Thursday, September 23, 2010

Beaching it.

One of the nicest things about living here is that when we come back from a 'summer' in England we know we will always have at least 4 if not 6 wks of warm weather (up to the 30s) to enjoy.

So we often go to the beach. The water is still warm & the beaches are empty. Albanian have a very funny attitude to swimming 'out of season'. The local pool, heaving from end of May onwards, is always quite quiet at the beginning of September, & in fact it is always closed by the 15th of September. Albanians seem to think that the minute August ends, if you stick a toe in the water you will contract flu. Believe me, there are far more likely disease scenarios than flu from our local pool & local beach So it means the beaches are all quiet too. And of course Albanians generally, like France & other Mediterranean countries where August is sweltering, if they can do so, take most of it off, but then go to the beach......

So we went to the beach. This is guaranteed to be an interesting cultural experience. Once we had made it to the coast, we turned North to head up an unmade up rd so that we were on a small beach well above the conurbation of Durres, where raw sewage is pumped into the sea & friends have complained of rashes, itchy skin & tingling sensations after swimming there.

Unfortunately Mr Ingo somehow managed to drive into a 'pothole'. I was map reading, vainly looking for clues as to how to get out of Durres onto the right rd. (using our 1 & only map which is of the whole of Albania.) Mr Ingo had pulled round the car in front who was dawdling. (Usual scenario; on the phone, changing a CD & lighting a cigarette whilst steering with his knees) - OK, so maybe only 3 out of 4 of those were true. In fact he probably had a small child on his lap steering for him. So neither of us saw the 3 ft deep, 3 ft wide hole until we fell in it. Well the passenger side wheel did & the underside of the car bellied onto the tarmac. Bit of a pickle. Fortunately in these situations, which are quite normal here, a passer by stopped, grabbed hold of the bumper & told Mr Ingo to reverse whilst he was effectively lifting our car. It worked. The guy gave us a cheery wave & continued in his crossing of the road. I was very thankful we hadn't been driving our 4x4 tank at the time!

So we continued on our unlikely way past the ubiquitous concrete mushrooms, a few lone houses & disused factories until we got to a military base, where we turned up hill & parked on the small cliff overlooking our little bay. We then proceeded to pay our 200 lek for a lounger & umbrella. The umbrella is vital because of the sun, & the umbrellas don't come without the beds. The price is non negotiable, despite the fact that most of the equipment is obselete; my umbrella collapsed on me removing most of the skin from one elbow & trapping me momentarily inside. It may look very Mediterranean & 1st world, but believe me, those umbrellas & sunbeds are ancient.

On the plus side, the little café at the top has a man who comes down to the beach to take your order, disappears off again only to return with our cappuccinos in china cups & saucers on a tray. Bliss.

Not being very frequented, this beach is reasonably litter free & quite pretty, though this year somewhat marred by a landslide which had sliced the beach in two.

However you'll never guess the main reason I like it. It is, believe it or not, because you can't get cars onto the beach. This was an eventuality that I had not prepared for BA (Before Albania) In Albania, people drive on the beach, for fun, for practice, for......I'm not really sure what. Slaloming through sunbathers, ball games, toddlers paddling in rock pools; it is, not surprisingly, unnerving. It seems nowhere here is free from traffic. Nor is it free of boy racers.

On one beach trip, to a different beach, we drove onto the beach to park, (on the very edge) & were entertained for the rest of the day by a couple of lads one 7, one 11 I would guess, driving a very old clapped out Merc along the beach. They weren't going fast enough to be joy riding & they had been fishing & were collecting a friend, but nevertheless they ploughed repeatedly up & down. You can just abt see the old Mercedes in the background of this photo. (& the litter if you look closely.) This beach isn't very busy either, but in Durres, a city beach, there are quite a few cars & loads of people to negotiate!

