Thursday, January 27, 2011

In Case of Emergency....

Today my husband & son flew to England for stage 2 of Operation Return Home. My husband has some meetings about his future, & our son has an open day at one of the schools we have applied to.

Tomorrow in Albania there is another protest, 1 week after the last one. As a result; largely because of the violence & deaths at the last one, the American embassy is closing all day & advised schools to do the same. So my children's school will be closed, the high school, where I teach, will be closed. As one of my American students commented,

"My friends in America have 'snow days', we have 'protest days' which close the schools."

Another organisation which supports missionaries here in Albania sent out the following guidelines today. Guidelines I think you'll agree are worthy of the American embassy. Perfectly practical, but a little excessive.

  1. Stay away from large crowds. While things may start peacefully, they can easily and quickly get out of control.
  2. Ensure that you have important documents where they can be easily accessed.
  3. Try to keep cell phones and computer batteries charged in case the electricity goes out for a long time.
  4. It might be wise to keep your vehicle filled with fuel – if there is a need to get out of the area (or country) quickly, you do not want to run out of fuel!
  5. Let your teammates know where you are! Stay in touch with one another so that you can be easily reached in case of an emergency.
  6. Be prepared to stay in your homes for a few days at least – that means ensuring that you have adequate food and other supplies to sustain you.
Right better go & buy some tins of tuna to put in the cupboard tomorrow...

Needless to say we have heard nothing from the British embassy despite being on their 'list'. I remember during the swine flu scare, we did get an email from the British embassy which basically said , (in the nicest possible way) "You're on your own chaps, we can't do anything to help, should there be a pandemic!"

so my husband wrote his own version of what he thought the British embassy might write should they bother to give us advice about the political situation:

Hello Chaps,
As many of you are aware, the Albanian Socialist party is revolting. Or, to
be more precise, demonstrating, in central Tirana on Friday 28th January.
Protestors are expected to start gathering from 1200 onwards. The
Demonstration is expected to start around 1400.
The Demonstration will create further traffic congestion in the centre of
Tirana and we strongly advise all members of the local British Community to
pack their G&Ts and ankle away from Tirana for a long weekend on a golf
course somewhere. After all, in Albania, incidents of violence cannot be
ruled out, and we wouldn't want to be a part of that, would we?

Mum's the word.

Consular Section
British Embassy, Tirana
I know it's a stereotype, but the pastor of our church on Sunday was advising all Americans to register with the embassy, not just to be on an email list but so that you have 'the full backing & resources of the embassy wherever you travel'. Then the guy says.
"I use it whenever I travel, even if I'm going to Canada!"
The exclamation mark is mine, not his. It wasn't a line in self deprecating humour.

I'm sorry but when you see the American embassy here, you do begin to think they're paranoid. I took my daughter to the American compound for a birthday party. We were late. well, not until we got there & had to go through security checks worthy of Heathrow.

We had to pull over & have our car examined with one of those extra lareg dental mirrors which looks under the car for bombs. Then we had to 'pop the hood' so the security guy could check our engine, only here Albania added a spot of pure Albanianism into the mix. My car bonnet wdn't 'pop' (it's very temperamental) I tried. The security guy (Albanian) didn't even try for me, he just shrugged, smiled & said "no problem" & waved me on. Unchecked, bombs n all. I then had to drive through the bollard chikanes, but even after being checked, I wasn't allowed to drive into the compound, so we parked outside the compound & then went into the office to walk through the metal detector & put all our belongings (including our suspicious looking birthday present) through the x ray machine, and then sign in with the security guard on duty, say whom we were visiting & for how long. And then the dad had to come & meet us & escort us in. I then left &, believe it or not, had to go through the checks all over again exactly 2 1/2 hrs later when I came to pick her up. I guess it's not really surprising the spouses don't leave the compound much. And why would you when it's so nice & safe &, well, American in there?

Once inside my daughter thought she'd 'died & gone to heaven' as the cliche goes. Lots of suburban white houses, complete with pillars & double garages, sweeping vistas of grass everywhere, housewives chatting in the street, a huge children's play area, a soccer pitch & a swimming pool. Even a shop! Like Eurocamp in France. All for 18 embassy staff families. To say my daughter was awe struck would be no exaggeration. 'It's like another country' she said.

