e hënë, dhjetor 31, 2007

Gezuar 2008,Happy New Year

Gezuar Vitin e Ri from Top Channel. (www.top-channel.tv)

Happy New Year!




Already for New Year!

Just been out buying the meat, and bread ( I usually forget and end up queuing for about an hour in the cold).

Why New Year is so important I have not quite figured out...
maybe because religion was banned in 1967 and emphasis was placed on New year rather than Bajram or Christmas.That would explain why santa is the "Old man of New Year".
However, I think a major reason is the fact that at New Year people had time off work, and there were more things that people could buy. E.g. oranges may be on sale, but no-one knew when they would see them again. This resulted in "panic buying", which to a smaller degree still exists today.
People buy far more than they can eat, far too much bread, and you would think the shops were shut for 2 weeks and not 2 days.

Anyway, I love the idea that New Year is a time for all the family to get together. The family unit is still so strong in Albania. That is something I hope continues.

Wishing you all a happy and safe New year!
Për shumë vjet, dhe Gezuar Vitin e Ri.

e martë, dhjetor 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Christmas is generally a non-event in Albania, and the main emphasis is on New Year. Probably the banning of religion in 1967 had something to do with that.
Christmas trees are called "New Year trees" and Santa Claus is called the "old man of New Year". For a good number of people Christmas is just another working day.

Anyway, today I have to attend a funeral, so much of my time will be spent there...so not too much time with the family.

Have a great Christmas, and thanks for reading the blog - especially those that have taken time to post.

Here is a bit of Christmas fun from the family....

Don't send a lame Holiday eCard. Try JibJab Sendables!

e hënë, dhjetor 24, 2007

Driving in Albania

One of the beauties of Albania is that you can park almost anywhere you want. (About the only exception I can think of is parking against the flow of traffic. You must leave the car facing the same direction as the traffic in that lane)

However, this can also backfire on you, when you are in a rush and wanting quickly to get somewhere ( and at this time of year you cannot get ANYWHERE quickly in the car) and what do you find?
Someone is blocking you.



Usually i have to go to the Bingo Hall across the road and get them to make an announcement, although don't expect an apology from the person that has blocked you in!

e mërkurë, dhjetor 19, 2007

From Aberdeen to Albania

It is almost 14 years since I made my first visit to Albania.

Flying in around 10p.m. to a country in darkness (or that’s the way it seemed) there appeared very little sign of life except for the odd house light around the airport.

It is a long story as to how I ended up in Albania. Imagine a Scotsman, from Aberdeen going to a little country like Albania and falling in love with the people and the place.

I find it amazing!

But the question I ask myself now is this…
Is it really THAT amazing?

I ask myself this, as I have found that I am not the only person from Scotland to come to Albania, nor am I the first person from Aberdeen to fall in love with Albania.

When I was young I attended Aberdeen Grammar School, the very same school that Lord Byron once attended.(Photo of statue of Lord Byron at Aberdeen Grammar School)

Lord Byron himself went to Albania spending around 2 years in Albania, Turkey and Greece. When in Italy he wrote “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”…
“Land of Albania! Where Iskander rose,
Theme of the young, and beacon of the wise,
And he his namesake, whose oft-baffled foes
Shrunk from his deeds of chivalrous emprize;
Land of Albania! let me bend mine eyes
Oh thee, thou rugged Nurse of savage men!
The Cross descends, thy Minarets arise,
And the pale Crescent sparkles in the glen,
Through many a cypress-grove within each city’s ken.”


My very first job was not in fact in Aberdeen, but in Elgin, a town around 60 miles north of Aberdeen. This was the birth place of Margaret Hasluck who grew up there and later attended Aberdeen University. Apparently, (and I only discovered this recently) there is a display at Aberdeen University of some items from Albania in tribute to Margaret Hasluck!

She lived for around 14 years in Albania. She wrote “Our woman in Tirana:The Life of Margaret Hasluck, scholar and spy” and also the excellent book on the “Kanun” called “The Unwritten Law”. I hope to post something of this book later on. Due to intelligence work she did during the First World War, Margaret Hasluck was forced to leave Albania in 1939.

So I ask myself…is it really all that surprising that someone from Aberdeen should go to Albania?

e hënë, dhjetor 17, 2007

Olta Boka - Zemren e lame peng

This is the winner of RTSH Festival 2007, and will represent Albania in Serbia at the Eorvision Song Contest 2008.

Juliana Pasha - Nje qiell te ri

This is the song that was in 3rd place for RTSH Festival 2007.



The final night, which was far better can be seen here.

Click on here for an interview with Juliana. (in Shqip)

RTSH Festival 2007 - winner Olta Boka


The winner of this year's festival was Olta Boka, with a song called "Zemren e lame peng".

She is a 16 year old girl that (if I remember correctly) won a children's music festival for young singers on Klan TV in Tirana.

She will now represent Albania in the Eurovision Song Contest 2008 in Serbia.

My prediction of a Mira Konci/Redon Makashi win did not even come close.
Shpetim Saraçi criticised the jury after the result.
There are already rumours that the whole thing was fixed.

Personally, I thought that Juliana Pasha with "Nje qiell te ri" gave the performance of the night, and was well worthy of her 3rd place.
I'm sorry but I couldn't find a link for last night's performance from her. The one above was from the first night, which was good...but yesterday was outstanding.

Everything is possible in Albania!


When I arrived in Albania, i was told to expect the unexpected, as "everything is possible in Albania".

That was very good advice, and I try to see everything with the view "all things are possible"!

However, this one surprised me today.
2 women carrying on a fairly lengthy conversation in the middle of a very busy roundabout. They were not just greeting each other, they were carrying on a conversation.
I stood and watched for a little, then took a photograph of them.

This kind of activity takes great faith in the Albanian driving!

e shtunë, dhjetor 15, 2007

Wood burning stove.


