Happy Birthday, Kosova

So it turns out that Kosova and I now share the same birthday – February 17. Abby and I pondered this during the weekend, when we went with our Albanian doctor friends (Dritan C. and Dritan M.) and their wives (Albana and Elsa) to Llogara and Himara in the south of the country.

We set out in the afternoon to battle the traffic along the Durrës highway to reach the coast and then turn southward. We made it the Adriatic in a reasonable amount of time, but the trip southward was, to be honest, disgusting. After we left Durrës and headed toward Fier, we began to smell the smoke of burning garbage. For miles, we drove through a dark landscape dotted with low flames and plumes of smoke. For us, this was just a temporarily unhealthy; but for the people in the area, there was no escaping the clouds of incinerated trash particulate getting into their houses, their clothes, and their lungs. Ideas about environmental health are fairly non-existent in Albania.1

Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, the ride was pretty uneventful, although the roads were pretty choppy at points. Eventually, we began climbing into the mountains of Llogara, switching back and forth up the slope2 until we reached our hotel, where we ate a huge meal and went to bed.

In the morning we enjoyed breakfast and fed the deer that live on the premises. Then it was out to explore. We drove to the top of the mountain and enjoyed the view; then wound our way down the mountain and through some picturesque, isolated villages before visiting the sadly deserted beach village of Dhermi3 and the seaside town of Himara. The pictures describe what we saw somewhat; it’s hard to put into words how impossibly blue the water is, how imposing and dramatic the mountains, and how beautiful and forlorn the mountain villages are. Actually, now that I read this, I suppose it isn’t that hard after all. We also ate really well again.

View of the mountains and the ocean outside Himara; the village of Vuno; the beach near Dhermi.

The water really is that blue; Paul with the Dritans and their wives; one of the plates of fish at lunch; sunset on the way home.

And as far as Kosova goes, there are fireworks going off in Skenderbeg Square, and people have been flying Albanian flags all day. I’m in favor of independence. (In fact, we stopped on the way home in Vlorë to visit the Museum of Independence, since Vlorë was where Albania’s leaders announced their independence from the Ottomans in 1912. Funny thing – immediately after they did so, Serbia, Montenegro and Greece invaded and began to carve up the country. The wars continued until 1913, when the Congress of London settled the boundaries based on reports they received from the field, i.e., without ever visiting the area to judge the situation for themselves, and they left about half of the area’s Albanian-speaking population outside Albania’s borders. The results of that decision are playing themselves out in Kosova as we speak.) I’ve been listening to the news and I’ve heard the Serbian position that the proclamation is illegal, that Kosova is a part of a sovereign state of the United Nations so the U.N. should be protecting their interests, that they will fight (not militarily, of course) in every venue for their rights, etc. etc. etc. I don’t hear the Serbs say anything about having massacred Kosovar Albanians in the 1990s to the point where NATO had to bomb them into submission eight years ago. It’s like watching a man beat his dog, and then when the ASPCA steps in to save the animal, he throws his arms around the cowering beast and cries “You can’t take him! He’s my little doggie!” I mean, really, face up to your history already.

In other news, I’m starting work on Tuesday (about time – ed.) with the United Nations Global Compact program, which enlists private businesses to support social and economic development in poor countries. It’s an unpaid position, but it could be fun. And we’ve posted three more pictures of Cooper to the photo album. I could have posted 30, but I’m trying to show restraint. More later …

1 There is a small green movement in Albania in the form of a group of environmentalists and students who are protesting the construction of a thermoelectrical plant on the coast at Vlorë, the “Pearl of Albania”. Albania is dependent on hydroelectric power and so desperately needs more electricity; however, the government’s plan is to sell a large chunk of the power it generates to Italy, which is forbidden under EU law from building a thermoelectrical plant as environmentally damaging as the one which the government is building, and for which it is receiving Italian support. One cannot help but become very cynical here.

2 At this point on the map of Albania, the highway looks like a small intestine.

3 Our friends told us that the Prime Minister’s daughter effectively expropriated the land and had begun to knock down the villagers’ beachfront buildings so she could turn the land over to a private American or French company to build a resort. See footnote 1 about cynicism.