In Albania, Ruth and I talked to college professors, students from junior high age to the university level, people on the street, etc. Below are some of the more interesting things we learned about this struggling country.
Albania is mountainous because the Alps extend all the way to Greece. Located near the place where Albania borders both Kosovo and Macedonia, Mount Korab is its highest point soaring to 9,068 feet.
The Albanian flag features a 2-headed eagle on a red background because Albanians call their country Shqipëria, which means country of the eagles. The story derives from a folk tale involving a young hunter, a baby eagle, and a snake.
Albania has a basically Mediterranean climate with cool, wet winters and hot summers, but because of the mountains there are many microclimates.
With a population of 3 million, Albania is 56% urban. About 59% of its citizens are Muslims. Christians, for now, constitute 17%. One of the newer sights in Tirana, its capital, is an Orthodox Cathedral called Resurrection of Christ. Albanians tell visitors like us that their country is #1 in the world for religious tolerance, and they idolize the most famous Albanian, Mother Theresa.
Albanians are descendants of Illyrians, the oldest tribe in The Balkans. William Shakespeare surely didn’t travel there, but he set his completely fictional comedy, Twelfth Night, in Illyria. Study.com calls ancient Illyria “…a place where many unusual things happen.” This has historically been true about both Illyria and Albania.
99% of the people speak Albanian as their 1st language. There are very few sub-cultures. The largest minority group is the Tosks.
There are 8 political parties now and Albania is a parliamentary democracy. From roughly 1949 to 1970 Albania was largely controlled by first Russia and then China. Some now call this the period of craziness. All churches were shut down. Albania was as isolated as a country can get. Even Mother Theresa couldn’t get back in to visit her dying mother. Travel abroad was prohibited. Paranoia reigned. Bunkers were built because those in charge expected invasion.
Some say the craziness continued. In 1997 pyramid schemes bankrupted 25 companies and led to debt amounting to $1.2 billion, which is a lot for little country. The government’s authority evaporated and socialists returned to power. Within 5 years the most popular car in this country was the Mercedes-Benz. The story explaining why is surreal.
Despite hard times, Albanians are warm-hearted. Physical gestures are part of everyday culture with head-nodding meaning no and side-to-side head movement meaning yes. Hugging and kissing are common. Males touch cheeks affectionately. Hospitality is important and Albanians say, “Our house belongs to God and our guest.”
It’s easy to like the Albanian people while feeling sorry for them at the same time.