Due to the lack of central heating, air conditioning, fan heaters or any kind of electrical or gas heating, the Albanians under communism relied on a stove in the kitchen to heat the room and also to cook. (Many families still do – especially in private houses)
This means a number of things.
1) The balcony in the apartment or the yard in the house was usually full of wood, and each summer you have to buy more. (In fact in very cold winters, sometimes you have to stock up on more wood during the winter period, which is always more expensive!)
2) You have to chop up the wood and store it in piles of blocks small enough to go into the wooden stove. This means chopping the wood up with an axe (hopefully sharp) in the yard or at the bottom of the apartment. ( Not being used EVER to chopping up wood, this proved to be difficult for me. It usually resulted in me getting the axe stuck in the wood!)
3) The wood needs to be taken to the balcony or yard and stored neatly in a pile. This is usually the women’s job. (It is at this point you have to hope that you do not live on the 5th floor of an apartment and have to climb up all the stairs carrying the wood! It is only the modern apartments that are being built that have elevators.)
4) Some wood needs to be chopped up into tiny little pieces in order to start the fire.

When I first arrived in Albania I was told to light the stove in the very cold winter morning when I got up, as all the Albanian family that I was staying with were at work or school. I lasted till the 10 year old came back from school and we lit the fire together. Well that’s not quite true!
I took 2 large blocks, stuffed newspaper underneath them and lit the newspaper….but of course the newspaper burned, but the wood was too big and never caught fire. We tried this until the newspaper was almost finished. It was then the 10 year old produced a bottle of “vaj gurit”( kerosene) and told me that his mother lit it sometimes with this. We tried again, but still no success. The boy took the bottle and threw some kerosene into the stove with the newspaper on fire. However, this just succeeded in lighting the bottle.
We were standing in the kitchen with no fire in the stove and a bottle of kerosene lit at the top and burning…and some drops which had landed on the floor and were alight were burning marks on the floor!
I managed to put the flames out on the floor and on the bottle and we sat for the rest of the afternoon in the cold.

However, I will say this.
Nothing beats coming home on a cold winter night to a room with a fire burning wooden logs.
Nothing beats the smell of the logs burning.
If you stock the stove just before you go to sleep…it can keep the room warm ALL night!

e enjte, dhjetor 13, 2007

Language Lessons#2

“të qaj” = “to cry, to weep, to shed tears”

This is an interesting word.

Within Shkodër you have 2 pronounciations of this same word.
I have been told that the 2 communities – Catholic and Islamic pronounce the word in a different way.

The muslims pronounce it with a “ch” sound at the beginning.
“chay, “ch” as in “chair”,“ay” is pronounced the same way as we say ”eye” in English.
The Catholics pronounce it with a “k” sound at the beginning.
“keeay” “ k” as in “kick”,“ee” as in “seen”, “ay” again the same as “eye”.
(I believe the “k” pronounciation is the proper (gjuhe letrare) way of pronouncing in Albanian)

Again you can see the different cultures in the same town just in one word.
Interestingly enough one of our sons pronounces it with the “k” sound at the beginning, even although my wife and I pronounce it with the “ch” sound.
I think he must have picked it up off his nursery school teachers.

Please feel free to correct my pronunciations…it’s all a learning process for me.

P.s to understand the comments better. Here is a map showing the split between Gheg and Tosk speakers. Although there is a better map here.


I believe the official Albanian language is Tosk, but the majority of people from Shkoder speak the "Gheg" dialect.
My only question would be this...
If the 2 different pronounciations are simply "Gheg" and "Tosk", then in respect of the word "qaj" why have we so many Shkodrans speaking "Tosk"?

e martë, dhjetor 11, 2007

Will I ever understand the Albanians?


Edith Durham starts her book “Albania and the Albanians” with the great quote…

“Englishmans,” said the tame Albanian, “silly mans! No understand my people. My people all one week like this,” here he waved his arms round violently. “Next week go back to work. All quiet. Englishmans no understand that.”

I really like that description.
I encourage myself by thinking that it is just as well I am Scottish!

But it still makes me wonder if I will ever really understand the Albanians.
Yes, I have learnt the language (to a degree, together with grammatical errors!)
Yes, I have adapted greatly to the culture.
But, as someone so wisely advised me many years ago…
“No matter how long you live there, you will always be a foreigner…”
Unfortunately, he was right!
There are times I think with my Scottish head, and fail to understand Albania and the Albanians.

I will give you an example…

There is only so much that I CAN understand. I could write post after post of life under communism and stories I have heard. I could describe it for you. I know all about it…but that is the heart of the problem…I know …but I don’t REALLY KNOW (experientially).

I showed one of my friends pictures of Shkoder in April 1991.
He asked where I got them. He told me he was there at the park. His eyes glazed over and he said, “all the old feelings are coming back”. I felt I was standing on holy ground. I did not understand. I longed to go there…but didn’t dare. It felt too personal, too painful. I changed the subject.

Without experience I cannot know. Without knowledge I cannot understand.

It appears the Scottish are also “silly mans”!

e shtunë, dhjetor 08, 2007

Albania 3rd in the world...for corruption. ( Post answers)

Sorry but felt I needed to answer the post on corruption with another post, as the answer requires a bit of writing.

I was asked if I had ever bribed an official.

That is a good question.
To me a "bribe" is paying to get something that either i do not deserve, or should not be given to me.
It can also be something I pay to get done quicker than normal.

e.g. In 1997 new telephone numbers came out and everyone wanted a land line number.
I was told that there would be enough numbers for everyone.
We got married that year, moved into an apartment and applied for a telephone number.

When the numbers were issued I spent a number of mornings, including a day of snow, standing outside the Telecom building waiting in line to speak to some Telecom official.
Eventually, I got to speak to the right person and found out that a number of people in my apartment would get telephone numbers regardless of WHEN they sent in their application, because they were doctors or professors. (I didn't realise we had so many in our block!) As a result, not everyone would get a number and we were among those that would miss out.

I know of some people that paid a "bribe" and got a number.

I did not.
We waited five years for our telephone number.
Similarly we waited a long time for planning permission to be granted, when a "bribe" could have speeded up the process.

So, in answer to the question - "No" I have never paid a bribe.

However, on the other hand, Ervivi is correct in her answer to the post and you really need to understand life in Albania.
My postman used to come to the door with mail. If I gave him a little "something" for a cup of coffee, then mysteriously, the very next day he would appear with a stack of letters for me. Did they just arrive?...or were they in the post office and he was waiting for a "tip" before bringing them to me.

If you visit the doctor, you may have to "tip" the doorman. You need to "tip" the doctor that sees you, and if you are admitted, you need to "tip" the doctor, the cleaner, the nurse etc etc

I have given these "tips" on many occasions. It is part of life in Albania. You won't survive or get anything done without them!
However, I do not consider this a bribe.
I would consider a bribe as paying the doctor to take you ahead of other people waiting for a similar operation as your own.

Again, there is corruption in schools and universities.
If I paid enough I could easily become a Doctor in Albania, regardless of my results.
Or I could get a driving licence without sitting any lesson or test.
This is probably the worst part of the "everyday" corruption, and to me this is something that I cannot see changing.

The corruption in the hospitals and schools and with the lawyers is something I cannot see changing in Albania. Hopefully things will improve, but it so much part of life within Albania that I cannot see any change coming soon.

Hopefully that is a little clearer.

I am sure those of you from Albania understand completely the situation and I understand it must be difficult for those that have no experience of life here to imagine the reality of daily life in Albania.

e premte, dhjetor 07, 2007

Albania 3rd in the world...for corruption!

Transparency International have published their report on Global Corruption. ( Global Corruption Baromater 2007.)

Albania came out 3rd in the countries surveyed with a 71% rating, trailing Cambodia(72%) and Cameroon(79%).

Some interesting reading, although I learnt nothing new!
It only confirmed what I already knew...you have to pay a bribe for almost anything in Albania.
The highest score of corruption occured in the medical sector...at the hospitals!(Why am I not surprised!)

61% see the situation remaining the same for the future.
22% are positive and see it improving.
17% are more negative and see it getting worse ( I hope not!!)

Only 20% consider the governments efforts fighting against corruption as being effective.
53% as neither effective nor ineffective.
27% as ineffective.

Maybe I should look on the bright side.
It could be worse, we could live in Cameroon!

e enjte, dhjetor 06, 2007

Albanian Music Festival 2007


RTVSH organise a music festival every year.

The winner goes on to represent Albania in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Unfortunately, I think that Albania still needs to qualify from the semi-finals to get to the main Eurovision event.

In a couple of weeks the RTVSH festival will be held in Tirana.The presenter this year is Elsa Lila.

The first year I watched the festival Ardit Gjebrea won with "Eja". My personal opinion is that the whole thing is fixed...but here are the list of artists taking part.

Manjola Nallbani
Kozma Dushi
Arber Arapi
Des Xherahu
Juliana Pasha
Jonida Maliqi
M.Frroku & A.Cuedari
Mariza Ikonomi
Rozela Gjylbegu
Rovena Dilo
Besiana Mehmeti
Agim Poshka
Voltan Prodani
Saimir Cili
“Kthjellu”
Samanta Karavella
Ardit Fejzo
Evans Rama
Vesa Luma
Blero
Teuta Kurti
Olta Boka
M.Konci & R.Makashi
Greta Koci
“Produkt 28”
Alberie Hadergjonaj
Eneida Tarifa
Blerina Shalari
Ada Gurra
Adela Bezhani

Would you believe that the Albanian winner gets to go to......SERBIA!

Hmm...don't like the fact that it is full of youngsters from "Ethes e se premtes"(Albanian version of the X factor)....and I just can't imagine Kozma Dushi at Eurovision!...I reckon Mira Konci and Redon Makashi have a good chance of winning!

e mërkurë, dhjetor 05, 2007

Tirana (Again)

I do NOT like driving around Tirana all day, and that is what i was doing all today. Fortunately I had my wife with me to keep me company (and tell me to calm down any time I lost my temper at other drivers! - or with the Police that made me wait over 5 minutes to come out of a junction, and one of the Policemen was speaking on the telephone!!)
Then on the way back to Shkoder the car had a defect and would not go more than 70km/h. However, we got back safely, so we are thankful for that!( We always pray for safety before we travel!!)

Anyway, noticed quite a few shops had Christmas decorations up - I have not seen any in Shkoder yet!

Here are a couple of shots with my mobile phone.

The bottom 2 are of a celebration of 95 years of the Armed Forces in Albania.

The other two of Skenderbeg Square getting ready for Christmas and new Year.
If you have ever driven around there you will know it is NOT the time to be driving AND taking photos!
So i apologise about the quality.



e martë, dhjetor 04, 2007

Shkoder in the fog.

Having grown up in Aberdeen, Scotland, which is by the sea, I am used to foggy days. A bright sunny summer morning can easily become thick with fog by lunchtime, as the "har" as we call it comes in off the sea.
However, foggy days are not too common in Shkoder.

Last week we had 2-3 days of fog. Early Sunday morning was particularly bad, and you could almost not make out the "5 Heronjte" from our apartment.

video

e shtunë, dhjetor 01, 2007

First for Photos

Winter is here, so it's time to chop up the wood and to get on your thick wooly socks!

e enjte, nëntor 29, 2007

Double Headed Eagle (Part 2)

Somehow having problems posting. My server caused problems yesterday, and I couldn't get the video below posted. Now I can't add anything to the post.

What i wanted to say was that i found the video very interesting as I had always wondered about the origins of the double headed eagle on the Albanian flag, but never was given a "good" explanation. I would appreciate your views on this explanation.

There is also a good (different) article here in SHQIP for those not fluent in English.

Double Headed Eagle of Albania (SHQIPONJA)

e diel, nëntor 25, 2007

Radio Shqip Live 1.0

This is a widget for all Windows VISTA users.
Sorry, but it appears it may not work on XP or Apple Mac.

This is what the program offers.

"Radio Shqip Live is gadget that will allow you to listen to Top Albanian Radios LIVE from your windows vista sidebar or desktop."

Death in Albania


The father of 2 of my close friends died yesterday and I was at his funeral today.

One of the best ways you see 2 different cultures in Shkoder is in respect of death.
The Catholic and the Islamic tradition are different, although they have many things in common.

Now for a foreigner like me, this can be all very confusing, and to be honest “deaths” are probably the time I feel less comfortable in Albania. The women and men are in separate rooms…the women usually with the body, the men in a different room. So, my wife is in a different room, and I am “isolated” to show how ignorant I am of “traditions” and greetings, and for how long I should stay, or what should I say.
I usually mumble a “Qofshi vet” or “Zoti ju forcofte” – although no-one can really tell me why (“Qofshi vet”) is said, or it’s real meaning! ( I think it has something to do with a comforting greeting from the Kanun of Lek Dukagjini.)

At death, the body of the deceased is taken to the family dwelling place.( if not already there) It stays there till the funeral. Friends and family go to pay their last respects. This can go on all night, depending on the time of the death. In both cultures, they usually have a very quick funeral.
In this instance, the death occurred yesterday at 6a.m. and the funeral was today at 12 noon.(the reason for the delay was to allow family living in Italy to return for the funeral)
As the body is taken out of the house, the family line up at the side of the road and then the friends pass by again paying their respects.
In the Catholic culture, the friends shake hands with the family members, however in the muslim funerals they pass by with their open right hand held up by the side of their face.
The Catholics usually have this greeting at the graveyard, whereas the muslims at the side of the road, before and after going to the grave.

Often the coffin is left open for the family to see and to speak one last time to the deceased.
Following the burial, earth is thrown on the coffin and friends and family take it in turn to throw earth or “spade” the earth on top of the coffin.

On return from the graveyard there is a meal in a restaurant.
The muslims do not serve alcoholic drinks, whereas the Catholic funerals have “raki”( local alcoholic drink made from grapes). However, although the Catholics will toast the family to comfort them, they will not “click” their glasses together, as this is reserved for times of joy.
Even here you can see the 2 different cultures. The muslim tradition is to eat very quickly. I think this is to emphasise that they are not gathered together to speak, but to pay their respects to the deceased. Again the meal is either men by themselves or women by themselves and never together. The meal in the Islamic culture does not last very long. Maybe about an hour at the very most. It is usually soup, rice and then a sweet called “hallv”(if I have my Albanian spelling right – although I believe it is actually a Turkish word!)
The Catholic meal is different. They serve raki, and for example today was a meat stew, rice and boiled meat, and no sweet. Although there was plenty salad and cheese on the table. The Catholic meal again is quicker than a normal Albanian meal, but often lasts a lot longer than muslim meals.
Again there is greeting to be said…as I have mentioned I am not an expert, but I think that “për të mirën prej soti” is what I usually try to say.

In the days that follow that you see further difference in the cultures.
muslim – people go to visit the family the first day after the funeral. Then, on the first Sunday after the funeral.
These visits usually last only a few seconds. You go to the house. Outside there will be members of the family and you greet them by raising your open hand up to the side of your face as you pass them by. At the door of the house/apartment there will be more people and you give them a similar greeting. You enter the house, giving a similar greeting and sit down. You express your condolences, are offered a cigarette and then usually you get up and again greeting the family you leave.
The women go on the 7th day after the funeral, and then have a meal 5 weeks later.
Catholic – people go to visit the deceased’s family anytime after the funeral.


As I say it can be all very confusing, and it appears they add stress to the family that is suffering at that time. Maybe one day I will be able to understand it, and know what to say. It is a long learning process though!!

e premte, nëntor 23, 2007

Bank repairs



Noticed scaffolding up around the bank in the "Piace". Ten years after being burnt down in the 1997 riots. It has taken another couple of weeks for workmen to appear, so today I managed to ask what they were planning on doing. Apparantely they are going to give it a "face lift" and get the roof back on. Still they did not know what was going to happen when that was finished.

Let's hope it isn't going to be turned into another cafe-bar!

e enjte, nëntor 22, 2007

Language Lessons



Words we use in Shkodër

Kërtollë (Shkodër) = Patatë (Shqip/Albanian)


Meaning:
1) potato
2) term used to describe someone silly.
e.g. my brother-in-law calls one of my sons “ Eh kërtolla e dajës!”

It is of course important for a foreigner(like me) to understand that “kërtollë” is not Albanian, but is in fact Shkodrane.

So when I went to Tirana and asked for a plate of chips(“kërtollat të fergume”), the poor waitress just looked at me. I asked twice but I got no response. So my Albanian friend, who was with me from Shkodër said it very slowly...”Një pjatë me kërtollat të fërgume”...of course it was then he realise he should be saying “ Patate të shkuquar”

Again “fergume” = “të shkuquar”. It is again Shkodrane.

Language lesson over for today!

e martë, nëntor 20, 2007

Tirana

Was in Tirana yesterday fixing the car. Here are a few photos I took walking through the city.



e shtunë, nëntor 17, 2007

Scotland v Italy


Was at a youth group, then a hospital visit, so missed the first half.

Not surprised to see us 1-0 down. I firmly believed we would not win.

But, then....as always we started the comeback.
1-1 and I started to believe that we could win.
...and we almost did. James McFadden missing an open goal.

Then just to make matters worse...my wife asks with 5 mins. left to go out in the pouring rain to buy wine and cheese for the Lasagne tomorrow.

In the end, Italy scored to extinguish any last hope of qualification.

The Bravehearts are brokenhearted!

Still I am laughing at a comment my mother-in-law made after watching only 5 minutes of the game with me...
"Për Zotin, ata Skoceze s'dinë më luajt, veç japin të bardhet topin!"

She knows nothing about football...yet she was so right!

The rules of the Bicycle.




In Shkodër, the number one form of transport is the bicycle.
Everyone has a bicycle. So I thought I would tell you some things that you need to learn if you are living in Shkodër.

1) To ring the bell to tell people walking on the road to get out of the way!!
2) To sit on the back of the bike when someone else is riding the bike. ( I keep falling off! I’ve got no sense of balance)
3) To ride the bike with a small child sitting on a special seat at the front.
4) To ride a bike with a small child sitting on a special seat at the front, and someone else on the back.
5) To ride the bike with a small child sitting on a special seat at the front, and someone else on the back, and holding an umbrella at the same time. (not an easy one this one!!)
6) To ride the bike with a small child sitting on a special seat at the front, and someone else on the back, and holding an umbrella at the same time, and ringing the bell to tell people on the streets to get out of the way!!
7) To ride a bike with no brakes. As far as I can make out this is an art form mastered by middle age women who constantly use their feet as the brakes.
8) To ride a bike in the dark lanes when there is a power cut. This is an act of faith, as you cannot make out where the holes are.
9) To ride the bike holding on to another bike ( i.e. 2 bikes side by side, but with one cyclist riding one bike, and steering the other at the same time – I still can’t do this)
10) To fall off your bike without getting hurt.
11) Not to be too disappointed when the bike gets stolen. I have had 2 stolen in the last 10 years…although both times it was when we loaned the bike to someone else that it was stolen.

e mërkurë, nëntor 14, 2007

Is there religious harmony in Shkoder?

Is there religious harmony in Shkoder?

I come from Scotland.
Glasgow is a divided city. Not Islam-Roman Catholic but Protestant-Catholic. There are 2 big football teams Celtic and Rangers. In general Celtic are supported by the Catholics and Rangers by the Protestants. On any “normal” day Glaswegians live together work together and drink together without any problem. But on match day they stand at opposite ends of the football ground shouting abuse at each other. Come Monday morning things have calmed down, although “bragging rights” are very important.
However, there is a general dislike of each other. One side will blame the problems on the school system of the other (i.e. they are uneducated). The other side will accuse the other of being “unwashed” and “bigoted”. They live together, they work together, they party together…but they don’t really like each other.
I was interested to read a recent comment from a Celtic supporter…” I am ethnically Catholic. I don’t believe in God but I still hate Rangers.”

Shkoder is roughly 50% Catholic 50 % Islam.
I wonder if Shkoder is a little similar to Glasgow?
Do we have “ethnic Catholics” and “ethnic muslims” in our town?

To answer the question “is there religious harmony?”we first must define what is religion.
This is important to understand.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines religion as...
1 a: the state of a religious "a nun in her 20th year of religion"
b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural
(2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

Yes there are religious (truly religious) Roman Catholics and muslims in Shkoder...but the vast majority are not. Religion to the majority is the family they are born into. “We are muslims!” or “We are Catholics!” What that really means is that they profess belief in God, Jesus and the Catholic Church, or Allah and Mohammed...but they have little idea of the real teaching of their religion. However, it does mean that they “faithfully” celebrate holy days and act according to the traditions of the “religion” in respect of practices at birth, marriage, or death.

So to the question “is there religious harmony?”...I would have to say that question really means... “Is there social harmony?”. And to that I must answer “yes!”.
The 2 different cultures exist and function without too much difficulty. Although if you ask a young man that has fallen in love with a girl from the opposite religion...then they both will tell you that it is still a BIG difficulty. “Çifti i Lumtur” may be one of the best and funniest Albanian films, but it is no laughing matter to any young couple who find themselves in a similar situation!
Yet there are mixed marriages in Shkoder, and mixed marriages that don’t just work, but flourish and declare the “working together” of the 2 cultures.

They work together, drink coffee with each other, wish each other a happy Easter or Happy Ramazan…but in general they think they are “better” than the other group.( I use this description rather than the word “dislike” each other or the “hate” word used above by the Celtic supporter).
I have heard Catholics complain about the way muslims bring up their children…with the opinion that the muslim children are not at fault as the parents are “uneducated”. This does not mean “unschooled”, but rather that the way they are brought up is at a lower lever than Catholic families.
I have heard muslims comment on the Catholics and how they go over the top and spend too much money on their festivals. “harxhojnë shumë!, kanë luajt mendësh!”
Or else criticism that they eat pork. “ jane piste, hanë mishin e derrit!”
I have heard complaints from both about descrimination regarding school marks, or job applications due to their religion.

Is there a danger?
My answer would be that the greatest danger would be to underestimate the danger.
Yes, there is a danger. It only takes one madman to stir up trouble and the 2 communities could be at “war” with each other ( here I mean a war of words and not killing each other!) A couple of years ago a large cross erected on a hill near the village of Bushat was knocked down. There were objections by muslims about the plans to have the statue of Mother Theresa at the entrance to Shkoder. I foresee that as either/both religions become more “visable” in their outward expressions of their beliefs...so there will be more opposition.
However, in 1997 Albania rioted and the whole city appeared to be armed. There was shooting everywhere. Yet, in all the looting, destruction and killing...neither mosque nor church was damaged. Nor was there any sign of religious hate or religious killing. In fact I used to say that i felt safer in 1997 during the riots when there was no police presence than before! This was due to the fact that the whole neighbourhood ( I lived in “3 Heronjte” at that time) barricaded the end of the street and protected us from any danger. Nightwatchmen kept guard in the local bar just below my bedroom window, and at 2 a.m. they shot a couple of rounds of their automatic just to tell others that they were still guarding the area!

Will things change in the future?
Yes – but at the same time, you only need to walk down the street on a summer evening to see by their dress (or lack of it) that the young girls are far more influenced from Italian TV than the Qu’ran.
There are more younger men studying the Qu’ran and serious about it. Just go to the mosque on Friday and see.
It was encouraging to hear a Catholic priest refused to baptise some of the catechism class as their school behaviour was bad!

