Those of you who have been keeping up with this blog – if I can use the phrase “those of you” to refer to the second person singular – anyway, someone has asked me to write a new entry since the last one is over a month old. And the truth is that I’ve been adding entries at a barely glacial pace. The reason is not that I’m up to here with Albania, although I am sick of the fact that my street and all the streets leading to it have been torn up since the beginning of June, when the city was desperately digging them up for repairs in advance of the June 28 election, immediately after which all work ceased;* nor is the reason that I’m too busy with the dog, whom I’ve lately tried to train to get the ball, for which I might just as well be saying “go wash the car,” since he just lies down when I start talking to him; the reason isn’t even that I’m too busy with photography, given that the country takes the entire two months of July and August off, so there isn’t any work for me to do (and Mapo is about to fold anyhow).
No, the reason I’m not updating the blog is because I’m lazy. Plain and simple. However, it’s two days before my 3rd wedding anniversary,** I’m drinking some champagne and feeling carefree, so here we go.
June’s excitement, as suggested above, was the election, in which two coalitions – the “Alliance of Change” led by the ruling Democratic Party (nepotism, corruption) and the “Union for Change” led by the Socialists (nepotism- and corruption-in-waiting) – faced off against each other and against two smaller coalitions of parties, totalling 33 parties in all plus independent candidates. You’d think that 33 parties gives the electorate a wide choice, but in some cases it’s hard to know what the differences are between the various parties. For example, the Social Democrats and the Democratic Socialists were in alliance with the Socialists against the Democrats; the Christian Democrats and the Demo-Christians sided with the Democrats but against the Democratic Alliance; and the Socialist Movement for Integration – which should be allied with the Socialists but isn’t because it is led by a former Socialist Prime Minister who doesn’t like the current Socialist Party leader – had its own alliance. The full list of parties included:
In the end, the country held a relatively honest election (albeit with some complaints of voter intimidation, procedural lapses and other problems, to the point that the results have not yet been certified), and the Democrats and their allies took 70 seats, the Socialists and their allies took 66 seats, and the Socialist Movement for Integration took 4 seats.† Just when the election appeared to be deadlocked, Socialist Movement for Integration leader Ilir Meta did the “right thing for the country” (in his own words) and joined the Democratic Party in government, thereby screwing over his rival in the Socialists. Fortunately, since there isn’t a hair’s difference between any of the major parties’ platforms, it’s not like anyone principles were sacrificed. I photographed the election for USAID; the photos and my commentary are here.
My brother Sam and his wife Lynn came to visit us earlier this month, thus becoming the first people to visit who didn’t have to. Abby and I then followed them to Budapest, which is for my money a truly remarkable city. Stunning architecture, a picturesque stretch of the Danube‡, great pastries, and a language that is wholly mystifying even next to Albanian. We loved it, and I’m working on some photos for the website.
Now I’m trying to retrain the dog to come when called, to walk cooperatively on a leash, and to wash the car, all the while waiting for summer to end so I can get back to work.
*For example, when the workmen first dug the ditch in front of my driveway, they promised me they’d be done by 6.00 PM; and when I came home at 6.05 PM I realized that, indeed, they’d already dropped their tools and gone home. They didn’t fill in the ditch until the three days later.
**I realized earlier this month that, even though our assignment doesn’t end until July 2010, my embassy badge had expired in February 2009. I can only assume the front office was taking bets.
†For some reason, Albania’s parliament has 140 seats, not 139 or 141. Also, only six parties actually scored enough votes to win seats, three of which winning one seat each.
‡Granted, we’re talking in comparison to Bratislava.