Dr. Lori Amy had intended to spend her 2009 Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant working on a book project in Pakistan. A Professor in the Department of Writing and Linguistics at Georgia Southern University, Amy’s interdisciplinary research focuses on the ways in which violence influences personal identity. She specializes in narrative, memory, and trauma, engaging in memory work as a means of helping people and societies imagine new ways to build their futures. After finishing her first book, The Wars We Inherit: Military Life, Gender Violence, and Memory, Amy conceived another book project that would expose Americans to stories of the human effects of the war on terror, and she applied for a Fulbright grant to Pakistan to support the project. By the time she was ready to go to Pakistan, though, the in-country connections who had agreed to host her had fled amid growing security concerns in the region.
By chance, she says, she then met a doctor from Albania, a country she previously knew very little about. He invited her to adjust her Fulbright plans and come to Albania to develop theoretical frameworks and policy recommendations for understanding violence as a public health issue — an intriguing match for Amy, whose writing argues that all violence has a collective dimension. With this new partnership in place, Amy soon headed for the Balkans, where she would come to engage in work that would have a transformative impact on the next decade of her life and career.
“Within a few weeks, I understood that Albania has something extraordinary to teach us about how we arrived at this global moment,” she reflects. As she immersed herself in daily life in Albania and began to unpack its history and learn about its people, Amy saw clear lines that connected the cold war to the global war on terror. She chose to redirect her book project to focus on Albania and map the experiences of political violence across three generations under the totalitarian Hoxha regime, finding that the traumatic aftereffects of the cold war continue to leave a mark on the national consciousness.
Over the six years that followed, Amy traveled back and forth to Albania, working with non-governmental organizations dedicated to human and women’s rights. She visited cities and rural areas where she spent thousands of hours speaking with people who have been impacted by the violence of the communist regime in varied, enduring ways. As both her understanding of the country and her on-the-ground network expanded, Amy felt called to pursue social projects that linked her writing to the structural realities with which she was grappling in her study of contemporary Albanian society. “I am writing my long-time-in-the-making book this year, and I want this book to be of actual use to people, to help them in the work they are doing. But a book has a limited reach – I am compelled to do something, to make a concrete contribution to transforming the structures of violence that I analyze,” she shares. “One of the most extraordinary gifts my Fulbright experience brought me is the opportunity to work with an Albanian with a vision to save a cultural heritage monument and bring it back to life as a Center that builds community and works for social healing.”
In 2015, Amy learned that an acquaintance, Elvis Kazazi, was working to save a historic villa in Tirana from demolition. His goal was to restore the space – one of the last remaining Ottoman era structures in the capital city — and turn it into an independently-operated cultural center. Amy immediately recognized that this was “the most important initiative [she] had seen during the course of [her] work in Albania,” and she soon embarked on a partnership with Kazazi. “Our visions converged, and together we developed the plan to make a cultural center that promotes art, culture, and public education, and that uses income from a social business to support the activities of the center.” With the support of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Amy and Kazazi co-founded an NGO called OTTOnomy, which is designed to use a public trust model to save the historical landmark and preserve it as a self-sustaining Regional Center for Cultural Heritage and International Center for Art, Culture, and Education. The reinvention of the space will consciously integrate historic elements of both Albanian culture and the building itself: it will include a bar-kafe, apartments for cultural heritage tourists, and studio space for artists and scholars in residence; and it will host craft fairs, farmer’s markets, and cultural events fitting with its mission.
“This work has been the most important undertaking of my life, and has allowed me to bring the best of academic research and analysis to the aid of a local hero working to build something of enduring value for his country,” says Amy. “This, I think, is the heart and spirit of the Fulbright Program’s mission to promote international partnerships. Together – Albanians and Americans, professors and ordinary citizens, researchers and practitioners – we have the ability to create positive change in a world very desperately in need of our contributions.”