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
Samanta Karavella
Ardit Fejzo
Evans Rama
Vesa Luma
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.

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!