Thursday, August 11, 2011
On a vist to the United States Sali Berisha (Albanian Prime Minister) asks George W. Bush how he became so wealthy. Bush points to a US Highway. "See that road?" he asks. "For every yard completed I took this much cement" motioning five inches with his fingers.
A few years later during his visit to Albania Bush asks how Berisha has become so wealthy. Berisha points to a river and asks, "Do you see that bridge?" Bush replies, "What bridge?"
AAAAAANNNNDDDD I hope you enjoyed this look into the Albanian psyche.
Saturday, August 6, 2011
I was catching up with a friend yesterday and he told me a story that illustrates one of the main challenges Albanians face - living in a country where the state does not enforce the rule of law. The effects are numerous. Corruption permeates every level of society. Nepotism is widespread. Criminals avoid serving out their sentences and often never see a courtroom. It should be no surprise that people willingly turn to vigilantism rather than state institutions when they want justice served. The current lack of enforcement is a complete about face from the strict, at times draconian, enforcement Albanians survived under the reign of Enver Hoxha.
In Northern Albanian, a set of traditional laws called the Kanun are being used by some citizens as a supplement to the Albanian Justice System. These laws were passed down orally until the 15th century when they were first written down. The Kanun covers all aspects of life including; marriage, property, hospitality, crime, honor and murder (there is even a non-profit organization that is trying to use the Kanun to promote community organized resource management throughout the country). The section on murder has, in many cases, created and sustained blood feuds by the Albanians who follow its tenants. These feuds only end when all the men in both families are dead or remain in hiding in their homes.
Doing something that could possibly lead to a blood feud might seem irrational, but when the state fails to uphold justice citizens have limited options. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who lost their livelihood from the British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Let’s say a fisherman. You’ve gone through your savings and are being coerced by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility to sign a release for inadequate payments. Of the fishermen you know who’ve received compensation the amount of money they’ve gotten has been incredibly inconsistent. Then you read that Corexit (the chemical dispersant BP used to break up the spill) could be toxic to plankton and bacteria when… mixed with oil. Then you read that the gulf will be opened up for deep water drilling again and BP will be drilling 10 of the new wells. At what point do you give up on the state? Or at what point do you realize the state has given you up?
My friend’s story begins at a beach. He was helping run a camp and at one of the events a man interrupts them with a pistol. He’s brandishing it, shooting it in the air, shooting it in the sand, shooting the equipment and just because he can, he pistol whips another man in the head. A camp staff member is able to take a picture of the perpetrator on a digital camera. The police are called and give the man the option to come to the station in their car or his own. He chooses to ride with the police. Thirty minutes later he returns in another car with a friend. The perp’s friend begins berating the police for taking him to the police station and for many other perceived transgressions An argument ensues and the police, the perp, the perp’s friend and two people from the camp all return to the station to sort it out. The police give the representatives from the camp two options. The first is to forgive the man. The second? To take up the matter in the capital. They chose to forgive. My friend didn’t understand his colleagues’ decision, but it makes sense to forgive a madman with a gun who apparently has a get out of jail free card. Who knows what kind of action he might undertake if he were actually arrested and sentenced for what he’d done. Who would such a man hold responsible? The state who offered to let him off the hook or his fellow citizens who pushed the issue. It’s interesting to note that a few days later a different man with a larger gun (a Kalashnikov assault rifle) pulled a similar stunt at the same beach.
As an Albanian citizen you are trapped between the tough decision of taking justice, whatever form you desire, into your own hands or placing your bets with the inept and ineffectual state. Furthermore, vigilantism and vendetta are so common that pursuing justice through the courts could lead to reprisal. Most Albanians, like people everywhere, are decent humans. Half of them have lived through the two polar extremes of law, nearly complete repression and now nearly complete apathy on the part of the state.
On a completely unrelated note I would like to show the difference between how I was greeted by friends and family upon my return to the states after being gone for over a year and my return to Peshkopi after being gone three weeks.
My father picked me up at the airport. He gave me a hug, asked how the flight was, I got in the truck, shook my grandfather’s hand from the back seat, asked how he was and we drove off.
My mother hugged me and kissed me and said it was so good to see me.
Some of my friends gave me a hug. Some gave daps. Some asked what’s up.
These were all normal greetings to me. I will now contrast with two examples from an Albanian acquaintance and my closest Albanian friend in town.
When I met my counterpart we gave daps, put the left and right sides of our forehead together and started talking.
I was walking down the street on my way to a meeting when I see Luli (we used to call him Crazy Guy 2, but after learning his name we now call him “LLulli” which is “pipe” in Albanian). He sees me, yells something that I didn’t catch (I actually thought he was yelling at someone else), he does a strange belly thrust motion a few times to the air and then runs over and picks me up (he was yelling at me), pulls my forehead into his, shakes me at the shoulder, does some more belly thrusting (unfortunately I haven’t detached myself yet), I eventually break free and we talk for five minutes and he tells me how much he missed me and why didn’t I bring him a pack of cigarettes like I brought for Crazy Guy (the original, though Adam just learned his real name I have begun calling him “Njeshi” which means “Number 1”). I tell him that I brought Njeshi cigarettes because he’s number one (short and circular arguments are the best arguments in Albania). Another man I know tried to make me feel better by saying that Luli is a fool over and over (he also agreed when I said that Njeshi was numero uno). Then they discussed where my American Football was…
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
George W Bush, Silvio Berlusconi and Sali Berisha (Prime Minister of Albania) are all flying together on a private plane. The pilot tells them that both engines have failed and that there is only one more parachute. Then the pilot jumps out of the plane.
