She chopped off her long black curls, traded in her dress for her father's baggy trousers, armed herself with a hunting rifle and vowed to forsake marriage, children and sex. Had she been born in Albania today, says the year-old sworn virgin, who made an oath of celibacy in return for the right to live and rule her family as a man, she would choose womanhood. Sworn virgins became the patriarchs of their families, with all the trappings of male authority, by swearing to remain virgins for the rest of their lives. The ritual was a form of self-empowerment for rural women living in a desperately poor and macho country that was cut off from mainstream Europe for decades under a Stalinist dictatorship.
Before I went to Albania, all I could find about it is that Albania was a communist country with poor infrastructure and bunkers. Drugs, human trafficking etc. But this country that is located north of Greece and just 72 km 45 miles from Italy across the Strait of Otranto is beautiful and special.
After she qualified, she volunteered to treat civilian victims of the conflict. It was desperate, confusing, utterly heartbreaking, she says of the largest forced exodus in Europe since the second world war. Amid the chaos of those first days, she met a woman whose story would change her life, and with it the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other women. The woman had just miscarried. I asked where her husband was.