Friday, September 09, 2011

Eliza Dushku: "Why You Must Visit Albania"

September 2, 2011

Having the opportunity to travel the world through out my life, I've been to a number of wonderfully exciting places. After visiting 15 unique cities on my most recent trip to Albania (and acquiring dual-citizenship), I wanted to share my experience with Lonely Planet's #1 Travel Destination of 2011.

I'm an Albanian-Danish-American from Boston. Those who know me, know that I take great pride in being a Bostonian. However, I have always been curious about Albania and fascinated by my mysterious "orphan" country, one that was was hardly ever spoken of. My father, Philip, was raised in the multicultural Boston South End, by parents George and Villermini Dushku, who immigrated to America by boat from this small Balkan country in the early 1920's. I never knew these grandparents. They passed on before I was born. I never had strong feelings of attachment to Albania nor to the small city of Korce where they were from but the feelings grew with me. Here is the story.

As I began to garner attention in my acting career, Albanians quickly began to take notice that one of their own was rising in the entertainment world... rare, and I was not a Belushi! Even earlier, someone around home would look at me and say, in an accented voice, "You are Albanian!" And another time the whole family went to see the Italian-Albanian film l'Amerika. When the camera slowly panned over the deck of an old freighter crowded with Albanian immigrants I saw in the close-ups faces very much like my father's, my brother's, and myself.

My first invitation to travel to Albania came in 2004, when I was approached by a well-known Albanian-American photographer, Fadil Berisha, after he tracked me down in New York City where I was performing in an Off-Broadway play. Fadil is currently the official photographer for Rolex, Miss Universe, and Miss USA. He has shot for Elle, Vogue, Mademoiselle, etc. and is very famous amongst Albanians for his vast advocacy work. He told me that my grandparents' "Mother Land" had been calling for me, that I had become somewhat of a national heroine and that he wanted to bring me "home" for a visit. My father, two brothers and I obliged, and our first trip to Albania was both fascinating & exciting. I've seen few places as beautiful as Albania -- located across the Adriatic and Ionian Seas from the heel of Italy -- the country that Lonely Planet named the #1 travel destination for 2011 -- but is also known for its prideful isolation and two full generations of Communism in its belly.

Upon returning home to the United States, I felt something deeper than my initial curiosity. I wanted to "understand" Albania, to try in some way to capture and share the experience we had, the connection we found, with the rest of the world. The idea to make a documentary film about Albania promoting tourism & travel to the country was conceived by Fadil Berisha, my brother Nate Dushku and myself. Once we talked about the film, it had to be done. It became a labor of love. We have been calling it our "Love Letter to Albania." Little did I know, I would return home a dual-citizen of the country.

Now, looking back at the recent weeks we've spent there, I feel foolish for anticipating I could understand Albania in less than a life time, but the process has been exciting, and at the same time humbling.

I can only begin to explain the diversity I found once I tried to take in more than the fabulous beaches, the fascinating mountain villages -- each with its own hundreds of years of stories to uncover. It is an adventure that I am reveling in, realizing that I will go back many more times and still feel superficial saying that at last I understand Albanians.

One could say the same things about Italy, Greece, and Croatia, as those who have been to these richly historic, yet presently exquisite places will attest. Some might begin with a tour ship that ports at different islands, known for black sand beaches or volcanoes -- but if you linger at any place, you discover new and powerful meanings. When I was a little girl during my first trip to Greece, we woke up in a tiny village and walked across the street for breakfast not knowing that we deeply offended our host family by choosing the restaurant on the wrong corner. We unknowingly entered into a dispute going back to the interwar period between fascists and communists. When we asked how this could still matter, we found that to our friends it was as if it happened yesterday. Blind tourist? Or the beginning of a big lesson that came back to me as I sat on a rock on an Albania beach and looked up at an ancient ruin on the mountainside. I knew there were stories to be found, if I could find the right people.

