My phone rings.
honey, where have you been hiding ? How come I can never get
rich! She already got me several times. I mumble something resembling
an answer without it actually being one.
is a pause. Hey, listen - when can I come by with the
suitcase ? My heart sinks.
one for your Mom to take to Albania.
suitcase? My mind flashes to the open clothes, some still in
shopping bags, some in carry-ons, some in valises, that my mother
has been struggling with since the beginning of the month. She
bought bags, shoes, Advil, Tylenol, Rolaids, Tums, black shoes
for grandma, running shoes for brother, candies for the kiddies,
suits for my aunts, underwear, hæmorrhoid cream, 99-cent
perfume, etc. For all I know, she has single-handedly saved
National Liquidators from Chapter 11. And my dad's clothes
are going in one single piece of cabin-baggage.
there are no further cousins and friends who suddenly learn
about my parents' imminent departure. It is always the
same story. Because you asked for a letter or some money to
be delivered to the family 10 years ago, it is now your most
sacred duty to deliver roast chicken, 99-cent shoes and shampoo,
aspirin, colored pencils, and every single horrendous porcelain
doll and Rogaine sample that can be found at such short notice.
a friend who once agreed to take a package to Albania, and put
it in her luggage without checking what it was. She always packed
the day before, so the luggage was packed and locked for three
days. She got stopped at customs, because her luggage smelled
funny. When they opened it and unwrapped the package she had
to deliver, they found a putrefying roasted chicken. Needless
to say, now she only travels with her toothbrush, one solitary
pair of clean underwear, passport and money. And when she calls
to say goodbye, it's from the departure-lounge at the airport.
is that one day I will have only one small carry-on with my
clothes, one small suitcase with shoes - and that there will
be no one for me to call when I get there, no-one to waste my
vacation time waiting in cafés to hand over trash-treasures
start so well. I say I will take nothing of anybody's. Then
I relent and accept money and letters. By the time my luggage
is ready for packing, I am so overwhelmed by cheap viscose sweaters,
plastic-smelling shoes and kitchen utensils that I want to kill
myself. And when I come back from Albania, it's a wonder I have
never been detained for all the amount of trahana (which is
like polenta), mountain tea (which tastes a bit like sage),
raki (distilled from grape-must or plums), special sheep's cheese,
olive oil, olives, my grandma's lemons, bakllava and Turkish
Delight that I bring through customs. It must be my face I guess.
I call my mother, she starts crying. What on earth to do ?
break down and call for sympathy to my Haïtian friend,
who tells me the story of her cousin going home to Haiti. Someone
called and begged to meet her at the airport with a very insignificant
package for his family. She felt generous and said OK. Sure
enough, there was a guy with a real-life SUV tyre for her to
take on the plane.
So it is not only Albanians...
was one of my grandfather's favourite stories.
there was a poor man in a village who had no money for his daughter's
wedding. Where to find the money ? Borrow it of course.
there were no banks and credit cards then. So he went and he
asked his rich neighbour:
(this is a courtesy title dating from Ottoman times)
I desperately need money for my daughter's wedding. Would
you lend me some?
course, the rich nice man answered (he's already taken,
ladies - back off!) What are neighbours for? Here
are the keys to the safe. Go, open it, and take as much money
as you need and bring it back when you can. This will be your
safe from now on.
man, not believing his ears, went to the safe, got as much money
as he needed, (and a bit extra because you know florists), closed
the safe and returned the keys to the owner.
was a grand affair, and it was talked about in the village for
months afterwards. So much, that all the villagers expected
another wonderful party when it was the turn of the second daughter.
What could the poor man do but go back to his rich and good-hearted
my generous benefactor, I know I still owe you money, but my
second daughter's wedding is coming up, and I have to surpass
the first one - and I have no money! Would you help me out another
time too ?
course! The rich man answered. Here, take the keys
and go to the safe. You know where it is.
the second wedding was going to be the mother of all weddings,
with castle walls built out of roast lamb on spits, and moats
filled with raki, the man took all the gold he found in the
safe this time. The wedding was so amazingly, legendarily good,
that everybody had a hangover for a month after, and they were
very happy that cameras had not yet been invented.
passed, and (you know it's coming) it was the son's
turn to have a wedding. How could the poor man give his only
son and heir less off a wedding that he had given his daughters?
So on he went to the benefactor again.
this is the last time, I promise. I have no more kids to marry
off, my daughter in law is very industrious, and if you give
me money this time too, we will definitely repay you by the
end of the year.
man gave the keys to his neighbor without the slightest hesitation.
The poor man run to the safe and opened it only to find it empty!
There was no money in it. He searched behind another cushion,
to see that maybe he had confused safes, but there was nothing.
He went back to the rich man.
there was NO GOLD in the safe!
can that be ? The rich man said Did you check properly
of course! The poor man answered. I swear to you
there is no money there. What could have possibly happened ?
pardon me my friend, but did you put any money back after you
borrowed it ?
Efendi, I did not.
how do you expect to find money there now ?
poor man went home and they had yogurt and corn-bread for the
son's wedding, and his mother sang after drinking the dregs
of the plum raki. When the bride heard her future mother's
in-law singing, she turned her horse round and ran off to join
I said, this was one of my grandfather's favourite stories,
and one he used to make sure I paid back all my 5-lek (10-cent)
debts from my friends, or (better still) that I borrowed as
little as possible. Unfortunately, since that time, my credit-cards
have proved to be extremely generous rich neighbours.
must remember to replenish what has been freely given, because
it is not infinite, contrary to what we thought before capitalism
FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD
hey sweetie! he says
yourself ! i say
are you ?
fine, how 'bout you ?
ok. parents all well ?
the usual, thank God. and your family ?
good. we were together saturday.
to hear it.
deepens and his voice goes two dramatic octaves lower.
what are you wearing ? anything pretty ?
a t-shirt and sweat-pants -chilling out at home - you know.
he is also disappointed yet again - though still hopeful that
my evening-wear might change.)
have you got on ?
i got this gorgeous lace teddy, you should see how good i look
nice! (I say) you are all ready for your honey, i guess.
got my nails done, shaved my legs, put on my make-up. thanks
for the lip-gloss by the way. he almost eats my lips when i
put it on.
for this is what my friend does night after night. he comes
home from work, removes his manly clothes, takes a long shower,
shaves his legs, lotions his body and puts on the most incredible
and gorgeous lingerie for his lover.
by his sister when he was 12 or 13, he is still looking for
a 'suitable bride', for he has to produce a grandson for his
father. a 'suitable bride' is one who would not mind him sleeping
with other men, and would fuck him with a strap-on once in a
while. she could be a 'loose' woman who wanted to turn 'respectable',
or one looking for a green card.
he calls me to confirm who the better girl is. of course it
is him hands-down. i am always in my sweatpants, he is always
in his silk panties and short catholic schoolgirl skirts.
me of the new dresses he buys, the cuts that favor his 'bust',
his dream to go shooting pool in those miniscule minis the girls
sport on tv, with the love of his life by his side. the love
of his life is also albanian and married, who only 'does' him
mentions his current boyfriend, a fiery Mexican, who is very
possessive and apparently madly in love with him. he is still
thinking of the other one when he puts on the make-up and curls
hang-up is that he can not tweeze his eyebrows because his co-workers
will finally have their suspicions confirmed.
we are, having this surreal conversation about the difficulties
of finding a size 14 dress that fits (we share size but not
shape), dishing about men real and imaginary. i am trying to
understand how come he is a better woman than me, and he is
trying to understand why men seem to flock to me but shy away
how it is on two sides of the world.