But if there are more young people being serious with their religious studies then I think we will face the “real” religious harmony question in a few years time.
Personally, I like to think that the religious studies will lead to open debate and discussion with theological based arguments, rather than widen any gulf of “dislike” and “disagreement”.

Maybe the wise man who said that the faith of Albanians is “Albanianism” was correct.
“Awake, Albania, it's time to rise
And bind yourselves with brotherly ties;
Look not to church or mosque for pietism,
The faith of Albanians is Albanianism! “
Pashko Vasa

Maybe there will always be a small group who are strong in their beliefs...but maybe Shkoder will prove that the real religion of Albanians is their national identity.

Of what i have seen, family and the opinion of the family, friends and neighbours seems to be far more important than anything that God or Allah says.

Time will tell, however, for now it appears that as long as both cultures are accomodated by the government and “bashkia” then both groups will be happy.

Albanian Women - can you understand them?

My wife just read me a quote...

"Women are meant to be loved, not understood!"

What chance have I?

I am Scottish, married to an Albanian.
I have to try to understand the Albanian mind and the women's mind!

I guess I should just accept the fact that I have no chance!

(I'm off to give my wife a kiss!)


e hënë, nëntor 12, 2007

Çifti i Lumtur


This has to be the best Albanian film from the communist era. It is worth learning the language (and culture) just to appreciate how clever and funny this film really is.
I saw it the first year I was in Albania, and had it explained to me in bits and pieces...but just couldn't understand why the 2 fathers' photographs were displayed outside their work, nor why after work the whole shift met together to discuss the proposed engagement.

I guess I never will understand what Communist Albania was like!

Anyway, for those blessed enough to know Albanian, here is link to an interview with Marie Qyrsaqi, from the Tirana Observer dated 16th August 2007.

Answer - How many men does it take to dig a hole in the street in Albania?


The answer is ELEVEN!

One in the digger, one with the shovel and 9 watching them, encouraging them and of course, giving their advice ! :-)

Although, I'm not too sure about the man at the far left. I believe he may be an innocent pedestrian trying to figure out how to cross the road!

e shtunë, nëntor 10, 2007

New Links to "My Friends"

Just added 2 new links to "My Friends".

Please take a look at
1) Paris-Tirana. Unfortunately (for people like me) it is in French. Now I realise why I should have paid attention to my French studies at school!
Anyway, although it is in French, there are a lot of good articles referenced here, and the majority are in English. :-)

Here is what the author says of his blog...
"Its aim is to share social scientific analyses, discussion and
comment about the Balkans in general and Albania in particular."

2) Albania Bridge

This is a site connected to Oxfam GB that are trying to fund the building of a bridge near "Ure e Shtrenjte". The bridge is needed to cross the gorge that runs across the village.

e premte, nëntor 09, 2007

Question for you...

Here is a question for you all.

How many men does it take to dig a hole in the street in Albania?

I will give you a clue. There is one "digger" lorry and one shovel.

The answer is between 1 and 20.

You can post your guesses in the comments, and I'll post a picture showing the answer in a couple of days.

The 3 major religions in Albania


There is much talk in Albania of the 3 major religions - Roman Catholic, Albanian Orthodox and Islam. Although there is no recent survey to show the statistics, it is believed that it is approximately 70% Islam, 20% Albanian Orthodox, and 10% Roman Catholic. The vast majority of the Albanian Orthodox would live in central and south Albania, whereas the Roman Catholic population are strongest in the north and Malesia.
Shkoder itself would be approximately 50% Catholic -50% Islam.

There is in fact talk of trying to make these the ONLY recognised religions in Albania.
Recently, I have seen a couple of Mormons on the streets of Shkoder. These are the first I have seen in 12 years.

A few years ago, I was walking down the street and there were 3 Mercedes cars parked on the road. (not a strange occurrence in Albania !! You will see more Mercedes cars here than anywhere else in the world!) Anyway, on the first there was a Qu'ran in the window, in the second a crucifix hung from the inside mirror, and in the third a picture of Claudia Schiffer (photo model) was sellotaped to the dashboard.
I thought to myself..." Maybe THESE are the 3 major religions in Albania!"

e martë, nëntor 06, 2007

Magazine article on Albania (Including Shkoder)

Don't miss this very good article on Albania. It is from a motoring magazine, but don't let that put you off.

1) Click on this link.
2) Click on the section that says "Read New Issue"
3) Follow the pages down to Page 121.
4) open Page 121 and onward - read and enjoy!

e hënë, nëntor 05, 2007

Vllaznia T-shirt


How about a F.K. Vllaznia t-shirt ?
Mug ?
Badge ?
Skanderbeu 2008 calendar ?

try here SHQIP STYLE

However, although I quite like the above baseball shirt, I think I'll give the "classic Vllaznia thong" a miss!

e shtunë, nëntor 03, 2007

Parking fine


Double parking is a punishable crime!...
...but not that serious as to have to take the cigarette from your mouth.

P.s. It wasn't my car - I was on my bike!

e enjte, nëntor 01, 2007

1 November - All Saints Day



This is a special day for Catholic families. Today they visit the graves of loved ones. They ensure the gravestone is clean, and light candles, leave flowers, sweets, fruit, biscuits, cigarettes, raki...
Members of the family will stand around the grave and speak to the departed loved one.

I'm not 100% sure of the whole reason to this, but I think it has to do with the belief that although the "soul" of the loved one is dead, it cannot get into heaven, but through the actions of the living relatives, they can make it "good" enough to get through the pearly gates.

First for Photos - Park Life








e hënë, tetor 29, 2007

Shkoder in the rain

video

Hope this video works.
My computer crashed today, and it has taken me 6 hours to get rid of the virus. I think it is okay now...but i'm a bit scared to restart the computer as the virus wouldn't let me log on.( not even in safe mode!)

