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)

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


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