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Janitor Sweeps Barriers Far From Home

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Almost 5,000 miles and 5 years separate an Albanian cleaner for the Humanities building from his fiancé.

Uljan Berberi or Uli, as people call him, came alone to the United States in November 2012 for a better life.

But Uli is still waiting for that better life because his fiancé, Esjola, and parents are still in Albania.

“It’s more better to come with her, but alone is very hard here,” Uli said referring to Esjola

In the meantime, Uli works the night shift sweeping our golden Lindt chocolate wrappers through the halls of the Humanities building and greeting late-staying students and faculty as they pass by.

Taking a break from his shift, Uli reminisced about his time with Esjola in Albania as he looked at photos of them on his camera roll.

“I did everything with her, but now I am alone like five years,” Uli said.

For Uli, this isn’t the same as being with Esjola in person. His current means of keeping in touch with her are through Skype, messaging, and Facebook.

They first met at the school Gjergj Pekmezi in Uli’s home city, Pogradec. When Uli first tried to pursue Esjola, she turned him down. Nonetheless, they went out for coffee and Esjola told Uli she would have to talk to him more.

From there, “I talked with her more, and more, and more, and she say yes,” he said.

They became engaged, and their four-year engagement will turn into a marriage this summer.

In June, Uli will travel back to Albania to marry Esjola, but in July he will return to Albany alone.

This is because Esjola does not yet have a green card, or permanent resident card that would enable her to live lawfully in the US.

Uli is in the process of obtaining the proper paperwork for Esjola, but he noted that becoming a citizen would make the process easier.

Since this November will mark five years that Uli has been in the U.S., he will be able to apply and test for citizenship. As a potential citizen or in his current status as a permanent resident, Uli is dealing with an immigration form—Form I-130—that would establish his marital relation to Esjola. It would allow her to obtain a green card, but she would have to wait for an available visa number before receiving it.

In addition to bringing Esjola to Albany, Uli hopes to bring his parents over.

“I going to take care of my family for coming here,” Uli said.

Back in Albania, his parents work making wedding cakes. However, Uli came to Albany because there are “no jobs in Pogradec. It’s like for retired people.”

Uli ties Pogradec to Albany by comparing the beauty of Pogradec’s Lake Ohrid to the nearby Lake George.

Another thing Uli finds beautiful is the sunset. Looking out a third-floor Humanities window, Uli glimpsed the sunset and said, “I love it. It’s beautiful.”

Turning back to his work, Uli said that his day consists of “work home, work home, home work.”

As Uli also works to become a citizen and bring his family to Albany, it comes down to passing the naturalization test.

The test consists of an English test and a civics test, which Uli has been studying for with an app on his phone. Pulling up the app, Uli tested himself on civics questions such as how long people in the House of Representatives serve. With each question, the screen flashed green—he got every question right.

Uli said, “Every day I try, try, try. For November I try, try, try.”

However, a person spoke the questions in the app. For his November test, Uli said if “somebody not, it’s very hard for me.”

In other words, Uli hasn’t learned how to read and write English, though he works within the Humanities building. When he came to Albany, he knew no English whatsoever. But in the almost five years Uli has been here, he learned to speak English solely by listening to other people like students and faculty.

A challenge for Uli will be the reading and writing portion of the naturalization test. They require that people read and write one of three sentences correctly.

If Uli can’t read and write by then, he could fail the test and be denied citizenship.

The University at Albany offers an Intensive English Language Program for non-native speakers, but the course costs $6,500 and it is not free for UAlbany’s maintenance employees like Uli.

In terms of his residency in the U.S., Uli said, “For everything better coming here, I love it here,” but that his family is still waiting for him to become a citizen and bring them here.



Elise Coombs, a Syracuse native, is the editor-in-chief of the Albany Student Press. She is the co-Vice President of the UAlbany Mock Trial team, a member of Presidential Honors Society, and a peer mentor for the pre-law section of Writing and Critical Inquiry. After her time at UAlbany, she plans to go to law school and become a First Amendment lawyer.

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