The Carcu family lives in Theth, a remote village in Northern Albania. The village's population has diminished dramatically over the last decades. Many of those who remain live off remittances from relatives who emigrated to other countries. During the winter, which can last up to six months, Theth is cut off from the outside world. Mhill Carcu says:
"Of Theth's inhabitants 80% no longer live here during the winter. Only 20 households in Theth, of more than 300, live here year round. They left because of the quality of life, mainly because of the blocked road which is covered with snow. Here there is no access to education, no doctor. That's why most people left Theth. When you have no education, no doctor, no roads, and no means of earning a living, you have no reason to stay here."
Mhill has two young sons. When they are old enough to go to school, Mhill will have to leave Theth with his family. His sisters and brother left years ago, seeking education or work. Mhill says he has stayed up to now in order to take care of the house and farm and because he can make a living from the occasional tourists who make it to Theth. He holds the government responsible for the low standard of living in the village:
"These things are the government's responsibility. If the government had wanted to, it could have ensured that people at least received an education and treatment by a doctor, it could have provided good roads and addressed the other problems in the village […]
"The regional representative doesn't know Theth. He comes occasionally to collect votes and then disappears again, we never see him again."
During communist times, Theth, like many other villages, was completely closed off. The authorities prevented people from leaving. By contrast, political dissidents or citizens mistrusted by the state, such as teachers or doctors, were forcibly sent to settle in the villages. You had to obtain permission to visit another village or receive a guest. Exchanging letters with relatives abroad was forbidden. Mhill recalls this period:
"Theth's population was intact until the year 1990. We lived and worked together as a community. At the time education was a lot better, there were more doctors than there are today. It was a closed zone and we couldn't get out or travel through the mountains. The police might have caught us and thought that we were trying to escape or …
But medical care, education, the roads were better than today. We had greater access to electricity. I'm just speaking for the village here. Some things were a lot better in those days, others were a lot worse."
Age Carcu, Mhill's mother, has lived in Theth for 60 years. She came from a neighbouring village to join her husband.
"I hadn't met my husband beforehand. I was betrothed while still in my mother's womb, with the help of a marriage broker. Five Lek in a casket and I was betrothed. My husband and I had good but tough times together until he died. I bore him seven children. It wasn't easy raising them all."
"I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. It would be difficult for me to leave this region and my house, here in the mountains. It is already too much for me when I spend one hour with my sister in the valley. I don't want to move. I am 75, 76 years old, and have always lived here. Even if you were to offer me all of Tirana, I would stay here. Here, where life has been so hard."