Albi and Gentjana Beluli’s wedding photo which took place in Elbasan, Albania.
Long distance love story has a happy ending
Story by Ed Townsend
GRAHAMSVILLE ‘I do but you can’t” could very well describe Albi Beluli’s marriage vows to his Albanian sweetheart Gentjana, who had to wait over a year and a half before she could join her husband here in the United States.
Albi, who along with his family own and operate the Grahamsville Deli, met Gentjana two years ago while he was visiting family on his father’s side in Elbasan, Albania.
Albi was born in Beacon, went to school in Newburgh and graduated in 1994 from Tri-Valley Central School in Grahamsville. He learned his cooking skills from his father, who continues to work in the deli.
Beluli graduated from Sullivan County Community College and attended some college at Fredonia before returning to the family business.
Albi is also an outstanding musician as a guitar player-singer and does more solo performances than band gigs. Self-taught, he likes playing classic folk and rock.
Although Albi was introduced to Gentjana by his cousin Minolta, he could not date her or ask her to marry him until his family went to Gentjana’s family and got their permission. a very strong tradition in Albania. It was convenient for Albi that the two families knew each other.
Following his six-week vacation in Albania, Albi returned to Grahamsville and this budding romance soon created a lot of communications between him and Gentjana. They talked on the telephone exchanged many emails. They soon found the internet a lot more economical than phone service after what Albi noted was an 11-minute telephone call that cost $48. He was later able to get a Verizon special rate of 300 minutes for $10 extra on his regular bill.
On his second trip to Albania, before New Year’s Eve two years ago, Albi and Gentjana were immediately engaged and then married by a Justice of the Peace.
Marriage in Albania does not require a marriage license, which is provided to the couple several weeks after their wedding.
Returning to the United States without his wife but with original copies of the wedding license, his wife’s birth certificate, her proof of residence and her identification card, Albi hired an immigration lawyer whose specialty was Eastern European immigration. The lawyer prepared an application for a relative visa but advised Albi that it could take over a year to get.
Albi noted that the lawyer filed the application with the Department of Homeland Security (DOHS) and this triggered lengthy email correspondence with Gentjana when the DOHS again asked for another copy of the marriage license and at various times two additional copies of what already had been filed.
Albi said several of the procedures he had to provide the DOHS included proof that he was never married (that went to Albanian officials), proof of his income for three years, birth certificates for both Albi and his wife, an interview with the U.S. Embassy in Albania, a list of phone records, a letter from Gentjana’s father giving permission for marriage, copies of airline stubs Albi used to fly from New York to Albania and back to New York, copies of the private emails between the two, vaccination records and picture albums of the two.
Following a year and a half of waiting and dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s and footing the bill for expensive legal fees, Gentjana was granted the interview Mr. and Ms. Beluli had long been waiting for and the approval of her visa.
Albi returned to Albania at that time where the couple celebrated wedding receptions one night with her family and one night with his family. The separate wedding receptions are also tradition in Albania.
The time soon arrived for their flight, arriving at JFK in New York on June 29 and the start of Gentjana’s new married lifestyle in the hamlet of Grahamsville.
Upon arriving at JFK a sealed packet from the Embassy in Albania was presented to U.S. Customs. Two weeks following her arrival in the U.S. she was given her “green” card and in five years she will be eligible to become an American citizen.
Gentjana went to school in Elbasan to become a high school teacher. She is now becoming familiar with the deli, which specializes in hot dishes, sandwiches and pizza.
She noted, “I’m learning how to cook pasta, lasagna, and eggplant parmesan all which is different from Albanian-style cooking…”
Asked what she thought of her new lifestyle here in America Gentjana noted, “There are very different customs here… I’m still making some of my Albanian-style foods and slowly getting used to some of the food here.”
She is also coming along with the English language, which she studied in school in her native country.