O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana Diary 8 May 1999


I found out that beside all my writing mistakes I also made some mistakes with the dates yesterday. The trip from Belzig to Tirana started at the 5th and at the 7th we arrived here. So instead of 5/6 Mai, it should have been 5-7 Mai, sorry.
After we unpacked our luggage and said goodbye to BJ (he went off to do his regular work for IRC) we decided to go for an evening stroll around the town. Kind of getting the first feelings of the town. Finding out if it is a town where you easily can walk through without getting lost or have strange remarks made to you when you walk on the streets. Allthough the traffic is rough and chaotic, the street in bad conditions and overcrowded with horns from cars, music out of marketboots from the streetsellers, which are everywhere her in the center, the helicopters ("apaches", but also military ones UNHCR is using to transport their workers fast, the road conditions outside of Tirana are even worse) and the small muddy backroads without names it is still an easy town. Even without map and any imagination where in the center we were living we ended up after 15 minutes on the major town sqaure.
This sqaure use to be one of the most beautifull places of the town, in such sence that you should like communist building style. but never the less this was the major thing in the old days. Around the square the peoples palace, next to it Hotel Intercontinal, the Opera house (with a huge banner on saying NATO ne Kosova (Nato voor Kosov@)), the monument of Skenderbeg, the presidental palace and huge not working fontains in the middle and filled up with cars (all the main roads from Tirana lead to this place), money changers, refugees hanging around, streetsellers, camera teams (also the ones who record interviews with refugees in order to get in contact with their relatives) and a never ending sound of sirenes, horns and oriental music. For every official building (also in front of all the embassies) soldiers are standing with their kalashnikows hanging loosely under the arms (the importance of a building decided how good the soldiers are dressed), clicking with the safety pin if you come to near to the buildings in their opinion.
Since we wanted to change in some official way some of our German Marks we went into Intercontinental, but they runned out of local money. And so we ended up in a hotel bought by somebody from Zagreb and they just had enough laying around to change 200 DM, but more was not possible. We strolled further in to the town looking for a place to eat (there are thousand of small restaurants). Walking around is not 100% without danger, crossing the streets means that you really have to go through all the driving cars in the hope that you reach the other side, because of the overfilled roads, the leak of traffic regulation (at least the lack of following them, the police itself gives the "good" examples) and the bad conditions of the road this is not as dangerous as it may sound, the cars anyway can't drive faster than say 30KM/hour. The only dangerous ones are the 4 wheel drives from ICRC (International Red Cross), UNHCR and the many foreign armies, they drive fast and don't watch out for pedestrians crossing the roads.
More dangerous are the sidewalks, they are broken, stones are missing and lot's of deep manholes don't have this iron plates on it anymore. You really have to watch out and concentrate were you are going. After a while we found a rather nice restaurant, we sat down and realized that Adela and I are not able to speak a word of the local languages. We imagen how hard it would be to get something vegetarian to eat, saying all the meat around us. Adela started to draw patatoes and salat. And although I thought it looked good we ended up with sausages and bread (fried patatoes by the way in local languages is "patates" (te skuqura), but that we found out a day later). The waitress looked carefully if we were enjoying the meal, so we had a hard time letting the sausages disappiaring in the paper napkins. We feed them later to some of the thousands of streetdogs, who looked if they didn't could image that human could be so freindly to them. In the next restaurant somebody understood a few words of German and so we ended up eating a lot of salat, before going to have a good night rest, which was needed after being on the road for almost 52 hours. The next morning we woke up from the call-up song of one of the mosque, allthough it is said that most Albanian are muslim, we didn't see much mosques here in Tirana, neither women or man recogniseable as muslim. The almost 50 years of communism nearly wiped out all forms of religion (in Enver Hoxha's days even beards and long hair were forbidden by law, since that looked religious, still not many beards around, those who wear one are mostly refugees from Kosov@, under their communist regime religion was free). We went to one of the coffeebars down the road to meet BJ and a big part of the IRC staff. BJ did good PR work for us, since most said that the really were happy that the Balkan Sunflowers finally arrived in Albania and that there is a real need for our type of work.
For the rest I felt very at home, the stories around the morning coffee were like in the Bosnian and Croatian war, the mess, the choas, the missing coordination, the bad road conditions, the leaking and disappairing of building materials, the messages that all the refugees from the northern part (around Kukes) will be brought south in the coming days (app. 120.000) and the wondering how UNHCR will be able to organise that. Neither are their enough buses in the country, but the experienced here has learnt that when you start with a bus of 50 people, you will end up with 3 in the south. All the others disappair at every stop the bus makes. Most of them here in Tirana, telling they have relatives or friends there. The briefing that also another 60.000 refugees will be transported in the coming days from Macedonia to here and that NATO has hit the chinese embassy in Beograd. During this conversation we look at the brown and smelling river behind the coffee bar, all the canalisation ends up in this one, as well as all the waste of the houses around it. It is not really what you can say an environmental aware country. One of the major problem from the water and toilet specialist of IRC, he really has a hard time explaining that the chemical toilets he installed should not be emptied directly next to the refugee centers. After the coffee we went into town to see everything by daylight and even more traffic. We ended up at the so-called "pyramid" a huge modern building, which has been build as a kind of memorial for Enver Hoxha, up to say 1990 a very important, almost sacred place. Nowerdays the children climb up to the top and slide down over the marmor walls. It looks a bit if it has been under shelling, glasses are broken, grass is growing between the marmor bricks and the exhibition of the glarious days of Enver Hoxha is long gone. Via the back entrance and a lot of stairs we ended in the international coordination and information center for humanitarian NGO's, not really impressive and helpfull. Most tables of the bigger agencies were empty and the information papers were outdated, only the nato had two information officers with a computer, but they weren't able to tell anything else than that there are far more refugees out there than what are registrated. We signed up at the Albanian National Forum for NGO's, but weren't able to really talk with them, allthough the two girls spoke relative good english they couldn't explain us were there central offices was. At the UNHCR desk we registarted as international NGO, but also here the woman couldn't say more than that she only knew how to put the information of the registration forms into a computer. Besides that the noise in this place was enourmous, it was more a construction site (workers repairing the place with electronic tools) than an informtion center.
We met up with the guy who organised our appartment, told him to look out for some more, hearing that the prices went up in the last days with at least 40% and looked a bit disappointed at each other knowing that fundraising for renting staying places for the volunteers when they arrive in Tirana, will be a hard job. But no problem, it somehow will work out, we are sure. Later that day we heard from the Belzig office that a yoga group in the states donated $5000 to us, so we hope to get much more of this positive messages soon.
Via the same guy we got in contact with some youngsters who started an internet provider here in Tirana and luckily enough they were still working, allthough it was saturday. Waiting for the guys to pick us up to come to their office, we bought some maps of Albanian (thanks to somebody who passed by and talked english we got them for half the price the seller asked us in the first place) and a dictionary (so now we are able to order chips in a restaurant). Walking with the two boys to their office they explained that they are having a hard time building up their Internet enterprise, they got some help from abroad, but the amount of computer and fast telephone lines is so low that their enterprise is more a very expensive hobby than a place to make a living. I am rather sorry for them, since allthough they have a very small office, they had it packed with good gear and their service was perfect, within half an hour they installed all the software needed and got my laptop (which the TAZ (a german newspaper) organized for me) hooked up to their system (and as you see it is working good). I am really thankfull to these guys from Abissnet, also for having the email connection for free, as long as we don't have big enough computers to go straight on the internet.
Waiting for our computer to be fixed we met two german guys. They represented a small german orgnisation who started bringing humatarian aid around 6 years ago to Bosnia (one of the guys had a Croatian father and also relatives in Serbia) and now came down to Tirana in order to see if their small organisation could be helpfull here as well. They came down with a German Army plane and told us on the fly that if we need transport from Germany down here for aid (not clothes or toys, but food and medicines) and some small amount of volunteers that they could help us to link up with the flight coordination center in Germany. Then they entered the building next door in order to visit some refugees living there. We arranged to see eachother when they were visit upstairs, which they estimated as being within 15 minutes.
Adela and I talked a bit more with the people from Abissnet, send some emails, I started to write my diary and after an hour we decided to see were those guys from germany stayed. On the top floor we finally found an office of a planning company, being the office of the local Rotary club as well and there we met one of the guys again. He organised for the rotary club to get some matrasses and blankets from another German organisation called GTZ (which has a huge warehouse full of good stuff here in Tirana and obvious don't know what to do with it), for the refugee center the Rotary club is running here in Tirana. The club bought with the help of Rotary clubs abroad 3 huge houses (partly still under construction) in the center of Tirana and filled them up with almost 200 refugees, but untill now they hadn't the possibility to also organise beds and blankets and other fourniture. The only problem which had to be solved now is a truck to pick up the stuff at the GTZ warehouse and bring them to this center (and that is the hardest one to solve, transporting material here in Tirana and around the country is hard, the huge international lorries can come to the warehouses, but can't go into the smaller streets of the city and surely not to the remote villages and towns in the mountains, where most refugees are).
Since I also had the Rotary club on my list as one of the addresses to visit (some member of a rotary club in the states wrote me to do it) I was again surprised how all those things falls together. The rotary guy was happy with the offer we made that we maybe could work in their center with children, since up to now they don't even have somebody taking care about their center (they are not a humanitarian organisation, and have their hands full running their own companies and staying alive). So around 10 minutes later we sat in a car and drove off to their center. 10 Minutes after arriving there Adela was already playing with the kids, who were so happy that at last somebody was willing to give them some attention.
Most of the days they are hanging around in the small rooms with about 10 people of their family, listening to the stories of all people they lost from their family flying from Kosov@. When we left after some thing more than an hour we were kisses goodbye by the women and the children shouted our names from the windows (they were at the 3 floor) and made clear that they are waiting till we come back.
The two german guys told us that they had been sleeping the last two nights on the sea side, since they didn't had any contacts yet and no money with them to rent a room in one of the hotels, so we invited them immediatly to the appartment we rented the day before, and under a quick coffee we had in one of the coffee bars we explained what we are planning to do and they immediatly were willing and full in action how we could cooperate. When I explained how the name Sunflowers was made up, the guy with the Croatian father said that he had seen the sunflowers in the sand bags in Zagreb and never forgot about it, it was a real nice picture he told me, it gave the town really a symbol of new life. I never realised that actual people had seen my sunflowers.
They dropped their luggage at our place and left for some new appointments. Adela and I went to see BJ and some other IRC guy in order to have a kind of birthday dinner for Adela (who became 25 today). The meal was great, the place also, a kind of gathering place for the 100's of international staff from all the different agencies who are in town. So after a day we landed straight in the middle of it. Hearing from a lot of sides that they are happy that the Sunflowers arrived, they have heard good things from the activities from SuncoKret and wish that we drop by in the coming days at their different offices in the hope to get some things organised together.
We arrived back at precisely 10 o'clock in the evening at our place and on the same moment the two germans returned back, and brought somebody with them who could help us with translation work. They also brought some bottles of wine, so after a while we had a very nice talk going about the different action they and we went through in Bosnia and Croatia. The Albanian guy told us that the people in Albania are not that happy as it looks like with all this people from Kosov@ coming in, allthough they are also Albanians they are in way totally different, since they went through a total different history in the 60 years.
In the middle of this talks, we recieved phonecalls from Germany, telling that they recieved our emails, and are working on visiting and identity cards, rubber stamps (to take our documents looks more official) and organising some volunteers to help us here in Tirana. Especially some Italian speaking persons would be helpfull, almost all the people here understand at least a bit Italian (they learned it from the Italian television). Immediatly after this phonecall the phone rang again, this time it was Wilbert from Skopje, this there go almost in the same speed as here. So all in all we had a nice fundament for a small party. The things are really working and a lot faster than all of us expected.

I wish all of you the best from a sunny Tirana and thank you for all the good power and spirit you send to us,


Greetings from Tirana, Mir sada, wam ;-)