“Where there are borders, there are bridges.” I’d been researching a cross-border eco-tourism project on the Albanian side of the lake when Myrsini Malakou, director of the Society for the Protection of Prespa, suddenly said this during an interview. Her words crystalized for me a vague idea that I’d been carrying around throughout the time I’d spent in the poor village of Zagradec, a village mostly empty of men from spring until the beginning of winter as they sought agricultural labour in Greece. It was a place where the poorly irrigated fields were tilled by donkey and plough, where eerie communist bunkers perched unnervingly in the landscape. It was a village “forgotten even by God” according to one of its residents. And yet amidst the signs of impoverishment a frail hope could be found, a faith that things could change. A few people on both sides of the border were working together, building bridges for the sake of a forgotten place and community. I had the opportunity to watch the project develop, to see what happened and what the future might hold, over the course of a year. And I met a group of women who were trying to change the place where they lived.
I’m delighted to announce that the third of these tales from around the lakes, that resulted from my experiences in the village of Zagradec, has been chosen as the winner of the 2011 Terrain.org Nonfiction Prize. For readers already familiar with Terrain.org you’ll know that it presents a wonderful range of writing and images relating to our place in the world. And if you’re new to the journal, you’re in for a treat! My essay can be found through its permanent link at ‘Faith in a Forgotten Place’ or on the journal’s homepage at www.terrain.org. The piece is accompanied by a slideshow of photographs from Albania and an audio recording of me reading the piece.
Please feel free to add any thoughts, ideas or comments beneath the essay on the Terrain.org site, or any experiences you might wish to share about borders in your own parts of the world. I’d like to say a big thanks to the many people in both countries without whose help this essay wouldn’t have been possible. Hope you enjoy and thanks for taking the time to read!