Anyway, in the middle of all this, I somehow got internet connection and managed to load this video of 3 people trying to cross the road just after this morning's very heavy thunder storm.

e shtunë, tetor 27, 2007

The Old and the New


Old style Albanian house and new apartments opposite "Kisha e Madhe".

e mërkurë, tetor 24, 2007

Photos

Had some e-mails asking for permission to use my photos on other blogs.
Please feel free to use any you find either here on on the Flickr site.
I am more than happy if they are some use to you.
The more photos of Shkoder on the web all the better!
I will try to update my Flickr site regularly. They should be in high resolution there.
If not, drop me an e-mail and I'll send you a high res. copy.
Kolin

Repair Work


Took this photo yesterday, as the electrician was carrying out repairs. He climbed precariously onto the roof, put up the ladder, started to climb and the ladder went through the corrugated iron. It's bad enough trying to carry out repairs normally, but I hope this time he had an added "risk" bonus to his bill!

e hënë, tetor 22, 2007

Photos

If you click on the photos (the link at the right), it should take you to the Flickr site where I have a few photos of Shkoder. I will try to keep updating these with more photos.

My Friends

I have a link at the left hand side mainly for those that have included a link to here in their website. If you have me linked and I have missed you out, then leave a comment and I'll add your site in.
Thanks!

Buying property in Albania

I have been asked about buying property in Albania, so I must post this link to an article from Albania Business Guide 2006-2007. For anyone seriously thinking of purchasing property in Albania they really should read this!

I saw Rick Stein's cooking program in the summer and he was in Corfu. He looked across to Albania and made a comment about how little development there was on the shore of Albania. He said that this would all change in the next 10 years and then we would be all buying property in Albania!
If he is right, then maybe NOW would be the right (and cheapest) time to buy!

Property in Albania

This is a photograph of the "5 heronjtë" statue.
Directly behind it, you may be able to see work in progress on a new building.
I must admit I got quite excited when i saw this, as it is part of the land outside Radio Shkodra. The reason i was excited, was because I thought that there was a chance of them building a little auditorium...somewhere to hold children's concerts, school plays, and even better, somewhere for local bands to play. But, no, I was thinking with my "Scottish" head again and not my "Albanian" head. It is of course, going to be office buildings and new apartments. (see below)


Now, I am all in favour of Albania getting some new buildings and better sized apartments and with better quality...but it appears EVERYONE is building apartments and NOTHING else! I heard that a poll amongst the youth in Albania once recorded their major complaint as being "lack of facilities" for their age group. So why more apartments?

I guess there is more money to be made in apartments rather than a concert hall.

Certainly, I feel with the lack of facilities, young people will continue to look further away...either to Tirana or abroad to meet their "needs". This remains a worry for me.

e martë, tetor 16, 2007

Albania Map

I thought I should really have a map of Albania on the blog, so here is my favourite, although it is an old map. (see Titograd and Yugoslavia)
Shkoder is up the top left of Albania. (and of course is the most beautiful of Albanian towns - but then I am biased!)
I am always on the look out for better maps, but this is the best I have found so far. It is taken from a National Geographic article in July 1992.

(Click on the map to see larger image)

e hënë, tetor 15, 2007

Independence for Kosova - but what kind?




With under 2 months to go till the 10th of December deadline to reach some kind of agreement, it still appears that neither side are backing down.

Serbia want to give Kosova autonomy of sorts - i.e. they still want Kosova to be part of Serbia.
Kosova want total independence. They have even declared that if no agreement is reached they will declare independence.

The worrying thing is not just that neither side is backing down, and no agreement appears even close...but the fact that the U.S. has declared that they will back Kosova in "self"-declaring independence from Serbia.
Russia however are backing Serbia.
This complicates the matter greatly.

Recent talks only show that there is still wide disagreement.

I heard a Serbian politician being interviewed on the BBC, and her attitude was that Kosova would never be fully independent - ever!. She laughed at the very idea. She answered the question on total independence by asking a question...
" Will Montenegro then give their land to the Albanians...then Macedonia, and Greece?"
"Never!" she said.

I find this all quite worrying, as I pray for peace!

e premte, tetor 12, 2007

"Albania - more normal than you'd think"

Had to laugh at this article.

A journalist comes to Albania for a laugh, and finds he enjoys the country.

Though if anyone knows more of the "eco-tours based on hiking an old military trail connecting mountain top bunkers", I would like to know.

Sounds like something I might try.

Islam in Albania



Today is the end of Ramadan, and a holiday in Albania.
The day starts very early with a gathering at the mosque for early morning prayers. Today this is a public message over the tannoy system. Fortunately today was not too loud, as we live almost next door to a mosque!
Then the children go round the door wishing everyone a happy holiday. "Bajram bubareq!"
People give them sweets or fruit, sometimes money. It used to be only "petulla" which is a bit like a deep fried pancake, as that was all the families used to have to give. Now that Albania has improved economically, the children get a bigger selection - although I must admit to liking "petulla"!

It is clear that Islam is growing more popular in Albania, especially amongst the youth. You can see by the dress and their "look", that some are taking their religion seriously. I don't know if I was really allowed to take a video inside the mosque( and I apologise if I was not meant to), but here is a short video from today in the "Ebu Bekr" mosque in Shkoder.



video

e martë, tetor 09, 2007

Back in Albania



Mother Teresa Airport, Tirana
Sorry, but I was in the U.K. for the last week and just got back to Shkoder yesterday...so hopefully I can get back to blogging.

The direct flight from London Gatwick is a big help - especially when you have small children.

I was encouraged by British Airways efforts to accommodate the passengers.

This included:
1) a very good meal, with a cheese wrap, chicken salad and fruit and nut mix.
2) twice coming round with the drinks trolley
3) a Skypack for little children, including a sheet to colour in, a video game and a cuddly toy aeroplane. My 2 year old is very pleased with that!

The new Mother Teresa airport is also excellent, and a big difference to the last one. First impressions last, and this gives Albania a great first impression.

Still, it appears we will have to wait some time before we can get low budget Easy Jet flights to Tirana!

e hënë, tetor 01, 2007

First for Photos


I have decided that (at least) every first of the month should have a photo of Shkoder.

