School’s out and it’s officially summer in Lezhe. This means a return of the heat, fresh peaches, weddings keeping the beats going all night long and two fashion statements I had almost forgotten about – the clear bra strap (seriously, why? just wear a strapless) and the mis-spelled/mis-written/altogether mis-understood English t-shirt.
Young Albanians’ obsession with t-shirts written in broken and misspelled English is hard to ignore. Last summer I wanted to make a photo album of all the great shirts I saw walking around, but I felt creepy taking pictures of strangers so didn’t follow through.
I don’t know where these shirts come from, but Albanian’s definitely don’t know what they mean most of the time. “See you to making world now” or “too hard look touch here” scream out in hot neon block letters from the chests of teens and young Albanians everywhere. Most of the time it’s pretty innocently entertaining, but sometimes the context of who is wearing the shirt can be outright disturbing. Every once in a while I want to take the wearer by the shoulders and explain just what it is they are wearing.
The two examples here were sighted at a recent traditional music festival. The MC, a high school student, is obviously unaware of what her shirt implies/tries to imply (above). And this kid’s (below) mother must not understand English at all….or else she has a sick sense of being proud and supportive.
Signs like this have started appearing around Tirana
Yesterday Albanians (along with Bosnians) received a long-awaited visa liberalization agreement with the EU. Now Albanians can, with minimal paperwork, travel for up to 90 days in any EU country and England without a visa. In most places around the country this news was greeted with celebration, mayoral speeches, parties and, in some cases, fireworks. If the wind and rain and lightning hadn’t been blowing/striking in Lezhe and the power hadn’t been out, we probably would have been partying, too.
Many Albanians see this visa liberalization as a big step forward towards EU membership. However, they still have a long long long way to go and must realize that this is just a baby step. In some ways, though, it makes talking about and comparing Albania’s situation to that of nearby countries a bit easier for me because my colleagues and friends here can actually travel to those places for short visits and conferences without visa headaches. It will be interesting to see how the trickle down effect of easier access to the Germanys and Englands of the world manifests itself here. In the world of sustainable development work, cross-border comparison of best-practices is a common thing that can be helped by travel and trainings abroad. The “example” of many EU countries is so close for Albanians, but yet, even after this visa liberalization, remains so far. In the future, abuse of the new travel system is certainly a possibility and the fact remains that most Albanians cannot afford to travel outside the country. Also, there’s a strong homebody mentality here that keeps people close to family and friends (I have seen more of Albania than most Albanians I know).
On a lighter note, it is now possible for Albanians to travel to Greece and Italy to visit their family and friends – a privilege that I’m sure will be used frequently and will only add to the strong ties Albanians have with both countries. It’s an exciting energy here, and I am eager to see how this all plays out over the rest of my time in country.
New York Times coverage of the change
Check out Lonely Planet’s top 10 destinations for 2011 list here.