Tirana Albania
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Tirana Albania 1998: View of the street below my hotel room where I spent two nights.


These few photos were taken with the tiny Minox-B "spy" camera, which  unfortunately has very low resolution.



21 February 1998

Hello from Tirana Albania,  

Tirana Albania: The ferry from Beri Italy pulled up to the sandy coastline of the Adriatic Sea in the Port of Durres (ha) Albania and the landing craft platform bow dropped down allowing both vehicles and passengers to move out onto the sand. I looked for any signs of transportation to the capital, Tirana some fifty miles inland. I saw nothing at all. No one spoke English and while many spoke Italian I knew not enough to make any conversation; gestures didn't seem to be understood by anyone.

Finally I spotted a pair of well dressed middle aged women standing off to the side, apparently waiting for someone and approached them. One spoke cultured English and I learned from her that the bus "station" was not far from this primitive point of ferry debarkation. She offered to show me the way: through a hole in the chain link fence along the railroad track, around two warehouse structures and a short distance beyond.

I told her I only had a small amount of Italian Lira and some American dollars. She said that would be no problem. As we approached the cluster of old dilapidated buses she enquired about destinations and led me over to the one going to the capital. She asked me to show her what money I had and she selected the lira and spoke to the driver who did not seem happy with the prospect of taking my foreign currency. Shaking his head and muttering something unintelligible he suddenly went quiet as my guide and protector started speaking to him in an authoritative voice. She let me know the bus would terminate at the station in Tirana and that there should be someone there who could help me find the downtown area.

I asked her how she happened to have such a good command of English and what she had said to the sullen bus driver to enlist his cooperation. "I'm the Albanian vice-president for Ecology and I told him you were an American guest of our country." I then asked her to teach me my first words of Albanian. "What would you like to know?" she asked. "How do I say thank you in your language?" "That would be 'faleminderit,' she replied."

Feeling immense gratitude and wanting to make sure she truly understood how deeply grateful I felt for her assistance I spoke the words and emphasized them with piercing eye contact blazing with sincerity.

Her response astounded me. As her face colored and tears welled up in her eyes she insisted her gratitude exceeded mine and then went on to explain how much her government craved the approval of the Western powers, especially the United States and how I was the first American she had ever had the privilege to welcome into her country and that it was she who felt honored. Only years later after studying the tragic history of Albania did I better understand her powerfully emotional response.

The long cramped bus ride went through countryside littered with a small portion of the 750,000 concrete mushroom shaped bunkers left over from the years of paranoia (Read this wrenching first person account of the times by a survivor.). An hour later when we reached the bus terminal in the outskirts of Tirana an old man seemed to understand I needed a guide into the center of town. Knowing only two words of Albanian, neither of which was "where is?" I stammered around trying to convey my needs, finally blurting out "International Hotel." That worked. The old man's face brightened and he gestured for me to follow him. When we reached, where else but The Tirana International Hotel, he beamed at me pointing to the modern structure. Once again I used my newly learned two words of Albanian: "faleminderit." Expecting a quick acknowledgement and departure by my mostly silent impromptu guide, I wasn't prepared for the tearful response I got from the old guy. Like the Albanian vice-president, he clearly felt he had been honored by my allowing him to provide this little service. What a country.

In the years just before my arrival in the country a devastating series of pyramid schemes, reportedly promoted by several high level government officials, had collapsed and thousands of people lost small fortunes. The headquarters of the organization responsible for much of the debacle had guards posted around it and the perimeter fence was surrounded by angry victims shouting obscenities at the people inside the compound. Less than a year before my arrival the 1997 rebellion in Albania had left a majority of the population disoriented and the economy in shambles. Most of the citizens of Albania lost money in the scheme and anger still simmered around the fence protected building said to be one of the places from which the crime emanated. I walked around trying to take pictures as discretely as possible, but I'm sure the guy looking my way in one of the photographs saw me.

I did my usual walk of exploration looking for a good value hotel, unsuccessfully. During one of my meals in a small restaurant near the hotel a little girl of perhaps ten wandered in and stood watching me eat my chicken meal. After an uncomfortable five minutes the waitress gently indicated she should leave. After only two nights in the city I arranged a flight over to Thessaloniki Greece, bus travel  to Greece being highly discouraged as the mountains along the border are reported to be full of bandits... 8/14/2011


Fred L Bellomy







Tirana Albania 1998: While exploring the large public square this young man spoke good English and told me many interesting things about his tragic country.

Tirana Albania 1998: Wary men loiter around the defunct headquarters of a pyramid scheme which victimized most of the ordinary people of Albania.

Tirana Albania 1998: Typical street scene in downtown Tirana.

Tirana Albania 1998: View of the large public square from my hotel room where I spent two nights.



These few photos were taken with the tiny Minox-B "spy" camera, which  unfortunately has very low resolution.


Reference photo: author
 August 2002

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