by Kleitia Vaso

In the few professional conferences I’ve attended, I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that all the participants, including myself, were acting out roughly outlined and badly written parts conceived by an amateurish, talentless director. Usually, these conferences or meetings were held for the purpose of presenting a specific product or system which promised to improve or facilitate an important aspect of life pertaining to the more practical and concrete sphere: in Albania, the product is usually some kind of a virtual “revolution”, databases, cards, items the presence of which, in more developed countries, is taken for granted. As such, my interest from the outset can best be described as lukewarm.

Yet, I also must add that as someone who spends half of my waking life with my head in the clouds, I, at times, expect more from these conferences than your regular participant. I suppose that the ones who often attend  these kinds of events know what to expect whereas I always believe that there exists a tiny but possible chance that, even during these ceremonious gatherings, I might hear a sentence that might change my day, if not my life, see a face that I will like, absorb some kind of useful information about the more concrete aspects of life – jobs, politics, economics, the way things really work – elusive concepts for me. Unfortunately, as soon as I begin to concentrate, everything ends.

Although any improvement and surprise is welcome, these events offer very little in this regard. I must also admit that, despite the aesthetic poverty and flimsy content of these meetings and conferences, I am grateful for the break in routine they offer. Even the absence of surprise ultimately offers a new emotion when you’re playing a different game from the daily one. That’s it for the positive aspects, I’m afraid.

The other part begins with the very word, professional conference; as soon as one hears it, several certainties are in order: the conference will take place in the hall of one of the three or four most recognized hotels in Tirana, the tables will be long or round, covered by dark blue or life-sucking maroon covers, each seat will have in front of it a folder with the a promise of something that might prove useful – a notebook, a pen, any small but unique souvenir – but no, the folder usually holds several uninteresting brochures, a few unattached blank sheets, and a cheap pen. Oh, and I almost forgot, the requisite bottle of water. I know that these are not the right occasions and places for material and sensory excess but the hope for a positive deviation from the norm always exists, a generous soul, for instance, who decides to organize things in a brand new and exciting way providing entertainment and pleasure for the participants. Yet, conferences and generous, free-spirited souls are not that tightly connected…

Then, we get to my favorite part, the people. The other participants usually save me from the bland atmosphere and the mind-numbing boredom of the information presented, though they, too, have done their best in trying to blend in with their surroundings. They – we – are all wearing the professional costume – a shirt, modest skirt/pants and, perhaps, a scarf which attempts, against all hope, to be a small indicator of our colorful personalities. I don’t know how, but I always fall into the professional trap as well; for these events, I always choose what others deem professional, a look which is entirely unrelated to my nature and presents the most boring and bland version of myself. Sometimes, I’ve worn other people’s clothes in order to assume this role and I remember a friend of mine once told me that initially, at the interview for my current job, I made absolutely no impression on her. It’s no surprise really, as I wasn’t really there and, whoever was there, was not really me.

Fortunately, Albanians help in the entertaining factor with their shady definition of “professional” dress; there is always a woman who has chosen the sexy end of the professional dress spectrum or someone with dramatic makeup best fit for performing the leading role in an opera rather than work. Men are usually less exciting-looking and the most they have to offer is an ill-fitting suit or a fatal pant-sock mismatch. Yet, I value the aforementioned women and few men as they still offer more excitement than the usually neutral, overall greige tonality of these kinds of events, especially in the more-civilized world.

To be continued…

by Kleitia Vaso