Out of the gate we were determined to make our Albania documentary sleek, stylish, colorful and cinematic. The project would incorporate brazen personalities, stunning imagery and cultural touchstones such as food, music, fashion, sports and nightlife, all the while managing to touch upon Albanian customs and the environmental, socio-economic, and political issues facing the country today. My taste for adventure would set the tone for a fast-paced vacation, which indeed it was.

As we forged through town and country, basking in the sunshine of natural beauty and feeding off the energy of the Albanian people, we could relish the contemporary night spots and sexy boutiques, but we couldn't help wanting more. We stormed the vivacious capital city of Tirana and then the beach towns and islands of the Albanian Riviera, traveling up to the rugged villages of the Albanian Alps and over the border to Macedonia, and to the city of Pristina, the youth-driven capital city of the disputed country of Kosova, all inhabited primarily by Albanians. My travel companions were -- my brother Nate, my boyfriend Rick Fox, our three-man American crew, and an exuberant Albanian entourage of additional cameramen, kind guards, planners and helpers. Luckily our guide was my beloved friend Fadil Berisha, also cousin to Albania's Prime Minister Sali Berisha which helped in providing access to governmental, media, and social outlets throughout the country. We stopped in 15 cities, every spot we savored, and left hungry for more of what we had taken in.

"It gets under your skin." My "Albanian-ness" goes deeper as I spend time there. The more often I go, the more I realize there is more to the story. There are so many stories to tell -- most are full of a kind of ancient mystery that requires a wider and deeper lens. I did feel something quite different on this trip to the "Home Country." After countless conversations with open and passionate people who feel deep ties to Albania, for the first time I could imagine saying that "I know what it feels like to be Albanian." I am coming to understand the complexity of the mixture of pride and sadness over what so many have lived through, or heard repeated in their tender youthful ears by those they loved, about the triumphs and the defeats this nation has experienced -- as individuals and as a community.

Thus, when I was generously invited to become an Albanian citizen, I felt no reluctance. I felt honored and able to accept this gift. I felt even more like who I am. I retain, of course, my American citizenship. I am that, too. But it is no stretch for me to proclaim that as of August 17, 2011, I, Eliza Patricia Dushku, am an Albanian-American.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back webmaster! Were you all on vacation or something? Taking pictures of that stupid statue of DJL besides the Montenegrin flag? hahahahaha.

Anyways, I like the trip Dushku took, really awesome.

Albert said...

I think Albanians form America should all visit Albania proper. Especially those who were born in the States and call themselves Albanian. There is a sense of pride and belonging when you pass through those mountains and villages, it reminds you of why you tell people you are ALBANIAN!

Anonymous said...

I loved reading this.

Anonymous said...

She is an excellent ambassador for Albania. She is well connected with the famous people in the USA. And, I think, She is serious about advertising the Albanian tourism in the USA.

Anonymous said...

Amazing...."My father, Philip, was raised in the multicultural Boston South End, by parents George and Villermini Dushku, who immigrated to America by boat from this small Balkan country in the early 1920's"

Eliza said...

Eliza Dushku just released the following statement on CNN: "Please remove the statue of Ded-Gjon-Luli from the back alley of the church because its placement (where no one can see it) disgraces Albanians and segregates Muslims from Catholics."

Anonymous said...

Kjo rrot me siguri ka cua edhe tjera rrota ne Shqipri. Do te jet mir per turizimin ne Shqiperi dhe per arktimin e te rinjeve.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree that the statue should be in the center of Tuz BUT I do disagree with everyone who believes it shouldn't be at the church.

It's an issue of public property (center of Tuz) VS. private property (church) and the organizers need permission to erect a statue on public ground. They did not need permission (formal permission) to place the statue on their own church property.

Everyone's thought process is "if it's not at the center of Tuz, it shouldn't be anywhere" and that's NOT how you progress.

