Coffee Culture in Tirana

I love drinking coffee, especially my morning coffee. It boosts my energies to actively start the day. Most likely, I’m not an exception among other coffee lovers. Also people who don’t drink coffee use some kind of caffeine substitute to get this energy kick, like coca cola, tea and so on. Even now that I’m writing these thoughts, I so need a coffee:) Once I got a little upset when I heard an English consultant saying to me “…unbelievable, this country runs on coffee”. My counter-reaction was obvious and pretty fast “same like England that runs on beers, no…” A bit silly I know, but it is the typical reaction when you don’t want to hear from a random foreigner insulting neither your country nor your people.

It is not easy to stay far from coffee shops when you live in Tirana. They are everywhere and usually they serve as a meeting point for everything, you name it: doing business, meeting a date, breaking up, killing spare time, planning the weekend with friends, doing group work, lobbing and even reaching political deals. In other words, a coffee shop is the place to got, so let’s meet for a coffee;)

For many of us it is a fast way to get things done, meet with an acquaintance, talk over things and let’s get it on. Someone can find the social impact of this attitude more comforting or healthier by spending spare time sitting face to face with a person in a coffee shop, than hiding after a monitor screen, chatting for hours with someone, tweeting and re-tweeting hundreds of time a day, going through pictures and status updates on Facebook or endlessly adding 500+ new professional connections in LinkedIn.

To some extend it is more common for us Albanians to establish bondage in real life then sinking deep in the virtual world with a good intention of living a life they imagined. And that’s beautiful, makes life much more sizzling and lovely. I guess that’s the Mediterranean gene in us. But not always the big picture reflects optimism and joy. By walking through these coffee shops in Tirana you often notice these annoyed faces filled with boredom, sitting in this outdoor little spaces defined by a coffee table and four chairs (expect on times when people are busy cheering for their favorite Euro team, of course). It is normal considering that it’s a rather passive activity and when it’s overdone, results in reduced satisfaction. Only we Albanians can understand this rather “schizophrenic” behavior which simultaneously explains its dullness and excitement.

There are many reasons for rooting the coffee culture so deeply in our cells. The past heritage plays its own importance. It is known that coffee was born in northeast Ethiopia and migrated to Europe back in XV century through Turkish traders. Being occupied by Ottoman Empire for 5 centuries, it was unthinkable to believe that this powerful social drink could not make it through Albania.

Another reason which helps explains this social attitude is the lack of sufficient public spaces in Tirana like parks, squares, playgrounds, public sportive and youth centers. The creation of those facilities would re-orient people especially the youngsters on spending more free time on open space recreational areas.

Furthermore, meetings for business talks in coffee shops, like it happens randomly with public officials, is a dangerous approach. It transfers outside doors of the institutions formal issues on serious public/private matters. It is not professionally serious plus through making this process informal stimulates corruptive affairs and strengthens exhausting red tape attitudes. “Coffee informality” is also a well know phenomena in other South Eastern countries which have already taken measurements for strengthening the institutional powers in regards to social – economic and administrative matters.

In a light of coffee culture talks, here is a very special coffee bean mosaic by the Albanian artist Saimir Strati, depicting five musicians, entered the Guinness World Records as the world’s largest coffee bean mosaic.

Tirana is getting ready for the epic Battle!

Euro 2012 has definitely brought more fun to the roads of Tirana. Just walking by you find hundreds of bars with big white screens showing the Euro 2012 matches. This one is one of my favorites: The Tirana Euro 2012 Fest.

As we traditionally follow German football and without doubt our Azzuri neighbours, tonight it’s gonna be the night to watch the epic battle that will hopefully change the wheel of history! Believe it or not, Germany has never won a decisive game in any tournament against Italy. So if you’re cheering for ‘Schland, Schland’ tonight drop by and find me at Kaon… Tifozi Gjermani are always welcomed 🙂

The home made Albanian Bourgeoisie

The old Chinese proverb “Fu bu guo san dai,” or “Wealth never survives three generations”, could have a grim of truth in itself, as we randomly have seen it happening throughout history. Looking back over the last 100 years of Albanian independence as a state of its own, with several political systems (monarchy, communism, democracy) and social-economic dynamics is still hard to point out the bourgeoisie (upper class) holding on to their money for three straight generations. Not to mention here the lack of established royalty. As we frequently hear in people’s conversations when recalling Hoxha’s time “…back in communism we were all the same”.

