Tirana 21 Mai 1999
Albania is still a new country for me, I slowly start to understand a bit
how things are functioning here, and what the culture is, but it is still a
totally new field for me. Before you can understand a culture you have to
put a lot of time into it, just looking at it and watching the small
things. F.e. I realised today what it means when I wrote a few days ago
that the southern part of this country is basically orthodox katholic. That
is mostly greek orthodox since as far as I understood there is no Albanian
orthodox church, allthough that would be normal in orthodox countries, but
I will figure it out.
Anyway swearing in the orthodox church goes with three fingers, I don't
know the english names of the fingers, but it is like the peace symbol
together with the thumb (hope I spell it right). This symbol is used
everywhere within the orthodox churches. And from Serbs is known that the
main differences between Serbs, Croats and Muslims is that they have strong
connections with the Serbian orthodox church (the Croats with the Catholic
church and the Muslim with Islam), so this symbol is also known in
Yugoslavia as the symbol of the Serbs. In Croatia and parts of Bosnia you
couldn't order three beers that way, since people would react negative on it.
This country doesn't have such a direct relationship with Serbs in the last
50 years, the orthodox in this country also use this symbol a lot when they
want to proof to you that they are telling the true. This afternoon we were
up at the pyramid talking with some people from Kosov@ maybe willing to
work with us. They worked with the OCSE mission in Kosov@ before and are
now refugees here in Albania. I was there with George, our local helper
here, who is orthodox, we talked german since George doesn't speak english
(in between I was talking croatian with the Kosovarians, they accepted it
as croatian or bosnian, allthough it is almost the same as serbian, one
said "don't talk serbian with me, talk croatian ! (so I used the new
croatian word for telephone)").
In this talk George used the orthodox symbol, since he wanted to make clear
that he was honest in his saying. The kosovarians looked at him and asked
him if he was serbian. If you watch television closely and look at the
pictures from Beograd you notice that these three fingers became the
national serbian symbole. At this moment it became clear to me how many
Kosovarians don't know that Albanian can be orthodox as well and how
less orthodox Albanians know that this symbole can hurt Kosovarians.
Besides that the Albanians in the south speak a dialect what the
kosovarians can't understand they also are used to signs when they are
talking what the kosovarians see as very aggressive. Although the signs
are ment totally different. F.e. that George wanted to symbolise that he
means that he is willing to help.
All in all an interesting problem I didn't notice until now. And I am sure
that this kind of small misunderstandings are happening a lot. The Albanian
and Kosovarian culture are not as close as everybody thinks. Only in the
northern part of Albania this cultures are a bit similar, but in the middle
and south this is by far not the case.
The main thing today was however to get the money togther to pay our new
house here in tirana where the volunteers are going to stay. Some days ago I
made an agreement that we could borrow it from that organisation which was
robbed the day before yesterday. The people in Belzig, germany got the
money together as personal loans, still the fundraising is in action but we
lack still the real money to finance the infrastructue, the big
organisations want to help us on the project side, but not on the infra
structure side. But how to get that money from Germany down here? They
transferred it to Western Union, which is supposed to be open 12 hours a day.
But like all money institutes they are afraid of robberies and their office
is only open 2 hours a day. And of course I missed the opening times, also
the neighbours told me to come at least every two hours to be sure.
Remarkable if you go into the history of Western Union, opening up the east
of America with their telegraphs and knowing they must be having all the
experiences with bandites in the past you could think off.
In the evening I was invited to the meeting of the rotary club here in
Tirana. I must admit that I have never been to a rotary club meeting before in
my life, I never ever was invited, so I was very looking forward to see
how they are organised. I visited their small refugee camp in the last weeks
sometimes, and every time I pass by some of the kids come up to me and say
hallo and invite me to come in. So far I haven't been on a more chaotic
meeting here in town as this one. They were discussing at the same time the
possibility that the european rotary meeting will take place in Tirana in
the year 2003 and how to finance their small refugee camp. Being somehow
angry that rotary clubs around the world weren't supporting their efforts,
but do their own things here in Albania, without contacting them.
For the rest I didn't find out much about the way the rotary clubs are
working. The specialist of psycho-social work, a professor of the Tirana
university, who they invited to talk about work with refugees referred to
my diaries and the work of SuncoKret in Croatia. He introduced me as the big
specialist on this topics, so suddenly I was pushed to tell something on a
moment that I was only there to see what they had to tell to us. Which put
me in a kind of unpleasant position since we haven't done anything in this
country before, I am just here trying to figure out how this country ticks.
And so there I was standing, dressed up like a hippy, since the only pants
without holes I just put in the washing machine, explaining to this
collection of "rich people" what it means to work with refugees. Rather
But the positive thing was that we met up with some people from the
Fraternite Notre-Dame from New York, a real catholic organisation telling
us that sister Marie Christine, sister Marie France, sister Marie Benedicte
and sister Martine really like to work together with us. It somehow was
funny in my head I never directly worked together with such an organisation,
but they said that they were following my actions for a long time, knew a
bit from Croatia and were impressed by it. The priest or bishop from New
York I talked to really ment what he was saying I saw in his eyes and I was
really impressed, since with my long hair and my clothes which after 2
weeks Tirana must smell like hell are not that convincing, I thought. But
they asked to have a meeting with them some where next week so they can
find out how they can support the Balkan Sunflowers.
Of course when I walk out of the room at the end I meet the head of mission
of Unicef and WFP, who immediatly start laughing saying that the Rodgner
Hotel, the most expensive hotel in town, was at least the last place where
they were safe and surely know that they wouldn't meet me. So i told them I
just met the local rotary club, otherwise I wouldn't ever go in such
expensive places (350 Dollars per night). They asked my some days before if
I now have a clear picture on what community work means here in this
country. Wolf knows (the head on Unicef) that I am trying to translate
their UNICEF plans for Child Friendly Spaces within Refugee centers into
refugees population outsides of camps and he really is interesting in what
I am thinking on this moment. I am always surprised by this types of
reactions, they are the professionals, I am just me.
If all those people had the slidest idea what it is to work on grassroot
level, if they knew how I wake up in the midlle of the night asking myself
how to finance this all, they would react different, I hope. I was glad
f.e. that I was able to open a bankaccount in this country, after paying
the last bill for the volunteers house I don't even have got the money to
leave from this area even if I want to.
I must be honest if not soon something starts to change we have to cancel
all our ideas and plans. We get support from all sides, but our finances
are not getting any better. Our name gets more and more known, on monday as
said I will meet up with a group of people from Kosov@ refugees who like to
work with us, but I don't even know how I pay them at this moment. A bit
wierd situation, everything is getting into place and good relations are
build up, but for the time being we have to run on empty.
By the way just before I wanted to go to bed I watched CCN stating they go
for ground troops after all. Wondering what kind of effects that will have
on our situation ......