Carrie Hooper: I love Albania, the Albanian language, and the Albanian people with my whole heart and soul!
Miss Hooper, your Albanian is amazing! How did you find out about the Albanian language and how did you learn it so well?
Carrie Hooper: In 2008, I taught German and Italian at Elmira College in my hometown of Elmira, New York. At that time, I had a student from Albania in my Italian class. When I found out that he was from Albania, I wanted to learn Albanian. I enjoy learning foreign languages. Since I am totally blind, I had to find a book in an accessible format. Eventually, I borrowed a Braille textbook from the Library For The Blind in England. In addition, my Albanian student helped me with pronunciation. Later, I borrowed a cassette with Albanian folk tales from the Library For The Blind in Stockholm, Sweden. Furthermore, my friend, Tim, who is also blind, helped me a lot. He does not know Albanian, but he studied several foreign languages and worked as a foreign language teacher. Therefore, he understands the importance of listening to the language you are learning. He recorded radio programs from Radio Tirana, Vatican Radio, Radio Maria, Voice of America, Radio Imigranti, Radio Top Albania, and Radio Bulgaria. Once in awhile, he recorded Sunday Radio produced by CHIN AM 1540 in Toronto, Canada. Tim recorded most of these programs from the Internet, but sometimes, he recorded Radio Tirana from shortwave. In order to get the best reception possible, he walked to a park near his apartment, set up an antenna, and recorded the program. Tim made cassette recordings which he mailed to me. The more I listened to these recordings, the better I understood Albanian. I am grateful to Tim for this labor of love. He no longer has to record radio programs for me since I can listen to them with my Amazon Echo.
In the summers of 2009 and 2010, I took Albanian courses at Arizona State University in Tempe. I write poetry in Albanian. In 2018, I published a bilingual book, “Piktura në fjalë” (“Word Paintings”) which contains poems I wrote in Albanian and later translated into English. Buzuku Publishing House in Prishtina, Kosovo, published the book. In addition, I have translated articles, short stories, and a book from Albanian to English. I even translated an article from English to Albanian. I have learned many Albanian songs including “Luleborë” (“Snowdrop”), “Për ty, atdhe” (“For You, My Homeland”), and the Albanian national anthem.
How did you come in contact with Albania? Have you visited the country? If so, what are your impressions? If you have not been to Albania, do you plan to go there?
Carrie Hooper: I learned a lot about Albania by listening to the radio and reading books and articles with my Braille computer. I have read articles from Albanian newspapers. I read a book about Kosovo, a book about Albania’s history, and a book about Albanian literature. All of these books were written in Albanian.
I came in contact with Albanians in America after I started learning Albanian. I sent an email to Father Arthur Liolin, the priest at Saint George Albanian Orthodox Church in Boston, Massachusetts. I explained that I was learning Albanian and that I wanted to talk to Albanians in order to practice the language. Father Arthur put me in touch with Albanians in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Massachusetts. I called them and spoke Albanian with them. Later, I contacted Albanians in New York and Toronto.
In September of 2010, I gave a concert at Saint Elias Orthodox Church in Jamestown, New York. In October of 2010, I sang at Saint George Orthodox Church in Boston. In June of 2011, I sang during the end-of-year festivities at the Albanian school in Toronto. In April of 2012, I sang during Vatra’s 100th anniversary celebration in New York. In October of 2012, I gave a presentation about my experience learning Albanian and I sang some Albanian songs for parents and students at the Albanian school in the Bronx, New York. In June of 2013, I sang for the end-of-year festivities at the Albanian school in the Bronx. At that time, I became a member of the New York based ensemble Bashkimi kombëtar (National Unity) directed by Gjergj Dedvukaj, and I learned to play the cifteli, a two-stringed folk instrument. In July of 2013, I participated in a concert with Bashkimi kombëtar at Saint Paul’s Church in Detroit, Michigan.
I have not only sung for Albanian communities, but I have also given several interviews for journalists as well as for radio and television programs in the Albanian diaspora. I gave interviews in writing for Dalip Greca, Beqir Sina, Kozeta Zylo, and Zyba Hysa. These interviews appeared in Gazeta dielli (The Sun.) I also gave interviews for Raimonda Moisiu and Qazim Doda. I appeared on Radio Kosovo and on the program Sunday Radio produced in Toronto. Furthermore, Laura Konda produced a report about me for Voice of America
I came in contact with Adnan Mehmeti, president of the Society for Albanian-American Writers, through Albanian Yellow Pages. Mr. Mehmeti helped me published my aforementioned book, “Word Paintings.”. In October of 2018, he organized a promotional event for my book at Monroe College in the Bronx.
