My primary project assignment with Peace Corps is with the Municipality of Elbasan/Bashkia Elbasan…the local city government/qeveria. And for the past two years I’ve been regularly walking the two flights up steps at City Hall to my office. But today… brought something very different/dicka shume te ndryshme!
But first, let me walk you through a “normal” day.
My morning arrival is full of greetings – the staff in the Information Office, Koli and Fati the two lobby doormen, Osman and Jonida the city photographer and journalist respectively who work on the first floor. Then I start my climb. At the second floor landing, I usually stop an talk with (another) Koli, the mayor’s security guard. He likes to test my Albanian skills/aftesit e gjuha shqip and tease me since I’m just not very good.
Some days, citizens will be seated outside the mayor’s office, waiting to speak with him about their concerns. Other times, this landing is full of community leaders who will convene for discussions on how to make improvements to the city, in spite of limited resources. Before continuing to the third floor/kati tre, I stop to see Diamanta, my boss…NO, my friend… and we talk about the day ahead. And then its time to go upstairs/shkoj larte where I pass the men who work in urban planning and public works. They are always dressed to the nines…. shirt, tie, sweater and jacket. Looking sharp/duket e mire! I’ll knock on the door of the Human Services office to say hello to my friend Vilma and then finally the end of the hall…..Economic Development!
I’m lucky to share an office with a large staff of friendly colleagues: Bledi, Ervin, Kristina, Ornela, Anila, Fatma and Andromeda. Olsi….the department director pops in and out regularly too! It’s a little crowded, but I don’t mind. It keeps us close…. telling stories, learning Albanian songs and laughing. OH! And we work too/ O! Dhe ne punojme gjithashtu!
But today was NOT a normal day! Arriving at the Bashkia brought a very special and happy surprise.
When I walked to the second floor lobby, there was no crowd of community leaders. There were no men or women waiting to share their challenges with the Mayor. Instead, six children/gjoshte femijet squeezed onto the small couch in the waiting area. Accompanied by their 5th grade teacher, Ms. Kokoshi, these students were meeting with the Mayor to develop a partnership between schools and the municipality. Their goal: help make Elbasan a cleaner and greener city/ nje qytet me paster edhe me gjelber.
They were inspired by a “Flash Freeze” and city clean-up event that was coordinated this past weekend by Peace Corps volunteers to honor Earth Day. (Spin-off of last year’s Earth Day Flash Mob!) As PCVs, we hope our actions create positive change. Sometimes it is an active effort and sometimes more passive. To hear first hand that a Peace Corps Albania event is having a near-immediate impact on the mentality, and even better, the actions, of this community....Well, that is just plain awesome!
It was such a pleasure for me to speak with these 5th grade students who believe celebrating Earth Day/Diten e Tokes just once a year isn’t enough/nuk eshte mjaft!! I couldn’t agree more! And I’m eager to learn more about how these young leaders will do great things for Elbasan! And a special recognition to their teacher, Ms. Kokoshi for going above and beyond/me lart dhe pertej her duties and for supporting young activists! I have so much respect for you!/Une kam shume respect per ju!
Peace, Love and 5th Grade Activists
P.S. Here's the link to the Elbasan Municipality's official article. Can't read Albanian? Use Google Translate! Or your iPhone! Or your neighborhood Albanian-American! :) https://www.facebook.com/notes/bashkia-elbasan/ndërgjegjësimi-për-ambjentin-ku-jetojmë-fillon-që-në-moshën-e-edukimit/487262057994262
P.P.S. When I was in fifth grade, I was sort of a mini-activist too. Here's a link to the "Observer-Reporter" newspaper clip about my best friend and me getting "good citizenship" awards. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2519&dat=19880608&id=eHJeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=xWENAAAAIBAJ&pg=2561,1280351
However, we are both a little unclear on how we were selected based on "neatness." ha! Best friends in 1988....and still are today!