Her eyes speak a thousand words. They shine and inspire courage, the willingness to face challenges, pride, a thirst for success, and a desire to live, all of those things that are often attributed to men and seldom to a woman.
In fact, a woman's world lies behind them, a beautiful world which is waiting to be discovered.
If Kipling could rewrite his famous poem "If", he would certainly name it, "If you can live like a woman!" A woman named Alketa.
"My story is a long saga of sufferings,” she says. “Since the day my mother gave birth to me, she became seriously ill and was diagnosed with hemolytic anemia. My father always stood by her side, taking her to hospital every time she needed hospital treatment.
This is how Alketa, a 40-year-old mother of two begins her story.
I've had to do everything by myself. I have made it all by myself in life and I've done much more than a man could do,” she says.
She looks serene and displays a sense of pride with those eyes that move in such way as to reflect her skillfulness and with a body language that would challenge any man in the village to a contest of harvesting as many beets as possible in an hour.
Alketa was born in a remote village and had to face many difficulties in life. Since she was little, she had to help her family out with the chores. According to her, in the countryside, there is hard work.
"I was born in a remote mountainous village and we've survived in extreme conditions,” she says. “Since I was a little girl, I had to go and get drinking water from a well, 300 to 400 meters away from home. Afterwards, I had to wash my clothes by hand, I had to cook, bake the bread, and prepare the pie. But then I also had to take care of the horses, feed them, and load the hay on their backs. I also had to reap the alfalfa for the cows, I had to reap the wheat, and build a haystack. All of this by the age of 10 until now," she says.
The dire conditions and the big sacrifices she had to make to take care of her family became even bigger when she got married. "The first years of my marriage were not easy at all,” she says. “I had to raise my children in extreme poverty, by washing the clothes outdoors and by trying to do the same work a man does and above all, by fighting the village's prejudices about women."
Today, she works harder than a man, she drives the car in the village with as much self-confidence as a man does, and it's she who is in charge of the farmers and not a man. She goes into the village cafés and attends meetings, although this is considered to be a manly thing. Once all of this is done, she wears her high heels and goes out to enjoy a coffee with her lady friends.
"I have become a threat for the village women," she says, laughing out loud. "It's strange, but I have never felt as prejudiced from men as I have from women. All the men in the village have shown respect towards me because they've valued my physical strength and the way I have coped with obstacles in life. I was forced to provide for my family, because my husband has often been abroad for work."
During one of the training courses hosted by World Vision Albania with groups of farmers, one of the farmers from another village stands.
"Alketa, you’re amazing,” he says.
"I'm just a brave woman," she replies abruptly.
"In fact, you're an amazing woman. There's no reason for you to act like a man. God made you a marvelous creature and gave you all the qualities of a perfect human being," he says.
These words get me thinking.
It's strange how we, women, cope with challenges in life. We cope with them successfully, but when they call us brave, we feel proud. In fact, after that moment during the training, I start to realize that you don't have to be man to be successful. You don't have to be a man to be strong and you don't have to be a man to get in the car and go out for a coffee. What you need is values and virtues such as patience, persistence and the sense of responsibility. Maybe Alketa feels strong because she has a person to rely on when it comes to solving family problems. The good relations she has with her husband have always encouraged her to move on in life.
"I've been lucky to have a husband whom I love and who loves me,” she says. “We're friends, we're partners, and we're not the classic husband and wife that we're all used to. Our relations are based on trust. He has never hindered me from doing anything in life. He has even encouraged me to become independent and to take the next step in life and this is rare for the typical rural woman. Most women I encounter are the typical subdued housewife. Where they come from, it's the mother-in-law or the husband who usually decide on everything. But this is not my case," Alketa says with pride.
What's more, she feels that women fight each other more than men do. According to her, this is what prevents women from making progress.
"What surprises me the most is the way other women label each other,” she says. “The other village women say this about me: ‘She's diabolical. How did she manage to work the land, to get changed and to go for a coffee, all at the same time?’ while the men say, ‘She's a skillful woman’. It's sad to see how very little we women support each other and how we expect men to understand and accept us. Today, it's all about competing each other and not taking pleasure at the achievements that we, as women, make. This is not normal to me.”
In fact, what distinguishes women from men is just the body's anatomy. Life and its stories about successful men and women have taught us that being clever, brave, courageous, responsible and intuitive, is not a matter of gender, but an individual matter which goes beyond gender. These are virtues that the Creator has given to both genders, despite the fact that life has arbitrarily positioned men and women differently within society.
This is what Alketa's case tells us.
She drives her car like everyone else, man or woman, she harvests beets like a true farmer, although farmers are usually men. She raises her children not only as a mother, but as a parent. She does everything with her husband in order to cope with the challenges of life. At the end of the day, she's a woman with equal rights. She can think, she can reason, she can feel, react, respond and live life to the fullest.
"The only thing that has deprived me of many things in life was poverty. I couldn't go to school not because I was a girl, but because I was poor. If my finances had permitted it, I wouldn't really care if it was unacceptable for the village girl to go to school. I would simply fight to go to school the same way I fight every day to be a better version of myself, a better woman, but above all, a better person, a more responsible citizen, a successful farmer, an entrepreneur and an innovator."
Alketa is part of the 404 farmers who've received training courses on sustainable farming. It's been four years she's been involved with World Vision and two years ago she was appointed team leader of her village's farmers’ group.
World Vision Albania works closely with farmers to build the concept of sustainable agriculture, to change people's mentality about living, to improve the value chain and equip people with financial skills. Alketa has also conducted a training course on behalf of Empowered Worldview in her area.