Well yes exactly, America, in fact.

My daughter still talks about 'all that fresh grass' She couldn't believe, here in the land of city apartments or village muddy vegetable patches, & her own gardenless flat, that her best friend had all this grass to run around on!

I mean, I could understand if there was a terrorist threat or Americans weren't liked, but to Albanians America is nirvana. Everyone here loves America & wants to go & live there. Maybe there's a 'standard issue' American embassy compound design...

Anyway hopefully, it will be peaceful tomorow & things will have calmed down by Saturday so we can nip out, with full tank of petrol, charged mobiles & tins of tuna & make it to the airport to join my husband & son in the UK.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tests & Protests

At 8 o clock on Saturday morning, having bounced out of bed with a "yay, this is the big day!"10 y-o & I set out to complete Stage One of Operation Return Home. Our son has been preparing for some school tests to get him into a school in September, should my husband be able to find a job in the UK, and we return home, and we return to our home town. so a tad tenuous. This seems slightly crazy, like putting the cart before the horse, but if we don't apply for schools now & we do go back to the UK in the summer, it will be too late to apply then. So we are doing things in a rather surreal,back to front way, before we have a job, a location, or anything concrete really.

This being Albania, even this Stage was not entirely normal & straight forward. Firstly we drove up the main boulevard where the protest/riot had happened 12hrs before. Half the boulevard was cordoned off & was still strewn with rocks & lumps of brick which protesters had 'dug out' of the paved road & thrown at police. Then, outside the prime minister's office was a growing memorial of flowers & candles for the 3 men shot dead, one in the head, 2 in the chest at close range. A fourth man lies critical in hopsital. And Albanian hospitals aren't good places to be in a critical condition at the best of times.....

Further on still, were the burnt out carcasses of 5 cars, poised drunkenly on the steps of Hoxha's former mausoleum pyramid. The centre was eerily quiet.

Arriving safely at school, we met the head of lower school & our son's teacher who had very kindly given up their Saturday morning to invigilate him. The school in the UK had, amazingly, suggested our son sit the test here in Albania so he didn't need to go back to the UK.

I had also had to bring my husband's scanner with us as the school had phoned to say that the school scanner wasn't working properly. So, because I am who I am, my husband gave me a crash course in how to use it. I just knew something would go wrong. Sure enough the scanner didn't copy my son's pencil answers, so the deputy head had to use the photocopy, sharpen twice, then darken twice every page of his tests: all 20 pages & then I scanned them for her.This had the added disadvantage of me seeing my son's answers, furiously trying to do mental arithmetic to guage which he had got wrong & reading his compositions, which, compared to practice ones he had written, were dreadful.

All in all not a relaxing morning. I am trying not to think about it anymore. If only I hadn't seen the papers, I would have only had my son's ebullient confidence to go by, which reckoned he had done a "pretty good job!"

Still Stage One complete. Stage two is travelling back to the UK for the open day & interviews & for my husband to have some meetings about his job situation. Of course there are about 47 more stages to go, but it feels good to have begun........

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tirana Drama

School finished early today. At 12.15 in order for students to get home before roads were closed & the protests started. The Socialist party had called for an anti government protest because of an ongoing 2yr long battle over ballot boxes not being opened, an election which was not free & fair & many corruption scnadals. People are very angry.

The Democratic government as well as many of the Socialists are all 'spot changing' former Communist party members. Berisha, the Prime minister was the man in charge of the pyramid scheme collapse. How does someone like that stay in power??

Anyway we drove home uneventfully, choosing a back route, far from the main boulevard where the protest was happening.

I'm glad people are protesting. I am always amazed at what citizens here put up with without protest, though I can also understand the resignation with so much corruption, no independent judiciary, rule of law etc. I guess also it is the communist legacy, not only having to just put up with bad government but also the huge legacy of fear which understandably makes people wary of sticking their necks out. But today 20,000 were on the streets protesting, storming the prime minister's office, throwing rocks, setting fire to police cars. There were lots of loud explosions but then there always are! People here love fire works, fire crackers....... and guns.

