The American who lived “slowly slowly”, like Albanians

Love stories aren’t always found in easy ways and in many cases, they are born randomly, from decisions or actions taken in a certain time.

Maybe, Mike Toughill wouldn’t have thought a love story outside of his home country, the USA, but today, on his social media platforms, he identifies himself as an American in Albania.

It took two years for Mike to transform his born American being, making it romanticize with the history, culture and traditions of Albania.

Everything started in 2019, when his wife applied for a job as a teacher in an international school in Tirana, the capital of Albania. The period, was just a little before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world.

Mike and his wife

So, in pure coincidence, his life could have taken two very different paths.

“We had just few days to pack our things at our home in Seattle, before school started”, describes Mike to Albanian Post, the beginning of his journey in the land of eagles.

“After we arrived, we fell in love with the place, despite the fact that we didn’t know much about Albania”.

However, when the pandemic hit, two options remained on the table for Mike and his wife: Go back to the US, or stay in Albania.

“We chose to stay. The COVID situation looked much safer in Albania than the US. We were offered a flight back home but still, we chose to stay”.

Everything that would happen after, would be a rare cultural romance between an American and a small state in the Balkans.

“Slowly Slowly”

Culture, is what significantly hit the American in Albania. Not just the heritage one, but even the traditions and the lifestyle.

“The pace of life is comfortable, with family strolls in the evening and time spent with friends at the café that embody the ethos of “Avash avash,” slowly slowly”, he describes the daily life in Albania.

Gjirokastra, the favourite Albanian city of Mike

For Mike, the language itself, is just like poetry. “Unique among the world’s tongues, ancient yet constantly refreshed by interactions with other culture”.

He defines the traditional music, as the memory of heroes past is endearing and soul-searching, whether coming from Ghegëria and the mournful lahuta, or emerging from Toskëria on the voices of polyphonic harmonies.

Food itself according to him, is healthy and fresh, with each valley developing its own unique take on the classic dishes; add to that the variety of raki (typical Albanian spirit) and wines.

He also insists on the rich history of Albania, which dates back to thousands of years.

“An artistic flare, is everywhere, from the elaborate traditional clothing, to the rich carpet weaving, talented painters ranging from the medieval icons to the classic artists and on to today’s amazingly gifted painters such as Helidon Haliti and Markel Capo, not to mention the beautiful murals that grace the capital”!

Church of Shna Ndout, Laç, Albania

Most of all, what hits him the most, is the tradition of honouring the guest and the generosity at the heart of all Albanians who know they culture. In Albania, “besa” – an Albanian cultural precept, usually translated as “faith” or “oath”, that means “to keep the promise” and “word of honour” – is living and breathing even today.

Mike is amused from the houses of God, bunkers and ruins, or even traditional houses.

The blending of everything, is what makes the place to him.

Gjergj Kastrioti of “Skanderbeg Square”

A real passion is cultivated on Mike, as far as the history of the country goes. Many stories, make him curious to read and learn more.

Even his Instagram profile, is dedicated to the beautiful Albanian stories.

“I may visit Tepelenë to see the castle of Ali Pasha, and stumble across a photo of Konjë Çurre. I take a photo, and when doing my research I learn a whole new story and hero to write about.”

But still, his favourite one, and his “first love” in Albanian, remains the story of Gjergj Kastrioti.

Skanderbeg’s statues in Skanderbeg Square, Albania

Mike describes his first day in Tirana, in a way that no person that was born and raised here sees his hometown.

“On my first full day in Albania we walked to Skanderbeg Square, and the monument to this great hero, in armour astride his warhorse, instantly captivated me. I knew at once that I had found a subject that would entertain me.”

He tells us how he went on a bookstore nearby and bought his first book about Gjergj Kastrioti. From that day on, he continues to writes Skanderbeg’s histories in his profile.

He even travelled in places where Skanderbeg stood, to imagine the real history with his own eyes.

Wealth – The real one

With words Mike talks about Albania, it’s only natural for someone to ask: Why does he do this?

And his answer, is just pure and short: To thank Albania for the kindness and generosity shown me!

“In great cities and in tiny villages, by every day Albanians expressing true hospitality as is their way. Many times have I been invited in to share a drink and a few moments of brotherhood simply because I am interested in the people and places that make Albania a rich land.”

He admits that being American, never hurt, either! He was shown respect many times over, so he returned the heartfelt respect by writing stories in English.

His only desire, is actually translated in hope.

City of Berat, Albania

“I hope they help the young Albanian Americans growing up so far from the Land of the Eagles, that they may know their great history and remember their rich traditions.”

After two years of stay, Mike is back to the US. He admits that he missed many things from America.

Mail at home, large coffee cups, easier driving or parking or raki – to say it better, the lack of it.

But one thing is sure. Just like Albanians, “slowly slowly”, Mike is not just an American anymore.

Everyone knows, he is an American in Albania.

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