Tuesday, June 8, 1999


 Albanian Chronicles 2: "A Typical Day in Albania"


 This day started in the middle of the night when I awoke with the

 runs.  My first in Albania!  Possible souces as I look back...

 brushing my teeth with tap water, a driver washing off an apple with

 water from a jug in the back of his vehicle, a greek salad... who

 knows.  And then I couldn't get back to sleep until it started getting

 light out.  And the mosquitoes were coming in my fifth floor

 window, focing me to close the sliding glass door (no screens) on

 an already hot and breezeless night.Worst of all, I was schedules to

 travel to Shkoder the next morning‑ a 3‑4 hour drive (on good

 days) over horribly bumpy roads, to meet the 3 new social workers

 for their first day of work.  A hard one to cancel, so I took an

 Immodium A.D. and went.  The first 2 hours were torture on my

 stomach.  The compassionate driver, Bernard or Nardi, kept

 checking in with me regularly... "OK David?" to which I just

 groaned.  Did I mention there is no air conditioning in these

 vehicles?  Did I mention the clouds of dry dust and exhaust fumes

 that envelop roadways?  Did I mention the rush‑hour kamakaze

 driving that one has to practice to get anywhere?  Did I mention the

 flat tire?  You get the picture... I was definitely not in my comfort

 zone in any sense of the word.  But it was all mitigated by the fact

 that I KNEW this would be a hard place to live and work, so my

 expectations were being fulfulled to the utmost.


 Our first stop was a collective center in Schenkoll.  A collective

 center is different from a camp because it is less formally organized

 and planned than a camp.  It is an already existing place such as a

 church or school or old factory where refugees find their way to or

 are put.   There are 136 Kosovars at Schenkoll.  All of them are

 from neighboring villages in Kosova (the Albanian spelling of

 Kosovo).  It is run by an Italian priest, Fr. Luigi, be he was gone at

 the moment, so we spoke with Fr. Willy instead, a Phillipino priest.

 I stopped by here on our way further North to straighten out a

 situation where our social worker was nor allowed to enter the

 center yesterday.  We all talked for a while, and then I left a note

 for our social worker who would be arriving shortly in another

 vehicle.  Schenkoll is based in a Catholic church/school comlex out

 in the middle of agricultural fields.  The entrance is gaurded by some

 refugees who ask who you are and then run into the building to get

 permission from the good father to let us in.  The centers in most

 easily accessible parts of Albania are frequently being visited by

 humanitartian organizations ( called NGO's, i.e. non‑governmental

 organizations) offering their services.  So the managers of these

 centers need to keep track of which services they need or do not

 need and keep those folks out who are not needed, or it can turn

 into a big mess.  And there seems to be quite a lot of competition

 among the NGO's to provide services in as many centers as their

 staffing allows.


 On to Shkoder.  This city is at the end of a long valley with lovely

 mountains on both sides of the road.  That's the loveliest fact about

 this city.  The architecture is early communist, with identical 4 story

 apartment houses in varying degrees of disintegration.  Here we

 went to the office of Caritas Northern Albania to speak with the

 Director, Fr. Mario, another Italian priest, who's permission we

 need to enter any of the Caritas‑run camps in this area.  He was

 very rushed, so didn't give us very much of his time, but directed us

 to tour some of the Kosovar families which the good sisters are

 caring for.  It took us two tries at various convents to locate the

 sister he called to arrange for our visit.  This sister was small and

 bursting with enthusiasm for us to see their work with these people.

 She only spoke Italian, but luckily, so did two of our Albanian

 social workers.  She especially wanted me, the lone American, to

 personally meet each of the family members in each of the homes.

 She practically took me by my hand and led me from home to

 home.  She pointed to one small room with two double beds in it

 pushed together and said that 7 people slept there... the whole

 family.  All of them seemed very happy to meet an American, and a

 few of them who spoke some English, thanked me for saving their

 country from the Serbs.  I, of course, took all the credit.  It did feel

 good to experience their obvious appreciation.  Another small room

 had three single beds in it with 3 teenage girls who had been

 sleeping (in the middle of the afternoon).  They looked very sluggish

 and perhaps depressed.   Sister would have kept introducing us to

 families, but we told her we needed to move on.  She then asked us

 if we wanted something to drink.  I was extremely thirsty so we

 accepted her offer.  Another sister, Sister Simonetta, brought us all

 a glass of cold tea and some sweet biscuit cookies.  We talked with

 her about what services are needed for these families.  She seemed

 eager amd pleased when we offered our social workers to work

 with these families.


 After exchanging contact information, we were off to the prefects

 office.  Albania has prefectures which are equivalent to our

 counties.  It was in the local government building from the

 communist days.  The reception area was a large totally unfurnished

 room except for a small desk and a couple chairs.  The receptionist

 did her best to turn us away so she wouldn't have to do anything,

 but we were persistent, and one of our staff had worked in this

 building recently, so she agreed to give us the phone number we

 could call in the morning to set up an appointment.  We were

 headed down the stairs when she called to us saying that the

 Secretary General had just walked in and could see us now.  His

 office was a bit better furnished but still extremely sparse.  He sat

 across a narrow table from us and in a monotonous voice, recited

 from memory, the rules for working with refugees, as if he had

 recited this a million times before, without any expression and no

 eye contact.  He then lightened up a bit and said we were the first

 NGO to come to ask his permission to offer social services to the

 refugees.  He seemed slightly pleased.  He lit up a cigarette and

 offered everyone else one as well.  Smoke‑free workplaces seem

 so, so far away right now.   I asked for a written statement from him

 so he signed the form letter he was referring to.  We all shook his

 hand and said 'goodbye' in Albanian...mirapafshim.  I exaggerated

 it when I said it to him and he laughed, because that's what I said to

 him mistakenly when I entered the office instead of the typical

 'hello', menenderit.  An Albanian social worker quickly corrected

 me and chuckled.  But I got it right this time.


 Four of us then went to lunch as it was already 2:30.  I was hungry

 but dared not eat anything but toast and Glina (mineral water with

 gas).  I wrote up a four page plan to give to Fr. Mario at our 4:00

 meeting with him, while they ate.  Fr. Mario was much calmer and

 more receptive to our offers of service and gave us permission to

 enter all of  his Caritas sites, and requested that the social workers

 also wear Caritas identification badges in addition to our own.  He

 introduced us to the secretary, and all of a sudden, we're family!


 It was after 5:00, so we called it a day after making plans for the

 next day in Shkoder.  I came straight back to the hotel looking

forward to doing nothing... and ended up writing this!