O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana Diary 12 June 1999

Tirana 12 June 1999

I have my morning coffee in one of the nicest coffee bars in this country, built on a concrete construction on some rocks in the sea, at least the terrace. There used to be more of these places, but the salty water has eaten away the constructions and now you can only see the remains. This one is not looking much better, but it still functions. The waves are breaking on the rocks below me, sometimes so powerfully that I have to protect my laptop from not getting too much water inside. You have a nice view over the bay of Vlora, and on the street there's a Mercedes, its stereo loudly playing a song about the liberation of Kosovo, the car is packed with cigarettes, contraband, and small-time traders are coming to buy from the well-trained body-builder who is hanging, sleepy and lazy, behind his steering wheel.

I am looking at the sea and think about the story I heard last night from one of the refugees staying in the hotel, he is waiting with his family to go to Italy, he wants to go to Germany to work, and even though he might now soon perhaps be able to come to Germany via Kosov@, smuggling himself and his family via the landroute through to Germany, he is still considering going with the speedboats. Although he is afraid of it, somehow. Some days ago when the kids were swimming they found a backpack on the beach with things and papers in it that belonged to some of the refugees who had left a couple of days before with the speedboats to Itlay. The rumours that the drivers from the boats just throw the people in the water are numerous. But what is there in Kosov@ to go back to, "What can we do", those last 4 words are probably the most used four words I have heard in the Balkan, especially from refugees "What can we do".

After the morning coffee I went with some of the volunteers to the refugee camp called 101K, which is situated a bit outside the center of Vlora in what probably used to be army storage places or something, anyway there are about six big halls (something like 150 by 30 meter) there, painted in camouflage colours. Some 2000 or more refugees are living in the camp in these big halls, lying side by side with about 500 people in each hall. Two halls are under construction and are not used. MSF (Medicine sans Frontiers) have put up some toilets outside the halls, but the little kids are shitting almost everywhere, not all of them, but enough to create a serious health hazard in this place when it gets even hotter than it already is. When in this camp diseases will appear it will be hard to do something against it.

In between the buildings there are piles of waste and all kinds of constructions which have fallen apart so much that you can't recognise what it used to be anymore. Through the camp some open waste water constructions are running, which in the early days was probably sufficient to get rid of the rainwater, but now, due to the waste in them the water can't move anymore and just stands in them rotting away. In the middle of the camp somebody started a kind of coffee bar in an old autobus, obviously not somebody from Kosov@, in front of the coffee bar are some fancy Mercedeses. On the terrace the usual atletic guy with his golden chains, talking to nice-looking Kosovar girls. Guess what is going on.

At the entrance of the camp some of the small houses have been repaired, freshly so the volunteers told me, it seems that they are building a kitchen in them. Up till now warm food could only be made if the refugees organised it all themselves, went to town and bought a small burner and vegetables and so on. Now it looks like in some days they won't have to live by bread alone anymore. Also a school was introduced here, not more than a small tent-part hung between some trees and matrasses on the floor, room for about 30 kids, there are almost 1000 of them here.

In a part of the complex a building company just finished the new roof on the buildings, if you go in the other halls you may see that the roofs aren't as waterproof as they used to be, and when it rains not all the refugees are protected. A pile of rotting matrasses behind one of the halls is the result of it. In the buildings which are under construction also some extra walls are being built inside, in order to make more private sleeping places.

In the camp we meet the people from the Albanian Youth Council and together with them we start a football match, starting with 20 kids, ending up with about 100 who don't really know to which team they belong, but are still fanatically playing on the gravel field. Most of the kids aren't wearing any shoes, since the shoes they normally wear are their bigger brothers' or fathers' or something, in any case not really ones that fit them well, surely not well enough for playing football. I watch it for a while hoping that nobody gets hurt. The medical post is not really well equipped I've heard, and most doctors are gone for the weekend. In one of the corners another Sunflower volunteer is doing games with the really small kids and somehow she gets some complicated games going, without talking the language.

I wonder how it is possible that this camp is still full while 30 km north the American-run camp, which is totally equipped, is almost empty. In the 101K three nuns from Italy are trying to do the management, and they don't really want any other organisation to come in. But since they are also taking care of the food distribution in some of the villages around Vlora they are almost never there. Not today either so we can't meet them. This camp is again a good example of how good intentions alone are not enough to run a refugee camp. It's a mess, and I have seen some messes around this country so I've already pitched my expectations down a lot by now.

