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Haki’s house was made of stone, as was the barn with the calf inside, all set in a lost valley. So along with my translator—a husky bear of a young man named Ermal, who, though a fine navigator, drove with all the subtlety of Beethoven’s Ninth—I’d traveled north on Albania’s recently completed highway from the capital of Tirana into Kosovo, where we were stopped at a midnight checkpoint by bored soldiers bearing AK-47’s, then looped back into a northerly, mountainous pocket of Albania.Now here was the real thing himself, spitting venom.But there was something in the eyes, and sometimes the hands, even the carriage of bones—a softness that made me wonder.
He possessed a gray mop of hair, and his eyes resembled those of Charles Bronson.
Other journalists had visited Haki in the past, sometimes asking questions that he viewed as impertinent. Being lesbian—this isn’t even what being a Haki was a virgin who had taken a vow of celibacy that elevated him to a time-honored position in the community, the in-between person.
A number had wanted to know if he was really just a lesbian in disguise—and this had triggered a deep hurt."It breaks my heart that anyone would ask such questions," he said, picking a tobacco leaf from the tip of his tongue. The origins of the tradition weren’t clear, but historically, when the male heirs of a family died or had been killed and property could no longer be passed in patrilineal fashion, an allowance was made: If a virgin daughter remained, she could assume the role of patriarch by swearing in front of a dozen village elders that she would remain celibate for the rest of her life. His parents had thirteen children, he said, and he came third in line.
Even though he was 71 years old, he seemed boyish and lithe, if a little humped.
Uncurled, he still would have stood only five feet tall.