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From the Caribbean to the Balkans
A Caribbean Intelligence exclusive by Colin Babb
In 1991, after over four decades as a one-party ruled, Stalinist, communist state - widely recognised as the most isolated country in Europe, independent political parties were established in Albania. Meanwhile, thousands of Albanians considered attempts to leave the country.
Up to 1991, foreign visitors to Albania were a rare sight. However, during this period of intense political, economic and social transition, a family from the Caribbean arrived there.
Kellian Daniel, who lives in Tirana, Albania's largest city and the nation's capital, describes herself as “The only Caribbean person I know in Albania with, of course, my family!”
Kellian is the first Caribbean person I've met in Albania during several trips to the country in the last 20 years. Her father is from Desruisseaux in St. Lucia and her mother from Princes Town, Trinidad. Kellian was keen to share the story with Caribbean Intelligence about how and why her family arrived in Albania.
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“Our family connection with Albania first came with my dad who came here before I was born in 1991. He came with a group of young people who were part of a Christian organisation, and they were interested in Albania because it was a country which was officially atheist for many years.
“They began to work with people, giving out food and doing some charitable and humanitarian work, and then my dad went back to the Caribbean and married my mum in 1993. I was born in St. Lucia in 1994 and arrived in Albania when I was just three months old.
“In 1997, we went to the United States and returned to Albania in 1998. I was home schooled in the US and Albania, went to the University in Connecticut in the US, and then back to Albania. I’ve been back and forth between Albania and the US from the age of 20”.
Despite being home schooled in English by her family, Kellian was determined to learn Albanian and integrate with the communities she lived with in Tirana and Korçë, a city in the east of the country.
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“When I was younger, I picked up the language by listening to lot of Albanian, and talking and practising the language with my friends”, Kellian explained to Caribbean Intelligence.
“I didn’t want to feel ignorant around people. So, I tried to learn to read and write the language at home, and read some Albanian books, and gradually I learnt.”
Living as a black Caribbean person in Albania has presented a set of challenges for Kellian. However, she has a pragmatic view about some of her day-to-day experiences.
“There have been more positives than negatives, living as a black person in Albania,” Kellian suggests thoughtfully to Caribbean Intelligence©.
“Most of the reactions to me have been out of curiosity and fascination rather than racism. Like, when I was younger, people would touch my hair. I’ve had to face some racism, but that was in the beginning when people were shocked to see a black person walking down the street.
“Now I’m older, it can be difficult to an extent because I don’t always like the extra attention. Sometimes I hear, ‘Wow! Oh, my God! Look at that black girl over there’ in Albanian. Then, their reaction is being shocked that I can understand and speak to them in Albanian, and I then get an apology.
“Sometimes I get stopped up to ten times a day with people asking me questions like, ‘How come you speak Albanian?’ And I have to explain everything which can be frustrating!
“But, it was important for me to learn the language, and the good things about being here are I like that Albanians are hospitable, giving, very hard working, and work for each other with a strong sense of family.”
Kellian is working hard to develop her businesses, including a hair salon and a skincare line. She is determined to be successful with her business ventures and plans to expand them beyond Albania.
“I have my own hair extension salon here and I work by appointment only. It’s a May to September job and full-time. So, sometimes I have to work up to 15 or 16 hours a day,” says Kellian.
“At the same time, I’m working on a skincare line. Like facial products, body products and hair products but I’m not just categorising my businesses for the Albanian market. I want to reach out to other countries – like America, Italy and India.
“I’m also thinking of going to the US next year for about six months. But I want to come back here, because I think it works out better for me to work on my businesses in Albania than in the US.”
Alongside working to expand her businesses, Kellian has not given up her love for music. For Kellian, music is her first passion and says, “I guess I’ve been singing ever since I learnt how to talk!”
She grew up playing and listening to classical music, and played classical piano for about 12 years which she didn’t enjoy. She always wanted to listen to a variety of music, including indie and Albanian music.
Some of the Albanian artists she enjoys listening to include Elvana Gjata and Florjan Mumajesi. “I also like some Trini music, like Machel Montano,” says Kellian – which reflects her Trinidadian roots. In 2017, she performed with her sister, Katherine, as part of a singing duo for The Voice Albania TV music talent show.
“It was a great experience for us and after that I went to a couple of studios, but because of my businesses I couldn’t continue to have a career in music and get back in touch with people in the music industry here,” Kellian told Caribbean Intelligence©.
Reflecting on her personal identity, Kellian sometimes feels a three-way connection between Albania, the Caribbean and America. Albania is home, her sister lives in America, but Kellian also feels culturally rooted in the Caribbean, and her father hasn’t given up his passion for West Indies cricket.
“Up to yesterday my dad was at home watching cricket on YouTube but I’ve never really understood it!
“Mum still cooks Caribbean food for us at home, and that could be callaloo, roti, pilau, pholourie, curry, but it’s difficult for us to find Caribbean products here in Albania,” says Kellian.
“I’ve been back to St. Lucía and Trinidad, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados and Grenada, and my father worked for a while in Guyana, but I haven’t been back to the Caribbean in 13 years. So, I want to go next year to reconnect with the Caribbean and see my family, and especially my grandparents in St. Lucia and Trinidad.”