Our first Macedonian employee at the Hope and Health centre is Antonie. She is filled with love for the Albanians and has a strong gift of encouragement and hope. She loves to lift up the broken hearted, she hugs them and smiles and listens with interest to their live. They accept her and speak about her that ”she is like one of our own”, meaning that the hospitality and love she shows them is as if she could have been Albanian - that is a great compliment.
“ Me te vertet ti e meson! You are really learning it! You are really doing it? “ One of the Albanian ladies looks at Antonie in surprise as she hears her speaking gjuhen Shqipe, her own language. The lady turns to another and asks, “Where did you find her?!” (Who indeed learns Albanian from the south of the river? You just do not see it. You are more likely to see a graffito on the Skopje walls saying “ČAIR IS NOT MACEDONIA !” or "СМРТ ЗА ШИПТАРИ" - Death to Albanians - accompanied by a black cross).
During the former Yugoslav era, Albanian was a repressed, even underground language, not even taught in schools or used on public signs. This linguistic policy was a symptom of the tensions leading to war in Kosovo in 1998-9 and Macedonia in 2001. (Macedonians themselves experienced similar discrimination generations ago in the Aegean Macedonian regions). A result of this legacy is that many Albanians today are not adept in both the spelling and grammar of their own language. As an ethnic Macedonian speaking Albanian, Antonie communicates respect and dignity to many local women coming to Hope and Health. In the divided city of Skopje, Macedonians and Albanians live largely parallel existences but Antonie is building bridges.
But it is not just Macedonians serving Albanians. Quality Albanian staff serve Macedonians, giving value and attention, even to the physically broken who cannot manage the exercise program. A Turqeli physio oversees the exercise program. Bosniak women visit. All are welcome and the space is multi-lingual. OPM seeks to represent a counter-culture in the down-town of the city, where many from the south-side will not even walk around. Right here is a place of healing, but not only for broken bodies but the fractures of history and ethnic fragmentation.