O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana Diary 13 June 1999

Tirana 13 June 1999

Yesterday evening the owner of the hotel we are staying in asked us if we could tell him what he should change in his hotel to make it attractive for foreign tourists. It was good that he didn't expect an answer straight away. Since we could hardly stay seriously when the question was translated. So we tried as seriously as possble to make a list of things which we think should be changed, but after point 35 or so we looked at each other and could only laugh. It sounds sarcastic, and it probably is. Problem here with this country is that even without the refugees there were already problems so big they were almost impossible to solve. I don't say impossible, but almost impossible, I like to stay optimistic.

Yesterday evening I nearly had a kind of "fight" with the owner of the hotel, at least with his wife. She had heard that I was sleeping on some blankets on the balcony of one of the rooms. She said that somebody as important as me couldn't sleep there, I should sleep in a private room with a bed. I explained that I don't mind to sleep on the balcony, that it is the best place anyway, but that didn't work. She wanted to remove some of the refugees from their rooms in order to offer me an empty room, since I was from the west and she wanted to show that they are taking good care of their guest. It took me about half an hour to make her clear that I like my balcony very much and I'd like to stay there.

From my morning coffee place I see the long convoy of aid workers, Dutch, Belgian and Italian, driving by, especially the Italians seem to be here with an enomous armada of cars and buses, but then in order to transport 400 people you need some transportation. Some of the trucks you see most regularly are the watertanks of the Italian firemen, bringing water to arcobaleno camp: if not enough water is brought there, the people there would dehydrate. I wonder why foreign organisations don't send campers here to pick the spots for camps, nobody who ever went hiking in a warm country would have been so stupid to put his tent in the full sun (if you have done it once you have learned from it), there are a thousand or more olive groves here in which you would be able to build the nicest refugee camps, but somehow those oganisations are always looking for flat fields in the sun. In between those cars the buses of the special and financial police, coming back from their night-patrols. Some AFOR patrols and a growing fleet of Mercedeses full of people going to the beach, and in between everything Minibuses fighting their way through. It is still kind of quiet, Vlora wakes up a little later than Tirana. Although nightlife is also closing earlier. Of course that is relative - the real nightlife is long and intensive, but not adviseable to take part in, last night again three people were killed in Vlora. That, too, is Vlora.

The refugees in the camps around Vlora don't leave their camps, they are afraid to go into the town. Three of the younger men who had been going to a restaurant at the busstop in the beginning of the evening, when it was still light, hade been robbed there in the beginning of their stay here. After they had ordered a hamburgeri (the name has more similarity with the original product than the product itself) they waited for it to come on the terrace, when a guy with a gun came and asked their money. There were about 15 people sitting around them, but nobody reacted. This was their welcome to Vlora, so-called hamburgeri at 300 DM a piece. Welcome at the Costa Brava of Albania, welcome to the motherland.

Here in the south the tension between people from Kosov@ and Albania is bigger than in the north. The dialect is different and the mentality is different, you can't help it, it is almost 500 kilometer from here to Pristina. You can find the same differences in Germany between Hamburg and Munchen, nothing new. But for the refugees who are coming from the small mountain villages this is too much, their world has been totally mixed up. They want to go back now and not next month, so I am afraid that the big exodus to the north will start sooner than we expected. Sooner than anybody expected I must say. To be honest everybody who knows a bit of the destruction which took place in Kosov@ and the possible mines there know that going back is not that easy.

Albania doesn't really like it that the refugees are going to leave, it is maybe idiotic to say, but the refugees brought at least something better to Albania than how it was the last 4-5 years. Not only the money the NGO's brought into the country, employing thousands of Albanian people in construction, driving, translation, offices, (food)factories, restaurants, hotels, etc. (lots of which will collapse when the refugees go back to Kosov@ and the NGO's follow them). But it brought Albania also back on the world map. Suddenly all the world leaders know where to find it and some even honoured the country with a visit. That is the paradox of the story, although the huge influx of refugees wasn't so easy, in the end it brought some stability. So the Albanians would rather see that the refugees stay a while longer.

So do some big NGO's as well, it sometimes seems. Especially those who constructed big camps, which are now standing empty. The unused capicity in the south is enormous. Millions of dollars have been invested in hosting refugees who never came and probably never will come. They expected much more to come from Macedonia, but somehow, despite all the earlier warning predictions, they didn't come. They expected around 80.000 - 100.000 displaced people still in Kosov@ to be thrown out by the Serbian troops, but they weren't, everybody wonders how many of them are still alive, they have been there for two months or more without any food supply. People expected the 120.000 refugees from Kukes to come down south, but they didn't. And the result is a country full of emergency refugeecamps, the first refugee centers which were set up, where people got shelter in the beginning, and where only essential sanitation has been added - not places you want to be in - still full with people. And super refugee camps with everything you need standing half or more than half empty.

I wonder what will happen, will these huge tent camps be taken down even before they have been used, and who wants to live in all those storage halls with little rooms and toilet blocks after the Kosovars have gone? And those tents, what will happen to them, are they going to be transported to Kosov@, so that each family can have a tent next to their destroyed house? Another one of those paradoxes, for weeks every NGO in this country was fighting for tents for refugees and for activities (like we did), but up to now it was said that no tents were available - and now we see pictures of hundreds of tents just standing empty, which haven't been and never will be used.

All these thoughts went through my mind on the almost six and a half-hour busride (instead of a minibus, Goran and I took a big bus back from Vlora to Tirana) in the super heat, in an un-airconditioned bus, the windows couldn't even be opened, overloaded, between some cities people were standing in the aisle. The bus also broke down a couple of times, it was a very, very old Mercedes, so old that in Germany they would have put it in a museum, spare parts for such a bus aren't produced anymore. The inside of the bus had been rather nice, some 30 years ago, nowadays it is worn out and nothing like a picture you would use for a Mercedes commercial. Although maybe as a kind of proof that a Mercedes can go on for ever.

During one of the repairing sessions we came into contact with somebody from the south of Albania, who spoke English. Goran asked him what his profession was and after some moments of thinking what he should answer he answered honestly that he was a missionary. So I asked him from which church, since by now I have found almost all churches and cults here. At first he didn't want to answer, but when I insisted he told us that he was from the "Unified Family" (the Moonies, or better Children of God). And he explained the same thing as all converted people have told me so far, doesn't really matter which church, which group, that the "Moonies" are a really big movement in Albania and that Albanians really like Moon and his beliefs.

I am glad that I took the time to see how the situation was in Vlora, not that I really have the time, as still nobody has really taken over my work in Tirana. People who are coming are still expecting that I am there all the time telling what to do and what not. But that will hopefully change soon. More and more long-term volunteers are getting trained and are getting a feeling of how this country ticks. That is needed since more and more groups, NGO's, are asking if they can get Sunflower volunteers. The seven places we are working in now have proved to be good.

Late in the evening I am back on my own balcony, looking at the kids playing football in the dark, listening to loud Albanian disco music coming from five or six houses further on. Car horns are still blowing, no bombers this night, but for the rest I am back in Tirana.

wam :-)

P.S. On the way back in the bus I read in one of the newspapers that not only fish are caught in the nets of the fischermen, apart from bombs, they have also found dead bodies from women and children in their nets. Especially in the Vlora and Durres region.

wam :-)