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Tirana Diary 2 June 1999

Tirana 2 June 1999

It is hard to come up with a good story every day, especially when you filled your day basically with organising two cheap tables for our office. Now I can, of course, write a nice story about how many bazars (which are are not shops, but parts of the town, with shops in garages, containers, old cars and whatever) you have to visit to buy the stuff you need. I finally worked out a construction which was about one quarter of the price the cheapest table would have cost, and even the Albanians working in our office were kind of surprised with what kind of a solution I came up. If you don't have the money you have to improvise and since we are a western organisation, the cheapest solution which they could come up with was still $200 dollars, now I made two big ones for $50, which look rather fancy. But you really have to spend a lot of time to solve such small things.

The volunteers are now ready and set to go, trained and full of energy, and they are also finding out every day how long every step is taking, that you have to adopt to another timeframe, otherwise you get frustrated and it can even come so far that you start to hate the people you'd actually like to help. You have to dig into the lifestyle of this country and find out how it ticks, otherwise you will hate it and want to be on the other side of the world (although seen from here that'd be somewhere in Latin America, where the situation is not much different..).

It reminds me of some UNPROFOR troops in safe-havens in Bosna, they came there, sat in their compound, were surrounded all the time by their own culture and with stories about what went wrong in the town they had to protect. When they drove out they were surrounded with kids and people who wanted something from them. They started to love the Serbs in a way, since at least they weren't making so much problems for them. Here we can complain about how slow Albanians work, how bad Albanians are, and that they steal from their own people, but that is happening in the Netherlands for example as well, there are also Dutch people stealing from Dutch people. I noticed how I have to clarify over and over again that our Albanian translators more or less feel offended when we tell these stories about how we see Albania as a mess through our western eyes. Most of the Albanians are not happy with it either, but hearing all the time that your country is crazy, is more or less doing the opposite in your mind. You start to defend your country, your organisation, even when you know about the mistakes.

For me it is also hard to hear every day these stories about "the Serbs", how bad they are and what they have done. I have good friends in Serbia, who are being bombed at this moment and they don't even agree with the Serbian leadership's politics, they rallied on the streets against it. And these airplanes we are hearing on their way to Serbia to bomb are not really the sound of liberation in my ears. Or making me feel more safe. Sunday NATO lost a bomb over Durres, luckily it didn't go off and today they bombed the border post in the neighbourhood of Kukes, but on the Albanian side. Of course I can make jokes about having old maps, but what the hack, it doesn't give you the feeling that the guys up there are the super soldiers they say they are. Even in Italy it can happen, when this goes on this way they should run the airattack alarm here, when the NATO airfleet is coming over, you never know. The more bombers there are in the air, the bigger the chances that something goes wrong, it is all mathematics.

Today the two Kosovar girls who are now running our office, talked about what they had done with their jewellery and the like. One explained that they had it hidden somewhere in Kosov@, so that they can dig it out when they return, just like most people in her town. I told her that the "Chetniks" also knew that and that I have seen them in Bosnia going around with metal detectors in order to find it. "They are not able to," she said, "with all the houses, it would take far too much time". "It is just a matter of time, how long will they be able to be there and look for the stuff", I said, "in half of Bosna they still have full access to every house, already for seven years now". The other girl hadn't thought of hiding her jewellery and took it with her, it was all stolen from her by the Serbian police at the border. If girls and women were not fast enough to take out their earrings the policeguys pulled them out of their ears. Not bothering to open them. I had already noticed that a lot of girls and women in the camps had wounded ears, now I know where that came from.

We changed the subject to the health situation in Kosov@, comparing it with the health situation in Albania; they explained that the midwives and delivery docters in Kosov@ belong to the best in Europe. I couldn't resist saying that they are also the ones with the most deliveries per day in Europe, so they had the most practice. "Yes", she replied, "We always joked about it, in Beograd today eight deliveries, in Pristina fifty". We discussed on how this whole thing will continue, how the future of this area will be, if Kosovars and Serbs will ever be able to live together. "Not door to door, but maybe as country next to country", the reply was. "I never hated Serbs, they were our neighbours, we actually still had parties with them when the war was just 30 Km away, we heard the big guns."

