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Tirana Diary 7 July 1999

Tirana 7 July 1999

In the early moning the good news was that our ill volunteer is not so dangerously ill as it had looked last night. He had been sleeping like a little lamb through the night. I checked every half an hour and even when the painkiller had worked out he still didn't have such big pains as the day before. Nevertheless John took him to hospital "number 1" to have a last check up and medicines. He felt already a lot better now he knows what it is. Furtheron he will make a short visit to a special clinic for foreigners this afternoon, to make an echo or something. Let's hope he is well, he came here to stay at least untill december and it's a bit dumb if he has to leave so soon. Anyway I am happy that it happened here in Tirana and not in Pristina, since there it wouldn't have been so simple to get help. I am not going to retract all the bad things I have been writing about the medical care in Albania, but on the other hand I must say I was impressed by the speed and easiness of the doctors yesterday, that was totally different in Zagreb, if you didn't pay first there in a hospital you could forget it, at least in the local hospitals.

I wrote a couple of times about these illegally built restaurants, shops and bars here in Albania and the action of the government to get rid of them. And that in the coming week they are going to clean up the park of youth in the middle of Tirana. Anyway they have started already with restaurants and bars in the street in the next block. It is unbelievable to see how the owners are now taking their by now well-built restaurants and bars apart to rescue everything before the bulldozers are coming. I still have this feeling that this is the least needed thing to do, but it is in full action at this time. It is strange to see how fully equipped restaurants, which really bring life into the city are just bulldozed away. In a country which has so many problems you would think that such a thing doesn't have the first priority. Since they not only provide a good service, but also employ a lot of people.

But no, the country is going to be a western country, and where there were restaurants before there is going to be a park. Like next to Skenderbeg square, there also hundreds of these small kiosk and so on were built, and now a park is put back into place, even with help of ECHO. If Tirana was a town without trees and any green I could understand it, but what they put in place is this over-structured communist-look park where nobody really goes to, apart from the fact that it is all brown, since it will take some time before flowers and grass grows there. And it is actually too small to be considered a real park. It only creates these wide open spaces.

But it is nice and clean and organised. Like one other park they removed all the restaurants from some years ago. Now the Rogdner hotel is standing there, the most expensive hotel in town. Which has indeed now been used a lot in the past three months, but will stay empty again when the crisis is over. Tirana has hotel accomodation for thousands of people, expensive and luxurious, but whoever wants to come to this area? And why, Tirana is not really a place you have to spend a long time as a tourist to see. About half a day is enough.

Ok, companies will come to invest in Tirana, as the guy from a big German milk company whom I met today, he will stay in Tirana for 24 hours to find out if his company would want to build a big milk factory in Tirana and how the infrastructure would be. Hopeless I would say. This is not the country at this moment where you can make big money soon. It is a development country, but the biggest development is not in buildings and so on, but in the mentality. For example if I consider this thing with the small restaurants - I would rather make all those illegal restaurants legal, so money in the form of taxes will come back into the economy. But no, we bulldozer them down and build a big hotel or something in their place - that they, the Albanians (and now I am really sarcastic) have to organise a civil war or other kind of crisis once in a while to actually make people come to this country, is not thought of.

At least this is the type of discussions I had with some Albanian friends today. The big point of discussion was what can Albania do to attract tourists. Or more precisely why should somebody want to visit this country. They explained me that everywhere in Europe hotels are getting guests. So if you build a good hotel, with airconditioning and so on people will come. I tried to explain that people are not coming because of the hotels, that there should be something more. But that point didn't really get across.

The volunteers who tried to go to Shemri by minibus came back in the afternoon. They had been waiting for hours at the minibus place but not enough people showed up who wanted to go to Kukes. The big refugee movement has stopped. And now you have be early in the morning, since not so much people travel to Kukes anymore. There were only seven people in all who wanted to go there today, and the minibus drivers wanted to have nine so nobody went. Our two volunteers were a bit frustrated when they came back, but I told them that they have to accept the reality. If we want to realise what it is to live in this country or to help refugees in this country or in Kosov@, we also have to learn a bit about how this country works and how the people are living here. Flying in by airplane, staying at a hotel, driving around in a fancy four-wheel drive can't really show you the country and its problems.

Therefore I'd wish that future volunteers wouldn't travel over Pristina directly, but that they'd want to come first to Tirana and go from here to Kosov@ in order to understand a bit what has happened here in the last three months. And to experience the way in which almost 500.000 people from Kosov@ went down and up during this crisis.

There were some official reactions today from UNHCR to the Albanian railway companies. Basically UNHCR was angry about the bad conditions of the trains. They are normally already in bad conditions, but the trains they sent today to Fier, Elbassan, Durres and Tirana hadn't been not used for years it seemed and were full of broken glass. Not really the thing you want to transport refugees with.

In the meantime the official repatriation is slowly getting on its way. At least people are now coming from the camps, the biggest problem is, to everybody's surprise, not the people from the camps, they have been getting their information in the last few weeks, but the refugees in host-families. Although all the newspapers wrote about it, all the food distribution points gave out leaflets and it's been 10 or more times a day on television and radio, most of the refugees which are still in this country are probably in host families ("once again we don't know how much there were in the first place"). Handicap International were reporting that they still have people coming to their community center now who have been here for three months already and are still not registrated or receiving any kind of help. And they estimate that this only the top of a small iceberg.

The UNHCR officials also had to admit that they never had a full picture on that problem up to now. Neither did the Albanian government. It was a small group which hadn't been recognized so far. Now suddenly some of them start to appear. And they are basically refugees who are old and helpless on their own. Up to now they didn't move into the cities, they stayed at home with their hostfamilies, and since the refugees are the ones who have to registrate themselves and get their foodsupplies, this wasn't working out very well. The hostfamilies could not go and get them registrated, and now the registration offices have closed down. And the people heard from rumours that everybody is moving back to Kosov@ so they go out to see if somebody can tell them how.

On the other hand the Tirana local municipality and mayor have put a financial claim to the world organisations, i.e. UNHCR, of 23 million leks, that is about $ 174.242 - to repair the damages of the refugees stay in Tirana. Mostly this will be used to repair the swimming pool and the palace of sports. I always am a bit suprised by such messages, it is like the Albanian goverment who put a claim against NATO the other week of 10 million dollars for the damage done to the roads in Albania by NATO. Of these two situations can be said that on the one hand the swimming pool hasn't been returned to Tirana in a worse condition than it had been before and that on the other hand when NATO has finished their road constructions as promised the roads will be even better than they were when NATO arrived. Of course some repair work has to be done in Tirana after all the people left, but you'd better ask for constructive development aid, which is a lot more than for example that 23 million lek, since that is a joke. Those places can't be repaired for that money. Just like the roads can't really be repaired for that amount, the swimming pool and the palace of sports can neither, let's be serious. And I am sure that this is the wrong approach.

I wrote yesterday that I was wondering what new problem we would face today. The new problem is called water. Suddenly half-way the normal period between 1 and 2 o´clock in the afternoon the water ran out. Simply stopped. We weren't able to even pump up enough water for our 1000 L container on the roof. And that with 20 people in the house. So I hoped that at least in the evening a bit of water would come, but no, it simply wasn't there. Not in this house, not at the neighbours, not in the whole neigbourhood. Let's hope there will be water tomorrow.

wam :-)