Eyewitness to 1984, Part Two

Chapter Five – I Leave Odetta

It was time for me to leave; I had been at the doctor’s home for two weeks. Since I had made my airline reservations, it was imperative that I leave on a certain day to catch that all important ferry to Italy. I made arrangements with the missionary director, Father Sebastian, to travel with him to Vlora. But I was determined to do something for the family.

The kitchen stove was over eighty years old and completely useless. I approached Odetta and explained my intention of buying a Yugoslav made electric replacement, a four burner and oven combination that I had been eyeing in the local market place. She was adamant in her refusal. Her answers to my questions were based on age’s long traditions: they could not possibly accept any gifts from me because I was a stranger. I reminded her that I had been living in her house for two weeks. It was the closest that we ever came to an argument. I did not want to anger her in any way, so I came up with an “ingenious” solution. I persuaded her to look upon the money as part of a business transaction and nothing else. She mulled that over and after an animated discussion with her parents they all agreed. The cost was one hundred fifty dollars. I gave her the money; we signed a note. Was I intrusive in family matters? I don’t know. It just seemed to have been the right thing to do.

My last evening there was a quiet one. Once again Odetta talked about her future. I only made one comment. If she desired to realize her ambitions she would find a way to do it even if it meant leaving her country. She was appalled at the suggestion. I did not elaborate any further. I left at four the next morning. It was a subdued departure. I made her promise to write. I, in return, proposed to mail her books and medical journals. We both had blurry vision as we said goodbye.

My traveling companion was the director, a priest from India. We discussed the unfinished projects. There was only one way to finish the job that I could see. Somehow he needed to find some kind Italian volunteer workers who could do just that. I also mentioned one more thing. I emphasized in no uncertain way that he had to do something about the lady doctor before she broke down because he had the political clout to do so. He promised that he would.

After I returned to America I lost no time in contacting Albanian organizations that could be of some help to my friends. I had the quixotic idea that perhaps Odetta could come to the States. I had helped her and a friend fill out Fulbright scholarship applications. I did receive information such as the list that I sent to the doctor in Tirana. But I heard nothing from the lady. I became worried. So I got in touch with the missionary house in Rome. I received good and bad news.The lady had indeed become quite ill after I left. The priest had then brought her to Rome and found her a position in a clinic. I like to think that the decision was not of his making, but of some higher authority. He would not tell me where she was, however, since he was honoring her request for privacy. I made plans to return, but each time something interfered.

And what about Ulli? We corresponded for a long while. He was not optimistic about social and economic improvements. My last letter from him came at the beginning of the year.

The good news concerned the projects. Two Italian engineers traveled to the hospital and finished everything: the well, electrical hook ups for the heaters, the washing machine, and the stove and installed the toilet floor basin. Finally everyone would have drinking water. That was good news indeed.

I am not too concerned with Ulli. He will ultimately find a way to get furniture production moving forward. There will be western investors helping out and Greece will not be able to hold up development money forever. The doctor’s story is another matter.

In June of 1994 the Major, now promoted to Lt. Col., returned to Rome on a military assignment and contacted the lady doctor. She had indeed suffered a breakdown. I guess that accounted for her protracted silence. She is now an intern in the Rome Catholic Hospital. At the same time the doctor is employed by a clinic. The good priest also brought her mother to Rome to receive treatment for high blood pressure. Talk about pulling strings!! The Col. informed me that Odetta was more optimistic about her life, that she can now see possibilities of realizing her dreams about her role as a woman and a doctor. She was constantly smiling and joking, he informed me. She told him that her father and brother were in Albania and doing well, but she hoped that the family would be reunited someday. The High Authority is watching and maybe another miracle will take place. Who knows? The Col. had another piece of good news—the family has a new stove! That should make things better in the kitchen. I am glad that I followed my instincts and broke the rules.

I do not know why I waited all these years to tell this story. Perhaps it was meant to be. At my age I have stopped looking for rational explanations for incidents that defy any. If I had written this sooner there would have been no happy ending, the whole report would have been just another travelogue about an obscure back water country.

Odetta has overcome many obstacles. I know she will be a good doctor. But more importantly I hope she realizes her dreams about becoming a complete woman. She’s come a long way and deserves a break.

As for myself I like to think that I played a role in a story that promised no happy ending but which beat the odds. We Americans are “suckers” for happy endings and we remain eternally optimistic. So do I. I’m grateful to the Col. and his wife for all the latest information. I intend to go to Rome and visit my old friends, perhaps at Christmas. That would be an appropriate time! After all someone owes me money.

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