PALAJ: It depends. You have too many ways to get engaged. You can get engaged by going to the church. Somebody can see you, can ask for you, and the guy can come and see you.
VILLARREAL: What do you mean by, somebody can ask for you?
MILKJOR PALAJ: It means that he can ask your family. He can say, that is your girl, she looks nice and everything and I have my cousin or I have my nephew, and he wants to get married. Can you give them permission to talk with each other? They can meet each other, and maybe something is going to happen.
VILLARREAL: Does the boy ever approach the girl by himself or does he usually ask a family member to speak for him?
MILKJOR PALAJ: No. It happens sometimes that the boy just goes and stops the family and talks with them and tells them, you know what, I like your daughter.
VILLARREAL: Does the boy ever approach the girl he likes by himself, without speaking to the family?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Yes, it happens sometimes, but not that much.
VILLARREAL: How does a girl decide if she wants to become engaged to the boy?
MILKJOR PALAJ: They can meet each other. They can talk and see what happens later.
VILLARREAL: Does she usually have to talk about it with her family or is it her own decision?
MILKJOR PALAJ: It is her own decision.
VILLARREAL: At what age do most people get married in your village?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Pretty young. You can say from fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen.
VILLARREAL: They get married at fifteen?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Marriage–to get married they can get married at eighteen, nineteen, or twenty, or over eighteen. Engaged, they are going to get at sixteen, seventeen.
VILLARREAL: What do people say when there is a woman that is maybe in her thirties and she is still not married in your village?
MILKJOR PALAJ: They are going to say that she is going to stay home because nobody is going to ask for her because she is too old.
VILLARREAL: Do people in your village see that as a negative thing?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Not really. They don’t see it as negative.
VILLARREAL: Is divorce common with the people in your village?
MILKJOR PALAJ: No. There are not too many that are going to get divorced. They get married and until they die, they live together.
VILLARREAL: Okay, now I would like to talk about what it is like when you have visitors at your house in your village. In your house in Albania, how do you treat somebody that visits you?
MILKJOR PALAJ: When we have visitors in our house, my grandma, my mom, or my sister, whoever is at home, has to go and offer candy first. That is the first thing we offer to the people who come and visit us at home. The second, we have a drink that is called raki, and we offer it too. We offer for men more than for women. For women, we always used to offer soda because it does not have alcohol.
VILLARREAL: Do you usually offer food?
MILKJOR PALAJ: We ask them if they want to stay for lunch or dinner. If they want to stay, like if it is a family member, they are going to say yes. Of course, we offer food too.
VILLARREAL: Is there something you usually prepare for them?
MILKJOR PALAJ: We actually prepare everything for them but the one thing we do not have to prepare because we buy it is the cheese. While they are drinking alcohol, they can eat a little bit cheese.
VILLARREAL: You grew up in the north, which is a part of Albania that has a lot of Catholics. Can you tell me what it was like growing up in a village where there were many Catholics but also Muslims? Were there any problems having relationships with people from another religion?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Not really. Where I live, no. I never had problems. I can say, my best friend, he is Muslim. To me he is a brother and with his family, we are pretty close. We go and share everything with him and his family. We go in weddings, in parties, or celebrating something. We are pretty close with him and his family. For most of the people in my village, we do not care about the religion of others. We get along well and talk with each other, as a family.
VILLARREAL: What is your favorite thing about your country?
MILKJOR PALAJ: My favorite thing about my country is playing soccer with my friends. That is my favorite thing, and I miss it so much.
VILLARREAL: Do you have a favorite team in your country?
MILKJOR PALAJ: Yes, it is one. It is called Vllaznia. It is a club in Shkodra [Albania]. I do not know how it is going right now because I have not seen that team for a long time.
VILLARREAL: What is one thing you wish you could change about your country?
MILKJOR PALAJ: One thing I wish I could change about my country is the corruption from the government, police, and all that is in the law.
VILLARREAL: For my last question, I would just like you to describe Albania in one word.
MILKJOR PALAJ: It is the best country. I love it. Number one.
VILLARREAL: If you could describe it in one word, what would you say?
MILKJOR PALAJ: It is the best. Beautiful.
VILLARREAL: Thank you very much for doing this interview for the Albanian Voices project.
MILKJOR PALAJ: You’re welcome.
END OF INTERVIEW
Total recording time: 23:03