Shall I begin from where I come from or where I am…? I was unsure about this when beginning to write something informative for a website, a bio, as it’s called… Whatever this brief thing is meant to be, I thought let`s take it from the start, or close to the start.
The city where I was born and lived until I was 15 years old is called Shkoder. You should check it out. It is a small place packed with history, culture, and art, surrounded by beautiful nature. You need to dig a great deal to discover the real face of these deeper meanings. The city hides itself. Yet there is something all too obvious about it, and that is the jokes. I don’t know if anything has branded me more from the place I was born and where I grew up. But there is one thing I can say; I fall for humor: good jokes; good comedy; people with a good sense of humor; anyone that can tell a good joke; speeches with a sense of irony; films, theater, and basically any text that makes you smile by being smart. No matter how difficult, no matter how tough things are, or how impossible the future looks, put a good joke on it, and no doubt you and all who are listening will make it through!
Because, well, life is funny! At fifteen I had to leave that city and travel 2000 km away. There, I did not hear jokes for a long time, or if I did, I swear I did not understand any of them: Istanbul. Along with my best friend (who retains that title today even after 22 years,) we won scholarships to a nice high school and together we had to leave. No one leaves, or rather no child leaves her hometown for fun or curiosity. We did not either. It was sour departure, but in the bus that took us through Macedonia, Bulgaria, Edirne, Bursa and finally Istanbul, in the midst of car sickness and tears, we were also carried away by jokes. The bus was full of many people, mainly traders and us, a bunch of kids who kept telling anecdotes. Even when the Bulgarian border police emptied the bus at 3am in the middle of a freezing winter, we considered that all this traveling would be just a long anecdote full of great new jokes that we would tell our town`s people. So we would have a quite an improved status in the city, where making a good joke is a highly respected quality.
Obviously, this had nothing to do with Istanbul! Istanbul is too much for jokes; too imperial, too big, too powerful, too large, too fast, too rich, too poor, too avant-garde, too conservative, too wise, too harsh, too loud, too beautiful, too painful, too kind, too distant, too passionate, too sober. One cannot understand Istanbul even by devouring a big shelf of books. You need to live there for a while to get even a bit of it. And I lived in Istanbul for 14 years. My studies –degree in Political Science and International Relations (Istanbul University), masters in Contemporary History (University of Bosphorus)– was made up of engaging a great deal in the social and cultural life, some teaching, some work in the private sector, before being enlisted as a researcher. I went through all of it there. 14 full years of discovering one of the most amazing cultures in human history and an astonishing country: Turkey. Though at a certain time, after falling in love with someone from what they call `the city of infidels’ (Izmir-Karșıyaka/35.5), I felt it was time to leave.
As you probably know, there is one thing that jokes teach you; the non-negotiability of a free mind. I felt I needed to go somewhere to live freedom fully, otherwise it would have been hard to define myself. Thanks to contacts with open minds that you can still find in many a university, we left for Paris. I got an international PhD scholarship from the French government, I took up my place at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and we started living in the French capital. Often, this city where we live, our home, gets on my nerves– for its hidden pride, for its impoliteness, for its excessive way of being that manipulates the egos of the city dwellers, often making them/us unkind, supercilious. Yet this is a minor annoyance compared to the feeling that nowhere else I would live freedom in body and mind as in Paris. Better, I think that freedom as a characteristic of a city, freedom as a part of urban history, culture and way of being, is a real and unique experience in Paris. Freedom, as a struggle you need to taste in order for your life to be tasteful, is enjoyed extensively in Paris. If you think this is not the case and that reality is more nuanced, pardon my hastiness in this bio, but believe me, Paris and freedom, Paris and a free-mind, it is not just a cliché, it is a reality (complex, colorful, nuanced etc., but true).
But what should I do with this freedom that had transformed my way of thinking and even my being? I wanted to share it. I was eager, may be too eager to transmit it. So, after finishing the PhD and working for a while as a post-doc researcher, I went to a very different capital: Tirana. I started working in its most tricky building, The Prime Minister’s Office. My first position was as head of the Research and Communication Unit. We created it for the first time in order to manage the complex process of collecting data, info, knowledge and ideas that would shape and enrich the communication of the Prime Minister. It was an amazing experience to say the least, for that summer, 2013, I was part of the expert group shaping the political program of the Prime Minister and the future government that was to be formed in September.
