Non-profits protest against beach privatization, in front of City Hall

Two local non-profit organizations, The Office for Consumer Protection (ZMK) and the REAGO (React) movement, headed respectively by Altin Goxhaj and Leonard Dedej, have made a timely and bold statement on July 28th regarding the privatization of Durres’s entire coastline by setting up beach chairs, in beach attire, in front of the town’s  City Hall.

The privatization of public beaches is a long-standing issue in coastal Albania and remains an open wound. Sometime, someone, somehow decided that it was ok to sell off the coast, piece by piece, parcel by parcel, leaving locals and tourists to pay for a place in the sun.  Should one attempt to try to find an inch of space, a strange man will most likely show up and order you to leave or pay up for a beach chair and umbrella.  Prices range from 300 Leks (2.15 Euros) to 500 Leks, depending on the conditions of the area. Those charging are usually cafe, restaurant or hotel owners who’ve built their monstrous edifices meters away from the shore and who’ve decided that the sand in front of them belongs to them and is chargeable.   Of course this is nonsense. So is the fact that beach chairs are not a necessity in a sandy beach and are rather annoying and add to the congestion and pollution.

And so the NGOs decided to protest in front of Town Hall by having their members strip down to their bikinis, in an area that is public space. The area is considered to be the center of town, housing the palace of culture,  governmental offices, the city’s main Mosque, City Hall and an Italianesque fountain (one of the town’s hallmarks).  Interestingly enough, that fountain, as seen in the photos, was dry as dry as a concrete desert on one of this summer’s hottest days. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is still just a dried-up well.

And privatization of public beaches is just the tip of the ice-berg when considering the many problems facing this town.

Durres’s current mayor, Vangjush Dako, appears to be adamant in letting the city decay.  There’s a visible change in the city’s infrastructure and overall maintenance since my last visit in 2006.  From unpainted buildings (which are the responsibility of City Hall as taxpayers pay their dues for this service), and decrepit old historical town houses being destroyed to make room for new ghastly buildings, unpaved streets – motivated by political spite – and alleyways, to the town’s staple – its palm trees – having dried up and becoming extinct in this sub-tropical city.

Vangjush Dako, je t’accuse!  You do not care about this 3000-year old town. You have allowed for rampant, arbitrary, haphazard development, chocking the city and its ancient sites, including its Roman amphitheater.  In addition to this, you have totally neglected to revitalize its archeological museum, home to antiquities from the pre-historical, classical and byzantine eras; The museum looks like it belongs in a ghost town with spiders and their webs as its only visitors.  You drive about the city in your luxury SUV while it is rotting under your feet.  The “cardboard” tiles (who uses tiles to pave a main boulevard, anyway?) you used in 2007 just so you would get re-elected didn’t last more than two years, forcing the city taxpayers to pay yet again for re-pavement.   You have ignored and contributed to the decay of nature in this once-very natural city, which used to be home to palms, pines, grape-vines, lemon, orange and olive groves.

Additionally, I do not know of any major (or even minor) city in any corner of the world that does not have a main or central park.  Yet, Durres remains without a park for families, children or the elderly. Or, for environment’s and aesthetic’s sake.

A glaring example is the main entrance to Durres, which used to be lined on both sides of the street with decades-grown pine trees: that road is now a a concrete desert, with hardly a tree in sight.

I am not even going to touch what has happened to Plazh, but I can say that since 2006 I notice its trees (whatever was left) are gone, its streetlights either don’t work or don’t exist and the inner neighborhoods lack streets – literally, I’ve had to hop and skip on a combination of mud, water, dirt and litter on Rruga e Shqipeve (quite ironic) just off of Rruga Bajram Curri in Hekurudha, oftentimes nearly falling, or destroying my shoes and skirts.   The street is still unpaved, looks much like a bombarded site, or a scene from a post-WWII Italian town.  The main street in this particular neighborhood is full of potholes and the aforementioned, causing not only personal accidents and injuries but vehicular damage.  You should be ashamed of yourself, Mr. Dako.  It is clear that you do nothing constructive for Durres, and are deliberately neglecting and destroying this once flourishing historical town.

Please do enlighten us visitors of what exactly your day to day duties regarding this once great city consist of.

P.S:  I do not belong to either of the main political parties in Albania. My main interest and motivation for bringing attention to certain issues is simply my care and concern for my town and country.

Coastal Breeze

I am fortunate enough to be living in a coastal town in these days of a scorching Saharan heat-wave.  Not that I’m at the beach, for it is just too crowded for my taste, but because here, unlike Tirana, there’s a gentle breeze flowing from the Adriatic even on the hottest days.

Just when I feel my skin burning and dry, a gentle breeze flirtatiously comes and caresses my sunburned shoulders and neck, only to run away, leaving me wanting more and thus prolonging my sitting out on the front lawn in desperate hope of its return. And I sit here burning ever more.

Oh, and the place gets an extra plus for no humidity. Yay Durres for its climate!

It is 40C today.

A Mosque in the Distance

Somewhere in this part of town, there’s a mosque, the minaret of which echoes 5 times a day.  I just heard the 1 PM call to prayer.  I am told that it is situated in the hills north of me – north of the coast, but its echo always has me looking toward the coast.  And so I’ve decided to find out the exact locale of this house of worship.

I mention the mosque as a NYC resident who never gets to hear anything of the kind, not even church bells (the City noise must be drowning those). And as such, the experience of listening to a call of prayer is singularly touching to me, as is the fact that none of the locals pay any mind to it.

On my very first visit to Albania, eons ago, I got shivers down my spine when I heard the call only a few steps away from Durres’ main and largest mosque.  Of course I did the respectful thing and stopped all activity, awkwardly doing my best to locate the southeast, to face Mecca.  I looked around, and the locals were walking, talking, selling, drinking, laughing and going about their usual business. It was so jarring to hear such a spiritual sound and to look around and see no traces of awe in anyone’s faces – except mine.

Speaking of mosques and Islam: It’s the last days of the month of Ramazan/Ramadan, and many Muslims are eagerly preparing for the big feast of Bajram (Eid), as they call it here, though they may not have fasted, save for one special night (night of Kadri) when it is supposed that the angels descend down to earth and hear everyone’s prayer and innermost wishes.  So, yes, in a few days, I should be witness, for the first time ever, to Eid celebrations in Albania.

I should mention that Albanians belong to three major religions: A Turkish version of Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Catholicism, with the majority being Muslim.  Just as the Muslim population is lax and tolerant, so are the rest of Albanians, frequently celebrating together, and interfaith marriages are not uncommon.