In my book “No Matter the Time” I turn the lens away from my own life and toward history. I focus the lens on the greatest love stories the world has ever known. “No Matter the Time” is a collection of love letters between historical couples. In each of them, I find fragments of love I’ve known. I hope you do, too.
When writing this book, I knew I wanted to include an Albanian couple and, like most Albanian children, I grew up hearing the legend of Shote Galica. What I didn’t know was that there is an incredible love story behind the legend that I’ve always been drawn to.
We all grew up hearing it but as a young girl, it solidified into something more than just a story for me. It grew sharp and steady in my hand, a tool I could use if I ever needed to dip into the strength Shote had.
Shote Galica was a soldier. She was a woman and soldier during a time — at the turn of the twentieth century — when those two things weren’t supposed to go together. She dressed as a man during battle. Why? I’ve heard different reasons from different people. Some say men’s clothing was more suited for battle, which seems practical. Some say she didn’t want the enemy knowing she was a woman, which seems sensible. Others say it was a metaphor, meant to show the enslaving nature of the patriarchal society Albanian women were raised in, which seems fanciful. I don’t know why she dressed like a man during battle. All I know is that she walked into battle.
And as I grow, I learn more about Shote. I learn that she was married and she had children, that her husband was a commander of troops and they fought side by side. I learn that he died and she mourned while taking his spot as commander and pushing forward into war without him. I learned that she was driven by the same thing as we all are — love. Love of her country and freedom and family. And she, like so few of us, knew how to fight for what she loved.
The best kind of love strengthens us, tests our boundaries, and helps us become the people we always dreamed of being. This is how I think of Shote and Azem Galica. I feel lucky to be able to include them in this collection. I hope you enjoy:
I didn’t want the fight. I didn’t want the war
or the blood rusting in a puddle on the floor.
I don’t want the shovels or the dirt thrown
over my shoulder in the name of defeat
but when you love something enough,
you put on the uniform. You clean your gun.
That’s what the politicians don’t understand —
even war is about love. Even love is about country.
We are all fighting for the smallest of moments —
to go home and drink strong tea in our own kitchens;
to kiss our children’s faces just as they are rising from sleep;
to eat with our hands with three generations of family unfolded
in the same room. In the middle of a summer afternoon,
these dreams are lost, the flame of a candle blown out
by death’s breath. Darling, who but you could have faced death
with such grace? Who but you could have faced war
with such resolve? So I’m gone now.
This is the human price of war.
We always knew this, but now it is close.
This time, you are kneeling over my grave.
There is no miracle here. Every life on earth
ends in this spot. The miraculous part is you
putting on your uniform and cleaning your gun.
The miraculous part is you shouldering grief
and pulling it through the mountains with you.
The miraculous part is your muscles stretching
and growing underneath it. The miraculous part
Is how you never stopped fighting, even for a second.
Fortesa Latifi’s book, “No Matter the Time,” is available to buy online, here.