Today’s post comes to World Moms Network by Lura Elezi of Albania. Lura is an activist, mother, writer and thinker. The piece below first appeared on Lura’s personal blog, Lara, Lara! in April 2020. It is a reflection of a similar time in a different place when a young Lura Elezi was also fleeing from pending war. She dedicates this post to all women and girls facing similar challenges today.
As an Eastern European, I relate to the Ukrainian people in so many ways. But that is not as relevant as the most important fact that we are first and foremost human and we should lock all wars in history books, as they have no more place in the present world.
As I sit hoping every minute that this war will not become even one month old, I would also like to point out that on top of various donations, my home is open to any Ukrainians reaching for my city: Tirana, Albania.— Lura Elezi, March 15, 2022
Fleeing from Danger
Like many fellow Albanians during the 1997 quasi-civil war* of Albania, after several adventurous attempts, my family and I managed to flee the country.
My sisters and I were clueless. My parents told us to pack some of our valuables because we were leaving the city for the village—we were less likely to be hit by a stray bullet there. On the way to the airport, their story changed.
I was a young girl going through puberty and all the unrest that comes with it. Having seen and collected stray bullets on our balcony, I decided to channel all my unease by worrying about our cat Lara. We had left her with our downstairs neighbors, whose daughters were our friends. What if they fled too? What about Lara?
To Lands Unknown
Four flights later we had reached my uncle’s home…in Beijing, China.
No more stray bullets indeed but we were not here as tourists either. The culture and language was strange and very different from ours. We would only leave the premises about once a week; we had no clue whether our apartment back home was still intact; and we could barely get in touch through landlines with our friends and family left behind. I remained worried about Lara.
My parents were glued to the news. They were probably suppressing deep depression, of which my sisters and I were oblivious.
I spent my time reading, playing Super Mario or out in the yard—an inner courtyard surrounded by high walls—when the weather allowed it. After one sweaty session of play, I ran inside straight to the bathtub only to see that…
The communists had arrived!
Or as some say, “auntie paid a visit.”
Or to be more clear—something society did not seem too fond of doing at the time—I got my first period.
I felt the panic creeping in, so I acted accordingly. My need to hide it from my older sister and my mother was intense. I started throwing away my underpants, concealing them well so no one would see them in the garbage.
I left Albania as a child but now—according to tales passed down through generations—I was a woman.
What did that even mean? One thing I was sure, I was not ready for it!
Things Got Worse
Two or three days went by, and panic got worse.
I felt like excitement about everything was coming to an end.
That maybe they wouldn’t let me play outside anymore.
That vaginal blood was something to be ashamed of and it was foreshadowing a world less amusing than the one I was in.
Now I would have to act like a grownup. And what grownup girls did, is whisper about your biology maybe in the kitchen corners. Leave all fun behind, as those are privileges reserved for men and children only.
Eventually I started running out of underwear to throw away and I was exhausted. So I told my sister first, and then my mother. They congratulated me—my mom even laughed at my worries—and they gave me hygienic pads to wear.
The next day I rode the bike in the courtyard and no one seemed to care that I had a pad glued to my underwear, and it was turning redder by the hour.
For years I pondered why I had so much dread surrounding this biological event.
I do not recall my family telling me fearful tales; but certainly everyone else had managed to taunt me as a little girl:
About the fateful day when my period would find me.
That girls cannot do what they please after a certain point.
That girls are the sacrifice to the society, so it moves forward.
The Tale of Rozafa
Just like unfortunate Rozafa, a local legend that still turns my stomach, but which many seemed to find so meaningful.
Rozafa was the new wife of a third brother and she had just given birth to their first child. The brothers were building a vital wall and after a few futile endeavors, the wall required a blood sacrifice to be able to stand. So the brothers put Rozafa in it alive, and left her eye, breast and hand outside the wall, so she could take care of the baby in the crib.
Hundreds of similar horrid legends, where women are so dispensable, are passed down around the world.
Fear of Growing Up
I did not want to turn into a woman. As I thought about how boys play: they have fun; grow up to be businessmen and politicians; are told legends where they are heroes; continue to play video games; can be bosses; get to sit with legs spread out all their lives
“boys will remain boys!”
While girls have to: cast their eyes mostly downwards; never sit with spread legs; stand a lot; AND the moment your nipples start growing and you get your period…then the kitchen becomes your new hangout area. With other women, some much older, and with very unpleasant stories.
And if later, as an adult, a girl pursues her ambitions, she is called a b!tch and she better thank god several times a week for finding a husband who wants to bear children with her.
At least this is how it is for many.
Across much of the planet.
Two-and-a-half months later, we returned to Albania from our exile and waited patiently for the country to restore. I learned to buy pads myself and the sales clerk would wrap them with newspapers.
Lara the Cat lived 15 wonderful years with us.
* A few years into a young democracy that followed one of the harshest dictatorships the planet has known, in January 1997—after being deceived by fraudulent pyramid schemes that took loans from individuals and returned it at 150-300% interest rate—Albanians rioted. Eventually, all these schemes collapsed, and common people, who lost a great deal, broke in the ammunition warehouses across the country and a civil war almost took off. A few months later, things were calmer but it took Albania about a decade to recover from the financial losses —totaling about $1.2 billion.
The image used in this post is the author in 1997. It is used with her permission.