topics: burek (food), Albanian greetings, Albanian Education Development Project, Open Internet Center, travel arrangements, biking with the Albanian Cycling Union, Petrela Castle/Fortress, saying goodbye; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: April 4, 1998

Food of the Day: Burek

"Burek" is an often greasy, cheese- or spinach- and sometimes meat-filled filo-dough pastry. It is eaten at any time of day, going down well with tea in the morning, as a snack in the afternoon, and as an appetizer at dinner.

Albania was not the first country where we have seen "burek." In Turkey, it is usually made with layers of noodles too and is much thicker. It was called "börek" there. We ate something like it in Greece too, although it was slightly less greasy, called a "pitta" and contained cheese ["tiro(-kopitta)"] or spinach ["spana(-kopitta)"] or other fillings.

Word of the Day: Albanian greetings

We learned more salutation words in Albanian than we have in many other languages. Perhaps it is because Albanians are so friendly and always finding a way to say hello. Here are a bunch: "Ç'kemi" click to hear an audio clip, the easiest greeting, means just "hi," which is often followed by "Si jeni?" click to hear an audio clip or "How are you?" But, for more formal occasions, there is also "tungjatjeta" click to hear an audio clip which means "hello," but is literally translated as "to have a long life."

There are also more time-specific ways of wishing well to another. "Good morning" is "mirëmëngjës" click to hear an audio clip, "good day" is "mirëdita" click to hear an audio clip, "good evening" is "mirëmbrëma" click to hear an audio clip, and "good night" is "natën e mirë" click to hear an audio clip.

Person of the Day: Olton (Toni) Hysenbegas click to view a photograph and Ilir Zenku click to view a photograph

Once again, due to our short stay in Albania (during which time we met an incredible number of people who went to great lengths to help us), we are honoring two people today. Both laboring as coordinators of different projects within the scope of the Open Society Foundation (OSF), today's honorees are high on our list of excellent people.

Olton (Toni) Hysenbegas click to view a photograph is currently the Extra Curriculum Program Officer at AEDP. Even today, we have no idea of the full scope of his activities or the actual number of projects to which he has turned his very capable eye. But we can tell you that he is always busy - talking on the phone, meeting with people from within and beyond the walls of AEDP, making visits to schools, coordinating the activities of countless others. He is too busy, if you were to ask us (and that from the people who rarely have a moment with which to ponder anything but the bumpy road ahead). But he is also making a difference in the lives of many young people. And that is what really counts.

We were first able to take a moment with Toni after-hours one day, when the phone was still ringing and he was still being distracted by other people's needs, but at least we had a short moment during which we enjoyed a laugh and a moment of complicity. He told us more about the Student Government Program in which he is very involved, as well as exchange projects he is trying to lead (one of which we hope has made it to Los Angeles). He really does have a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, but he gets an outstanding amount of work accomplished as well.

So, we want to thank Toni for all that he was able to do for us despite all the seeming setbacks and obstacles: for helping make our trip to Albania possible at all, for alerting us to potential perils on the road and going out of his way to make sure that we would be safe, for introducing us to his friends (especially Angela, Mirj, and Oerd), for helping us connect with Burhan and Fiqo of the Albanian Cycling Union - basically for everything. And we wish him the very best of luck as the rocky road ahead is paved, in part, with a contribution from his able and insightful hands.

Ilir Zenku click to view a photograph is the Coordinator of the Open Internet Center, which is the Internet facility funded by the Open Society Foundation. Available free-of-charge to members (people who ask for permission to use it and pass a screening interview) during working hours and located in a comfortable ground floor space, it is home to about 12-16 computers (we never counted) that people use if they have signed up for time. The sign-up sheet of paper on the wall is usually very full and most of the terminals were always occupied whenever we visited.

But about Ilir... Ilir was one of the first people at the Open Society Foundation to whom BikeAbout talked. That was almost two years ago (wow does time fly by!). And we have more or less consistently been in communication ever since. Through thick and thin, Ilir has been one of the masterminds behind the center and, as far as we are concerned, a major source of its inspiration.

Ilir was generous enough to open the Center to us while we were in Tirana. This was especially important on the evening of our chat 'n' debate when he not only let us stay late but participated as well. For his part in helping to keep BikeAbout and people in Albania connected to the Internet, Ilir has our eternal thanks.

Place of the Day: Albanian Education Development Project (AEDP)

For the past few days we have been talking about the Albanian Education Development Project, or AEDP. Well, it is time we said a little more about it and how it is working to improve the quality of education in Albania. This hasn't been and will not soon likely become an easy task.

Part of the Open Society Foundation (one of the many projects funded by billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros) in Albania, AEDP has already had far-reaching implications in Albania. Having built new schools, engaged in cross-border events with neighbors near and far, and encouraged children and adults to reach beyond the sometimes limited (and limiting) conditions in which live, the aim is to help re-instill some sense of prideful belonging to young people in Albania.

BikeAbout has predominantly been in communication with the AEDP and, in particular Toni Hysenbegas, our Person of the Day. While BikeAbout has often had to rely on after-school access to students, we all hope that one day - when many more schools are connected to the Internet in Albania and around the world - BikeAbout trips (and similar frontier-crashing Internet adventures) will also be a daily part of students' lives in the classrooms.

Group Dispatch, April 4
picture of Ethan

We succeeded in sleeping in a little more than usual today... for once. It was Saturday and there was no reason to get up too early. At the Berisha's, even Linda stayed in bed for longer than on weekdays and Corinne and Ethan were happy to follow suit.

