A morning in Tiranë

It was unavoidable. Criss had to go to Tiranë for a meeting at the Peace Corps office. It was a 2 day meeting so he was there 2 nights. Normally, a chance to see other parts of Albania are welcomed, but in July, being on the coast is as about at good as it gets. While it may be in the upper 90’s in Durrës, it can easily be over 100 in Tiranë and the days of the meeting were no exception.

Being a low budget organization, we don’t get to stay at the Sheraton when in Tiranë (yes, there really is a Sheraton in Tiranë). No, the Peace Corps budget of 1000 Lek/night (about $10) for hotel means we get to stay at Freddie’s, no a/c and maybe a fan kind of place. As luck would have it, Criss’ room faced west and after the warm afternoon sun it was still warmer inside the room than outside at midnight. Unable to sleep and it being cooler outside than in the room, Criss was up and out of the room early. Here are his thoughts while watching the city wake up.

It is 5am and I am awake after about 4 hours of bad sleep. It is still cooler outside than inside, but as I need to be alert for the meetings today, I need to get some sleep. Impossible to sleep and I am tired of lying on sheets soaked from sweat so I get up and take a cold shower. Never thought I would get so comfortable with cold showers that I look forward to them, but they are refreshing. I am out on street before 6:30am.

By 6:30am the shops are opening, trucks are unloading vegetables and fruits for the street vendors and the dyqans. The coffee bars (locales) are putting tables and chairs on sidewalk and getting ready to open. The metal covers of the dyqans are rolling up and bread is being delivered everywhere. The milkman is delivering milk from trunk of his car in refilled 1.5 liter water or 2 liter coke bottles. There is just the low hum of morning business with an occasional loud conversation. Albanians do not have the concept of talking quietly.

Triana morning coffee

By 7am the locales are open for business and there are 2 choices for coffee – an inexpensive locale that charges 50 lek for an express or an expensive upscale locale that charges 80-100 lek for an express. Usually when by myself, I prefer the inexpensive locale with lots of old men getting their coffee and morning rakki (its for energy, you know).

At the smaller locales you get a feel for the flow of daily life here. An express with a glass of water or a rakki is the standard order for many of the older gentlemen. There is some low talk against the background of TV news or music video, or both. You can linger 30 minutes over your express watching the city wake up and no one thinks that it is unusual to sit with an empty express cup for 20 minutes. As it gets later the traffic noise increases, the bread deliveries and milk deliveries increase but even still it is a slow pace with a sense of sameness for each day. Most things go unnoticed, the horse drawn cart or the vendors pushing their three wheeled bikes loaded with today’s goods. Of course the foreigner in the midst the neighborhood locale gets a few stares, but after some time even his presence is ignored. As you sit and read or write, puzzled looks continue to drift your way, more out of curiosity than anything else. Not only are you the foreigner, but you are sitting alone and actually doing something – very unusual.

By 8 or 8:30, the sun is getting hot (but still cooler than your hotel room) and so it is time to continue the trek to the office. Along the way you pick up a byrek (a non-sweet pastry, stuffed with cheese, meat or spinach) and eat it for breakfast. Nothing fancy, but somehow comforting as you have been eating this for 15 months now. Braced with coffee and byrek, you are ready for the onslaught of life within the Peace Corps office compound and as you approach the security check you wonder why you didn’t order a rakki with your coffee instead of water.

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