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It was summertime in the year 1980. At the time, I was 13 years old, and lived with my family in the small city of Korce, in southeastern Albania. During that time, Albania was under the strict communist regime of Enver Hoxha. Except for usual communist ideals and policies, Albania also had a very harsh anti-revisionist and anti-Western policy. In addition, listening to Western music and wearing Western-style clothes was strictly forbidden. Simple things such as chewing gum weren’t available, because they were seen as an American influence.
One of my closest friends, Akli, lived in the same neighborhood as me. Akli had a cousin who had escaped Albania and moved to the United States. Every once in a while, Akli’s cousin secretly sent him “gift boxes” filled with American goods, like Coca-Cola, cheese crackers and chewing gum. One time, Akli’s cousin sent Akli an entire box with “Brooklyn Chewing Gum.”
“Can I try a piece of gum?” I asked Akli.
“Of course,” responded Akli. “It’s so sad that we don’t have these treasures here, in Albania.”
Everyone in Korca felt the same way as Akli. Everyone wanted to try chewing gum, Coca-Cola, and everything else that wasn’t allowed.
“I have an idea for us to make some money,” I excitedly told Akli the next day.
As soon as Akli heard the words “make some money”, he was interested in my proposal.
“How?” Akli reluctantly asked. “We can’t keep on selling sunflower and pumpkin seeds on the corners.”
“Since everyone in Korca wants chewing gum, we can sell it to them,” I snickered. “However, we shouldn’t waste our precious gum on our ‘customers’. We can keep all of the gum for ourselves, but preserve the gum packaging paper. Then, we can cut thin pieces of cardboard and place them inside the gum wrapper, and sell it to anyone who wants gum. What do you think?”
“What if they catch us, Samir?” Akli asked. “My parents would kill me.”
“So would mine, Akli,” I replied, insisting that we should carry on our operation. “But we will only do this one time, to make some quick money. Don’t chicken out.”
That very day, we started with our operation. By night time, we were finished with our packaging. The next day, we planned to go to a factory in the outskirts of Korca and sell all of our gum to the factory workers. Little did I know how downwards this whole thing was going to go.
Once we arrived at the factory, we got to work.
“Cheap chewing gum! Cheap American tasty gum for sale, folks!” Akli and I excitedly offered.
The workers, tired from their long shifts, looked very interested in our sale. Many of the workers came and bought chewing gum from us. The workers, however, had no idea that we had scammed them, and tricked them into purchasing cardboard “sticks”. Our business stand was very successful, and we made a lot of money. We felt like accomplished businessmen, until the next day.
When I opened the front door upon arriving from school, I greeted my brothers, and entered the kitchen. After seeing my mother’s facial expression, I knew that she had found out about what I had done.
“What have you done?” my mother Behije angrily screamed. “I have always told you to never lie to anyone! Ever!”
“Sorry, Mom…” I weakly responded.
“Don’t say sorry to me! Apologise to all of the people in the factory! Some of them are my friends, Samir!” my mother interrupted.
“I will, Mom, of course.” I begged regretfully.
“Promise me that you will never do this again.” my mom demanded.
My mother had found out about my “gum” from one of her closest friends, which worked at the factory. My mom’s “spy” friend had seen Akli and I sell the fake chewing gum to the poor workers, and reported it to my mother in the morning. I promised my mother Behije that I would never repeat any behavior of this kind in my life. Although I did it just to make some quick money with my friend, I knew it was really wrong. I regret every part of it, and have, until this day, kept the promise I had made to my mother.