Transition to Tirana (Part 3 of 4): “Home Sweet Home”

Here is my building “The Majestic.” Pretty dismal, right?

Tirana mapWhile I was waiting for a permanent living situation, I worked at US AID and explored Tirana, trying to learn my way around a city that’s not built on a grid. About a week later, Peace Corps identified a furnished, relatively spacious, one-bedroom apartment about 20 minutes from work (and about 10 minutes from the Peace Corps office). The apartment — a fifth-floor walkup — is in a stable residential neighborhood of Communist-era buildings (an apartment building is a pallat while the apartment itself is an apartment) and is fully furnished, with heat in the main room, and with amenities that aren’t always part of Peace Corps housing (upgraded kitchen and bathroom, lots of built-in drawers and cabinets, an oven and a TV). And, a bonus: the landlord doesn’t speak English but his daughter, who also lives in the neighborhood, has a PhD in English translation and (simultaneous) interpretation and speaks absolutely perfect English.

Here is what “Communist-era apartment building” means in Albania. My street is full of these, as is the rest of Tirana.
Here is what “Communist-era apartment building” means in Albania. My street is full of these, as is the rest of Tirana.

At the two-week point I moved into the apartment. I am now at the five-week point and am finally feeling settled. During the last few weeks there were problems that needed to be fixed (oven didn’t work*, drawers were falling out, windows wouldn’t close), plus I needed to buy dishes, pots, containers, hangers, clothespins, sheets, and so on and needed someone with a car to take me to the low-price, large-selection shopping mall just outside of town. Then, about a week ago, just as things were starting to come together, I developed a horrible rash on my legs from sitting on my living room rug to sort through a bunch of items. I have no idea what toxic chemical was on the rug, but I ended up with a case of contact dermatitis that, within a matter of days, spread all over my legs and feet and caused swelling and truly disgusting purple lesions. I am now finishing up a round of steroids and things are much better, but the episode, which included doctor visits and lots of cold showers, were an unwelcome distraction.

* It appears that, in Tirana, the oven repairman doesn’t come to the house. Rather, the landlord comes to the apartment, removes the stove (which means carrying it down five flights of stairs), takes it to the repair shop and then brings it back, carries it upstairs and re-installs it.

Here is my building “The Majestic.” Pretty dismal, right?
Here is my building “The Majestic.” Pretty dismal, right?

Some pictures of my apartment follow below. You will, I’m sure, be surprised to see that I have WiFi, an air conditioner, a washing machine and other amenities one doesn’t normally associate with the Peace Corps. In the Peace Corps, countries-of-service like Albania and sites like Tirana are sometimes referred to as the “Posh Corps” because they don’t conform to the to the common perception that Peace Corps service means a mud (or grass) hut somewhere in Africa. I won’t deny that I am very, very fortunate to have ended up with a “Posh Corps” posting but it’s important to remember that there is more to the story. The most obvious example is that Albanian winters are long, cold and damp and I live in an uninsulated apartment with only one heated room, windows that don’t seal, an unheated bathroom, tile floors and extremely expensive electric heat. A less obvious example is that I have a five-day-a week job in an office where I am expected to dress professionally, so I need to shower regularly and wear clean, well-maintained clothes.

It gets worse! What appears to be the front entrance is actually a copy shop. To get to my apartment, I have to cut through the alley on the side of the building and go upstairs through the back. I am on the fifth of five floors.
It gets worse! What appears to be the front entrance is actually a copy shop. To get to my apartment, I have to cut through the alley on the side of the building and go upstairs through the back. I am on the fifth floor.
But, once inside, not so bad! Here is my combination living room, dining room, kitchen. The stove is through the door to the right, in an alcove at the back of the apartment. Note (with delight please!) that there is a built-in HVAC unit in this room. It is the only area of the apartment that’s heated, but it’s a REAL heater and there’s AC too. Electricity is crazy expensive here and our budget is pretty limited, so I’m guessing the AC will be for emergencies only, but at least I have it as an option.
But, once inside, not so bad! Here is my combination living room, dining room, kitchen. The stove is through the door to the right, in an alcove at the back of the apartment. Note (with delight please!) that there is a built-in HVAC unit in this room. It is the only area of the apartment that’s heated, but it’s a REAL heater and there’s AC too. Electricity is expensive here, so the AC will be for emergencies only.
Here is the rest of the combined living room, dining room, kitchen. The picture was taken from the doorway to the room,so you can’t see that the entire area can be closed off. It’s likely that, during the winter, I will live in this room full-time because it’s the only place in the apartment with full-fledged heat. Yes, that is WiFi next to the TV. (side note: Gold and brown seems to be the Albanian color combination of choice – I see it everywhere. All it needs is a little avocado and I would think I was back in 1970s American.
Here is the rest of the combined living room, dining room, kitchen — the only area of the apartment with heat. The entire area can be closed off so  It’s likely that, during the winter, I will live in this room full-time. (Side note: Gold and brown seems to be the Albanian color combination of choice – I see it everywhere. All it needs is a little avocado and I would think I was back in 1970s America.)
In the not-too-distant future I will do an entire posting about the ins and outs of Albanian bathrooms, including the fact that most Albanian showers do nothing to prevent water from going EVERYWHERE. For now, here is a quick look at the bathroom in my apartment; the photo below shows my washing machine.
In the not-too-distant future I will do an entire posting about the ins and outs of Albanian bathrooms, including the fact that most Albanian showers do nothing to prevent water from going EVERYWHERE. For now, here is a quick look at the bathroom in my apartment.

One thought

  1. Hi Sue,

    It’s great to finally hear from you. I am glad that you are able to live the posh (not so posh) life. Sorry to hear about the rash tho. Must have been painful.

    Can’t wait to read more about your experiences.

    Take care!
    Rose

    Like

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