Life During Wartime--The Balkans, 1994
Pages from the Journal: Serbia, Macedonia, Albania
Monday October 24, 1994
TiranŽ, Shqiperia (as the Albanians would write it)
Rained a little off and on today, but it was still warm. I ran into Bruceís friends, Jennifer and Tim. I went to the airport with them to hear all they had to say about their two weeks here and in Greece. They gave me some contacts in southern Albania, other Peace Corps people, when I get down there. They had a great time traveling around; they inspired me to do the same.
That airport is rad. No signs, inside or out except for "Customs" and something about "LUGAGGE". Nothing else. If it wasn't for the short rickety control tower, you wouldn't have any idea it was an airport. The whole terminal was smaller than a basketball court.
I hustled a ride back to town with two guys that had dropped someone off, the more boisterous of the two bought me some kind of orange fruit the likes of which left my mouth so dry I nearly gagged on it. They devoured it like an apple.
Went to the train station, another building that's hard to discern from appearance. The street going north from Skanderbeg Square has four story buildings on each side of the wide boulevard but as the street continues the height of the buildings decreases until you can see just the beyond. It's an optical illusion, as if the street goes into the horizon.
Skanderbeg Square is really amazing. The size, the arrangement, the traffic, the numbers of people and the numbers of money changers outside the bank on the street are all amazing. These guys, close to 100 of them, carry huge wads of cash and a calculator, chanting out currencies.
A big museum and a big cultural center on the square are closed and in decay. Silvana says ALL the museums are closed. The old Lenin-Stalin museum is now the Italian ambassador's residence. The National Museum was robbed of its most precious things and the others are now politically incorrect or there's no money.
I went to register my passport at the American Embassy. The cheery chap there said that new cases of cholera have been reported, all in the south (where I'm headed). He was a nice guy in the same mold as the Serbian American consulate worker. Most are in the same mold.
People stare at me in the streets but not for long and I feel very comfortable. Many speak English. All are happy to hear I'm from America. At one place I ordered a hamburger and the girl held up two little toothpick flags to put in the hamburger, one British and one American. I pointed to the American one which made her happier than the occasion warranted.
At a shwarma place the woman spoke no English but upon learning I was American and went on excitedly in Albanian about Michigan.
Met a guy who has cousins in Philadelphia. He didnít want to go to America because it was "too capitalistic".
I went with Deni, Silvana's husband, to a friend's apartment in the southwest part of town. The building was in typically miserable shape, lights gone in the stairwells, mud all around, etc. The buildings look funny because the bricks aren't fully mortared and they appear to be jutting out in a raw state. It looks like the slightest earthquake would bring it down in a hurry. I am afraid to sneeze near them. We went inside. I was shocked to see a beautiful apartment, tastefully designed, cozy furnishings, modern blue light lamps, big stereo system, TV, glass coffee table, etc.
Silvana's father in law and Deni have painted, carved, sculpted and constructed nearly every fixture in the room. Deni, an electrical engineer hoping a milk processing job comes through, made the impressive ceiling lamp. His father did a mural on the wall.
The Miss Albania competition is this weekend.
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