I’m more afraid of Albania’s police than the virus

I collect trash to survive but the curfew makes it hard to go out. They demolished our market, and I’m afraid my house is next. #HumansofCOVID19

Nexhmie Qerimi
28 April 2020, 9.23am
Nexhmie Qerimi is worried that the police will arrest her for breaking Albania’s curfew
Fjori Sinoruka

During this time, it has been difficult to get out. But I cannot stay inside. I have been working. I take my cart and walk through the neighbourhood to the trash bins. I collect cans, different bottles and things and I bring them home.

I have earned my food and my cigarettes. I cannot be dependent on my son. He has a loan to repay.

I don’t take the usual roads because I am afraid that I can be seen. I am afraid, not for my health, but because of the police. They have not detained me, thank God. But to tell the truth, I cannot afford to go to prison, physically or emotionally. I am 69 years old.

I live alone. My two sons from my second marriage live next to me. Sometimes I help them. Sometimes people give me vegetables or different things and I give them to my children. Sometimes I sell them.

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I get a social support grant from the state. But it is not enough. I can’t even pay the electricity bills with it and I only have a TV and a light. I am very afraid that they will cut off my electricity. I have not paid my bills for a year now.

“The government helps only those that it likes. Not Roma people like me. They see us as dirty people”

Yesterday our market was demolished, and our lives are over without it. They have built a new market, but they want to hire the people who live in apartments, not us. We are against it.

Things have become very bad. But what to do? Fight with the state? I cannot do that. The government racially discriminates. It helps only those that it likes. Not Roma people like me. They see us as dirty people.

My biggest fear is that they are going to demolish my house. I and my children will not be able to survive if they do that. They told us yesterday they will do that. They came here and wanted authorisation from us. We told them that our houses are in the process of being legalised.

Nexhmie Qerimi’s makeshift house has been earmarked for demolition
Fjori Sinoruka

These days have been very difficult for us. Police have forcibly entered our houses. I went to the TV cameras and talked to the journalists, but they did not show it. They are dependent on the police and other people who pay them. I cannot sleep at night. I am very worried.

I have heard about COVID-19 on the TV. But I am not afraid of it. I still go to work.

I had two children from my first marriage, a daughter and a son. My first husband was deaf and mute. My daughter died. My son got married and went abroad. He doesn’t even know if I am alive or dead. I don’t have any communication with him. A child that insults and humiliates you, you don’t want him.

When I was a child, we used to live ten people to a room and we had only one blanket. We all used to sleep together, my brothers, my sisters and my father. I was sick and my father took me to Dr Zima. One day Dr Zima brought us blankets and clothes, and we were so happy.

I went to Dr Zima’s even when I was not sick. He used to paint and one day he painted a portrait of me.

I was twelve years old when my father died, and only six months old when my mother died. My biggest sister used to breastfeed me after my mother died because she had a little son. But my brother-in-law did not like this. He wanted to drown his own son in the river because he was so angry.

When I was five or six, I used to beg in the street. My neighbours still do that, but I don’t do that anymore. Work is honour.

[As told to Fjori Sinoruka]

Since mid-March, Albania has been under lockdown and people have been confined to their homes except for one hour a day to buy food or medicine. There was a total curfew at weekends and a 16-hour curfew during the week. Since 13 April, some of these conditions have been slightly relaxed. There is now a curfew from 5.30pm to 5am during the week. At the weekend, pensioners and mothers with children under the age of ten are allowed out for 90 minutes on alternate days. Citizens have to register with the government via an app on their mobile telephone that can track their movements. The Roma community is recognised as the most marginal in Albania and there is widespread discrimination against them, from the highest levels of government. The Roma community has been hard hit by the curfew as many Romani are informal workers. They have staged protests to highlight their lack of income and the fact that they have not received any government food aid. In mid-April, the Tirana municipality started to demolish an informal clothing market in Selite, Tirana.

Nexhmie's story is part of our Humans of COVID-19 project: lifting up voices from across the world that are not being heard during this crisis. Click here for more of their stories.

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