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Tirana Diary 28 May 1999

Tirana 28 Mai 1999

Today was the big day for us here of the Balkan Sunflowers mission in Tirana, the first real volunteer arrived. Mish, a dutch/english/pakistan volunteer from the states, living at the time in Vienna. That's the type of volunteers I am just into. The mix of cultures which I have heard so often. And even more he found our place in Tirana on the grounds of the information which we had sent him. That really hits me, tomorrow he will write his experiences how he came here and how, explaining his experiences and that he found the place. So I am pretty sure that the others will be able to find the place as well this weekend, one thing we learn is to be patient, it is not going so smoothly as in Croatia, it needs some extra planning. Most airlines don't fly on Tirana anymore. Although airplanes enough in the air tonight I don't know what I am hearing this time, but since about half an hour I keep hearing planes above Tirana. Since we are a bit south in Tirana, we can't hear normally the pershings and F16 going to Serbia, but tonight the airspace above Tirana seems to be full of airplanes. We spent the day getting the volunteers house ready. Buying cups, plates, spoons, pans, food, etc. What is not that simple as you think in Tirana. You don't hop into a supermarket and just buy it all, but you have to go into the bazars, places in Tirana where hunderds of small merchants are selling just a part of what you need. Not cheap, since Tirana is everything besides cheap, but cheaper as in the "official" stores. Coming to that point Tirana and Albania is not cheap at all, in fact it is in many ways more expensive than Berlin or any other capital of Europe. People here seem to have forgotten totally the connection between the value of money and the product they are offering. Before we went to the bazars, which are always within a certain area of the town, each bazar is specialized in something else, where a couple of merchants in trucks, garages, containers are together, all selling almost the same products, we went to an "official" bank or rather exchange office to change my last money (dutch guilders) into leks. At this moment I am broke. We had to go there since the exchange market on the streets is only into Dollars, leks and German marks. We had to wait a while since the guy before the old man in front of us wanted to change $8000 into Leks and it costed a time to count all those notes (1000 Leks is the highest, and $8000 is roughly 160 times more (128.0000 Leks or so, being 1280 notes of 1000 leks) and they didn't have that many banknotes of 1000 lek. When they finally were finished the guy had a pile from almost a meter in front of him, asking for a plastic bag to transport it. The next one, this older man, only wanted to change 20 German mark, being an awfull lot of money for him, since he had to recount it at least 5 times before he took it. Today it was a day that you change dollars into leks at the official places, in order to change leks into dollars at the black market, don't ask me the logic, but it happened, the guy with the $8000 was just a small fish, the one after us came with $23.000, he probably asked for a big waste bag afterwards, we didn't have the time to watch that transaction. When we passed the street money exchange point on our way to the bazar, we saw lots of guys with piles of 1000 Lek notes running around which were more than a meter or so. It is impossible to even get a glimp of what happens there, considering the poorness of the country. There seems to be enough money in this country to solve a big part of the problems, it is just not getting were it should be. Back in the house I noticed the first real confrontation between a local Albanian and a kosovo Albanian, meaning our own staff. For Razadra this country is as strange as for me. I even had more contacts with the local habits as did. She kept asking George questions how thinks are functioning here, since she understands less from this culture than I. After each answer from George she told me her comments in English, since George only understands Albanian and German. Explaining that she really feels in another world, although she understands most of the language, her 2 years old kid, doesn't understand a word of the local albanian languages, by the way. They talk a lot about orthodox church, George is a real Orthodox and Razardra is a muslim, but not very active, she is Kosovarian, so Muslim, but what does that mean. For her the world was clear, Serbs were orthodox, Albanians were muslim and Croats were catholic, but in this country an Albanian can be anything. So the concept that religion is the core of everything (of war) can't work anymore, that Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox can't live together is not working in this country, how big the chaos maybe in this country at least it shows that all these religions can exist next to eachother. The different in thinking became much more clearer to me when I asked them both to translate the major articles in 4 different newspapers, 1 of the Democratic Party, 1 of the Socialist party, 1 independend and 1 Kosova newspaper. They both took totally different things out of the newspapers. For Razandra it was f.e. a very important article that there is a total chaos in the refugees camps, basic reason the international NGO's can't figure out who is a refugee and who is an albanian. The albanians in bad conditions just throw away their papers and go into camps pretending they are coming from Kosov@. And to be honest I can't blame them since I walked yesterday through the poorest part of the town and the living situation there is much worse than in the tent camps. With a bit of theatre (what the Albanians seem to get when they are born) and using the Kosov@ way of speaking you can fool almost everybody. Even the local authorities, since they don't really have a glue how many people live in their city anyway. George came up with the headline that the Democratic Party leader has said that he would punish all leaders of the socialist party, when he comes to power, with the dead penalty. The democratic party being in the opposition but not visiting the parliamental sessions anymore. Just to make clear the politics of those two parties is not that different, but the Socialists are basically from the north and the democrats from the south (or the other way round). The reason was that the Democratic party makes the socialist party responsible for the chaos here, but you have to know that under the democratic party the pyramid schemes were running. Which in the end broke this country to its last bone. When I was walking with Mish through the center of Tirana he was surprised that I was stopped every hunderd meters or so, by people who knew me, both locals as internationals. Tirana is so small (although it has 1.ooo.ooo inhibatans and 150.000 refugees) that that is normal, I am already 3 weeks here, nothing special. For me it is also surprising it goes around in the "alternative" movement like hell, if you have some ideas you should talk to the one with the long hair and the red (it used to be that colour, but 5 years sun have changed it a lot) jeans jacket. A last remark today, I figured out that the biggest problem in this country is having respect for one another. This is not only notice-able in the traffic, but you notice it everywhere. When you are in a shop f.e. and talking to the seller there, somebody comes in and instead of waiting till your are ready they start to ask questions without waiting till the one before you is served. I had today told George a few times that I don't like that habit, in fact that I see it as a major problem in this country. Everybody likes that they are respected (most of the fights (and wars) are about not feeling respected), but they don't respect others. And I have to cope with it every hour. F.e. somebody can asks me a qeustion and when I am in the midle of answering somebody comes in and start talking to me. Or you are in a shop, busy with the salesman, somebody comes in and just starts ordering something else. If I didn't had George with me I would wait for hours mostly, since I don't like that mentality. I wrote something about the creative driving yesterday, it is indeed in principle not respecting anybody else on the road. Or any rules. By the way since about 2 weeks they or digging everywhere in Tirana small holes, since a week they are putting metal poles in them. And George and I have been thinking for at least two days what they are doing, now we know they are going to put up traffic signs everywhere. They have to be fast though, the first iron poles already have been taken out by now. Such good building material you should not leave unguarded :-). I must be honest with a bit of "respect" every thing changes, and I mean the word "respect" in the way I interpretate it, not "respect" because of you, because you are important or powerfull or big and strong, but "respect" for every thing, not only humans. And since you have to walk around Tirana looking out in 3 dimensions, since it can happen that people throw their carbage out from the 3th or so floor, without looking if somebody passes by. Or what it will do to their environment. Although the rest of the world can't recieve radio Tirana anymore, since the communist breakdown this radio is just broadcasting locally I say always, this was radio tirana, have a good night.

wam :-)

ps. In 1991 I left the Netherlands, totally forgotten that we got a new prime minister since than, so it wasn't Ruud Lubbers from the Chistian Democrates visiting us some days ago, but Wim Kok from the Social Democrates. But the Dutch government broke down some days ago I have heard today, so .....