During three months, from september to december, I will share with you my trip to Tirana. Pictures, video, point of view...As a citizen, and not as an expert, I will present you my experiences and understanding.
Pendant trois mois, de septembre à décembre, je partagerai sur ce blog mon voyage à Tirana. Photos, vidéos, points de vue...Comme un citoyen, et pas expert en la matière, je vous présenterai mes expérience et apprentissages.
Ecriture sur un clavier sans accent, retour a la case decryptage pour les lecteurs francophones. Version francaise juste apres les photos.
Before to visit anything, it's needed to find your marks. If I am used to intentionally get lost - and don't find my way back unintentionally- it's still useful to know the main axes.
Our flat is literally located at the crossing point between the ring and a long and straight main boulevard. From this highly contrasted street you can reach Skanderberg, the center of the capital, which unless is, unless its greyness, quite contrasted too.
Two of the main arteries of the capital with universities, casinos, banks, some fancy bars, many shops...Those ways, seem to be like amplifiers of Tirana's paradox -and maybe Albanian's- on architectural, social and even religious level.
In the present article I will present you the few things I got from my different walks, talks and researchs.
Regarding to the architectural side, the contrast is easy to get. According to BBC News, Tirana' population passed from 200 000 and 800 000 in the 90's in a certain anarchy.
Following the fall of the communist dictature and due to an economical and demographical development Tirana had to build a lot of towers - a bit like during the 60'-70' in France- and not to care so much about the old buildings from the communist period (or even previous) which will, at a point, be destroyed to create new residential or business buildings.
But, one the other hand, if no plan or architectural specifications seem to be respected, the mayor, Edi Rama, put order and life in his city. Since he is mayor, 10 years ago, he destroyed many illegal shops or buildings to create parks, plant trees (around 1800 according to Wikipedia...I know BBC is much more serious), and even painted many buildings in bright colors to give a new aspect to his city.
But he didn't solved the drinkable water, electricity access, and traffic problems, so for some opponents it would be tied to his former artist background. The city is looking better, but the life standards can still be considered as lower than in Western Europe. But, looking at the post obituaries on utility poles, we realize that Albanians have the same Life Expectancy at Birth than the Americans (around 78 years).
The other significant paradox is social. Between those who benefit and those, like for examples Roma people, who don't benefit at all from economical development it's not a gap, nor a fracture, it's a canyon. During the communist period, even if everyone was employed (to build the hundreds of thousands bunkers at the border line) and was living from low wages and few rations...the life level was low for the majority of the population.
From this contrast, or this canyon, I would remind those boulevard, frequented by beggars (children or not), street sellers...trying to earn some Lek from people who can now enjoy their purchasing power to spend time and money in coffees, fashionable clothes or various equipment.
Recent establishment of social services can't yet equalize the situation and NGOs still seem to be needed. The canyon will still be a reality for a few years. But, you can say, that's not a breaking new on this planet. Living in an Albanian shanty town or a french one is equally the same.
Then, the last contrast I'll develop today, requires much more attention and discussions. It's the religious aspect. Religion is such a hard topic in Balkan as it defined the conflicts and actual map of the region. And in Albania, it takes place in Skanderberg, the city center.
Even if the, still recent, explosion of Yugoslavia began during the huge bankrupt of the early 90's which ruined the former federal state, those events are mostly presented as religious or ethnical conflicts (orthodox Serbia against the Muslim Kosovo, Vojvodina, or Bosnia and Herzegovina or catholic Croatia).
The conflicts between Greece and Albania are too often presented as orthodox-muslim conflicts. But the religion appears to just be a symbol in an old and complicated History between those two countries. There is no holy war or Jihad.
First, even if religious practice was forbidden during the communist period, Albania was a peaceful mix of cultures and religions until the 90's when Western missionaries took advantage of the new political system to enter Albania. With those new missionniries, and the Balkan crisis, the religion became tied with political, ethnical and territorial issues.
In Albania, a "70% Muslim country" (according to more than 40years old statistics) the recent erection of a massive orthodox cathedral is, somehow, considered as a provocation. Just in front of the main, but medium, mosque of Tirana this new building is dressed in white, blue and golden yellow.
