When I returned to my home in Austin, Texas, I began networking with anyone with any connections to Albania. In this way, I was able to meet eight of the first freely-elected Albanian mayors, who stopped here in 1993 on their State Department-sponsored tour to study municipal governments. At a public forum at the University of Texas they were asked to name the worst thing former leader Enver Hoxha did to them. Five of the eight agreed that it was not knowing where their fathers were buried. I mentioned this to Robert in a letter, and it was then that he told me about finding the bones of his father.

The photographic possibilities inherent in Robert’s quest intrigued me, but I was unsure if my proposal was something he and the other people whom I intended to involve would be interested in doing. In the spirit of the new democratic Albania, its citizens were hopeful that the worst was over; they looked forward to living in peace. Now I wanted Robert and the friends of his father to dredge up terrible memories, while I took their photographs.

But as Robert and I retraced the steps he took to fulfill his father’s dying wish, to be buried in his native village, these people welcomed me into their homes as they did Robert, with warmth and good cheer; certainly I don’t think I ever ate as many sweets, or drank as much coffee and raki, as I did during that week of interviews!

When I look at the portraits it is the gravity in the faces of the people I photographed that strikes me most. If they sometimes smile, it is with uncertainty and sometimes pain. The past is not so distant after all.

Shortly after I returned to the United States after my most recent visit in October 1996, Albania burst apart at the seams, collapsing into anarchy, just like the pyramid schemes into which more than half the country had sunk their last lek. It is uncertain whether I will be able to return any time in the near future.