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!