I have never visited Albania, but I would like to go there. I would need places to stay and people to guide me. I would like to participate in a concert in Albania. I would also like to visit Rozafa’s Castle in Shkodër, the School For The Blind in Tirana, and the cities of Kruja, Durrës, and Korça.
Our readers would like to know more about you. We know that you studied music in Sweden. Could you tell us about your life as a pianist and singer?
I was born and raised in Elmira, New York. Elmira is an average-sized city located near the Pennsylvania border. I have been totally blind since birth. I was born two-and-a-half months premature which meant that my lungs had not fully developed. When I was eight days old, I had an operation to remove part of a lung. I was on a respirator for a short time, and I stayed in an incubator for three months. I got too much oxygen which led to the formation of scar tissue on my retinas. As a result, I became blind. But I can’t complain because God gave me a loving family, a full life, and good health.
I went to public school with sighted children. I learned Braille, and I learned how to type. I also received orientation and mobility training. I learned such skills as walking with a cane, crossing streets, and navigating in unfamiliar areas. I received Braille and audio textbooks. If they were not available in these formats, people read them aloud to me. I began piano lessons at age four and voice lessons at age 15. I learned pieces by ear or with Braille music.
After graduating from high school, I received a B.A. degree in vocal performance with a minor in German from Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. I went on to receive an M.A. in German and an M.A. in vocal performance from the State University of New York at Buffalo. After I finished graduate school, I studied for one year at the Royal University College of Music in Stockholm, Sweden as a Fulbright scholar.
After I returned home from Sweden, I taught German for seventeen years at Elmira College. I also taught Italian there for nine years. In my last semester at Elmira College, I taught Romanian. I currently teach voice and piano lessons at Studios On The Square in Horseheads, New York. I also play the piano and organ at Saint Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Horseheads. In addition, I have a student of German. I sing in a local chorus called Common Time, and I give vocal concerts.
I continue to write poetry, and I belong to a writers group for people with disabilities called Behind Our Eyes. My poems have appeared in online publications. In 2019, I published my first book of poetry in English, “My Life In My Words”, on a self-publishing website called Lulu. You may order my book at:
Besides English, you are also proficient in Albanian, Romanian, and Swedish. How did you manage to learn such different languages?
Carrie Hooper: In fact, I know six languages: German, Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Swedish, and Albanian. I took classes in German. I taught myself Italian and in 1998, I took courses in Rome for four weeks. I learned Swedish while studying for my Master’s in German at the University at Buffalo. I had met the conductor of the university orchestra, and when I learned that he was from Sweden, I wanted to learn Swedish so that I could speak Swedish with him. I never took Swedish courses. I read audio textbooks, listened to Swedish radio programs, and talked to people from Sweden in order to learn the language. At the same time, I read Braille and audio books in Swedish.
I began learning Spanish in 2013 with the encouragement of my friend, Tim. He suggested I learn it. Many American universities have eliminated foreign language classes. Since Spanish is a common language, Tim thought that competence in that language might give me more job security. I used audio textbooks to learn Spanish. I also audited Spanish language courses, a course on Spanish civilization, and a course on Spanish children’s literature at Elmira College. In addition, Tim recorded Spanish radio programs from Voice of America, Vatican Radio, Radio Havana Cuba, other American stations, and Radio Romania International. These recordings helped me to improve my listening comprehension in Spanish. Today, I read books in Spanish and subscribe to a Spanish language magazine. Once a week, I meet with the professor of beginning Spanish at Elmira College, and we have conversations in Spanish.
I began learning Romanian while I was learning Spanish. The Spanish service of Radio Romania International offers Romanian language lessons. One day, while I was visiting Tim, I heard a Romanian lesson on the Spanish broadcast, and the language fascinated me. After I heard the lesson, I asked Tim about some of the words I had heard. Tim had taken Romanian at Columbia University in New York when he was studying for his Master’s. Therefore, he remembered some basic vocabulary and grammar. He explained some of the grammar to me, and he taught me some Romanian words. Later, I searched for more information about Romanian grammar on the Internet, and I found some online Romanian lessons. I eventually began reading texts in Romanian, which I found online, using my accessible computer. I contacted several Romanians by telephone and spoke Romanian with them. One of them sends me books in Romanian in an accessible format. Tim used to record Romanian language programs for me from Radio Romania and Vatican Radio. He also recorded the Romanian lessons from the Spanish and English broadcasts of Radio Romania International. I appreciate everything Tim did to help me learn these languages. I now listen to Romanian radio stations and stations in other languages with my Amazon Echo.
Since our readers are Albanians, do you have a message you would like to share with them?
Carrie Hooper: Love your language and do not forget it even if you emigrate to another country. A people’s language transmits its identity from one generation to another. A people without a language is a people without an identity. Teach your children Albanian and preserve your culture and traditions! I love Albania, the Albanian language, and the Albanian people with my whole heart and soul!