The day after swearing in, I moved to Tirana, the capital of Albania, to begin my permanent assignment with USAID as part of their five-year project on Planning and Local Governance. However, I didn’t (yet) have a place to live and needed to stay at a hotel until a suitable and affordable place could be found.
The Peace Corps takes responsibility for finding our at-site housing. Then, once situated we are responsible for managing on our own – using our Peace Corps living allowance to pay rent and utilities, working with our landlord to negotiate any problems, and so on. But, initially, the Peace Corps finds our living quarters, does a safety check to make sure certain standards are met and works with the landlord to fix any obvious problems. Volunteers in Tirana receive extra rent money because it’s more expensive to live here, but the amount is still quite low (my total monthly rent allotment is about $170-180). We do not get any sort of adjustment in our allowance for food or utilities, even though those expenses are higher in Tirana.
Because I didn’t have a place to live, I settled in at Adriano’s, a hotel near the Peace Corps office. One of the married couples in our group – Cristin and Adrian – were in the same boat so the three of us became neighbors at the hotel.
I started working at USAID the day after I arrived and, in my spare time, began to explore Tirana. I already have an entire list of Tirana-specific topics to write about in depth; for now, here are a few quick facts and a few random photos.
- Tirana has been the capital of Albania only since 1920. I am told that it was chosen in part because it is in the center of the country.
- Wikipedia says that Tirana has about 500,000 to 750,000 residents, depending on how the metro area is defined. But, the Albanian census numbers are not very reliable and I’ve heard population estimates as high as 1 million. The population of Albania overall is about 3 million.
- Tirana has a huge pollution problem – in terms of both air quality and trash. There’s a constant haze over the city and there are estimates that life expectancy in Tirana is two years less because of the polluted air. From personal experience, I can say that I am seriously contemplating wearing sunglasses for the first time in my life because I’ve never had so much trouble with particles going into my eyes. As for the trash, suffice it to say that trashcans are not a “thing” in Albania — people toss garbage everywhere. Garbage collects in between buildings, in empty lots, in corners, in holes and it just sits there.
- And then there’s the water. Although many Peace Corps volunteers drink filtered water during their service, most Albanians drink their local water…except in Tirana. Here, even the locals buy bottled water and, in restaurants, they dump their ice cubes into the ashtrays before filling their glasses.
- Architecture is a mixed bag of drab, decaying Communist-era buildings and contemporary European-style high-rises. Right now, the old buildings are winning. Many of you have seen the TED Talk with Edi Rama (current Prime Minister and former Mayor of Tirana) talking about painting Tirana’s buildings. I have seen a few brightly colored buildings here and there but haven’t actually gone looking for them yet. I will post pictures when I do.
Here are some shots of Tirana street life: