by Kleitia Vaso

Overwhelmed by the seemingly constant and never-ending contact with others – so tiring at moments as for each interaction, small or great, one gives away a daily piece of oneself which amounts to a considerable collection eventually – I enviously looked at the cow grazing in the field in front of my workplace. Her calm and peaceful demeanor appealed to me as she looked completely removed and oblivious to the inescapable noise and tiresome maneuvering of people ceaselessly struggling to hold on to minuscule or considerable amounts of power, always on the hunt for information, whether it be relevant or gossip. I felt a much greater desire to switch places with her than a flock of birds, which as I carefully observed for the first time, seemed forever cursed to endlessly flap their wings in order to stay suspended midair. At least, that is the impression I had that day which, most likely, is a better indicator of my own state of mind rather than the birds’ practices.

Actually, what I intensely desired for a short but palpable instant was to approach the cow and “talk” to her, but we’ll return to this later. My unexpected reflection on cows and birds either gave birth to or emerged from a conversation with H., a colleague of mine, on the functions of teaching nowadays in our specific context, Tirana. The role we both wanted to evade is that of the shepherd who continuously attempts to establish and maintain order in the herd; avoid the old-fashioned mentality of leading a herd of people who actually need to be enriched rather than led to think and behave in the way we deem “right”. Unfortunately, the poor culture and education offered in high-school and even earlier, necessitates that a huge “learning” portion of time is devoted to becoming reacquainted with basic rules of politeness and decent behavior in the classroom. And, here, we return to the shepherd, whom I envied at that moment, for dealing with animals and not people. I already know that this statement might annoy more socially-conscious people who, rightly, may ask: “And, how do you know the shepherd’s living conditions? How he feels? What he thinks? How bothered he may be by the human and industrial noise and pollution around him?” and so on and so forth. But what I coveted was nothing more than wordless communication and when I looked at the situation with “my mind’s eyes,” to loosely quote Blake, I removed myself from my surroundings, full of people and noise, to a very geographically close yet distant place, full of greenery, no people and the peaceful, calm-inducing creature, the cow.

While discussing with H. the figure of the shepherd and its implications for us, I suddenly felt moved by the tragic end of Nietzsche, who, as the story goes, falls down in front of a horse brutally whipped by his master and, crying, hugs him. As many people who are closer to the truth than necessary to the detriment of their own sanity and that of others, Nietzsche ended up in a mental asylum precisely as a result of this episode, if I am not mistaken. What moved me personally regarding Nietzsche, ”myself and many others,” to loosely quote Baudelaire, was – besides the instinctual identification and empathy for an animal that is no longer free and is further reminded of this by being mistreated –the harshness of life and people who push us to love more a creature that cannot answer than one which, with its hidden brutality, attacks, damages, and hurts us continuously.

by Kleitia Vaso