“Welcome to the land of eagles!” my colleague exclaimed as we descended into the Albanian national airport. “Although I have never seen an eagle in my lifetime, that is beside the point.” Many things in Albania seem to be beside the point, driving laws, pedestrian walkways, and having the correct change for your visa. According to all the information I had read prior to going to Albania, $10 was sufficient payment for a visa that entitled me to stay in Albania for 30 days, when I would have to apply at the police department for a renewal. Unfortunately, the woman behind the counter seemed perfectly up-to-date on the fact that the US dollar is weaker than a three-day-old baby, though not on the fact that giant hair and orange eye shadow are a bit 1980s. I had only $12 in my wallet and, having spent the last three weeks in the UK, didn’t want to part with 10 pounds. “You have only $12? Ok, no problem,” and, with that, I had arrived in Albania. The people here are quite nice, even if you have less Albanian than a two-year-old, and they are generally quite willing to flout regulations.
We were met at the airport by one of the women I will be working with this summer, who promptly proceeded to drive on the wrong side of the road in the direct path of a large, oncoming bus. Welcome to Albania, where driving laws are really more like guidelines, as opposed to enforceable rules. As we drove into the city on the new highway that was opened in March, though it looked already to be about five years old, garishly painted buildings in shades ranging from florescent lime green to a bright salmon pink rose on all sides. It was quite hot, about 37 degrees Celsius, even at 10 PM. The streets were full of young, and older, people out enjoying coffees or just walking around. Once I got to see my bedroom, where I would finally be able to unpack my things for a few months, I got a lesson in how to work the “air cooler” which was the size of a large dorm refrigerator and cooled the air perhaps three degrees. The instructions did, however, inform me that it was also an air purifier and would prevent me from getting “dust worm.”
Later that evening, my new roommate took me on a walk around the city, pointing out some major attractions, including the numerous banners around Tirana welcoming the arrival of President Bush. When Bush’s tour was under way, a headline in The Guardian announced, “Bush to Visit Friendly European Countries” which, to my mind, would be a very short tour. Many Albanians had come from all around the country to see him during his brief visit. According to my friend, all the streets were blocked so that only the president’s motorcade could use the highway and everyone was ushered inside until 10 minutes before the president’s arrival. People that had traveled for perhaps days then had to rush hell for leather to get a glimpse of him but some were simply too far away. How sad that the Albanians didn’t have the distinct pleasure of holding on to him longer.
The fact is, we have a lot to learn from our European friends in their attempt to criminalize the demand for prostitution, the key factor that drives the trafficking for sexual exploitation market. Sweden is a particularly laudable example. Italy also has legislation that provides victims of trafficking a route to gaining citizenship. These two factors are both missing in the United Kingdom. The recent TIP Report by the US government makes two recommendations for the United Kingdom: increase bed space for trafficking victims and give them a route to citizenship. I was never sure while in the US how accurate these reports were but, after spending time in the UK and meeting with many people whose remit was exactly these matters, I have found it to be spot on. Albanian colleagues also claim that the TIP report is quite accurate for Albania as well.
In some ways, it is hard for me to acknowledge that the streets full of imported Italian fashions (at ridiculously high prices, I might add), well dressed young people, new Mercedes, and Gucci knockoffs, are also home to traffickers and their victims. I start to wonder if the young guys driving that new Mercedes are buying and selling women as if they are handbags. In an economy with a nearly 30% unemployment rate, where is this money coming from? One step forward that is glaringly lacking in the TIP report is acknowledging the corruption in the countries on the receiving end of human trafficking. While Albanians clearly don’t mind flouting regulations here and there, the same practice goes on in rich countries, though perhaps not as visibly. In countries with high, though of course not infallible, security measures, there is someone on the inside who is receiving bribes and other perks to let these people into the country. Until we start to acknowledge and address the corruption at home, how can we ask those in poorer countries to do so?
Posted By Jennifer Hollinger
Posted Jun 25th, 2007