Young people have long been leaving Albania in search of better opportunities abroad. Over the past decade, more than one million Albanians have emigrated. This stream of movement runs from the supposed “edge of Europe” to the highly idealised sphere of the European Union. In most cases, those who make it out stay abroad. However, something seems to be changing. Despite its strong patriarchal structures, women are now becoming increasingly visible in Albanian society. For a while, the country was governed by a female-dominated cabinet. Simultaneously, a few young women buck the trend and make their way home, surprising their fellow citizens.
We spoke to six young women who have moved back to Albania and photographed them in their chosen place of “belonging”.
Elfrida Çuku, 27
Elfrida returned to Albania after studying in Czechia and the Netherlands. As the adviser of the Chief Negotiator for the EU accession, she actively shapes the country’s future. Nevertheless, she says her sense of belonging is unrelated to the nation: “Home is where my voice is heard and where I am able to contribute to the future.”
Ebi Spahiu, 36
Ebi has spent a large part of her life abroad. She went to school in China, studied in the US and worked in Kyrgyzstan. Today, she works in one of the EU embassies in Tirana, Albania’s capital. “After living for many years on different continents, I feel quite happy having my family near me,” she says. “Even though other places provided a home or a warm space for me, I still feel a sense of belonging here that makes me complete. And I haven’t really felt that anywhere else.” From Ebi’s apartment, friends and family are just a stone’s throw away.
Ebi’s living room
Ana Shima, 40
Ana’s stay abroad was meant to be temporary. She studied European studies in Sweden, but does not feel European. “I don’t believe that I belong especially to Albania or Europe or western culture or eastern Europe. I don’t want to define myself from this viewpoint, because it’s generalising.” After her return, she established a company focusing on health and plant-based foods. Her love of the planet is reflected in her home, where plants thrive and cats play among the leaves.
Ana’s living room
Adela Demetja, 38
Adela left the country to become a curator. Since completing her studies in Germany, she has been creating exhibitions throughout Europe and beyond. “Sometimes I feel home everywhere I am. And because of the work that I do, the exhibitions, projects, and networks I create are somehow the places in which I belong.”
Adela’s recent exhibition space in Tirana
Jona Xhepa, 34
Jona is an interdisciplinary artist, musician and constant traveller. She grew up abroad as her family emigrated to Canada. She then decided to relocate to Ireland by herself. After playing music on the streets for a few years, financial necessity and an interest in her roots brought her back to her birthplace. Whether she will stay is as uncertain as her identity, she says. “You tend to carve out identities for yourself when you’re on the borders of different countries, languages, jobs, mentalities. You tend to build sculptures of yourself that you’re not even sure are real.”
the stairs of Jona’s temporary home
Lorela Lezaj, 33
Lorela left Albania with the intention of returning. In Greece, she expanded her knowledge as a biologist and environmentalist to be able to better protect Albania’s nature. Now, she manages Albania’s only national marine park. The feeling of home reaches her through her nose. “Home is a place that smells like the coastline breeze or the smell of your mother’s cooking.”
Lorela’s mother’s garden