Often she approaches me with a bunch of papers and asks me to read and explain them to her. I know for sure what kind of information the papers contain. It’s either another English course opening up that she wants to join, or a website that can help her learn English and she wants me to teach her how to use it.
My mom, Alketa, grew up in a family of seven in a village named Buz, located in a high and cold mountain somewhere in the south of Albania. Just like other girls her age, she grew up cleaning, washing the dishes, preparing food, and taking care of her four younger siblings.
She wanted to lighten the load for her parents. She grew up happy with what she had: a small house with a big family. But she always envied the respect that city children had. While they had real toys, my mom had to make toys with any materials she could find. The key to escaping village life was education and becoming a nurse or a teacher.
In the 1970s, the Communist System prohibited a person from becoming what he or she wanted, but instead forced a person to become what the country needed. Alketa was one of the lucky ones. Her village needed nurses, so she was chosen to continue her education. But she was a hero, not a nurse, because she started working for $5 a month to heal the wounded coming home from the war in Kosovo.
As the years passed, the laws changed, and in order for her to continue working, she had to complete two more years of university. When I was in fifth grade, my mom, my brother, and I studied around the kitchen table together. For two years, my mother traveled three hours each way to the capital, Tirana. She came home to us on weekends and performed all the housework while she finished the requirements of the new law and began to work again.
After 20 years, Alketa faced another life transition: moving to the U.S. for a better life. Once more she repeated a pattern, transitioning from a less developed place to a more developed one, from her job as a nurse to someone climbing her way up again. My mom still works in a hospital today, but as a food attendant, even though she wants to be the person who gives vaccines to the little babies. My mother wants to learn a new language, English, and master it, so that she can take classes that will open doors for her to the medical field in the United States.
My mom doesn’t see age as a barrier as long as she keeps herself educated. I often ask her if she would ever get to that point where she would stop taking classes and just be satisfied with her job. She replied, “The moment I reach my current definition of success, I create another definition so I can have something to work toward.”
Written by the graduating class of 2018 from the Boston International Newcomers Academy (BINcA), this collection of personal essays explores ideas of success across generations and continents. Foreword written by Poet Laureate of the City of Boston Danielle Legros Georges.