And the other big cultural difference is a Western/Southern Europe divide I surmise. Or developing/developed world one. What people take to the beach. The Albanians will go to the beach with their towel. Possibly a small plastic bag with a sanduic, qofte or byrek in it & a soft drink. That's it. And when they leave, the towel goes home with them. The plastic bag of food/leftovers doesn't. It is just left on the beach where they were sitting. Always.

Cue arrival of the Brits, the Germans, the Americans. It looks like a beachside garage sale: cool bags, boogie boards, beach bags, (no windbreaks but many bring umbrellas), buckets, spades, inflatables, changes of clothes, a towel per person, the list, & the bags, go on. I guess it's that Western disease of 'needing' all the equipment for any eventuality, (& being able to afford it.) the beach is a simple pleasure, the expedition there is not.

So what would you consider absolutely essential for the beach? And what marks out your nationality from others when on the beach??

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Bumpy Landing.

I'm never quite sure what it's called. The jargon has it that 'transition' is moving on to another country, 're-entry' is moving back to one's 'home' country. I'm not sure what the word is for going back to the host country after a summer in the home country. But I do know the symptoms & emotions. And in my experience the transition is never easy.

The children find it easiest of course. In fact adapting back to the UK was more of an issue. They were great with all the moving around & behaved well, despite table manners seeming to abandon them whenever we were with either set of grandparents. They also seem quite feral compared to kids in the UK, as here they go to the shops by themselves, run way ahead on the roads, browse at the other end of the supermarket to where I am. It's much safer & also there's more of a community feel. People look out for other people's children. I guess I just needed to teach them about a different cultural context which they're not used to. It hadn't occurred to me, after all, England is home.......

Of course 're-entry' encompasses leaving friends & families, leaving behind an exciting & busy time to return to routine &, (in our case), a bit of a social wilderness. Being a developing nation it also involves adjusting again to amenity issues & infrastructure frustrations that it's so easy to forget after a summer in the UK..

And as a family it means jiggling the pieces to fit the jigsaw of our family unit together again after a summer apart. I am now after 5 yrs of this, at least familiar with our family abode morphing into a Bachelor Pad every summer, complete with hydration packs (Camelbaks), for cycling, draped over the backs of chairs, copies of The Matrix, The Bourne Trilogy & Lord of the Rings littering the sitting room floor & a fridge devoid of much beyond beers & chocolate bars (apart that is, from some of the food in there that I had left 8 wks before. I kid you not.) This effect was only added to by a 22 yr old work colleague living with him. I couldn't even get into his room, as the floor was being used as a wardrobe. And I'm quite glad my Albanian didn't stretch to what the cleaner thought of it, as it didn't sound very polite. I have to say I wasn't totally without influence though. On the lads' bike rides I did insist they picked blackberries for my freezer, so they dutifully went out armed with Tupperware in their Camelbaks, & contrary to other photographic evidence, brought quite a lot home...

Our 1st inkling that transition was going to be a bit bumpy was when my husband (henceforth to be known as Mr INGO ( non governmental organisation, because 'my husband' sounds so pedantic. Ha!) Mr INGO didn't meet us at the airport. We were met at the airport by a friend who said he couldn't get there. Literally. Mr INGO had arrived back from work that evening to discover a 4 ft wide, 4ft deep trench had been dug the length of our street, & so he couldn't drive the car out. This happens all the time here. No warning is given. So our friend dropped us at the end of our street on the main rd, & then helped us negotiate our 6 bags down the unmade up road, under some pipes, along the edge of the trench & then form a human chain & pass them over a pile of sand & pipes & then edge our way round the rim of the trench, whilst the digger & cement pourer carried on working feet away from us. Still it provided evening entertainment for all the workmen & builders who were doing their bit watching the construction proceedings, (a universal character trait of workmen it seems) This was 10 o' clock at night by the way. They work through the night sometimes. The whole of our 1st week back in fact.

And that is our current daily reality Our quiet little dead end street has become a hive of activity. On one side, the motel, which was knocked down, has had very deep foundations dug & has concrete being poured in, & on the other side, the villa 2 down from us has been sold , flattened, the hill is levelled & it is now swarming with a crane, diggers, bulldozer, 2 concrete mixers etc.

