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Tirana Diary 6 July 1999

Tirana 6 July 1999

Early in the morning I went to the place from where I had heard the shooting last night, but even though it was only 6.30 in the morning it was already too late, nothing I could find, the army of cleaning women had just hit the spot and had removed all possible leftovers. I am still wondering why somebody was shooting here, i couldn´t find any damage on the building or anywhere. Still I have seen the bullets going up from here last night, not really the bullets, but those green stripes of light. It is hard to describe, if you've seen it once you know what it is. By the way most people in the house had heard it during the night, but all in a kind of half-sleep, so nobody realised what it actually was. Only when I asked them if they heard it they realised what they had actually heard.

The shooting went on for some time actually, it was like a few rounds here and then three blocks or so away somebody reacted on the shots, and then it came back from here. And that continued for almost half an hour. I start to understand what people were telling about, that back in 1996 people were just shooting at night, just like that, in the air. For no particular reason. Last night it was just a few, but you can already imagine what it will sound like if it becomes more.

I went again to the airport today, to pick up an old friend of mine from Belzig, from the community I live in there. It was hot today, really sticky hot, all your clothes are smelling and it doesn't matter what you do you keep sweating all the time. I was wondering why all the public flights are always coming at just that particular part of the day. That prticular part when you can't do anything else as hang around doing nothing as every move makes you sweat.

I found the reason, NATO has left a three-hour window free for public flights, in that period all the flights have to come and leave. The rest of the day the airport is military. In the one week I haven't been in Rinas lots has been done at the main building, there is now glass in the flight control tower windows for a change and the tower has been painted as well. It really starts to look like an airport now.

But due to 5 or 6 flights coming in at almost the same time the chaos has, if possible at all, only increased. Almost 500 people arrived at the same time, that means that the small building is crammed full and in the hall of the building lies a big pile of bags and things from all those different persons. So even when the airplane arrives around 14.20 the possibility that somebody gets his or her way through before 15.30 is almost zero.

As always I had to wait for hours, looking at the chaos, since the building is so small that all the people who are collecting people from the flights have to wait outside. So there were at least the same amount of people waiting, probably even more, as were arriving. The Albanian police takes care that nobody comes too close to the building and every 10 minutes or so they try to press all the people back behind a kind of imaginary line, which they should not pass, but as always people will slowly press their way nearer to the building. And because of the heat, I hope, the police reacts sometimes very agressive, pushing people back in a way that often makes you think that they will take out their guns soon to start shooting in the air or something.

The arriving locals are more or less used to this, but the arriving internationals, when coming out of the building, look at the scenery and are totally lost. If the police then also starts to push them further, so that more people can leave the building, you can see by the way they move that they really have gotten kind of scared. After the stressy situation inside the building and the relief that they finally made it outside, they are now confronted with aggresive police guys pushing them away and not willing to explain anything what is going on, and not even able to talk anything but Albanian , not even one word. You really wonder what will happen if tourists would come to this country and get the same treatment, they probably will leave on the same airplane out, this is not really what you'd like to have on your holidays.

This all apart from the fact that you have to work your way through a very aggressive force of taxidrivers, who almost make you lose your temper. It is like the moneychangers, if you pass Tirana's "Wall Street" you literally have to push your way through them, all of them push their big bundles of money in your face and don't understand or don't want to understand that you don't want to change anything, but just want to go somewhere and you by accident have to pass the place, and that the 25th of them is really getting on your nerves. To avoid that problem I mostly make a detour around it. But in the airport you can't. You really have to fight your way through them.

Waiting for Janine, I took a look at the only guy who is selling some souvenirs at the airport - and please don't think of this as a big shop, the guy has a table and a glass vitrine with some stuff but not much. It is all just so basic. I always notice that a westerner imagines something a bit bigger and more organised than the reality. Anyway between all his UCK stuff I found that the Albanians have in some way a kind of humor, up to now I hadn't seen much of it. They sell little marble copies of those 800.000 small bunkers as ashtrays. And these are the best landmarks of this country. Nowhere else in the world you will find them. So something especially Albanian is a copy of such a bunker.

After two hours of waiting Janine finally came out of the building, most of that time I was pushed back and forwards by some police guys, one pushing me in one direction and the other one in the other direction. I actually wanted to write my diary there, but due to all the pushing up and down that didn't work. All this time I was standing in the full heat of the Albanian summer sun, since each time I found something looking like a spot of shadow it didn't work out the way I hope it would, the police guys would come and make me clear that this place was definitely off-limits.

In the evening we made up our Balkan Sunflowers travelplans. On the way station in Shemri the situation has become a lot better, the way station management has changed and the new guy is very happy with the Sunflowers there. And asks for more to come. At that station they have established a good relation with all the other NGO's working there, especially with the Salvation Army. Who inivited us to come with them to Gjakove (Djakovica), where they will go after the way station will stop. Goal and CARE would like to work more with us in Kosov@ too, so things go well there.

Furthermore the coordinator of CARE in Albania will drive with Hudson and Stuart up to Kukes tomorrow, passing by all the way stations to see the situation on the ground. The idea is that Hudson and Stuart will travel from Kukes the day after on to Peja in Kosov@ and meet up there with BJ from IRC, who has to be there now, and with friends of the Kosov@ youth council. They will look into the possibility to start a child and youth friendly place in that area soon. Furthermore they will look into the possibility to organise an international youth workcamp there in late August-September to start building a youth and community center, preferable with straw bales. The big and positive news yesterday was that our insurance will also cover the Kosov@ region.

The main problem is that we don't have our own transport, at least we don't think it is a big problem, but the guys with wheels think it is. In principle we have up till now always found either a minibus, or a free ride with a NGO, or something else. But the other NGO's, especially at the way stations, have the feeling that we are idiots not having our own wheels. Your status as an NGO very much depends on the amount of vehicles you have, you don't have to use them effectively, but you need to have them, to look real. Sometimes I think that all those groups are so far away from reality that they don't even see that the real heart of the work is ticking in your body and not under the hood of your car.

In all those years that I have worked in the Balkans this was never a big problem, you always got from a to b if you wanted, but nowadays this seems to become more and more of a problem. At least on the way stations it was. Not for everybody, like the Salvation Army, they really liked to have us around and from what I understood they didn't mind.

In the evening we had a little medical problem, one of our volunteers had terrible stomach cramps, and for a while we tried to solve the problem with homeopatic medicines, but it didn't work. So in the end we phoned the hospital. And to our big suprise two doctors arrived five minutes later, this was really surprising for us. And moreover they did a good job, they found out that the problem was caused by very small kidney stones and not by an acute appendix problem as we had thought for some time. After all the bad things about the health system in Albania we were rather surprised by it, but nevertheless two of our people had to stay awake all night to take care about our sick volunteer and I was one of them.... so I didn't get much sleep this night. Wonder what new problem will come to us tomorrow.

wam :-)

ps. The boys in the neighbourhood ask every day about 20 times "wherissa Tino", meaning a volunteer from the second group, who played football with them almost every day which made them come 'round every morning at 6 and keep calling his name until he would come out and play.

wam :-)