Sali Berisha says, "We'll we're all leaders of democracies...let's hold a vote to see who gets the parachute. Bush and Burlusconi concur and the vote is held.
Berisha is the winner. He takes the parachute and jumps out of the plane.
As Bush and Berlusconi watch him fall safely under a deployed chute Bush says, "That's democracy. He won fair and square by a 40 vote margin"
An American, a German, an Englishman and an Albanian have a meeting with God to discuss the economic crisis. The American pushes the others aside and asks, "Oh God, when will the crisis in America end." Before he is finished God replies, "Twenty years." The American says, "I can't wait that long," pulls out a pistol and kills himself. Next the German approaches God and asks, "Oh God, when will the economic crisis pass in Germany?" God answers without hesitation, "Fifty years." The German takes out a gun, shoots the Englishman to death and then kills himself. The Albanian steps carefully over the bodies of the American, German and Englishman and asks, "Oh God, when will the economic crisis in Albania come to an end." God strokes his beard for a moment deep in thought, then quickly pulls out a pistol and takes his own life.
I hope you enjoyed this look into the Albanian psyche.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I loved him like a brother. Maybe as much as a human can love an animal without crossing some unwritten laws. I didn’t write him into a will and never forced him to wear clothes like a jackass while he looked ashamed.
We had a lot in common. I learned my eyebrow raising techniques from him. We both loved a little chaos, mayhem and steak. When my dad was getting remarried we had a big barbeque. The house was packed with people who had never met Buddy. They didn’t know his styles and they didn’t know his ways. A lot of Italian-Americans were present and naturally a lot of red wine was being consumed. A perfect opportunity for Buddy’s greatest punk move (I won’t say I didn’t help hone this skill). Buddy loved attention and he had charisma. People wanted to rub his head, scratch behind his ears, etc and he didn’t shy away from the love. However, if you just gave him a pat and a kind word he would take matters into his own hands and use his nose to pop your hand back onto his head. He was both persistent and accurate. Now if you aren’t holding a glass of red wine this is cute and the result is that your hand is again petting the clever dog, but if you are holding some wine then you’ve just spilled red wine all over your Docker's flat fronts. Buddy took down between four and six bogeys that day.
When I left for Albania my dog was 14+ years old (82 in dog years) and I didn’t expect to see him again. My first journal entry before I left the states spoke to this topic as I tried a mental experiment to prepare for the very real possibility of losing family while I was away. I posited that it’s a family tradition to leave home. My grandfather left Norway when he was 16 and never saw his parents again. My father left home and I too would go overseas. I’m irrationally comforted and proud by the thought that travel and adventure is in Steinnes blood and that when we’ve had our fill we settle down into stationary lives of moderation. Despite his bestial bloodline, Buddy fit into this myth. He was a hell raiser in his youth and tolerant in old age and I think that’s a wise choice for dog or man.
I met Buddy at the pound and it was clear he had been abused by his previous owner. When he was still new to the family he would cower and shrink after any sudden movement or if you raised your hand above your head. He didn’t bark for a few months and we thought he might be mute because he would open his mouth and do everything that dogs do when they bark except make noise. Buddy got over whatever trauma he had pretty quickly, but remained suspicious of people he didn’t see regularly. He was a happy dog and smiled a lot. He was bashful when defecating and embarrassed when being bathed. He loved water like all Labradors, but only if it was his choice to get wet. He waited until the family sat down to dinner to eat from his bowl. He could open doors with handles and knew how to unlock the sliding glass door for me with his nose when I came home from school. He lived life under the adage it is easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission. He was the freest dog in the neighborhood and often took advantage of other dogs' subjugation to chains to steal their toys and bones. He displayed his discipline and loyalty by accepting and carrying out orders issued within the walls of the home and his freedom by disobeying every command once outside. Buddy was a good dog and he had a helluva run.
Buddy lived most of his life in the country where he could barnstorm, sit in the stream, chase cats, herd loose goats, swim in the pond, go where he wanted, kill chickens and scare children. I could write volumes about Buddy, his exploits and the joy he brought, but all the layperson really needs to know is this: Buddy gave 15 years of unconditional love to anyone who patted him on the head and that’s more than most people are willing to give and for far less in return.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
My site-mate and I (Team Peshkopi) won our grant to create a community NGO. We got around 1200USD to help pay legal fees and to hold trainings for fundraising, lobbying, strategic planning, leadership and one other topic which I can no longer remember. The trainings are actually being done pro-bono by some very generous individuals who could probably charge upwards of 150 euro a day for their services. Without the trainers’ charity this project would not have been possible.
Progress has also been made in regard to creating a women’s handicraft producer group. Myself and two other volunteers have been looking for markets for traditional hand made goods outside of Albania and have received some initial interest from gift shops and stores in the US.
Team Peshkopi has been asked to help with the development a 5 year strategic plan with the UNDP and regional government. In what capacity we will be working on this project remains unclear, but its nice that someone, somewhere, feels we are qualified to help in someway, somehow.
You may have noticed that my blog has recently broken past the 1000 view mark (see the counter on the right hand side). I would just like to thank all my family, friends, followers and both domestic and in-country government monitors for inflating my blog’s internet value. I hope to add annoying advertisements, spam emails and pop-ups to capitalize on my growing notoriety.
Now if you'll excuse me I have some blueberry muffins to bake.