It’s the end of December, only a few days before I will fly home in order to celebrate Christmas with my family. The past weeks have been stressful for everyone in the office, the atmosphere in the car is a bit exhausted. Nobody talks and we are all daydreaming. We are driving to the Egyptian community that lives in a remote area of Tirana. We were informed that the earthquake made their houses uninhabitable, so our plan is to set up a tent. It should not take long: after having already set up 10 tents for a Roma community in Fushë-Krujë, a small city outside the Albanian capital, we get the hang of it. It’s the first time for me to visit the Egyptian community and I don’t expect anything in particular.
As we approach the settlement, I am suddenly pulled out of my thoughts: Settlement would be a euphemistic term, this place is a ghetto. I saw and worked with Roma throughout the Balkans and was aware of their harsh living conditions. But this is a new dimension of poverty. The Egyptians live at the end of the 5th of May road on what looks like a former factory site, which seems to be last in use during state socialism. It’s an exceptional bright day for December but this place would also look scary in August. Old rusty cranes, concrete, rubber and waste as far as the eye can see. Even the few bare trees look grey. The scenery reminds me of one of these zombie-apocalypse movies. But the people who live here in garbage are very much alive. The idiomatic expression trash of society can be taken literally in this case.
Some familiar faces. We already got in touch with some of the children and adults in the premises of the community center “Gonxe Bojani”. In some cases, we could even communicate in German as some of the Egyptians are so-called returnees, Albanian nationals whose application for asylum (mostly in Germany) have been eventually rejected after they already lived abroad for a significant time. Favorite topic: Football. Among other vulnerable groups, the Egyptian community is targeted within the scope of the project “Return to Thrive” that ADRA Albania is implementing in cooperation with GIZ. Several activities, such as supplementary classes and workshops are conducted in the community center. During the first days after the earthquake, the provision of food, hygiene products and other necessities was also facilitated via this institution.
Indeed, the improvised huts (that were in horrible condition from the outset) collapsed forcing the community members to sleep in the open. Due to the fact that the ground throughout the whole area consists of concrete, it’s hard to find a proper space to place the tent. After some minutes of debate and hand gestures, we eventually start to set up the tent while postponing the decision of its final placement.
At least five tent poles are missing, just great. While the driver is organizing the missing modules, we while away the time playing with a kitten and talking to the people. One girl in a red dress is showing off encircling us with a bike. It’s one of those custom-built ones the Roma and Egyptians use to collect scrap metals, oftentimes their only source of income.
After three months of working for ADRA Albania, it’s precisely this kind of direct cooperation and relationship of trust that has been carefully established with the marginalized communities that I appreciate the most.
Finally, the missing tent poles arrive and with the community’s many helping hands we are able to quickly set up and to waterproof the tent. In the next days, at least two families will have a dry place to sleep. Back in the office, we post a picture of the tent on social media. T., one of ADRAs facilitators and some kind of spokesperson of the Egyptian community is the first one to comment:
“Thank you ADRA for the contribution and for being so sensitive to the whole situation towards the Roma and Egyptian communities who are living at the end of the 5th of May road! Let’s hope that everyone else will follow the same example and puts the hand on the heart [Albanian expression]. This winter situation is especially hard for our children who are innocent. They should have the possibility to sleep without getting wet. So far, our buildings were only covered with tarpaulins. Today, you have made such a huge gift and improved the situation we are going through. We don’t know how to thank you. We have no words to congratulate you.”