First day

Trip Start Jul 23, 2007
Trip End Aug 23, 2007

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Flag of Albania  ,
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I cant remember what I said in my last post, so sorry if I repeat myself, but I now have half an hour to write a weeks worth of entries... whew. OK well for a start I was struck by how similar Albania and Uganda are. There are stray dogs everywhere, barking through the night, the roads are fairly dodgy, the driving is crazy and crossing the road lethal! (Centre of tirana also has very few traffic lights- every man for themselves).After Tonin picked me up from the airport, we got most of the way home before he said 'Oh right, forgot the headlights'. Good start!

After Stephen, Matt and I had been to the internet, we went for some Albanian 'fast food'- soo good but Albanians use a lot of oil in their cooking anyway so was a bit greasy! I had a burek, which was basically a cheese pasty with filo pastry but was v.nice. I wasn't really hungry in the 40 degree heat. The boys had another traditional Albanian food, cant remember what it's called, but would have been perfect after a big night out- basically a big kebab wrapped in flat breads, with chips inside too! Looked good but couldnt have eaten anything hot. Hopefully will get one before I go. Last night (i,e, myfirst night) I'd managed to break my maglite (not so good as the electricity is v.sporadic) so went to a market stall and found a rechargable torch- you plug it straight into the wall! V.handy as we normally have electricity in the day, but seems to last a long time anyway.

We just missed the bus, so sat in the tin can of the next one for 20 minutes until it filled, then sweltered our way back to house. Well over 40 I reckon. We walked a good 20 minutes back to the house from where the bus dropped us off- v.tired in the heat. Stopped off to buy bigger-than-basketball sized watermelons, which seem to be in a complete glut here, then relaxed for about an hour at the house. I have no concept of time- no watch, so just while away the days- is great! The next door neighbour, who was Tonin's niece, called Sonila came over to chat to the new people- she's about 15 and very confident, good English. We all got to know her quite well over the week. Incidentally, my feet have now swollen to the size of a Hobbit's. I think it's the heat, but is still rather attractive!

We had been warned about the hottest part of the day being at 4pm, so where were we at the time? Outside, in the sun, picking up litter. Talk about thrown in the deep end! An American Christian band called Mercy Streets were touring Europe playing Rhythms and Blues and adding in a bible message towards the end- and tonight was the night in Tirana! There was a small ampitheatre style clearing in Tirana university, but it was rather messy with litter and overgrown weeds, so along with Stephen (our host), Matt (a guy from the Leeds team currently in Kruja, who was told he couldn't go because he had dreadlocks...!) and some people from a town wide evangelical mission going on at the same time, we donned latex gloves and started clearing the area. It was really hard work, bending down to scoop up months worth of food wrappers, sweetcorn cobs (sold nearby) and cigarette butts. As soon as that was done, we had to get started on the weeds. Admittedly the Americans had quite a bit of equipment to set up, but they didn't offer to help or even talk to us, I wondered if they thought we were Albanian... seemed a bit hypocritical to me, but c'est la vie. We stopped for a quick drink, then went back over to watch the concert at 6:40. (advertised to start at 7pm) Took our oh-so-comfy stone seats and waited. And waited. They ended up starting promptly at 8pm, so presumably they'd been told to advertise an hour before they actually had to start. There were loads of kids there though, and kept staring at Matt's dreadlocks, asking if he was a boy or girl- not sure they'd ever seen them before. A couple of girls came and sat next to me, trying to practice their English. One girl, Viola, was my age and had just finished her first year at uni, spoke v.good English.

The band played until about 10pm, giving their Christian message at about 9:30- by which time most people had left unfortunately. They did seem to impact one guy though, who went to speak to them after the concert. Tonin had been elected translator throughout, so he (and therefore us) had to stay for them to finish. I was exhausted and just wanted to get home, but had to wait. It was too late to go to a restaurant- the rest of the team were arriving at 11pm, so we went to Tonin's brother's house for dinner. It was the first of many times I experienced the Albanian hospitality. We had shepherd's pie and watermelon-mmm. Even though it was 10:30 when we got there, they still welcomed us in, sat us down and seemed so pleased to see us. Valentin, Tonin's brother, however, stayed lying on the sofa the whole time we were there (which Tonin later said was very rude) while his heavily pregnant wife cooked, served, and cleared up afterwards. I wanted to help but they wouldnt hear of it.

We walked home and there was just about enough water for me to have a shower, which was VERY welcome as I could now rub my arm and get a little collection of dirt. After I'd got ready for bed, the rest of the team arrived tired but excited! Was really good to see them all again. They got settled, we put all the matresses out on the balcony- I reassured them it gets ridiculously hot in the middle of the day- and finally got to sleep.
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