There was a quiet Albanian family there with a bit of land, vegetables, an unfinished house, the upper floor only half built, obviously the remittances had dried up; & a little Downs Syndrome girl amongst their children. Sadly, unusual to see a Downs child kept in the family in Albania. I just hope they were offered a fair deal for their home. I sincerely doubt it though. I imagine they were offered 'enough to make a poor family think it seemed a lot' But they were in a prime spot next to the zoo lake in a dead end rd. I hope they're not squashed in some little apartment now with no land, no view & no space. See the before & after photos?

The construction goes on all day so it's incredibly dusty. We all have an urban variant of hay-fever, caused by concrete dust. It has completely changed our immediate environment, which was a quiet forgotten little corner on the outskirts of Tirana, off the beaten track out by the zoo & the park. Quite weird to be living somewhere which is gradually being subsumed into a suburb of Tirana, to have it happening literally around us.

Then of course, there have been the power cuts, always seem to be loads when we 1st arrive back, plus our electrical safety circuit, or something, has failed so our electrics aren't very safe, so our landlord informs us. And that also means the generator (which we are only allowed to use in the evenings, once dark!) doesn't come on either. He also says it's our fault because we used a plug socket we shouldn't have (?) & so we need to fix it. And the tank keeps running out of water. Have I forgotten anything?

Added to all this we have all had a horrible gastric bug which laid me low for 9 days, then my son for 6, then on our last trip to the beach last w/e my daughter got it the day we arrived. And you don't really want to know this, but a really horrible bug, I'm talking blood & mucus in my poor daughter's case. We have survived travels with children in India, South America, Sri Lanka without getting anything like this. I guess we don't have global immunity to the different bugs in the different countries we keep hopping between. And now my 'very kissy' daughter has, albeit in a very loving manner, passed on her cold to me, which she had for a month.

Oh joy.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Global Nomads - A Conversation in the Science Museum

On our recent visit to London, we were house sitting for friends in a quiet little Muse street tucked away behind the V&A. It was another world- so quiet.

As we had been rushing around a lot, we decided to have a quiet day & enjoy the luxury of being spitting distance from both the Natural History Museum & the Science Museum. So later in the afternoon we popped out & went into the Science Museum. We made a beeline for the 'interactive room' whereupon my children busied themselves with a crane & shovel contraption, essentially bailing sand ad infinitum. The sort of thing you can find in several playgrounds.

As I was observing various children participating in this & secretly hoping my son wouldn't get too bossy about who did what & who wasn't pulling their weight, a voice behind me said, "Don't I know you from somewhere?"

I turned round and immediately recognised the woman.

"Yes." I said, "You taught at my son's school in Sri Lanka, & I did substitute teaching there."

That was 2 1/2 years ago already. We had a nice chat & catch up and then she said,

"So are you based in London now?"

"No, Albania. What about you? London?" I replied.

"No, Thailand."

Global nomads whose paths intersect for 10 minutes at 5p.m on a Sunday afternoon in the summer. You know the cliche, small...... etc

So what is your strangest coinicidence or unlikeliest meeting?

When a friend & I were Inter-railing round Europe, we met Uni friends in several places/countries, but we weren't surprised; we were on a European tourist trail, seeing the sights. I did once bump into an Oxford friend at the top of the Empire State building (again at 5p.m) one random Autumn Tuesday. That struck me as quite a coincidence.

And of course when I moved to Albania thinking I would know no one in such an obscure country, one of my closest Oxford friends, who lived 5 minutes from my house, had an au pair, who used to babysit for us occasionally. I now discovered (to my shame I hadn't realised) she was Albanian & lives in Tirana. And a fellow English teacher at the school I taught in, in a little market town in Oxfordshire, whose desk was next to mine in our department, also turned out to be working in Tirana.

So go on, tell me yours..........