Friday, January 26, 2007

Lightbulbs and Batteries

I must be taking the right vitamins this week because I have had a number of "aha!" moments which have shed a lot of light on a few questions I have had about living here.

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Albanian drivers do this very clever and interesting thing. Say you're driving on a 4 lane road in the city. Two lanes this way- two lanes that way. But the traffic is far heavier in one direction than in the other (or not). The traffic is stopped at a red light (yes sometimes it actually does stop!). Suddenly a driver will come up on your left hand side- on the wrong side of the road- and create a NEW LANE! Very creative way of dealing with a little problem. So then everyone else coming up behind you drives into this newly created lane and suddenly it's 'legal'. Creative problem solving right? This works fine until the light turns green again and the oncoming traffic has to deal with this newly created third lane. Ever seen two HUGE SUV's go head to head?? Can be nasty.

We were driving in the city recently and were stopped in traffic so I was looking around and I spotted something very interesting. Wish I had taken a photo but I didn't. To my right was a small shop with this sign above it: ENGLAND DRIVING SCHOOL. Okay the driving school part was in Albanian of course, but you get the picture. That light bulb went off above my head! I had discovered the reason why Albanian drivers often drive on the wrong side of the road!! They go to British driving school!! Duh!

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You recall my little rant about how Albanians create a bit of chaos at intersections because they mostly refuse to even acknowldge the red man/green man who is there to help you cross the road? Well as I was walking through the city earlier this week I realised something-- in a city where the electricity is OUT for many hours everyday you absolutely MUST LEARN how to cross the street on your own without the aid of a green light because otherwise you will be left standing on the corner ALL DAY. The lightbulb went on again as I approached a corner with no working traffic lights. After a small moment of panic I realised I had to step into the street and just do it. I made it safely to the other side, using my little hand and a smile to slow down a car or two, and as I hopped back onto the sidewalk I'm sure my smile grew larger. I had done it! I used to think "my gosh, these people are crazy" because they often get this insane grin on their face when they've beaten the cars, but now I know exactly how it feels. It makes one proud.

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When we first arrived in Tirana my cleaning lady watched as I plugged in all our digital clocks and appliances and then she looked at me and laughed. "You're going to go crazy" she said. I was puzzled and asked her why. "Do you realise how many times you are going to have to reset the time on all these things?" I just poo-pooed her and said "Oh it can't be that bad". But of course, she was right. At first I would run around the house resetting everything back to the correct time but with the power going off and on so many times all day long it became a full-time job! I've given up and so now in my apartment you will see these little flashing lights in every room with the time blinking incorrectly. But I also have one rather ugly clock beside the bed that runs on batteries. It seems to be the way to go.

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Batteries must be a good business to be into here in Tirana. Everyone I know carries a flashlight/torch in their handbag, and as you walk there are these little flashes of light guiding the way. When the moon is not full do you know just how dark it is in a city without hydro?? It is REALLY, REALLY dark. If you are in a forrest and it's dark, it is a scary experience, but I find it far more frightening to walk through a dark city where the sidewalks have potholes and incredibly wobbly tiles, and the streets often have uncovered manholes. I was told that people gathered up all the manhole covers sometime ago because you can sell them to metal scrapyards for cash- is that right?? You not only have to watch out for these Alice-In-Wonderland rabbit holes, but after a few days of rain the city has also become one big puddle. It's quite an obstacle course out there!

Ahhhh.... the challenges.

11 comments:

Pam said...

I gave up on electric clocks here in France for the same reason. We probably don't have as many power outages, but just enough to be irritating!

If I ever get to visit you in Tirana, please know that I will not be driving. And please remind me to bring batteries!

Keep taking those vitamins!
: )

oreneta said...

But do they let the blind drive there?

On the boat we got the coolest little LCD headlights that strap on like a sweat band, they weighed nothing and were bright enough to light up a major highway. You do look incredibly geeky in them though. However, the batteries last FOREVER.

CanadianSwiss said...

LOL. Creative driving, indeed.

Your aparrtment must look and feel like Christmas all year round with all those lights blinking ;)

christina said...

Wow, great insights. You're practically a native now.

And yes, manhole covers and many other types of metal can be sold to scrapyards. There's tons of metal theft going on in Germany as well.

ITS said...

Hey Christina,

Do you have a lot of Albanians in Germany? Hint, hint ;)

oreneta said...

Ooops, those would be LED headlights...*blush*

Wendz said...

Kim I haven't forgotten you asked for help with your blog layout. It's been a bad week - ill and very busy...but it's the weekend now so I have some free time.

Are you still on the classic Blogger template?

Please email me and let me know what you have in mind and I'll try and help - I don't really know your template very well as I use the Minima template but hell why not have a bash!

Esben said...

Your observations about Albanian traffic are no way unique to Albania I think. Same goes for India for instance. Many places, creative drivers won't just fill up the third lane but also the fourth lane. And people waiting at the other side will do exactly the same, so that there will be total chaos when the cars can go and no one can go anywhere. Instant traffic jam is created and everyone is stuck for hours until police shows up and starts bossing people about. 1-2 hours wasted for hundreds of people because of "creative driving".

I took a funny picture in Jaipur which illustrates this point perfectly. http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/7597/1046/1600/IMG_1731.jpg Through a very narrow gate cars, bicyclist, rickshaws and pedestrians (and later an elephant) try to push through from both sides. The result of course is that no one is going anywhere. By the time I left they had been stuck there for more than an hour, whereas if they had just waited and given each other a bit space they would have been out of there in 30 seconds at most.

verniciousknids said...

It does sound challenging...but at least you've got the brainpower to deal with it ;)

Ginnie said...

I'm learning so much about Albania from you, Kim, to say the least! I love all these insights from the "right vitamins" you're taking. :)

Owen said...

It's these lightbulb moments that give us the feel of the real texture of life somewhere else.