Photo by Anita Gilmore.
Photo by Anita Gilmore.

Amantia Muhedini, one of two Albanian students at Princeton—who expects that at a certain point in your friendship, you will start calling her Ama (or momma Ama) and whose grandfather began the first bookshop in Albania after communism—claiming to have little attachment to home while discussing her attachment to tea and jewelry, to her parents’ coffee-shop-library, and to language. She sits cross-legged in one of the ethnically decorated room’s many chairs, mug in hand. The room is in Wilson, so a few of the thematically floral posters are falling off the walls.

Q: Your name?

A: Amantia Muhedini. And that’s it, because we don’t have middle names in Albania.

Q: What do you call home? 

A: Because I’ve travelled so much in the past years, it’s very easy for me to call something home. If I’m going to the same place a few nights in a row and I feel comfortable, for me that becomes home very quickly.

When I think of home more deeply, I’ll think of Albania, but when I’m in Albania I don’t necessarily feel like I’m home.

Going back to my family is like going home but my country, because I’ve changed a lot… I’ve distanced myself from it. So then after the nostalgia wears off, after two weeks, I just feel like I’m in a country where I’m comfortable with the language. But there’s no real home right now.

I found language being very important to this idea of home. My closest friend, who I loved very much, was an English speaker. So at the point that I felt like I was closest to him, I felt like I also wanted to talk to him in Albanian because that’s what it meant to me to be close to someone. Like my parents.

Q: You were the only Albanian at Princeton for a long time.

A: Yep, it was just, just me.

What was that experience like?

I mean, besides that I secretly enjoyed saying that I was the Albanian community (laughs), it never particularly bothered me until one time last year, it was our national independence day, and it was the 100th anniversary of Albania. So that was a big thing, and being by myself on that day, that I felt for the first time, that I needed someone who was Albanian and who spoke my language. The language thing comes back again.

Q: Tell me about your famous (among her zee-group at least) collection of tea.

A: It started in Norway. Everything started in Norway. We had this shrine [in our room] where we worshipped 102-ism. Which was the number of room. We had a huge box of tea underneath it. When I came here freshman year I insisted on having a drawer of tea with my suitemates. Now it’s more me getting attached to the concept of having a “blank” of tea.

Q: Favorite tea?

A: Right now I like mate tea, which is kind of like coffee. There’s this very nice cinnamon apple one, which reminds me of home in Tirana in my parents’ coffee shop.

Q: Did you say parents’ coffee shop?

A: Yes, so my favorite place in the world is my parents’ library-bookstore-coffee shop, which has been there for the past 11 years now, and is where I was brought up. I guess that’s more home than anything else, really. I was literally brought up in a library.

Q: How did your parents decide to start this business? 

A: So [Albania] had communism until 1991. My grandfather used to play in the band of the Republic of Albania. They would follow the parades around the country. He retired, and then he started selling newspapers when things started loosening up. The last years of [communism] my grandfather started selling newspaper in the start. Like he had a little thing with wheels and newspapers. Around 94, he got a kiosk, made of tin walls which was, put a wall here (motions to her dorm entryway), basically this corridor.

And it was the first bookshop in Albania after communism. They called it Ama, actually. Bookshop Ama. My whole family was helping him out. They would carry the books from this thingie to home at night for a few years.

Q: And then your parents decided to start their coffee-shop-bookstore? 

A: This [bookstore-coffee shop combination] was not a novel idea but for Albania that was the first thing at the time, and now there is just one more place that does it.

I would go back after school and study there. As a nine year old, I had a love-hate relationship with the place because it’s where my parents would go and stay the whole day, and now I just love it because it feels like home.

And that’s where I would say 70% of college students in Tirana go and study for their finals. And it’s a tiny library. It’s a tiny study space.

Q: Why books?

A: I never asked, actually. But books have been the theme of my life, really. Which makes me… when I think of how much I’ve read, I am… very ashamed. I mean, I haven’t read a lot and considering my background, I should’ve read much more.

Q: Are you particularly attached to any objects?

A: I am fake attached to objects. I have a lot of clothes, and I name my things. But I don’t…I think the significance of objects shifts a lot for me.

Q: What do you mean?

A: There’s this necklace I have, it’s a Maori jade stone from New Zealand. I got that as a present from my first boyfriend. It’s a very small necklace, a very sporty one, the kind of thing you never need to take off. So I kept it on for a year and half while I was with him. That’s what it meant for me then.

I broke up with him and I had to take it off, and whatever, and I then I put it back on and I realized it had become part of me. Like it more symbolizes me than my relationship with him. This is a part of me.

I just realized, how funny it is, while I am not particularly attached to any one place, I mean, I want to be I’m looking for that, I also have a lot of things. Which you wouldn’t say that would be the case for someone who longs to travel and not feel tied down to somewhere.