Pin It
Favorite

Culture Shock 

by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & HEALTH CARE An Albanian girl who was the focus of a minor diplomatic skirmish adjusts to life in Spokane & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & magine what it must be like to be 12-year-old Merita Ulaj. The shy, petite young woman is 8,000 miles from home -- her mother, father and siblings are back in Boga, their little village in the mountains of northern Albania (no phones, no flush toilets). Merita is one month into her four-month stay in Spokane for medical treatment. She wears a pink-and-white cast that protects her left elbow, the result of surgery performed at the Shriners' Hospital only a few days after she arrived. Her hearing is poor (planning for an operation is underway). A few of her teeth are badly decayed (a Spokane Valley dentist has offered to work on that). She speaks little or no English ("hello", "pardon me"). And she's had to meet and spend time with a bunch of people she doesn't know, including an Inlander reporter and photographer.





Not that Merita isn't adjusting to life in her temporary home and having a good time. She has a personal interpreter, Genta Hysaj, who left her translation agency and her boyfriend in Albania to help Merita here. They're living in a big, old house in the East Central neighborhood with a woman Merita calls her "second mother." Marvel Nichols -- who met Merita in Boga last summer -- led the bureaucratic battle to bring her to Spokane. And the little girl from the remote village in a country that was shut off from the world for 50 years under a Communist dictator has discovered shopping. On this day, wearing her blue jeans and a ribbon in her hair, she looks like a typical American preteen. And she smiles a lot.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & t's entirely possible that Merita doesn't understand all the hoohah that Nichols, Hysaj and others went through to get her to Spokane. Beginning last fall, Nichols began the process of arranging Merita's medical treatment and trip to the States. In July, with many of the details arranged, the trip was in jeopardy because of a diplomatic snit with U.S. Embassy officials in Albania who said they didn't have all the documentation they needed to issue visas to Merita and Genta. Nichols made early morning phone calls to Albania, faxed documents and traded emotional e-mail messages with Genta that were often FILLED WITH CAPITALIZED WORDS AND EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!! Eventually, with the help of two staff members from Sen. Maria Cantwell's office, Nichols and Genta gathered the rest of the documents they needed and the young women were issued visas and put on a plane to Seattle.





"It's been such an education," says Nichols, "but it's been fun."





The rush to bring Merita and Genta to the U.S. has been replaced by the rush to arrange the details for an operation on Merita's ears. "And I'm trying to get her signed up for ESL (English as a Second Language) classes so we can evaluate where she should be in school," says Nichols. "She's a 7th grader age-wise, but I don't think she's ready for that."





Nichols, her husband and her friends in the Soroptimist Club have taken Merita and Genta to many of the region's highlights: Silverwood, Duncan Garden, the Japanese Garden, the shopping malls. And Nichols has enjoyed learning about Merita. "She does fabulous beadwork," says Nichols. "And she likes to put ice in a glass and shake it, just to listen to the jingle. They don't have ice in Boga."





Genta, meanwhile, says she's hoping this experience will help her when she goes back to Albania to continue her translating career, which could be sooner rather than later. The U.S. Embassy issued Genta a visa that's only good for two and a half months; she's hoping it will be extended so she can stay while Merita continues the physical therapy on her elbow. If not, Merita's cousin Augustine, who will soon be coming from Albania to attend Lewis and Clark High School, will take over the translation duties.





"We're plugging away," says Nichols. She and the Soroptimist Club have created an account at Washington Mutual to raise money for Merita's ear operation: "Her eardrums are practically destroyed," says Nichols.
  • Pin It

Latest in Comment

  • Children Will Listen
  • Children Will Listen

    How art speaks to life in this particular moment
    • Jan 18, 2017
  • So Here We Are
  • So Here We Are

    Here's hoping the new president fills the office with the grace and sense of tradition it requires
    • Jan 18, 2017
  • Get Big Money Out
  • Get Big Money Out

    Letters to the Editor
    • Jan 18, 2017
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu
People Rise Up! A Community Invitation to Action

People Rise Up! A Community Invitation to Action @ Community Building

Sat., Jan. 21, 2-5 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by n/a

  • Iron Upgrade
  • Iron Upgrade

    The new one is smart and funny and action-packed, and it’s bigger and better and sleeker. And Downey does it again, this time ramping up Stark’s arrogant wisecracking, telling anyone who’ll listen (mostly women) that, via the creation of his powerful Iron Man suit, he’s brought years of uninterrupted peace to the world.
    • May 12, 2010
  • Seeing Gay
  • Seeing Gay

    A festival showing GLBT from all angles
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • Get Out the Vote
  • Get Out the Vote

    With all the uncertainty in the world these days, hot wings and cold beer are two things we can get behind
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Thanks, Obama

    The legacy of the 44th President goes far beyond the election of the 45th
    • Dec 29, 2016
  • One Free Shave

    Donald Trump might have merited a honeymoon with voters had he managed his transition better
    • Dec 29, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

scandal


scandals


Comment


Briefs


green zone


Readers also liked…

  • To Kill the Black Snake
  • To Kill the Black Snake

    Historic all-tribes protest at Standing Rock is meant to stop the destruction of the earth for all
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • Sacred Mt. Spokane
  • Sacred Mt. Spokane

    Economic possibility is not a good enough reason to destroy the Spokane Tribe's holy land
    • Jan 14, 2016

© 2017 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation