Engjellushe Goxhaj was a young woman living in Albania, in love with a young man called Miri; Miri was determined to seek a new life in a new country. Miri made his dash for freedom; Engjellushe followed him by climing the wall at the Czech consulate.
My name is Engjellushe Goxhaj and I live in Shepparton, Victoria. I am married and I have three children. I work as a Personal Care attendant at the Shepparton Multicultural Aged Hostel, caring for the elderly in our community.
I was born in Tirane the capital city of Albania, which was under communist rule from 1940 until 1990. I have two brothers and both of my parents still living in Albania.
When I was 25 years old, my father was employed as a gardener and my mother a chef in a local restaurant. I was employed on a poultry farm in the agricultural sector near Tirane. Times were difficult as we were aware that the regime that governed us in Albania was not democratic and people were uprising against the government to change the system or attempting to escape to other countries.
I was in love with a young man called Miri, and he wanted to leave Albania and find a life in a free country. Miri decided to escape from Albania by seeking asylum in the Czechoslovakian Consulate in Tirane. I was concerned as he may be shot by guards on both sides and at the fact that I would be separated from him.
Miri successfully sought asylum and I was left alone. He had not confided in me, as he did not want me to worry. I searched the streets where the consulates were located and a friend of Miri's told me that Miri had entered the Czechoslovakian Consulate. I ran to the consulate looking through the gates and saw Miri in the yard. I was crying hysterically and one of the guards teased me saying that I could enter if I wanted, as everyone here would be sent to jail in Albania the next day. Another staff member felt sorry for me and told me to return in the early morning of the next day.
I was so emotional, excited, upset, lost, I went home, and my mother queried me about Miri and my reaction to his leaving. She was sad for Miri's mum and me, as she knew how much we cared for each other. I took some family photos and an envelope with my aunt's address in Australia and left that afternoon without saying goodbye to anyone.
I went to my cousin's house, and there was a man visiting there who encouraged me to follow Miri and enter the consulate. I had doubts and fears about leaving my family. What would be the effect of my actions on my family and on my myself if I was caught?
The next morning the visitor came with me to the area where the foreign consulates were located and we could see that the roads were barricaded and patrolled by armed soldiers.
I pushed my way through the guards saying that I was late for work at the printing company that was located close to the consulate. As I approached the consulate that was 100 meters ahead, I focused only on the wall in front of me that was my only barrier to freedom and my Miri. When I reached the wall, I jumped up, placed my arms on the top of the wall, and noticed as I stepped up the dusty footprints on the wall and the sandals that had been discarded as others like me had jumped to freedom. I jumped over and was confronted by a guard with a large dog. The guard instructed me to leave and I said that I would die here for if I return I would surely be killed. Therefore, I was taken to a room and I could not believe my eyes when I saw the beautiful carpet and how everything smelt, clean and lovely. I was offered food and drink as I was trembling with fear and anxiety.
I was kept on the 2nd floor with another girl, as there were 49 men and two women who had sought asylum. We were allowed to bathe and we were given clothing, food and a lovely soft bed.
My brother came to the consulate worried for my safety and implored for me to return home with him, but I sent him away as I had made my decision to leave with Miri, and my future was unfolding quickly before me.
After two days, we were loaded into a bus and we were told that we were going to be free and taken from Albania. We did not know if we were going to the airport or to jail as the windows were covered and the Albanian police were guarding us.
One of the government security agents approached me and asked me if I was an orphan that I wished to leave Albania. He knew my details and that I had a family but he was trying to make me feel guilty and ashamed of leaving my family.
We were considered enemies of the state and unpatriotic and told that Albania would be better off without our kind. He took my aunts address from me when I was searched and I was only left with my family photographs.
When we arrived at the airport and provided with a passport with an exit stamp to leave Albania permanently, then we believed that we were leaving. After we had boarded the airplane we finally realized that we were free and we all began to yell, scream and cry, hugging and kissing even the stewards who were trying to seat us.
When we landed in Czechoslovakia, the media who wanted interviews and photos confronted us. We were not allowed to give interviews and we were taken to a motel in Prague. The hospitality, assistance, care and attention that we received was wonderful, I could no believe that life could be so good.
Miri and I stayed in Prague for one month, an interpreter was provided for us to make contact with family in Albania and in Australia. Financial support was provided for us; by the end of this month, most of the men had left for family in other parts of the world. I became so homesick that I cried for my family daily and engraved their names on woodwork that was in the room.
We were moved to another town 180 km away, which was only five kilometres from the East German border. We lived here for two years with assistance from the Czechoslovakian government. We filled out applications for citizenship, we learnt their language, and in this time, many other refugees arrived from different parts of the world, Angola, Sri Lanka, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Russia.
Our life changed, we had to share accommodation with eight other people in one room. However, the people were very friendly, we were not in a detention centre, we could leave anytime that we wished. Every week we would be bussed to Prague where we were assisted with our application to migrate to Australia.
I was married to Miri on the 5 August 1991 in a civil ceremony with some refugee friends as witnesses. During this period, I contacted my family in Albania and my aunt in Australia, which eased the pain of waiting, but we were very stressed about what our future held for us both.
I became pregnant and I begged the Australian Embassy for a visa so that my child could be born in Australia. It still astounds me how we communicated on the telephone and when we attended the embassy as we had limited language skills in English and Czechoslovakian. When we got our visa, we were numb with shock, as we could not believe that the day had arrived for us to travel to Australia. We contacted my aunt who arranged and paid for the tickets.
We went to the Albanian Embassy in Prague to pick up our tickets and we were invited to dinner, as democracy was the new government in Albania, we were no longer enemies of the state.
We sadly said goodbye to everyone who had helped us, our teacher took us to Prague airport and we embarked on our last journey. We arrived in Melbourne with relatives waiting for us on the ninth of May 1992 and after a two-hour journey I was taken to the Goulburn Valley hospital where I gave birth to my daughter.
My impressions of Australia were mixed with many emotions due to the length of the trip, the birth of my child and we arrived at night so I could not see anything of Australia. It took sometime for me to adjust to all the differences in my life and I am thankful for the support and love provided by my aunt and her family then and now.
The differences I noted after some time were
- Australians drink tea every three hours
- Shepparton is a rural town and I grew up in a major city.
- I was isolated from people due to my dialect and my lack of English.
- No friends other than my aunt.
- We were the first refugee family in Shepparton, no one who could understand our experiences.
- The weather was so much hotter and colder.
- Initially I worked on orchards and this work was much heavier than I had been used to.
The positives in my life now
- Three healthy children.
- I own my own home.
- I drive my own car.
- I travel regularly to Albania to visit family and they visit me.
- I have a large network of friends.
- I have a good job where I can continue to develop.
- Freedom to make decisions about my life and my family's future.
Source: Suitcase Full of Dreams (Reproduced with permission)
Image Credit: WikiShepp