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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 August 2007, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Philosophy and recycling in Albania
After spending the last couple of years studying environmental conservation, Kieran Cook reports on the unusual people he met in Albania coping with an ever increasing mountain of discarded material.

Miranda Fejzo is an unlikely person to find standing in the middle of a rubbish heap.

Map of Albania

Smartly dressed in matching black jacket and skirt, with white high heels, she explains the intricacies of recycling while carefully navigating between piles of discarded plastic bottles and heaps of cardboard and tins.

"Here comes the rubbish," she says - long, silver coloured fingernails pointing at a battered truck about to disgorge its smelly load.

"And we look and we sort, and crush in the big machine - it is nice, no?"

Miranda is all twinkling eyes and long, luxurious blond hair. I nod my head - my hostess is clearly enamoured with the whole business.

Expecting the unexpected

We are in Korca, a small city in the south of Albania.

With its population of a little over three million, Albania is rather an odd place - a country where the expected rarely happens, and the unexpected often does.

Miranda's story is one of a constant battle against what to many would seem insurmountable obstacles

For instance, in male-dominated Albania women, do not usually play leading roles in public life.

Yet, here is Miranda, in charge of what is the country's first - and only - door to door rubbish collection service.

Even more surprising is that Miranda is a member of the Roma community, in which men very much rule the roost.

"It has been very difficult for me," she says. "But I have much determination."

There is a distinctly steely edge to Miranda. Any man daring to cross her might, I think, end up in the crusher along with the rest of the rubbish.

Miranda's story is one of a constant battle against what to many would seem insurmountable obstacles.

She explains how, when growing up, she fought to continue studying as her family moved from place to place in search of work.

When a Swedish aid project asked for someone to head a rubbish collection service and sell recycled waste she put herself forward.

"The Roma men said a woman should not be doing such things. But I told them we Roma have been recycling and selling scrap for generations. We must take this opportunity".

Miranda won the day.

A nomadic life

There are an estimated seven to nine million Roma living throughout Europe.

You meet some fascinating people on rubbish dumps, especially it seems, in Albania

Originating many centuries ago in northern India, they lead a nomadic life and they have been constantly discriminated against through the years.

In the Second World War hundreds of thousands of Roma were killed by the Nazis, carted off to extermination camps.

Miranda introduces me to the man who is head of the Roma in southern Albania: a bright smile creases across a bronzed, generous face.

He has a mouthful of gold teeth - and a handshake like a rubbish crusher.

He proudly presents his card - on it is a picture of a spoked wheel, the symbol of Europe's travelling community.

We go to inspect another dump, a wind-blown tip the size of several football fields, full of plastic and other festering pungent materials.

Chemist turned philosopher

You meet some fascinating people on rubbish dumps, especially it seems, in Albania.

Man in front of pile of rubbish
Environmental issues are becoming increasingly important in Albania

Agron Deliu is a chemist, now tasked with making assessments of just how toxic the country's rubbish dumps are.

We roam around, examining the accumulated mess.

But it soon becomes clear that Agron has another life.

He tells me of his passion: for years he has been getting up at 4.30 each morning to work on a translation from English into Albanian - of the philosophical works of Bertrand Russell.

"I went to university during the grimmest years in Albania, when the dictator Enver Hoxha was in charge," he says.

"I wanted to study philosophy but my tutor quietly told me that if I did, then there was every chance that at some point I would cross the communist authorities and spend 10 years in prison - so, I studied chemistry instead."

But Agron never gave up on philosophy.

It is as if people are often just glad to have survived - there is no time for looking back or settling old scores

As we poked through the mounds of rubbish and took various grim meter readings, he told how, during communist times, philosophy books - other than the substantial writings on the subject by Enver Hoxha - were difficult to come by.

He studied in secret - but he did not escape punishment.

In the mid-1970s his mother, once a prominent communist party member, was deemed to have committed some unspecified offence.

Agron, by association, was guilty - what was called having a "bad biography".

Despite being one of the country's leading technical specialists, he was sent to work in a brick factory for 10 years.

The story is told - standing on top of the rubbish heap - matter-of-factly, with no hint of bitterness. It is one of the remarkable things about Albania and many other societies that have endured years of tyranny.

It is as if people are often just glad to have survived; there is no time for looking back or settling old scores.

When Albania's communist regime finally collapsed in the early 1990s, Agron's sons - now studying abroad - sent him Bertrand Russell's books.

And so began the long labour of translation. And now for the first time, the British philosopher is being published in Albanian.

"I do my rubbish analysis during the day - but, at night, I think of Russell," says Agron, laughing.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday 18 August, 2007 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

Country profile: Albania
26 Jul 07 |  Country profiles

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