The Peacock Phase – Albania Expat Tales
Written by George Ott
Every relationship has a beginning where the newness and excitement tend to overtake reality. I have heard it be referred to as the “Peacock Phase”. Obvious signs of trouble ahead can easily be ignored because one is having such a good time. It’s also known as the honeymoon phase, especially in relationships. Regardless of what you call it, we all have gone through it one way or another in our lives.
60+ days in and I’m ending that phase in my new town of Sarande, Albania and reality is starting to set in. This is still a great place with many wonderful people, but it is a resort in one of the poorest countries in Europe. Inequities show themselves everyday and I’m seeing a more realistic side of my adopted city. Without trying to judge people or events here are some things I have observed.
Albanians are a very proud people and have good reason to be. Despite their history or maybe because of it, they have great resilience and a point of view that considers their long and storied history. Having been the land bridge between the Middle East and Europe for thousands of years, this has given them an advantage over other people. Emperors have occupied this land, war lords have protected it and conquering explorers have traveled through this country’s fertile mountain valleys.
Sarande is a newer developing resort community located just a few miles from the Northern border of Greece. Watching boats like the one pictured here fuel up and leave reminds me of how unequal the terms can be here. I have been told there is no tax on fuel in this country and the super yachts take full advantage of that. This one took over 10 hours and 20 semi-tractor trailers to fill up. Mind you, most of the multi-million dollar boats that pull in here are a fraction of the size of this monstrosoty, but still it shows how unequal things can be. (Look up “Sailing Yacht A” if you are interested in the specs.)
I’m getting used to things being different here. The language is a challenge and although many people speak “Anglisht”, there are times when I am stuck or I feel left out of the conversation. As I continue to assimilate that should improve. Also, I find it odd that some people come here from other places and immediately ask for things they had at home. My knee jerk reaction is; “if you wanted things delivered by Amazon, maybe you should have stayed in America?”
I know its rude, and people are just looking for that feeling of comfort that assures them its going to be ok… Being a bachelor for the better part of the last 25 years. I have done without items that many others consider essential. I have found Albania to have a wealth all unto its own. It starts with it’s people and carries through to the land and natural resources. There is abundant water here and plans in place to upgrade existing hydro electric facilities as well as build the largest hydroelectric dam in Eastern Europe. The EU has introduced an ascension grant to help with infrastructure and to support continued improvements. Things are changing and we can see that here even after a dissapointing summer season caused by a world wide pandemic, there are repairs and improvements being worked on in anticipation of next summer.
The biggest project I have seen so far is the new promanade pictured above that will now reach around much of the bay that Sarande embraces. Beautiful marble walk ways with thoughfully placed shade trees will draw thousands to the shore line to enjoy a walk or sit at a seaside café enjoying good food, good weather and a view that just can’t be beat. They are working 7 days a week sun-up to past sun-down to get this completed by the end of April. I was involved in the design and construction of similar projects during my carreer back in the United States and I am genuinely impressed.
There is poverty here in this resort town, as I have seen in other resort towns. Make no mistake there will always be some with more than the rest. How I see it may be very different from how others see it. In my home during most of the year there are a lot of homeless people living in the street. Do Albanians take better care of their own? Are the people on the fringes able to find decent shelter here vs. the United States? Are they gone because it’s the off season now? I suspect it’s a combination of several factors. Having been exposed to the daily amount of street people where I am from, has this made me more sensitive? Yes, I would say it has.
There is also an issue with the lack of recycling here that is noticeable, especially during the summer season. The trash collection system seems to be strained when there are more visitors here. There are people who work on cleaning the streets but the empty lots get little attention and that seems to be where many of the plastic bottles and other rubbish tends to collect.
Stray dogs and cats (usually gathering around the dumpsters), are another issue that from a visitor’s view point could use some attention. There are people who are working towards making changes to both these issues and hopefully conditions will be changing soon… There seems to be different views of these issues depending on who you talk to. As with all challenges, there can be many ways to address or solve them.
I have been encouraged by the amount of overall cooperation between the Albanian locals and the expat community. The Albanian people are truly the most gracious of hosts. Yes, of course, there are going to be areas of disagreements and misunderstandings, but for the most part from my view all the issues are solvable and as more financial incentives are made available these will be addressed as well.
In closing this chapter, I can’t help but feel blessed everyday. Being here has been a wonderful and fun experience. The weather is really about as nice as it can get. With more than 300 days a year of some sunshine how could it not be paradise? I am looking forward to learning more about the surrounding countryside and the virtually undiscovered ancient ruins and I hope you will join me.
Thank you all for taking the time to read my post!
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