If a foreigner will read this, he/she might get confused with my reference to middle and upper class in Albania. Why so, since these are pretty straightforward and self explanatory concepts? So, let’s straighten this up for our international friends. Dear Friends, in your developed society professionals such as politicians, ministers, presidents, attorneys in law, judges, builders, businessmen are considered middle class. Well, not in Albania. Just for the sake of it, I took a flash “mini survey” with friends and co-workers. I asked them who are the richest in Albania. The absolute unanimous answer was THE Politicians. And unlike in other consolidated democracies the above mentioned professions make the newly rich Albanian Bourgeoisie. While professionals like economists, journalists, teachers, professors, administrators, technicians electricians, small businessmen, etc. are the remaining middle class which I’m also part of. We mind our own business and we are certainly the least influential in public policy making process. Therefore, the self exclusion of the newly rich from the middle class, creates a non-representation of our interests in the society.  In addition, the situation becomes even more abnormal due to the rather small base of the middle class (since a considerable percentage is at the lower and extreme poverty levels). What the hell am I saying: I’m part of a weak middle class who does not serve as the engine of growth, the advocator of social values and human rights, and the backbone of a state run by laws instead of by strongmen? Sadly, maybe!

Not only our newly rich Bourgeoisie is the upper class, but to some extent they also could be seen as “royals”.  What pushes forward an issue to the top political agenda apart from its importance in a normal democracy is mainly the lobbing of interest groups and constituents’ pressure toward their political representations. In contrast, here the constituents’ pressure happens to be only in one day, on the Election Day. In 16 years as a voter I never met with my political representative in Tirana, neither write to his/her staff on an issue since they are publicly invisible. As a foreign student in US and non-US citizen I once wrote to my congressmen regarding my scholarship status. Here’s how.

I could go on for hours with pros and cons on the traits of the newly rich, but that’s not important here. What’s crucial is their way of governing. What I desperately hope to see is that we immediately find “a pill” to this sickness. It is very wrong to be governed by a political class which holds deep the interest of the 0.5% rich guys and leaves ignored, neglected beyond belief the needs of the rest. Politicians are there to make and enforce public policies. We don’t vote them to tailor policies as if were to be their own dresses.

Albania: South-East looking West!

I have a hard time to remember how many times I was asked in US: “Where are you from? Russia, Germany?” Hmm, not really, I’m from Albania. Well, I certainly I don’t have an accent to be from Albany, NY, so it’s got to be something else, more exotic;) The next obvious question of an unsatisfied curious mind was something like “… and where is that located?”

Yeah, where is Albania located? In Europe, a border country with ancient Greece, the former Yugoslavian states, while facing Italy throughout Adriatic coastline. That’s so obvious and well hidden at the same time since it was such a small self-isolated country for 45 years of severe communist dictatorship. I still remember the fascination of my cute Japanese friend at the E.K.Y. University after discovering the existence of an “nonexistent” country to her knowledge, surrounded by Hellenic and Roman old civilizations. With an inquiring thrill for discovering that Albania emerged from the prehistoric stage of 4th century BC, with early records of Illyria, my friend Ayumi even was offered to visit me in Tirana that summer of 2004.

How fascinating it is for a non-European person to learn about the co-existence of so many different neighboring countries settling in a rather small territory with often pre-historic conflicting neighbors. Balkans – the Old Mountain or the Chain of Wooded Mountains is a hot spot in Europe. It is geographically part of the old continent, but not quite considered part of it, at least politically and economically speaking.

All South Eastern European countries (a rather more inclusive term then Balkans itself), though arising from different backgrounds and conditions in the recent decades, seem to have a common denominator: a shared love for EU and US.

Thinking back of my country in early transition years, certain slogans “We want Albania like the rest of Europe” still persist in our collective memory of the famous 90s. In my early youth that seemed like a genuine dream more likely to be fulfilled in the near future regardless the heavy social-economic state and hardship of our parents’ generation.

And here we are 20+ years later when it feels like a lot and then nothing really has changed. The years of transition  to the free market economy, democratic law and order were so everlasting that “our men” took off that out of date wording from our daily news vocabulary and replaced it with a newer one, trendier one, meeting conditions for EU integration.

Same substance, different wording mistakenly gives a rather evolving impression of our society.  The earlier genuine dream of the 90’s for being part of European community has been endorsed by every politician’s agenda. It is worthless to spend time and energy on describing our collective frustration as citizens toward our political representation, whom are blaming one another for constantly failing on doing their homework assigned to meet conditions to grant the EU candidacy status. What is even worse than frustration is our collective indifference on accepting this theatrical role play in every inch of media channels. In this sense we are a dying society unable to trigger change and move forward. With that in mind, I so miss the 90’s wind of change.

While reading the daily local and international feeds, it so feels like living in two parallel worlds. Someone can rightfully acknowledge that our respective worlds are quite different with regards to local matters. That’s true. What makes a hot issue in Tirana cannot necessarily apply for Madrid. But in recent years there seems to be a serious sovereign debt crisis for many developed countries of the European Union which doesn’t even exclude the likelihood that any of these countries leave the Eurozone if not complying with the harsh measures set to reduce their public debt. This certainly does not translate into “Please Albania, do your homework since we are waiting for you arms wide open to join us”, like we are constantly hearing in our media/diplomatic channels. Under these circumstances the remote connection to west looks still far away. It will require a great deal of political will and social pressure to gear up the integration process with the hope that one day we finally will know where our country is located.

P.S: Welcome to my blog! 🙂