A trip to Albania, land of the Eagles – Part Three

Muzeu Historik Kombëtar, Sheshi Skënderbej, Tirana, Albania
Photo by Douglas O on Unsplash

Our days passed with a fairly set routine.  Up early – but far too late for running water, so it was a quick sluice down (over the toilet) from the stored water drawn before dawn, throw down a bit of breakfast and then assemble at the hall.  Do a bit of whatever was required there and entertain the squads of kids that appeared.  Wander round the town, make the odd visit to someone’s house, where their hosts were curious enough to invite some of us round.  “Home” for a spot of lunch then more of the same in the afternoon.  We were also planning a Musical extravaganza to perform in the tarted up hall at the end of our fortnight.  This involved roping in a few of the kids as well, so there was much hilarity involved.

It’s worth mentioning that there were no other forms of entertainment.  No restaurants or cafes that we ever found, no shops, although there was a small market which sold very little apart from foodstuffs brought in from the countryside. I remember the joy of seeing STUFF when we got to Athens airport on the way home and the near compulsion I felt to buy something – anything!!!

One diversion was necessitated by one of our group having to renew her visa to get back into the UK after our trip.  She had a Nigerian passport and hadn’t realised her visa expired during the trip.  Naturally, we went mob handed to Tirana as most of us were going a bit stir crazy after a week of provincial life and a jaunt to the capital was a definite draw.  Off we went on the bus to the metropolis.  First stop, the British Consulate to hand in the passport and sort that out.  It wasn’t that simple – they couldn’t issue the necessary visas and the passport had to be stamped in Athens.  From what I remember, the arrangement was made for our companion to change her flight back from Athens to London, to give her time to get the Consul in Athens to do the necessary.  It all worked out in the end, but it wasn’t straightforward.

An Albanian bus in the 1980’s – ours was a bit better than that!


Another treat was in store during our visit to Tirana – we found a little Italian restaurant for lunch where everything was hot at the same time – and even better, there were “facilities” that everyone took advantage of using.  The waiters must have thought we were on something, such was our joy at discovering a proper toilet.

Once the business of the visa and lunching was done we strolled down wide and tidy streets, with rows of very nice looking villa style houses.  These were remnants of previous Italian influence and had been enjoyed by Communist Party leaders once they kicked the Italians out in 1943.  A brief history – Albania had been Ottoman until the end of the 19th century.  King Zog then ruled from 1922-1939, when the Italians invaded and stayed until 1943, when the Communist party started to rise and then grip Albania with an iron fist until 1990.

Villa Tafaj, Tirana – now a hotel


I remember the Dad of our family showing me an Albanian / English dictionary.  It seemed that every translation was an opportunity for anti-Western propaganda.  It was really very creative with entries such as “education” which would have had something along the lines of “Albania provides excellent free education to all – unlike capitalist countries whose people are ignorant and unskilled”.  That is NOT an actual example, but gives you the flavour of how the words were put into context.  Can you imagine a whole dictionary of similar misinformation?  They honestly believed that the rest of the world was in dire poverty and squalor.  Can you therefore imagine the rage and covetousness this would create when they saw the truth for themselves as televisions made their way into the country, beaming TV ads from Italy of luxurious marble bathrooms and swimming pools?

We organised a beach outing one day and took some of the kids with us.  A quiet beach, no facilities of any kind and a few local children pottering around.  One young boy approached me shyly to show me a scrap of paper upon which he had sketched a little picture of me sitting in the sand.  Although it was drawn from behind, it was quite clearly me and I only wish I knew where I have put it – as he gifted it to me.  I did give him a few lek as a thank you.

Apart from those couple of outings, our days followed a similar routine, pottering about getting the hall sorted, visiting other families, corralling the children and then pulling together some kind of an end of visit entertainment to perform in the newly tidied hall, to which an open invitation was issued to the families of the kids, our various host families and anyone else who fancied the distraction from Albanian small town life.

As a group from a charismatic evangelical style church, you can imagine this involved rousing music and songs, and some routines the kids had dreamt up.  Many of their families came along for the craic and a good night was had by all.  I was very touched that my little curly haired fan girl had changed out of her old shorts and tee shirt and arrived for the evening’s extravaganza in a little yellow dress, with her finger and toe nails painted pink, her little blond curls all puffed out.  I often wonder how her life has turned out.

Our trip back home was uneventful – getting into Athens airport was like hitting civilisation – shops! Cafes! Duty free! Working toilets! Running water!  I felt a desperate need to buy SOMETHING, ANYTHING!  I think I ended up with a bottle of gin and some perfume.

That night, back in my own lovely bed, I woke up at some point in the night, desperate for the loo.  The thought alone was depressing, until I remembered, with deep joy – that I had a toilet – and not just any old toilet, but an indoor, fully flushable, clean toilet – with a seat!  I shall always be grateful for those luxuries we take for granted.

© Annie Dee 2024