The road conditions in Albania made quite an impression on me while I was there. Inside Europe ran a short 'postcard' on driving in Albania I produced earlier this week. You can tune in to the segment by mp3 download.
A UNICEF video feature of footage shot on this trip was released 25 February 2008
Less than 200 km from Tirana but Peshkopi is a world away. Our driver declared the curly pot holed road to Peshkopi as the worst in Albania.
Our mission was to film conditions in two schools. One in Peshkopi without new books in the library and the other, some 40 minutes away in New Village, that had received books through UNICEF's Albania Reads project.
Classrooms are at best rudimentary and teaching is classic chalk and talk. The all in one chair-desks that I sat in as pupil in Sydney seat three squeezed together. And, perhaps that's some comfort as classrooms are cold and heated by firewood stoves. Lucky for the kids sitting up the front. Before morning classes older pupils cut wood with axes and younger ones haul in the wood and kindling. Mud is everywhere and many kids wear Wellingtons.
Talking to children you sense immediately that any new resource is appreciated. New books are and will be used and treasured.
In homes with large families, books come second to other basic needs. Households may have a handful of books but probably not all appropriate for teenagers. Parents I spoke with felt schools and municipalities should provide access to books and maintain libraries. With books costing 5-10 euros, for say a new novel, one can not find too much fault with that argument for families that are surviving on no more than 100 euro a month - even less. However, TV antennas sprouting from roofs suggest there's money for information, education and entertainment via the Tube. It's a matter of priorities, and again that may reflect the state of reading as a past time in Albania.
New books will make a big difference to children who may have never travelled beyond nearby towns. But while that's positive, where are the books that they can afford? The choice say between a block of chocolate and a book? A book that could be shared between friends. What about serialising books in newspapers or printing ultra cheap paperbacks? Maybe we should peer into history for ideas? It's been done before... Dicken's Cheap Edition comes to mind.
No rock stars in sight, just me and my camera causing a little stir among kids in New Village school.
Today will be quite hectic. First up filming schools in communties near Tirana with no libraries or books and then seeing what's happening in schools where books have been provided by UNICEF's Albania Reads project.
After lunch we're heading north to some remote communities near Peshkopi - around 4 hours north of Tirana. We'll overnight up there and return Wednesday evening.
Last night I saw a special screening of an Albanian film Kolonel Bunker - fascinating insight into recent history of Albania and presented by the director Kujtim Cashku.
Spotted this rather useful way of recycling old bunkers in Tirana.
Just packing and getting ready to go to Albania on Monday for UNICEF TV.
From Tirana I'll be heading up into the north of the country, maybe as far up as Kukes, to film a project about improving literacy and providing books for schools and communities that have no libraries.
Thanks to Karlos for this article on Albanian blood feuds. It'll be interesting to keep in mind.
As usual though I'm heading into places where the Lonely Planet guide abruptly stops.
I'll be updating the blog where possible and as usual by Twitter.
See you in Tirana!
In the village of Kantundi i ri I met Habibe, a school teacher and a victim of Albania's blood feuds.
For the past eight years Habibe's husband has been in prison serving a 20 year sentence for the murder of a local man. Habibe asserts that her husband is innocent saying it's well known in the village that he was not responsible and did not own a firearm.
He was convicted in absentia. Habibe explained that they had no money to engage a good lawyer nor to bribe the magistrate - a common practice.
Whatever the exact circumstances, the fact remains that daily life for Habibe and her family means being confined to their home out of fear for their lives. Habibe has two children - 8 and 10 years old. Visiting her husband in prison safely is beyond her means.