For some years now, both me and prof Lucia Martino we have cultural relations with a prestigious American Association of Italian Language Teachers, which offered us several opportunities to participate in Conferences and Projects both in Italy and abroad.
The most welcome invitation was to join a Volunteer Project in Albania, to which we immediately gave our enthusiastic adhesion.
For more time it was in our desires to bring us to the land of our ancestors, and with this Project we were offered a very special opportunity: to live the Albanian reality for two weeks, not from outside observers and with a hasty visit, but sharing them the rhythms, life, habits and at the same time giving our contribution of human and cultural help and solidarity.
The Project included the simultaneous presence of two native Italian speakers and good acquaintances of the history and culture of the Albanian minority in Italy, and two American newly graduated in Languages, who had to carry out teaching activities, formal and informal, of Italian language and English, as well as the history and culture of the Albanians of Italy.
The initiative took shape last May at the QAFS (Qarku i Salesian Training Aktivitéseve) di Shkodër, in which the four project participants were guests.
It is a beautiful, recently built Center, where 650 students are welcomed, from kindergarten to high school; a true oasis of spirituality and culture, run by 7 Salesian Sisters: 2 Albanians, Italian 3, Mexican 1 and Czech 1.
In Albania the Church plays a fundamental role in this delicate phase of reconstruction of the ethical and socio-economic pattern of the nation and of young people in particular, which is far from easy after half a century of dictatorship.
In Scutari alone there are many 20 Religious Institutes, in continuous and effective dialogue between them, also because all together they benefit from the material aid of the Italian Caritas. Inside the Center our activity consisted of:
- exercises in Italian with the students who had to take the final exams;
- conversations in Italian and exercises with other students in the three-year period;
- frequent support and dialogue on several occasions during the day with the two American students enrolled in the Project;
- history of the Albanian Communities of Italy and comparisons between the Albanian and Arbëreshe cultures;
- vigilance in the hours of study of the 50 girls welcomed in the Convitto.
But for me and for Lucia, who went to Albania with our deepest feelings and desire for contact with our roots, a special place had intense emotions, experienced both during the activities in the Center, and outside.
We have not neglected any occasion to live intensely and to understand, with heart and mind, all that we have been able to observe, in this helped both by the sisters, who appreciated and supported our desires, and by the teachers.
We have been able to admire beautiful mosques - in Scutari alone there are 10 - and get used to the song that five times a day rises from the minarets, visit the Orthodox church of Scutari and meet the two priests - an encounter full of intense reciprocal emotions -, visit the Jesuit College and that of the Sisters of Mother Teresa, enter the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Buon Consiglio and note the profound tribute of faith which it is the object of.
But also take the road that skirts Lake Scutari to the border with Montenegro, visit some of the very poor villages where life is at 60 years ago, enter the Mausoleum of Skanderbeg in Lezha, go on an educational trip to Tirana with two of the 'our' classes and visit the National Museum of Albania, visit the Castle of Rozafat and admire the breathtaking view that can be enjoyed from the homonymous hill.
We could not miss a visit to the home of Ernest Koliqi and the tomb of his brother Mikel, the first Cardinal of Albania, located inside the Cathedral of Santo Stefano.
Nor did we miss, during our stay, more pleasant moments, such as seeing a show at the Migjeni Theater, cooking - for us and for the sisters - some dishes of our arbëreshe cuisine, learning to prepare burek, rice and meat stuffed peppers , i rolls of vine leaves, invite the 12 people present in the Center to a Sunday lunch in an Albanian restaurant.
In short, ours has been a very rich experience, which has deeply satisfied us both on a human and cultural level, during which a privileged place had the emotions, lived with an intensity that words cannot translate and transmit.
I will write more in detail in the next issue of Katundi Ynë.
This article was originally published in the journal Katundi Ynë - Our Country, in the number 136/2, innno XL- 2009 author Emilia Blaiotta, manager of the'Ernest Koliqi' Comprehensive School of Frascineto
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