Apart from putting together and managing a good team, in the Research and Communication Unit we had to synthesize information and communication statistics, media and public surveys, political attitudes, experts approaches, policy communication and we did this amongst a lot of pressure, tension, and passion. Did I do a good job or did I drop the ball? I am not the one to say, but I did my job with a lot of love for the country of my birth, dedication to the people, an eagerness to serve to something larger than oneself and one`s own house or life, and an attachment to freedom and all it includes: the burden of non-negotiability of principles and the weight of the belief that the aim does not justify means, but the means shape the aim.
However, increasingly I started to feel I couldn’t reconcile the contradiction between my own personal principles and the professional dynamics of politics, and I knew I risked losing the balance between my need for freedom and the job I had to do every day. Thus I thought it was time to move on to something else, hopefully something as exciting as this job had been. After two and a half years of shaping speeches, political and policy documents, I started working for the creation of the Center for Openness and Dialogue in the same Prime Minister’s Office. Basically, it meant opening up the most important part of Prime Minister’s Office building to the public, a part that had been constructed during the fascist regime and that had served most of its life under authoritarian leaders. We wanted to create a library by opening all archives of Prime Minister’s Office to the public. We wanted to offer space for art exhibitions with a social and political message. We wanted to shape meeting-rooms that would eliminate any hierarchy amongst the participants in a gathering. We wanted just to open it up for the sake of openness. We wanted it to be a strong light in a sleepy administration. We wanted it to be a provocation on the part of everyone pushing for more plurality, more creativity, more space for engagement, more freedom.
Did we make it? Time will show. History will know. Still, at least we did it, we created this center. Through fundraising, and collaboration with a wide range of specialists– library experts, archive experts, architects, artists, digitalization professionals, engineers, and students– we finished the project, and until fall 2017, hopefully also today, the Center for Openness and Dialogue in Tirana has been quite a busy place!
Please check out my webpage and center’s website, if you want to know a bit more about COD. Some of my busiest and best years of my life were given to COD, and it shaped a lot my experience as an institution administrator and a manager of complex cultural projects. In fact, I was so attached to my job that nothing could get me out of there, or persuade me to detach from its administrative, technical, institutional and creative work. Nothing, but the non-negotiability of freedom. Being professional is part of the freedom we built for us and others. To professionals of my field, or at least of my type, there is a very thin line between service to people and service to power, service to public institutions and service as showcases for governments, and that distinction matters. When this fragile line was crossed irreparably, in summer 2017, I decided to go back home, to return to freedom, to France. So, I declared publicly that I gave up being general director of COD, of this Center to which I had given so much.
The burden of my thoughts was heavy, yet luckily enough I also had a good reason to stop, to pause working; to a have a period of quality resting time, because I had become a mother. Being a mother it is not something that should define a woman, and it is not something a woman has to do in life necessarily. Yet when you want it, it is amazing the lengths to which you are willing to suspend dealing with your team, your institution, your job, your passion, your struggle. For a child is a beautiful new world.
Now, voila, here I am; a mother (henceforth always), a woman (forever), a manager (by job description), a researcher (certified), a writer (that’s what I have done most), a developer of cultural projects (proven), and a lover of the intersection of disciplines, cultures and perspectives.
Pick one of those and you will probably find it’s the right description, and it’s sufficient, anyway.
While jokes are never enough, not surprisingly I guess, I have one for you. One about contemporary history, politics, connections and differences, culture and perspective…:
After the death of the great leader, the Politburo and the Ministry of Culture decided that a monument of him should be built in the main cities of the country. Considering that this was a political system of the people, for the people, of the people (as it always is, isn’t it?), the authorities thought that it is necessary to ask the city dwellers what they wanted the statue to look like.
They asked in the first city, where some citizens suggested that this monument should show a strong leader, a proud man.
They asked in the second city, and some city-dwellers thought that the monument should show a fighter, an invincible man.
They asked in the third city and there, people said that it should be the reflection of a man of large culture and good education.
Finally, they asked in Shkoder, how would they like their statue of the great leader? And the city dwellers responded: do it as you wish, just don’t make it look alive.
Paris, February 2018.