Maybe one day it will be moved to the center of Tuz but until then we should not create such a ruckus for the statue being placed on church grounds. We should be proud of the forward progress (however minimal it may be).

We seem to always find something wrong about everything.

THERE IS A STATUE OF DED GJO LULI IN TUZ...This is undisputed!!!

Stop bickering.

Anonymous said...

The public property you are referring to in Tuz is surrounded by 90% ethnic Albanians that have always been there, national homeland that is a historical fact. Albanians have every right under canons of European laws to erect a statue of their natioanl hero. Look at the Albanians in Prishtina, Macedonia, and even Presheve, all have their heroes standing proudly in town squares.

By erecting Deda on church property, it alienates Muslims ... they are already asking why is this "Albanian Hero" sequestered in the church's backyard? What if we set up a statue of Skenderbeg on teh property of the Mosque in Tuz? It would cause quite a stir.

Deda fought for all Albanians, regardless of their religion. He should be commemorated by all faiths, in the center of Tuz where he battled the enemy.

Anonymous said...

The 90% ethnic Albanians surrounding Tuz, don't give a damn about Ded Gjo Luli or what he fought for.

Wake up.

Your honestly going to use "canons of European laws" as a real excuse. Come on. What European laws do Montenegrins actually follow?

If you don't get permission from the Montenegrins to put that statue in the center of Tuz, they will remove it faster than you can respond to this comment and they will arrest anyone who tries to organize this.

Your dealing with bastards not "European laws" here.

Once Tuzi is actually an "ethnic Albanian" controlled municipality, then we can talk about erecting statues.

For now, Ded Gjo Luli's statue will reside in the shadows of the church, better off than in the shadows of history for the past 100 years, where it was taboo to even mention his name.

Anonymous said...

How do you know the 90% Albanians don’t give a damn? Have you asked all 90% of them? Or do those living in your village feel that way so you think it’s now gospel? Or are you one of those families (e.g., Stanaj’s, Dinoshaj’s, etc.) that play mouth-piece to the Crna Gora government to create cleavages among Albanians?

Anonymous said...

Do understand that Any registration of persons belonging to national minorities that obliges them to express their national belonging against their will is prohibited.

Therefore, Any act or measure towards forced assimilation of persons belonging to national minorities is prohibited.

Suffice to say, Article 16 of EU Charter stipulates that: "Persons belonging to national minorities have the right to choose and to use their national symbols."

As Montenegro aspires for EU integration, they CANNOT prohibit this right.

Anonymous said...

Permission? Permission was not granted because Deda is viewed as a radical/aggressive wartime figure fighting on behalf of the rebels (Albanians) for the segregation of Albanians. Does anyone in Malësia dare say that out loud?

Anonymous said...

If the majority Albanians in Tuz actually gave a damn about Ded Gjo Luli, we wouldn't be having this conversation. The statue would be where it belongs, in the center of Tuz. They don't give a damn. Don't compare those people who live in Tuz with diaspora. Diaspora is the true heart of Malesia. We would have never let that happen!

Btw, I'm far from a mouthpiece of Crna Gora my friend.

And please...why would you waste your time quoting EU law, you might as well quote U.S. law since Montenegro isn't a part of either union. They have their own laws so next time, try quoting a Montenegrin law in the same context. I'm all ears.

Albanians are one of the highest minorities in Montenegro and until the people start a civil rights movement like the blacks in the 1960's, they will continue to have NO voice. And yes, they will need to continue to ask for permission like children if they don't rise up. I have a dream.

To me, erecting that statue in the back of church is a start. We'll see where it goes from there. Hopefully one day it will be where it belongs. Baby steps.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your 1st paragraph.

No one is saying you're a mouthpiece for anyone.

As Montenegro aspires to join the Union they are falsely claiming adherence to her laws. If so, then these falsities must be exploited.

we dream alike

Last paragraph, I don't agree with you

Anonymous said...

How about the statue be taken down both in Tuz and from this website? Then we won't have to argue anymore.

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