Last night I went with a Jewish-Muslim interfaith group to view the excellent film, Besa: The Promise.
The film opens as a grey-haired American-Jewish photographer, Norman Gershman, is discovering this forgotten legacy and sets out on a mission to interview and take pictures of elderly Albanians who hid Jews and their wartimes wards—if they still live. This quest takes him to Rexhep Hoxha, where the heart of the film begins. Gershman is as dogged as he is dazzled by documenting Albania’s forgotten history of Muslims saving Jews.
It was a very moving and powerful film—cliche to say, I know. But really, it was. I don’t know much about Albania at all, but Albanians were portrayed as a very warm and noble people. Watching the film really made me want to visit Albania.
After the film, I was standing in the lobby of the theatre and some random woman came up to me and asked me what language is spoken in Albania. I was utterly perplexed by why would feel that I might have the answer to that. I did happen to know, though. I said “Albanian.” She screwed her face. “I read that Albania shares a long border with Italy and that lots of Albanians speak Italian.” she said. “I don’t know much about that region at all.” I responded, shrugging. I had a general idea of where Albania was on the map, and knew that a lot of Albanian migrants went to Italy, but not much more than that. I am ashamed to say that I had no idea of with which particular nations Albania share a border. Balkan country, that’s all I knew. I said, “I am pretty sure that Albanians speak Albanian. From the film, it sounded like an Indo-European language to me, with lots of Latinate and Turkic vocabulary.” She widened her eyes, which were enlarged with special glasses, and nodded her head up and down at that. (I could have been wrong about that, but later I googled and saw that I was correct.) If she’s going to ask a stranger such question, she should be prepared for any type of answer. At that moment, my friend came out of the theatre and we left. I wonder why that woman asked me about Albanian. Maybe it says cunning linguist on my forehead.