This is a portrait of Alex Bejleri or “Alex the Albanian”, my dear friend. We have known him since I started to serve on the streets of Philadelphia in 1988. He appeared to be crazy. With what I later learned of what he had been through, he had every reason to be. Most of the other street people would have nothing to do with him. They tagged him with the moniker “Russian” by which he is still known to this day. He seemed to have a hollow leg, as they say. He would sometimes eat 8 cups of soup, then ask for leftovers. He always loved our food. He would keep track of our volunteers; who kept coming; who dropped out; and asked why.
We helped him learn English so he could get his citizenship. He walked over 5 miles in the snow to visit me in the hospital when I was ill. He would call me when I couldn’t make it to the street; even after he no longer needed our service, but he loved my soup. He prays for me and for my family daily. He still believes what they told him on Radio Free Europe, even though he has spent most of the last 28 years in Philadelphia, living on the street. I guess, if you go to jail for something, then escape, give up your homeland, your family ties, move half a world away; it’s hard to come to terms with the idea that the reality that it was based on was an illusion. You see. He was a ‘political prisoner’ in Albania for listening to American propaganda radio broadcasts. I had to find him a shortwave radio so he could try to tune them in here. I kept trying to explain that America lied to him and they were not allowed to do that here. It was too much for him. Of course, now, they have changed the law. The CIA is now allowed to lie to us “legally” by broadcasting propaganda within the US. I guess Alex should try firing up the shortwave again. Of course, now he doesn’t need to. He can just turn on NBC or CNN, etc.
My health has taken a turn for the worse and I am sidelined until I can get an aortic valve replacement in June. Alex took the train and bus up to ‘get his mail’ the other day. (They failed to forward several pieces of his mail. He used our address so he could open a checking account, etc.) I showed him this painting and my self-portrait. He did not seem too impressed. He looks better now than in this painting; sophisticated, business-like. I look more like he did. He confirmed that my health is bad and he committed to praying for my heart every day in the Basilica of SS. Peter & Paul in center city Phila. I thanked him. He went to dart out the door. I stopped him to give him a hug. He said what he always says when he calls me on the phone, even when he leaves a message, “I love you my brother!” And I love Alex.
My life is so much richer for knowing him.
Painting is acrylic on 11″x14″ canvas.
Price: $150 including postage to US address.
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