My apartment in Tirane, Albania, is in “the block” – the area of the city occupied by the ruling members of the dictatorship that controlled Albania until 1991. This is now the most fashionable section of the City Center, just a few blocks from the offices of USAID, the United Nations Development Project, and the American Chamber of Commerce. In my little section of the city, I can rely on employees who speak English, the international language of development, to help me secure my Albanian cell phone, install a high-speed internet connection, and deliver pizza. Despite the fact that Albania is the poorest country in Europe, falling into what is often called the “second world,” I can get almost anything I want in Tirane – designer clothes, electronics, cars, food, liquor, goods imported from all over Europe and America. These goods can all travel to Albania but Albanians cannot travel abroad. During the Hoxha regime, Albania was a closed society, isolated from the rest of the world. After the government collapsed, thousands of Albanians fled the country. Fearing an inundation of Albanian immigrants, the rest of the world enforced severe travel restrictions on Albanian citizens, making it extremely difficult even for business owners and leading intellectuals to travel for work or research. In the post-communist open-market era, foreign goods flow freely into the country, but the movement of Albanians is frozen. I came to Albania through the complications of the cold war; a history into

which I was born. I was born on an army base in Frankfurt, in the former West Germany, where my father was part of the military force dividing east from west, capitalist from communist. Before Germany, he served two tours of duty in Korea; after Germany, he went to Vietnam. I spent my childhood moving from base to base along the fences of the cold war. Much like the view from the balcony of my apartment in Tirane, my father embodied contradictions. At times he was violent, mean, angry, drunk, belligerent, a full spectrum of abuse. Other times he was charming, generous, funny, tender, his own version of loving. I was the youngest of the seven children that he helped to raise – three from my mother’s first marriage, four that he and my mother had together. When I was 18, he disappeared. Less than ten years after retiring from the army he abandoned the civilian life to which he could never

adjust and chased his dream of “living off of the land” – as he did in Korea and Vietnam. To be in Tirane right now is, in many ways, to re-encounter Frank. There is

an uncanny parallel between the tactics Enver Hoxha, Albania’s last dictator, used to keep control of the country and the way Frank kept control of his family. Isolation, terror, surveillance. After Vietnam, Frank moved us – the four remaining children and my mother – to a remote army base in Alaska. Then, when he retired from the army he took a series of jobs in campgrounds up and down the Florida peninsula. I lived out my childhood on army bases, my adolescence in fishing-camps from the Florida Keys to the Everglades. When Frank left, our campground was six miles from our mailbox and the school bus stop. Living in fear of Frank’s violence, grateful for moments of affection, moving constantly and so remaining isolated from people and things that could open up other ways of being – this history makes me feel that I share common ground with the Albanians who lived in isolation and fear under the Hoxha regime. This ground-in-common is, of course, my projection. There is some dis-

tance between the academic job in the states that gives me the sabbatical time to do research in Albania and the international discrimination that makes Albanian intellectuals beg for one of the few scarce visas that will let them travel. And there is some distance between me and the Roma children I see sorting through trash in the dumpsters, looking for anything that might be of use – salvageable food or consumer goods. This movement between identification and critical distance frames the way I encounter Albania. It frames, for instance, the subject of my research: violence against women. Albania has become a source for the trafficking in women in the region (Tabaku and Stephens 2008). Ironically, the largely male forces deployed in the Balkans, from United Nations Peace Keepers through the many extensions of the interim governing structures, increase the demand for women trafficked into the sex industry. In an emerging market economy, women’s bodies are commodities: cheap, in high demand, and disposable. The violence I am researching tugs on many threads in my complicated

tangle of history, emotion, projection, identification, and difference. There are parallels between the international forces in the Balkans and my father’s military service in Germany, between the forms of violence my father directed against his family and the shape of violence against women in Albania. Even as I locate the ground I share “in-common” with the women whose lives I am studying, I walk uneasily because of my complicity with the forces of violence from which they suffer. Like this: after the collapse of the communist government, the economic and political ideologies driving my country hurt women and children. In the mania to make Albania a market economy, women lost jobs, social services were cut – including health care and education – and property formerly owned by the state was, by and large, redistributed to men. Gender stereotypes have gained new force, resulting in a 30% decline in women in government – there were more women involved in the political

process in 1970 than there are today (IFAD 2009: online). Every woman, every child that I see on the streets, homeless, begging, reminds me of my complicity: American-style capitalism has both made America a rich country, from which I have benefited, and contributed to the poverty in many other parts of the world. In this navigation of projection, identification, complicity, and critical dis-

tance, I try to distinguish the difference between the voices I carry in my head and the voices of the women to whom I listen. This is not easy – our internal voices can shout so loudly that they drown out the possibility of hearing. Much has been written about the importance of testimony in bearing witness to violence, to suffering, and to the traumas after which we must build anew a sense of self and world.1 Working through such histories requires finding the language to represent our pain, crafting narratives that can make sense of what is otherwise incomprehensible and overwhelming. But testimony is only part of what is at stake in the process of bearing witness. We do not, in a vacuum, magically find words that can release the grip old wounds have on us. We find these words in relation: in relation to those that can listen both to the words we can so far speak and to the experience emerging through our exchange. Being present to the moments of rupture through which the unspeakable emerges is what Sarah Ahmed, in Strange Encounters, calls the condition of the possibility of hearing (2000: 157). It is from this frame of the “condition of the possibility of hearing” that

I want to discuss the place of the auto/biographical in academia – specifically, our relation to our subject matter. My opening vignette suggests some of the ways that auto/biography and our work converge: projection, identification, how the subjects we choose facilitate research, analysis, methods for gaining both a deeper understanding of, and a critical distance on, our troubled pasts. To follow Ahmed in her line of questioning, though, shifts the valence from the individual to the relation; when we ask what makes it possible to hear another’s story, we are asking what are the terms of our speaking and hearing. We are asking about the relation between us. This shifts the meaning of “communication.” The lecture, as the paradigmatic model of academic communication, stages communication as a one-way transmission of knowledge from teacher to student; “good” communication in this sense is understood as a speaker’s skilled transmission of a message by virtue of which listeners receive the transmission and understand the message. On the other hand, communication, as a relation of testimony in which the dialogic scene bears witness to a past seeking its transformation, is quite the opposite. Communication as relation of speaking and hearing involves attending to “the other encounters, other speech acts, scars, and traumas, that remain unspoken, unvoiced, or not fully spoken or voiced” (Ahmed 2000: 156). “Communication” as a relation of witness, then, is precisely about opening a space for the presence of what is absent in our speech. This is, I think, what Ahmed means when she says that “communication”

is less a matter of the presence of the voice of the other than it is about

opening “an unfinished, unheard history, which cannot be fully presented, even if it is not absent” (2000: 156). It is the presence of this unfinished, unheard history that I want to consider as I search for the place of the auto/ biographical in my teaching, research, and writing. I would like to proceed by examining two inter-related threads: a classroom experience in the fall of 2008, teaching a freshman seminar on Women and War, and my recent arrival in Tirane, Albania.