So far 2 protesters have died, the news doesn't specify how; 17 police injured & several protesters too. It even made it onto the BBC.
The pyramid in the picture was designed by Enver Hoxha's daughter-in-law (at his request) as his mausoleum. Presumably it had to be that size to fit his ego in...... When the communist party were defeated, his remains were quietly removed & the pyramid has just been left to decay. What I like best about it is that people irreverently climb up the ouside of it & slide down, & no one stops you. No health & safety Jobsworths here. Seems an appropriate way to treat the mausoleum of a tyrannical meglomaniac dictator. You can see in the picture the numbers of protesters standing on it.
Here's an article about the clash with police.

I just hope the protest achieves something. Albania is such a fragile, fledgling country & though it is making strides, or rather baby steps, it is always, also, taking a few steps back at the same time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Our children went back to school on Tuesday. They were not that keen on the holidays ending, like any normal children, but certainly not anxious about it.

Since stopping wearing night time nappies 4 months ago, our 6 y-o has, like clockwork, got herself up, usually around 10.30 or 11, to go to the loo. We don't even help her, she is so used to it & literally 'does it in her sleep'. Even when in Bosnia, in a ski chalet, with a very steep narrow attic staircase & no lights on, she would get herself up, negotiate her way successfully down the stairs, through the living room & into the bathroom & then retrace her steps, quite happily. In the dark. She never remembers doing any of this.

On Monday night this week, I heard the familiar creak of her door opening, a pause of roughly 'visit to the bathroom' length & then she came into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes. I talked to her, telling her what a clever girl she was & suggesting we 'go back to bed now'? She nodded, & I led her back to bed, tucked her in & kissed her, closing the door as I left. Less than a minute later she was back in the kitchen beside me saying “I can't do it. I just can't do it.” I was a bit confused until Mr Ngo suggested maybe she hadn't actually 'been' to the loo. When asked if she needed to go she nodded, so we walked out of the kitchen & she went ahead of me straight of me &.....into the spare-room.

No, it's this way.” I said. She sat on the loo, eyes closed, feet dangling. Once finished, again I led her out & pushed open the bedroom door, turning to speak to her, only to discover she was no where to be seen. I called “Where are you?”

“Here.” she said. She was in the sitting room. “What are you doing in there?” I asked. She didn't know. Of course. Next morning she had no recollection of this whatsoever. She is also convinced we make up these stories for our breakfast amusement. She is very sensitive to being 'laughed at'.

Later that same night, around midnight, I saw the children's bedroom light on, so I went in & found our 10 y-o sitting on the floor in nothing but his underpants rummaging through his drawer looking for socks.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Getting dressed,” he replied “But I don't know what to wear.”

“How about pyjamas?” I suggested. He looked at me as if I was mad, so I explained it was still night time & he still had quite a few hours ahead of him. He checked his watch, gave a little smile & put his pyjamas back on.

They say sleepwalking is not indicative of any psychological disturbance,but you do wonder what's going on in their little minds.

It normally occurs between 11 & 1 in the 1st third of the night, only usually occurs once a night & is hereditary. It is also most common in children aged 4-8 & also commoner amongst bed wetters. My daughter isn't a bed wetter, since abandoning nappies. If she didn't sleepwalk, she would be though...

It is also supposed to be hereditary. I know my mum used to tell me I would engage her in conversation at night or sit bolt upright in bed when she came in to tuck me in saying “I am awake you know” (Strange child that I was.) It also doesn't have to involve actual walking but more often repeated or routine behaviours.

The only 'sleepwalking' I've known my husband to do once in 20 years was when he got up for his customary visit to the bathroom, but mistook the landing for the bathroom. Fortunately, having been disturbed, I often get up too, & on this occasion followed my husband out onto the landing. Let's just say spotting the characteristic stance, I got there in the nick of time & steered him into the bathroom.

Of course he is convinced I made up the entire incident for a joke. Like father, like daughter.

A former colleague of mine had a husband who had a severe sleepwalking problem, he had got out of the house, tried to drive the car on several occasions, & , more helpfully, when they were moving house, was taking pictures off the walls & packing boxes in his sleep. Seriously though, that would make me lose sleep. What a worry.

It has always been something of a mystery & wasn't even seriously investigated until the 20th century. It seems the reality is much more mundane than all the literary & musical allusions make it out to be. And indeed there are some interesting cases of people who have committed murders whilst sleepwalking & been acquitted. Legally it's called temporary insanity.

Do you have any experience of sleep walking?