Captain D. R. Oakley Hill (1898-1985) was an English officer who, for over nine years, was “Lieut. Colonel and Inspector of Gendarmerie” in Albania. He was staff officer to Major General Sir Jocelyn Percy, British organizer and Inspector-General of Albanian Gendarmerie, and acted as interpreter between his chief and King Zog. He visited Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni at the Sarajet in Orosh on a number of occasions during his stay in Albania. The following account was published in the “Sheffield Telegraph and Daily Independent” on Monday April 10, 1939.
“WHAT I SAW IN ALBANIA…”
POOR AND HOSPITABLE
We British officers were stationed in the various towns: Scutari, Korca, Elbasan, Durazzo, Valona. I was most of the time at Tirana with my chief. We used to make frequent tours of inspection, visiting the little gendarmerie posts which were scattered all over the land, a land consisting mostly of mountains. We would hire two or three pack ponies, take our gendarme orderly and set off.
There is hardly a corner of the country I have not see. We would more often camp, but sometimes we would accept hospitality and stay in a private house. It was then that we realized the meaning of Albanian hospitality. The people of the mountains are dreadfully poor, except the few local chieftains – they are not rich – but all are friendly, charming and hospitable.
Everything they have is their guest’s. The poorest will ply him with precious coffee, kill a sheep or chicken, set his wife to prepare savory dishes without thought of the inroads into the meager supplies. The honor of the house is at stake.
The chieftains are most lavish, within their means. I stayed once or twice with Gjon Markagjoni, the hereditary chief of the Mirdita tribe. He has built himself a strong house on a bluff half way up a five thousand feet mountain and there he holds feudal sway.
His men take the sheep and goats up to the higher pastures early in the morning, and in the evening they file slowly down again. The sheep and goats are led into separate pens, and the milking begins.
Wooden pails of milk are carried to the dairy where the stately lady of the home herself prepares the cheese and kos (yogurt) which with maize bread are the chief food of this mountain folk.
Inside we sit round the great hall with the chieftain and talk and drink little glasses of raki, the home brewed spirit, while outside the night closes in and the stillness of the mountains is broken only the barking of the sheepdogs, or a sudden shot fired by the watchmen at lurking wolves.
All along the mountain slopes are dotted little houses of the highlanders. Every man according to his degree is master of his own house, grazes his few sheep, and works his little patch of land. In this country blood is thicker than water, and men are bound by ties of family and clan and by traditions which have come down to them out of the dim past. Proud, free and independent, these people are the salt of the earth.
“Sheffield Telegraph and Daily Independent” – Monday April 10, 1939 – page 6