Egerta Zeli: Holding it all Together
A slender woman whose silhouette reveals a barely bulging belly, Egerta Zeli weaves her stroller over the cobblestone road toward the central piazza in Cagli, Italy. Her passenger, Muarrem, fondly referred to as Ramos, sips milk from his bottle. The milk cascades down his chin; tissue in hand, she cleans up the dribbles.
Egerta, who is four months pregnant, has tight, jet-black curls that rest on her shoulders. A beaming smile encompasses her whole face, pushing up into her eyes. Egerta is a sensitive soul who longs for a bit of free time to catch up on sleep and housework – the lament of motherhood. She works late nights and early mornings maintaining the household.
Each morning, Ramos sounds the alarm when the grumbles in his belly wake him. For Egerta, this starts the hours filled with cooking and laundry, feeding and bathing, hugging and snuggling. With a tug at his mother’s shirt, Ramos breaks up the monotony of household tasks. He utters the word “momma” as if it were made just for her. She turns her attention to him, straining slightly as she hoists him to her hip. He wants more milk. She grants his request with patience and grace, welcoming the opportunity to rest.
Ramos is a fresh bud on the ancient tree of Cagli. At 19 months old, he naturally takes for granted his mother’s care and affection. Each day he grows steadier on his feet, building speed as he pushes boundaries. Egerta uses gentle reminders and models acceptable behavior to guide her son. Her nonverbal cues attract his attention as he watches with eager eyes and curious hands. The Italian proverb rings true: “Una buona mamma vale cento maestri.” A good mother is worth a hundred teachers.
A loving mother and devoted wife, Egerta is originally from Tirana, Albania. The family members are resident aliens of Italy who hold Albanian passports. They came to Italy in search of a better life; after her husband found work in construction, she joined him in Cagli. Egerta kept her own last name, a European tradition. They travel an hour by bus to the town of Urbino to keep their documents up to date.
Her husband, Aleks Sina, considers Albania and Italy close cousins, just a short trip across the Strait of Otranto. Visiting home by ship is too complicated with their toddler. In August, the family hopes to return home for the first time by plane. Egerta is eager for a meal cooked by her own mother.
The small family lives in a building painted a pale grapefruit color. The structure cradles a steep hill; their second-story apartment is at street level. Their kitchen window overlooks the town’s recreational area and is a portal of light and sound. The beats of drums drift in as the Cagliesi practice their competitive sport of jousting and barrel walking. Sunlight illuminates the table; the cloth cover has images of spices in a patchwork design. The family shares traditional Albanian meals at the table, Ramos in his high chair. Dinner is usually followed by Albanian coffee and an evening stroll to the piazza for a gelato.
Their old-world apartment in New Cagli is devoted to family. In each of their two small rooms is a playpen for Ramos – one in the bedroom lined with comfy blankets, the other, in the kitchen, filled with colorful toys. Their hallway is lined with photos of family left behind: parents, siblings, and cousins. She prepared for motherhood by caring for the children of her six brothers and four sisters in Albania. She proudly displays her wedding album.
Egerta and Aleks have accepted Italian culture into their lives; Cagli is their home away from Albania. Egerta is grateful for the way the Cagliesi have accepted them and their willingness to teach her Italian. She practices Italian with her son while also teaching him Albanian words. In his pursuit of work, Aleks learned English, German, and Greek. The couple practices English words at home.
The family is in search of a stable future. Aleks is the principle earner and Egerta the support who holds it all together. Each act of the day is carefully crafted and revised to ensure that clothes are clean, diapers are changed, and bellies are full. Ramos brings levity and delights crowds in the piazza. In just a few months, a tiny addition will be added to the family.