Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chill out if you can.

I wish I was more chilled out. Sometimes I think I have the wrong personality for living in a developing country. So much makes me anxious, for my children in particular. There is definitely more to worry about in a developing country. More health hazards, traffic hazards, pollution, diseases, banned pesticides being used on crops, I could go on….

I guess it’s also about being a control freak, but not being in control. Being in an unfamiliar environment, in an unknown culture where often one feels powerless, has few available choices or is unable to minimise risks as easily, is unsettling for a worrier like me.

But then it has also made me realise how lucky I am and how much choice I do have compared to so many in the world, who are in situations beyond their control , who are utterly powerless, or without the money or education or fortune of birth to make choices or exert any control over their circumstances.

In Sri Lanka I used to obsess over mosquitoes potentially carrying Dengue, about all the tropical diseases, my children having an overloaded immune system from all the vaccinations they’ve had to have, the dangerous traffic, snakes, mostly tropical stuff. Strangely I didn’t worry about terrorist attacks. I felt safer in Colombo than I did in London. Maybe because there were so many military checkpoints and soldiers everywhere. Maybe because I knew foreigners & civilian institutions weren’t a target.

Here in Albania I worry about the high voltage power lines that pass right over our villa & what effect they’re having on our health.

I worry about the children getting appendicitis, or some other emergency that necessitates a hospital ,and having to be flown out. (The British embassy have Tirana as an unaccompanied post because of the lack of adequate health care)

An Albanian acquaintance this week got appendicitis. She is 6 mths pregnant, she’d had pains for weeks but no one diagnosed it correctly. She was evidently minutes away from peritonitis. The Dr told her that operating on her to remove an appendix & whilst pregnant was akin to trying to ‘walk on water’ Luckily he ’managed to perform said aquatic miracle, though I thought you cdn’t have a general anaesthetic when pregnant…?? But then she was back in hospital because they had overdosed her on drugs because the beds have no charts, there is no handing over between nursing staff so she was given her 2 lots of medicine twice. Thankfully she is ok, though no one knows how the baby is except it’s still alive.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Albanian & to have to live with this; maybe you are poor & can’t afford the bribes for good healthcare or maybe you’re better off, but you still have no choice but to go to these dreadful hospitals.

Her husband was told his wife & child would probably die. Having his employer’s car (he’s a chauffeur) stolen from the guarded hospital car park the night he was told that, turned into small fry in comparison. He lost the car & his job, but his wife & child survived.

Just another day in Post-Hoxha Paradise….

I still worry about the traffic. It’s faster here so more dangerous, and they’re not Buddhists so they ‘re not as worried about killing pedestrians . At least you assume that from the way they drive. Though given what I now know, they should be.

Every Sunday we bike into Tirana. My son has just got his ‘next size up’ bike with gears, so he bikes with us. On the roads. Admittedly we go along a traffic free road initially and through the park before we get to a stretch of road that only takes about 6 minutes, but at times like this I wish I was a fly or an owl. Multifaceted eyes or a swivelling head would be very useful to keep an eye on all the potential hazards.

It’s true the road we bike along has no side roads, which are the worst hazard for cars shooting out into your path. Fortunately my son is very cautious & obeys instructions exactly. I stick with him in a mother hen/leach like combo, glaring at any & every driver who dares come too close. I also have an extremely loud klaxon, repetitive horn which I make liberal use of.

We cross one traffic light. Here we have had to add to the green cross code:

“Just because the light is green, do NOT assume the other cars will stop.”

When traffic lights were first introduced in Albania in the mid nineties, no one took ANY notice of them. Significant numbers still don’t. Or at least they will cross a red light a good 15 seconds after it has changed to red.

I heard two stories last week of a Dutch man & an Albanian woman both of whom stupidly trusted the green man (Oh yes we have green men). They both got knocked down, one lost a leg, both nearly died, hospitals being another occupational hazard here. Needless to say neither driver stopped.

I’ll tell you why. I am more paranoid about driving here than ever now. At Christmas a driver from my husband’s organisation knocked down a 65 yr old pedestrian. He is an excellent driver, he had another foreigner in the car who said there was nothing he could have done. The pedestrian (as is their wont here) just stepped out from between two parked cars smack into the NGO 4x4. The driver couldn’t avoid him. The man died cradled in the driver’s arms. Almost immediately an angry mob formed. I can believe this, it happened to me once in Sri Lanka too. People seem to want any excuse for an outlet for their anger.

The police arrested Genti and immediately put him in prison. This was 3 weeks before Christmas. So his wife & 2 children were alone for Christmas. He stayed in prison for 2 months. He is now under house arrest awaiting his trial.

The police evidently do this for your own protection. You see, families of deceased loved ones often exact revenge. Blood for blood, an eye for an eye. These are not Northern Kanun families, these are people living in Tirana the capital city of a European country in 2009. I find it hard to get my head d round this.

According to the Kanun code observed in the north, if someone in your family is killed, accidentally, deliberately, manslaughter, no matter, then ANY male member , however distant, of the responsible family can (& will be) killed to settle the blood debt. The only place of sanctuary is the home, which means men cannot leave their house.

Hopefully though, amongst non-Kanun , non –Northern families the matter will be settled with money instead of blood. Fortunately Genti was in immediate discussion with the family concerned and a payment has been agreed. This is normal in ALL cases. He will have to pay $4000 to the family. This is most of his annual salary. They will then not press charges, & they will ‘release’ him from any further responsibility though the police are pressing charges.

Unfortunately he remains under house arrest so can’t work, until the case comes to court. The judge won’t bring it to court because he is asking Genti for a bribe of $4000 for himself, NOT to bring it to court. The judge can hold out for 2 yrs, but then it has to come to court or be thrown out, so the judge will wait in the hope of a bribe, knowing Genti can’t work until the case is heard.

Perhaps now you can see why people just drive off when they have hit someone. It also makes me realise the potential fall out of having an accident. As a foreigner you are unlikely to put in prison, at least not for long, but you might not be exempt from a blood debt just because you were foreign, though being a foreigner, the pay settlement & bribes demanded would be huge.

I nearly hit a girl a few months ago. It was pouring with rain. I was in the 3rd lane . The light ahead was green and there was no car in my lane so I just carried on without stopping or slowing down, when a pedestrian from the two lanes of stationary cars waiting to turn left popped out, head down under an umbrella because it was pouring. Fortunately I wasn’t going too fast so braked hard and she stopped and had to put her hands on my bonnet to steady herself. People a.) don’t look, b.) weave constantly between moving cars, c). have absolutely zero awareness of traffic or of the fact that you are in a half ton lump of metal. It’s scary. It would be so very, very easy to hit someone and it absolutely not be your fault.

But maybe I am chilling out. I am getting on with it. You have to. I still bike everywhere. I'm still driving. My children have become incredibly 'road and traffic aware'.

And when we walk anywhere we are particularly cautious about those little green men.


Wife in Hong Kong said...

Oh God, that makes me anxious just reading it. The poor chauffeur, poor Genti, poor you. Stay well and stay off them streets!

Potty Mummy said...

God. It makes dealing with South Ken 4x4's seem so (for want of a better word) pedestrian...

Iota said...

Sounds horrendous. You're very brave to drive anywhere at all.

A Modern Mother said...

Hi, just a note to let you know I am highlighting your blog in British Mummy Bloggers this week...

nappy valley girl said...

That sounds terrifying. Nobody could be chilled out with all that going on! Your poor friend, I hope the outcome is not too awful for him.

Grit said...

i would never dare drive anywhere overseas, i am so chicken about that. bravo to you.