Just one kilometer on is the Italian Rainbow (arcobaleno) camp in which 5000 refugees stay and about 400 Italians take care of them. This camp is totally over-organised. The 400 Italians there are not doing anything with the people, they are doing things for them. They brought even people over here whose only job is to slice the tomatoes and so on in the kitchen. The Italian aid workers are from different organisations, disaster-aid organisation, firemen, Red Cross, boy scouts. The camp is divided in different regions named after certain regions of Italy. Refugees are not in a refugee camp but on holidays in different parts of Italia, is the philosophy behind it it seems. Of these 400 Italians by the way almost none works on social activities. Only the Italian boyscouts have brought some people over to do some animation for children. An interesting discussion is going on between the refugees in the hotel complex where we are staying in as well and those who stay in arcobelleno, in arcobelleno camp the food is good and the camp is clean, but on the other hand you have to stay 14 hours in the boiling heat in dark green tents, since there is no shady place whatsoever; furthermore it is an half an hour, or more, walk from the sea. In the hotel complex there is a lot of shade and you are even sleeping on a real bed and you are close to the sea, but the food is not so good. I don't know how they have decided what is better, but during the day it is much better to sit under the trees than in the full sun, I can tell you.

From there we hitchhiked with two boys from Vlora on their way to Durres to the Dutch/Belgian Red Cross camp north of Vlora. The driver went with 120 Km over this road, lurching across the street from one side to the other in order to take the fastest way through the curves. If somebody from Durres would have come in this direction doing the same thing and we would have met them in the same curve I probably wouldn't have been able to write this story. Never the a curve you probably would have been able to read this story. At least he knows all the bumps and holes in the road by heart. He slows down at those to 5 Km per hour in order not to damage his mercedes. From his stereo loadly the new hit "Hey, let's go to Ibiza, hey, let's go to the island, hey, let's have a party, in the mediteranian sea" is blaring. A stupid song which stays in your head all day "Hey, let's going to Tirana" or "Hey, let's going to Pristina".

The Dutch/Belgian camp was planned and built for 3000 people, but hosts no more than 700 at this moment. Whether that number will increase remains unclear. But that is the big question in every camp at the moment. How long will the people stay here in the south, already people from different camps here in the area start to travel north. A bit of a paradox, just a week ago the movement to the south from Kukes had started and now people start to go back north again, again to Kukes, to go from there to Kosov@ as soon as possible. The Dutch/Belgian Red Cross is happy about us coming to their camp, the girl from Belgium who does the social welfare just arrived two days ago, but already found out that it is not that easy to do something here.

The camp is basically filled with people from little villages from Kosov@, who are not used to take their own initiative. They just sit in their hot tents and wait. The children are lying in the tents and sleep. They have set up a school with Albanian and Kosovar teachers, but they don't have enough school materials. The social welfare girl is happy, it is music to her ears that some people would like to help her, so I promise her to also look into her school problem when I am back in Tirana on monday. She thinks differently from the refugees and believes that most will stay here the coming months.

Back in our hotel, I see how other sunflower volunteers are busy with a sing-along activity in the small camp hosting 300 people next to the hotel. They are learning them english songs, which are not so war orientated as the kosovar songs they are normally singing. I have been pushing for that a bit, since I am a bit against those Kosovar nationalistic songs which all those kids are usually singing all the time. This morning when I was in the 101K camp I also met a guy who had a songbook full of songs from the 60's and 70's and we started to sing together, in no time we had a group of about 40 or more people singing "Imagine" from John Lennon, "No state to kill or die for and no religion too", that's different stuff. The kids and the youngsters love it, at last something different.

The sunset from the terras of the restaurant in the hotel is fantastic, it is not too hot, the refugees in the Hotel have turned their arabic-like music on, the air is full of the smell of lime trees and an orange sun is sinking in the red-coloured sea, we look at it through bushes full with pink, purple and white, a small fishing boat comes along at the cross line between sea and air and a fishermen throws a handgrenate or dynamite sticks into the water, thats how they fish around here.

wam :-)

p.s. There are too many mafiosi structures in the Albanian customs that lead smuggling actions. This was declared by Albanian prime minister Pandeli Majko yesterday. The customs have suffered a loss of 2,5 billion leks (almost 20 Million dollars) because of this in five months' time. The prime minister furthermore declared that he got the information about these activities about the maffia from the NATO and the NGO's.