Thursday, September 1, 2011

A poor country?

Albania shows many signs of an underdeveloped country, or is it more correct to say developing country? If the latter term is used it implies that there are things developing. We didn't notice much of this.
The bar owner in Shkodra already told us that there are no jobs and that their politicians are no good. The word corruption was used, public interests came second. Schooling is bad and parents had difficulty to pay the extra money for the teachers. Teachers' salaries are so low that, without asking extra money, they are not high enough to support a family. (Didn't I hear exactly the same story in Cambodia?) No jobs means no money, so though people are friendly, he said, they are not happy. There is little hope for a change for the better, there is no change at all.
In spite of this most people are well dressed and in this the image is similar to other European countries. Besides that, the fact that most people are muslims doesn't show in clothing or other behaviour. Men and women visit bars, together and on their own, and alcohol is served everywhere.
But, as the barman told us, many guests in bars sit for hours on one coffee with the glass of water that is coming with it. Not much money to spend. This does not prevent the many bars and terraces being crowded in the evening, mostly with young people. The atmosphere is certainly agreeable.

On our way from Shkodra to Tirana we saw many men idling and hanging around. We noticed a large informal economy. Many people have set up very small businesses. As the motorcar seems to be the status symbol, there are very many 'Lavazh', car washers. Just a waterhose and some cloth and you're in business. Hundreds we have seen. Also very many bars, small 'markets' (groceries), people selling cigarettes and potato chips from a cardboard box along the street, or gsm's, fruit, sun glasses, shoe shiners, a man with scales to determine your weight, etc. People try to earn some money in all possible ways.
Then we also saw deserted factory buildings, a deserted railway complex, a cement factory in good shape but with no activity. Roads were sometimes good, but often really bad and for many kilometers we had to work through roadworks that had been started but where no road workers were to be seen now. In Tirana there are big areas in the centre that are broken up, but where there are no igns of activity. Just in a few places building is going on. Streets are not clean, side walks are broken and a lot of waste is just dropped along the roads and in rivers. So public services are not performing, or not well enough.
I already mentioned the great numbers of Mercedes Benzes. In the city it's more mixed, but in the countryside it is mainly this brand, the great majority. Most of them are old or very old. You can see that for many drivers it is their way to be someone. They just hang around in and on and near their cars. The reason why it must be this one brand must be found in sociological and cultural processes, of course. In more places in the world you'll find a similar image. F.i.: just watch any photograph of a Palestinian place, sure to see the same brand of car as here in Albania. Once again the similarity with Cambodia struck me. Also economically very much deprived, corruption is tangible and no signs of improvement visible. There the only car owners are the military, politicians (=the same), the police and other criminals. There it's not Mercedes, but Lexus.

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