Low level of pray practice, alcohol (I don't mean alcoholism), food habits, dress code...Tirana, can not be consider as a practicing Muslim city. So if people care about this orthodox church it' much more because the colors remind of Greece than any religious aspect. The architect of this new cathedral is Steven Papadatos, a greek-american. And there, in Albania, Albanian Orthodox are often named "Greeks". But in Western Europe, how do we talk about people with arab or african roots? As citizens with various cultural background, or as muslim? How do we appreciate mosques constructions? Any look to Balkan, or precisely Albania and Tirana, from above wouldn't be justified.
So, unless the high (and old) rates, Albania is not a muslim country. If the politicians -and a part of the population- is phobic it's not religious. We can talk about an "Hellenic-phobia", which is given back by Greeks who are also, for a part, suffering of "Albanian-phobia".
Through this walk along the main boulevards, I so found some marks in the city as in the society, even if both are full of paradoxes and shades.
Without being a specialist, it appears one more time that a city and its streets, buildings, and people can be considered as a huge opened learning area.
And, still, being in an other country always make you reconsider your own marks in your own (former) country.
Some colors in the greyness / Un peu de couleurs dans la grisaille
At least to eat some burek, which is my main dish when I'm in Balkan countries and/or so lazy to cook anything or to choose a fruit for the same price. Whatever, when you are sick, you need this kind of food. Well, I convinced myself that was good and cheap enough to recover.
And actually, looking for basic needs is also a good way to discover, if not the country at least some streets around your place. Fast, you remember where is the best burek, who's the one who cheated you last time because you are tourist...and all those things you make you feel more and more involved in your area.
Thanks to burek, I also learned some Albanian language. When you go, everyday, to the same store you can make new "friends" mostly if this place is the less touristic place ever and if you don't have the same language. It makes happy both the seller and the customer when, suddenly, you can share two words like: "Hello, how are you? Thanks, bye.": Seems to be nothing, but it's crazy how it appears wonderful to be able to communicate.
Like a baby, you try and try again, desperate, try again, make some mistakes, and finally you are able to communicate, to understand and to be understood...What a revolution in a life! Lucky are the one you can live it several times.
And obviously, when you were looking your world from above, going downstairs offers you new perspectives. Feeling better, in your body thanks to burek and in your area (also thanks to burek), you are now able to discover more, to walk to the next street. Earing and passing in front of the "bus-yellers", you now consider more and more to go to "Dürres! Dürres!".
Do not underestimate the power of burek.
Même malade, il fallait que je sorte.
Au moins pour manger un burek, qui est mon principal met quand je suis dans les Balkans et/ou trop paresseux pour cuisiner quoique ce soit ou pour choisir un fruit au même prix. Quoiqu'il en soit, quand tu es malade, tu as besoin de ce genre de nourriture. Bref, je me suis convaincu que c'était assez bon et abordable pour se refaire une santé.
Et actuellement, chercher à satisfaire ses besoins primaires (la panse donc) est un bon moyen pour découvrir, à défaut du pays, les quelques rues autour de soi. Rapidement, on retient o`est fait le meilleur burek, qui est celui qui a essayé de nous enfler parce que l'on est jamais que des touristes...et toutes ces choses permettent de se sentir de plus en plus intégré dans la vie locale.
Grâce aux bureks, j'ai aussi appris un peu d'albanais. Quand tu vas, tous les jours, dans la même échoppe tu peux te faire de nouveaux "amis". Principalement si l'endroit où tu vas est la place la moins touristique du monde et si vous ne partagez pas une langue commune.
Mais quand, soudain, vous arrivez à échanger deux mots, "Bonjour, ca va? Merci, au revoir", cela vous rend heureux. Toi, et le vendeur. Ca n'a l'air de rien, mais tout d'un coup, la faculté de communiquer paraît extraordinnaire.
Un peu comme un bébé tu essaies et essaies encore, te désespères, essaies encore, fais quelques erreurs et finalement tu arrives à communiquer, à comprendre, à être compris...La révolution de ta vie! Chanceux sont ceux qui la vivent plusieurs fois.
Et évidemment, quand on regarde son monde d'en haut, descendre au rez-de-chaussée permet d'ouvrir de nouvelles perspectives. Se sentant mieux, dans son corps grâce au burek et dans son quartier (aussi grâce au burek), on peut sereinement découvrir plus, marcher jusqu'à la prochaine rue. En entendant les "crieurs-du-bus" et en leur passant devant on envisage plus concrètement de se rendre à "Durrës! Durrës!".