So, I'll start off with a sunset taken from our apartment.

e diel, shtator 30, 2007

Shkoder

Thought there might be some readers that are missing Shkoder...or maybe some that know nothing about it.

Anyway, here for you are some photos from a you tube link from someone called "luckygirl1982", with music from Bujar Qamili. Good work Luckygirl!

Enjoy!
video

e shtunë, shtator 29, 2007

Zef Pllumi


Zef Pllumi died in Rome on the 25 September 2007 (last Tuesday).

He was one of Albania's best known priests of the Catholic church and suffered greatly during the communist era.
Twice he was imprisoned. Once for 3 years and again in 1967 for a further 23 years.

In 2006 he was given the title "Nderi i kombit" from the then President, Alfred Mosiu.

e premte, shtator 28, 2007

Never forget what happened here! (John Paul II 1993)

Here is an extract from an interesting article on the influence of Catholicism in Albanian culture.
It is well worth reading in full.

"This is a people whose greatest national hero, Skanderbeg, defended the Christian faith, sword in hand—a people whose outstanding modern ideal was Mother Teresa, and a people who gave so many creative minds and martyrs to the Church. They must not be forgotten. We in the West must remember the promise made by John Paul II that we would act speedily and generously to help restore Albanian Catholic culture."

e enjte, shtator 27, 2007

Coca Cola or Fanta ?


Some things in Albania are known by the producers name. Much like in the U.K. we call all makes of vacuum cleaner "a hoover". The Albanians call a satellite dish "Sharp", or lemonade " Coca-Cola".

Many times each week i shop at "Supermarket Merxhani". The shopkeeper , Merxhani, was well known all over Shkoder.
Most days I would buy a bottle of Coca Cola. The conversation went as follows...
"A bottle of Coca Cola please",
Merxhani would reply, " E zeze apo e verdhe?" ("Black or yellow?" i.e. Coca-Cola or Fanta?)
I would reply, " E zeze " ("Black")
It did not matter that every day I bought Coca-Cola...Merxhani still would ask me the same question.

One day i decided to get him NOT to ask me that question. So I entered the shop and asked for a bottle of Fanta.
Merxhani replied, " E zeze apo e verdhe?" ("Black or yellow?")

We miss Merxhani!

e mërkurë, shtator 26, 2007

Pope to visit Albania














Pope John Paul II with Sali Berisha 1993


During a recent trip to Rome , Pope Benedict XVI accepted an invitation from prime Minister Sali Berisha to visit Albania.

Pope John Paul II was the last pope to visit in 1993.

I would imagine that any visit, would include a trip to Shkoder.


e martë, shtator 25, 2007

Buying property in Albania

Recently the centre pages of the Sunday Times in the UK, carried a property page advertising new apartments in Albania.

At the same time, I heard Rick Stein in a cookery programme on the BBC claiming that within 10 years " we will all be buying property in Albania".

It is true, house prices are rising daily. In some cases they have increased 3 times in price within a year!

I would just like to offer some advice as one who has bought land, and an apartment in Albania.

1) Be very careful as to who the owner of the land is. Many houses and apartments have been built without permission. You may end up buying land/property from someone that has paperwork, but does not own the land!

2) Take great care even when the owner is known. Sometimes the whole family(i.e. everyone over the age of 16 years) needs to sign the papers, or else they are not valid.

3) Even if you are buying a new apartment be very careful.
Are all the documents correct?
We bought a new apartment but the owner reduced the floor space making numerous changes to the original plans.
We paid for the apartment and ended up in a dispute over water asnd electricity. The owner had not made a contract with the electricity firm and it left us 2 months without electricity!

4) Someone needs to overlook the Albanian workmen. Usually they get quality work on the outside, and pay cheap labour to do all the work on the inside. This needs to be checked daily!

5) Never pay until you have ALL the documents. I sold an apartment here, went to the bank, arranged with the manager that we return and get the money transferred to my account. I then completed all documentation at the notary office. When we finished at the notary office the buyer told me that the money in the bank was not his, it was his employers and that he could not pay me!

6) Get a good lawyer! (Albanian one)

e enjte, shtator 20, 2007

New Pyramid Scheme in Albania


This seems to be the new "pyramid scheme" in Albania - a human pyramid for putting up scaffolding on a building site!

Everyone is buidling in Albania. I just hope that their safety measures are better than we see here.

I know a builder and he recently bought safety belts for his workmen to use on the roof of the building he is working on. The shopkeeper told him that it was the first time in 15 years that anyone had ever bought them!

e martë, shtator 18, 2007

Albanians Rediscover God, If Not Old-Time Religion

Please see the following link for a very good article from the Washington Post on religion in Shkoder. (Article dated 4 April 2007)

Higher religion in Albania?














Photo of the view from my apartment

Lord Byron once wrote,
"Land of Albania! let me bend mine eyes
On thee, thou rugged nurse of savage men!
The cross descends, thy minarets arise,
And the pale crescent sparkles in the glen,
Through many a cypress grove within each city’s ken."

Childe Harold's Pilgramage

I don't know what Byron would write now - one thing is for certain, he would not say that the cross descends!
When I arrived in Albania in 1995 the mosque was just opening. I remember speaking to a young boy who was very enthusiastic. He told me that the minarets of the mosque were taller than the "kisha e madhe" ( big Catholic cathedral in Shkoder). A few years later, the Catholics rebuilt the clock/bell tower that had been knocked down in 1967. It was taller than the minarets. The Franciscan church has now built a large bell tower with an illuminated cross at the top, which shines down over the town.
I wait to see what is built next!!

e diel, shtator 09, 2007

Welcome!


This is my first blog on life in Shkoder, Albania.
I am from Scotland, but am now living in Shkoder.

Shkoder is a small town in the north of Albania close to the border with Montenegro.


The town is roughly 50% Roman catholic and 50% muslim.

This is a photo of a statue of Mother Teresa opposite the mosque on the main street.

 
expatriate