27 October 2008

Albania - A Return Engagement

I have been to Albania before; my arrival here is a combination of rekindling slightly less than 3 year old memories of Tirana and noticing changes since that time. The first startling difference is that the dilapidated airport has been upgraded and modernized, akin to the airport in Podgorica – perhaps the same person designed the two? The old airport building sits uselessly attached to the new structure and perhaps will eventually be destroyed since it is less useful than when it was in use. The most startling change is the road to and from the airport – it is basically STRAIGHT. Picture the most meandering river you can in the USA and then add gravel, sporadic patches of hardtop and potholes and you will have a rough image of the previous road. I am told that Hoxha built the airport to be circuitous to discourage its use and the same can be said for the airport itself. It was politically correct at the time to stymie the airport's access and use.To get a ticket out of Tirana during the “bad days” you had to leave your family behind to assure your timely return.

I made my way into town and found the apartment that my friend had located for me just slightly on the side of town but close enough to walk everywhere. In three years all the buildings which had been skeletons were now fully completed and mostly beautiful buildings. The streets are all paved, which was NOT the case three years ago either. The mayor of this town is a socialist, but a good socialist in the non-communist way – kinda like me. He wants the best for the people and he may soon become the Prime Minister. For now he is responsible for making people happy in Tirana. He is the mayor who bought bright coloured paint and encouraged residents to paint everything that stood, changing the gray scale into a Miami-ish styling. Unfortunately car pollution has grayed some of the brightest buildings but Tirana is certainly more colourful than, say, Podgorica, Belgrade and most certainly Bucarest or Skopje.

Internet is still in its infancy here with most people relying on cafes. I suppose if it were more advanced I wouldn’t be here – I am a wireless hitman. My job is to design a nationwide broadband solution to help Albania advance its development as a nation. The government wants the work completed in time for the elections in early 2010. What the government wants to accomplish in a such a short period of time is ambitious.

I will add more pictures and stories about Albania as I travel around the country.

Glenn in an Internet Cafe, Tirana, Albania