Driving the roads, walking the streets in Albania November 2011

Yes, I am here and yes I will write, write the hell out of this place, this article. I’m 46, been to Nicaragua, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, England, Afghanistan, Korea, Brazil, Vietnam, maybe some others that I’m forgetting — I’ve seriously been to these places — reported there, went there on mission like energy, experienced these places deeply and intimately, not just touristy type thing — always being an American has been a serious liability. They’ve hated me, that I was American. Okay, I always thought — hate me, do your thing. I’m as an American as Donald Trump, Sumiko Obata, Jonas Salk and Christopher Hitchens — meaning what the hell does that mean that I’m American. I’m Kevin Heldman, as dissimilar and similar to those folks as can be. But yet they hated me. Here, and I knock the wood of the internet cafe cubicle as I say this — this is the first place where being an American has been something positive, people have liked me for being an American.

You don’t know how many times I’ve touched my heart and they’ve touched their heart back, how many thumbs up and how many times my back, my shoulder has been held and led gently. Damn guys, damn girls — thank you. I don’t deserve it, expect it, wasn’t anticipating it but it is so nice. Good looking, Albania.

Ketjol Manoku, Albanian locked up in prison. Krasnici brothers currently on trial. Mother of the Albanian defendant devestated after a guilty verdict in the New York courtroom… That Albanian shopkeeper, kind, older and really decent who I wrote about in my first article — I see where, if I can generalize, you all come from. Albania deserves a damn good strong, single, fist clasping shoulder type hug. You all got this. Your country– libertarian, free, a little wild– it’s good here. But come on, just let me in your prisons alright. I’m a crime reporter and I go to these places, but even so and still, didn’t they say you can judge a society by how they treat their locked down.

So on I go reporting and getting to know Albania and this story for Capital New York. Funded by The Fund for Investigative Journalism. I won’t let any one down — it’s been quite quite hard and I’ve roughed it, been in situations where it’s been rough, but that is my choice and my job, supposed to get in deep and sometimes that means getting dirty. I don’t have to swagger and be tough because I’m not a gangster and have nothing to prove, nobody to impress and I don’t have to run especially and directly toward fires or crimes or trouble like a cop or firefighter with that obligation but still I am a journalist and I am that kind of journalist — I’m supposed to go deep, investigate, be as particiaptory as possible, so I will. Me and my Albanian English dictionary and my rent a car and beat up body, doing pushups in the room at night to stay fit. And the kindness of this and the other Shqiptar helping, worrying over me in this difficult to manage infrastructure. Thank you, you know who you are.

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