Talking about health, the big story today in the Albanian newspapers is already eight people (refugees) died in Kukes of TBC, there are at least 150 people infected the Albanian ministery of health was saying. Mostly old people, but also one 15 years old-boy. They must have had the virus already in them before they entered Albania and the situation in Kukes must have done the rest. Kukes is not really a healthy place. The biggest problem with the treatment however is that like most other people these people don't want to leave Kukes, to seek treatment in Tirana (or elsewhere) for example.. They don't want to move one more mile futher away from Kosov@, most of those people are from the little villages, already a trip to a neighbouring village was like a world journey. One step further away from their homeland will mean that they have to wait even longer before they can go back. Here they are in Kukes, not a mile further they want to go. Even when UCK and troops from Yugoslavia are fighting nearby (meaning exchanging shells) and the region north of Kukes is declared highly unsafe for internationals (although there are also about 30.000 refugees and the same number of local people living there, who don't want to leave either).

Later in the evening we got a phonecall, Gary, who was in the Balkan Sunflower house in Skopje, helping there to set up the activities in Macedonia, was on the phone. "Have you forgotten me", he asked, "I am standing at the Pyramid". And yes I have to admit, although I should have known that it was today, I had forgotten it, in my mind it was tomorrow morning. So we went up to the pyramid, and there he was, father christmas incognito, with a whole bunch of children around him. He was afraid to come to Tirana, he had said a couple of days before, basically due to my diaries. But Tirana is great, was the first thing he said, the people are friendly and talkative, so different from Skopje. In Skopje, he said, nobody will talk to you, when they find out that you are an aid-worker, helping the Kosovars, apart from the Albanians in Macedonia and the Kosovars of course. I have to admit that that is not the case here. Gary had a lot of stories to tell, the busride had been one big adventure, the time in Macedonia full of good and bad things.

The nicest story he had to tell, was the story about his flight to Europe. The stewardess asked him what he was going to do in Europe and he answered that he was going to Macedonia, helping the children in the refugee camps. When they finally landed in Rome, the stewardess handed him a big bag with all the left over sugarbags, milkcups, and whatever else of worth that they could find in the plane and would normally have thrown away. If you tell that you are going to work here, people often react in this way, what you get is not always so practical, but the intention of the gift is great.

A bit later the rest of the volunteer group returned home, they enjoyed their last evening in a somehow normal town, they are now going to Vlora tomorrow and there they won´t have any possibility to go out at night, or rather, in the evening, since I keep urging that everybody is in by 10.00 o'clock every evening here. Lisa was feeling slightly bad, she had seen the young flowerseller from yesterday again and he was sad. He had been waiting the whole day for us to come, with the t-shirt of Bierhoff of course, but that wasn't the most important thing, the most important was that we from the West were giving them the honour of a visit. Luckily she had somebody with her this time in order to translate to him that she is now going to Vlora for two weeks, but that she will return soon. And that than she is going to visit him.

The town is not as quiet as normal today, in the hour that I am sitting here writing todays diary I hear the NATO plans pass over and different gun shots coming from the town, somebody is maybe having a party some blocks away. These are the sounds of a revolver, not of an automatic gun. Maybe even it's just a kid shooting at dogs, who are barking. Furtheron I hear some nightbirds singing. The longer I have been here, the safer I feel. OK you get used to it and you shouldn't underestimate the danger, but you should never overestimate it, there are a million people living here, and most of them want to have a peaceful live.

If I am awake early enough tomorrow morning I will see how the city is cleaned, every morning between 5 and 6 a whole army of women with brushes is cleaning every street and alley in the town, they walk with enourmous plastic bags behind them to put all the waste in. Next morning they will clean up the town for my girlfriend, who will arrive somewhere after 8.00 in the morning.

wam :-)