Eventually though, Ethan had to make a trip to the AEDP offices (see the Place of the Day) to talk to Toni (see the Person of the Day). For a number of reasons, basically having to do with an important need to catch up on work as a group - which has been difficult since we were staying with our magnificent host families, Ethan had to talk to Toni about a nearby guesthouse which could accommodate all four of the group.

Asking for this had been difficult, since we did not want our host families to feel like their incredible hospitality had not been just that: incredible! But there were decisions we had to make about the days ahead, and about the division and execution of work that we had not been able to make for too long. Unfortunately, in the end, we are afraid that our good friends and hosts did feel like their modest accommodations were not enough for us. But let this be a public declaration to the entire world: we have rarely felt as welcome in a foreign country and new friends' homes as we were made to feel at the Berishas and the Tjegullas. The decision to change abodes was a difficult one, but work made it necessary.

Anyway, Ethan found Toni busy in his office. But Toni took enough of a short break to walk Ethan and Burhan, as well as Padraic and Anthony (who had been unexpectedly brought to the office by Fiqo) to the nearby guesthouse where everything was worked out. Then everyone had a few hours to kill before the real activities of the day began: another bike ride, again with our friends and champions from the Albanian Cycling Union, but this time to a new destination: Petrela Castle, just a few kilometers east of Tirana.

So, with the little time on their hands (an unusual thing), Anthony, Padraic and Ethan, led by their very welcome new friend, Oerd, wandered across town to the nearby American Express representative to ask more questions about how to get around the closed Montenegran border. We had already been told a number of different stories about how to get beyond this obstacle, but wanted to follow up with some other resources. Sure enough, we discovered that there were options available to us that were not nearly as extreme as what we had been given last night. In fact, we discovered the most reasonable alternative yet - a ferry to Bari (Italy), followed the next day by a ferry to Bar (Montenegro). We would be spending a ridiculous amount of money and cover who-knows-how-many nautical miles just to go about 200 kilometers (124 mi) up the coast. But at least we would be able to visit Montenegro and proceed from there to Croatia. We committed ourselves to a departure the next day but didn't purchase the tickets yet, just in case something better came along or there was some unexpected and positive change in the political climate... which was doubtful.

And then it was off to Fiqo's (where our bikes were stored) to await Burhan and Corinne and the start of the ride to Petrela. (Since Padraic, Ethan, Anthony and Oerd had had more time than they expected, at Fiqo's they were able to give their bikes a quick once-over, something that had not been done in months.) When everyone else arrived, they were pretty much ready to go!

Petrela is a small castle/fortress from the feudal period in Albania (10th to 14th centuries), about 15 kilometers (9 mi) outside of Tirana, in the low hills that eventually give way to the mountains of the central region. The bike ride to this nearby landmark was swift and pleasant, and on roads of pretty good condition (especially compared to what the BikeAbouters had experienced on the way to Durrës). It also had some hills... a nice challenge for all of us after the too-many days we have spent off our steeds, and, of course, the ubiquitous "pillbox" bunkers click to view a photograph. Along the way, we were accompanied on bike by Fiqo click to view a photograph and Oerd, and in the van by Fiqo's son, Adrian, and Burhan, Lavdie, Linda (practically all the Berishas!) and an old friend of Burhan's. Basically it was like a host family group expedition! And it was great!

At the castle, the BikeAbouters wandered around the ruins with Oerd and Linda click to view a photograph, taking pictures of one another click to view a photograph click to view a photograph, and absorbing gorgeous views of the nearby hills and mountains click to view a photograph click to view a photograph, of a distant Tirana click to view a photograph, and over the green valleys on all sides. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph We all crawled freely hither and thither across the eroded castle rocks and just enjoyed the sun and calm. It was so warm - an incredible change over the previous weeks - that we had all pedaled the distance in shorts and short-sleeve jerseys and could not help but want to soak in some of the evasive rays. What a thrill.

When we rejoined the others, we all feasted in sandwiches that Lavdie had had the foresight to bring. And then it was back to Tirana... by bike. What an incredible pleasure to be under our own power! click to view a photograph Sometimes, especially lately as we have had to rely on all kinds of transportation, it is easy to forget that we are committed to covering as much of the distance around the Mediterranean as possible... by bike. So even a day-trip (without panniers) was a true treat. And a reminder of just how excellent the two-wheel velocipede is. click to view a photograph

Back in Tirana, after a short detour passed the statue of Skenderbeg for a photo click to view a photograph on the square of the same name, we all drove/pedaled straight to our new guesthouse home and said our sincere and regretful good-byes to our hosts and friends. They tried one more time to let us know that we were welcome to spend the night at their homes. And we were really close to taking them up on the repeated invitation, but work beckoned. More work than we wanted to admit we had to do.

So, we dove into it. In the guesthouse we showered, rested and then tackled some work. Oerd had stayed with us since he was interested in seeing how the material we develop actually gets created. We hope that he wasn't too bored, since what it usually entails is many, many hours spent sitting in front of the computer screen tap-tap-tapping on the computer keys. Over and over and over again...

As usual, sooner than we expected we realized that we had to go out again. Since we had not been able to wish Fiqo's family a proper adieu (and had learned from Burhan that we would be seeing him and his family again tomorrow - he had offered to drive us all to Durrës in time to catch our ferry to Bari), we wanted to stop by and do it right.

We wandered through the cooler and familiar-feeling, evening Tirana air and were warmly brought into the Tjegulla family abode. Over soda, beer and some yummy snacks, we took a short hour to express our most heartfelt thanks and to promise that we would be in touch as much as possible. And we do mean that.

Finally, with Oerd, the BikeAbouters strolled back through the evening (thinking quietly about not really wanting to leave the city and the people), stopped for a swift pizza dinner, and then returned to the hotel where they caught up on as much group stuff as possible before drifting into blissful sleep.

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