I am from Albania. I was raised in two different worlds: one of communism, and one of democracy. Under dictatorship, we restrained ourselves from expressing our real feelings; in pluralism we can, but often don’t know how.
When I was a child, we would go to visit family friends, sometimes I was offered a piece of candy, but not more than one, because of the scarcity of food.
That said, my eyes were always fixed on the candy jar in the middle of the table, left there it seems to decorate the room; or to test my silence.
Many times I wanted to open it, but in the end I lost my appetite to eat candy, for the rest of my life. But I never ran out of the desire to pay attention and to think how to improve the consequences of the unsaid.
That is why I fight for open communication in my country. I fight for an open mind. I fight with words, the best weapon ever invented: soft yet strong.
During the 45 years of communism in Albania, we were isolated from each other. We built walls around ourselves. We closed doors. Not much was said and fear ran riot. Communicating with each other was a challenge: a huge challenge because the mind would shrink from lack of freedom.
But we did develop a sense of humour, and we built home-made aluminium antennae to catch the waves of Italian and Greek television stations. And we read books that were censored, and developed marvellous music.
We developed gestures, but some quite different from yours.
If a man were to ask the girl of his dreams whether she loved him, he would be heartbroken if she nodded her head. In Albania this means “No.”
A shake of the head means “Yes.”
But somehow at that time, in front of my eyes, came one man. A very handsome man. Very intelligent, well educated, a graduate of Paris, a doctor. No, it is not what you are thinking…
He was my grandfather.
He married my sweet grandmother, in 1938, and they said they had a wonderful wedding. But then they were forced to live apart, for 43 years. During those years he returned occasionally to Albania—under strict conditions set by the communist government—to see his wife and his three boys; the eldest was my father.
On one of those visits he brought for me a pair of yellow boots, so that my feet would be dry in the heavy rain that sometimes flooded our town, but I would feel dressed up, wearing with pride such a distinctive colour, especially in those days. They were beautiful!
But there was a slight problem: the boots were for the same foot; the right foot as it happens. When I opened the box, I did not initially set importance by this inconvenience, thinking that this was a very simple problem that could be cured, and I put them on. But despite the spontaneity of a smiling child with no concerns, my feet looked very weird.
I remember that I ran around the house to attract the attention of the grown-ups who were sitting in the dining room, and to show off my present. But my hopes were dashed by my mother, who urged me to show restraint. I was not yet six years old! She told me not to say anything as it would show a lack of gratitude, particularly as I had received many other gifts. I silently obeyed and just stared at my boots. And did so every day. After all, they looked nice by the window.
Often I thought of talking to my grandfather about this, hoping that somewhere he would find a nice yellow left boot for me. But then I also worried that he would feel bad about it; so I restrained myself… again!
Footnote number one. Freedom of speech; talk and discuss.
Everything started from there. Year by year as I grew I started to write texts to my friends, little scripts that they could read out loud. Then I mastered big concerts, and I started journalism. I was attentive to the unseen. I was attentive to each person in front of me as the most important person in my life at that moment.
I urged my friends to have a different approach to the small issues of the day. I urged them to open up ways and not close them. I urged my readers to do the same thing. I tried to learn how important it is to speak out, to seek freedom, to say hello to the unknown, to be open; because if we are open, we connect with each other and we create an open culture of communication and of living together.
Suppression of thoughts, ideas and words and enforcement of silence reduce development and make progress sluggish. We are still in those muddy waters, individually. From the outside, much progress has been made in Albania. However, on the inside, people still hide from one another, keeping to themselves and feeling small somehow.
That is why four years ago I created Fit For Future, a programme of communication, of personal development, collaboration and culture, of voice and attitude, and how to greet another human being by building bridges and pulling down walls.
At the beginning of four-hour programme participants feel sceptical and doubtful. But not for long. They open up like a flower, because we are born to grow, and not only physically.
I draw to show, it’s part of opening up. In fact, if truth be told, I am a very poor drawer. But I know how to draw a Margarita glass. Today though I won’t be doing it, because I brought a real one.
This is a small and humble theory of mine to show the importance of being open, of being positive, of communicating more, because by doing this we raise the quality of our lives.
The name of the theory is Checkpoint Margarita.
There is a point in our lives when we are here, at a crossroads. There is a choice; there are two ways. You can go down, to live in the narrow plane, or go up, into the open space.
If we go down, it might seem a safe place, but it is constricted, and we will fight for the same space. We attract here our friends, our family, children, and we all live in the narrowest space possible. No development at all. I might call it a life of sleeping and we might call ourselves narrow-minded.
On the other hand, whoever chooses to rise will think big, will have thousands of possibilities, ways to exchange ideas with others. And that is because there is room for everyone. This is development. Open communication, open mind and open heart.
Footnote number two. Be open.
When we are open marvellous things happen. We can find inspiration everywhere, and that leads us to making our life better and helps us face it better. It is contagious, you can spread inspiration, through how we talk, how we listen, how we move, how we make eye contact.
And It is important we use our senses in the best way possible.
A few weeks ago, I had a flat tyre and I stopped at a garage to have it fixed. I said hello to the young man, but he did not reply. I smiled and greeted him again. Still, he did not reply. He started to repair the tyre and then I understood that he was unable to speak, to talk. However, we smiled at each other several times. We communicated.
When he had finished he enthusiastically handed me the screw that had caused the problem, as if he were giving me a rose, and with a slight bow. I didn’t throw it away. I keep it in my purse as an everyday reminder of how precious the human senses are and how often we underestimate them.
So, I was inspired that day. And I look for this kind of inspiration every day. In the small daily things of life, pushing myself to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.
And then, most important of all…
Footnote number three. Share, as I am doing today, with you.