Elsa Ballauri / In A Woman’s Museum

Character / English / April 21, 2011
In A Woman's Museum

Things from the museum

I got to know Elsa more than 10 years ago. It was one of those full days in my journal’s newsroom. On the top of that, a colleague of mine just came along with a problem of his own.
He brought in a girl from Shkodra who was clearly struggling with her psychic problems. She had run off her hometown, and she declared in the Tirana Police District that her relatives wanted to bury her alive. Regardless of the credibility of her sayings, one thing was sure about her. She needed help, and a place to stay. She had spent the previous night in the dormitory with two our journalist friends, but they could not host her any longer than that. Nobody responded to our phone calls asking for help. All non-governmental organisations were on holidays. Their publicly advertised 24-hours hotlines did not work. At that point, my editor in chief suggested Elsa. She immediately responded to my call. She came over, took the girl and brought her to a hotel. In fact her organisation did not own any shelter, nor could it provide any other similar accommodation. She took care of the girl privately, until the NGO-s went back to work and took over the girl. Elsa has remained the same person ever since.

A Practical Person
In A Woman's Museum

Hand made

Her hair is always spiky, her clothes practical as ever. This is Elsa. A person running towards life. To her, time is never enough. She always wants to do something more out of the time available. She wants to do something for the posterity. She’s the first woman in Albania to establish a NGO. She had her good times and her bad times about it, yet she survived. She managed to address issues that were taboo in Albania, she had the guts to be open-minded and to run against a public opinion that not always was receptive of her ideas. Elsa is a woman who runs fast. She runs around in meetings, she is always underway. From her trips she brings back small presents, that are authentic tokens of the country she visited. Tirana will have a women’s museum very soon. Elsa aims at bringing together the whole of the history of the Albanian women in it. From old times, to modern times. She hopes to open it to the public by the end of June. Elsa is a passionate collectionist. Over the years she has piled together items and things from all over Albania, hoping that one day they will be known to all. The museum will feature all sorts of objects, starting from embroidery, cooking pots, utensils, traditional dresses, old and new manuscripts. The visitors will discover the unsaid words of our grand-grandmothers, those little things one comes across nanny’s coffers, their embroidered napkins and anything else that transmits history. Elsa committed herself to establish the museum in the year 2008, when she was awarded the Torch of Light from the Danish Embassy. This is the name of a global call for action that goes together with the slogan “Do something more”.

In A Woman's Museum

Old ones

“The aspiration to establish the museum was considerable, not only as regards the initiative I took further to receiving the award, but also for the very fact that in Albania there exists no women movement yet”, explains Elsa. In her eyes, the Albanian women are still far from being united and strong. She says that a look on the results of the latest local elections suffices to demonstrate that women’s participation in political is almost non-existent. Taking into account these circumstances she says, it’s not easy to change a society by bringing women together. Recently Elsa has started a TV show of her own, as she considers this as a way to mark a change. She worries about promises she can’t keep. She says that at times circumstances or lack of resources prevent her from doing what she has in mind. In these cases, she says, it’s easy to blame oneself for not keeping one’s word. As the director of the Albanian Human Rights Group since 1996 she has come to attain a comprehensive in this field. She admits she has learned quite a bit over more than 20 years of post-communist transition in Albania, yet she says one of the reasons she picked up so well is to be found in the very fact that change was so slow to come…

In A Woman's Museum

Part of the collection

Elsa is exemplified by delays. She’s always late at best. Otherwise she’s very late. At times she does not manage to arrive to a meeting. Even our photographer, Soela, was wondering when we managed to complete our photo shooting session on time. It took us a year to come to that point. If reproached for having trouble with poor time management, Elsa responds: “I would have done something about it for sure, if I knew the reason”. Then she calmly adds that in her childhood her friends used to wait for her quite a while before she showed up for going to school…

Family, Books And Love

Elsa loves her family’s past. This is quite visible all over her home. In the communist period, her family’s house, the furniture and many other things were confiscated by the state. Her family treasured everything else that wasn’t taken away from them, as a way to keep a memory of the glorious past. Today, Elsa’s home somehow recalls the old splendour. It’s full of tables, pianos, and other objects of the nineteenth century that bring back a glimpse of past times. Elsa tells that her drive towards collectionism is really underneath her skin; yet, part of it has been inculcated into her by her father, Robert Ballauri, one of Albania’s biggest philatelists.

In A Woman's Museum

Hand made

Elsa says she would have never become what she is if she hadn’t her parents. She relied on her father’s advices to perfect herself and her mother’s wisdom to become a better person. She leaves her chair and hands to me a small lacework bag. It belonged to her grandmother she says, once she used to put the eastern egg in it. To the question on how he managed to store so many things from the past, that by most people are laid aside for being archaic, she responds “there lies the secret”. She relates well with children. She says “I used to think one can have a good relationship with a child if you share everything with him or her. Now I believe that words aren’t good enough. One has to be there for the children, they have to feel one’s presence”. Her love life is doing fine. Since many years she lives with the one she loves, a person who takes away quite a lot from her work time. Regardless of this, Elsa says she is always there when she’s needed. Her books lay all over the place. In Elsa’s home you can easily discern the disorder that accompanies the life of a person who simply doesn’t have the time to do everything. Now Elsa is more into historical books, yet she never neglect good novels. She steals away the time from reading from the late night sleep. Before sleeping she maybe still plans not to postpone the publication of her poetry any further. It is ready for the print. Yet somehow she does not pay enough attention for it to be printed.

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Irena Shabani
Is an Albanian freelance journalist and human rights activist specialising in investigative journalism. She co-founded Panorama, the leading newspaper in Albania, where she served as managing editor from 2002 to 2003. Prior to Panorama she was a journalist at Shekulli and Gazeta Shqiptare and has been part of the Albanian Human Rights Group from its beginning. She has collaborated on programmes for the International Research and Exchanges Board, investigating topics involving crime and political corruption and continues to collaborates with foreign organisations and local media focused on social problems and minority rights.

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