I think I’ve discovered the perfect analogy for development in Albania. It dawned on me while sitting at the café this afternoon (well, more like it appeared in front of my eyes while I was sitting at the café this afternoon, but whatever). As I was ordering my espresso I noticed a man driving his donkey cart down the only road in town. Now, this is not an atypical occurrence in Bishqem. The thing that caught my eye was as he passed in front of the cafe was that he was legitimately texting while driving…his donkey cart. I almost peed myself laughing. Apparently texting and driving isn’t as big of an issue here in Albania as it is in the U.S.
To the naked eye Albania looks like any other European country. Certain aspects of modernity have trickled down to the small towns like Bishqem (i.e. cell phones and ipods), but not necessarily in the order you would expect…or want. In the hope of meeting EU entry requirements in the future, development has skipped a few steps here. While there are now solar water heaters in every home and cell phones in every pocket, there is still no plumbing in most public buildings and the electricity goes off for random intervals throughout the day. The end result is that you end up using a Turkish toilet (aka hole in the ground) at the same restaurant where you can get wireless on your laptop.
We joke all the time that Peace Corps in Albania is more like “Posh Corps” because of the modern conveniences available here. Even though we may not be building bathrooms or schools houses for tiny villages, living in mud huts, or eating gruel, the obstacles we do face are even more difficult to trudge through sometimes. We can’t provide band-aid fixes like volunteers in other countries often do with new blackboards, books, and pencils. Instead, we have to work every day to chip away at the gap between the backwards ways of doing business and the modern conveniences here. So every time I get caught up in the American-like amenities around me and think that “Posh Corps Albania” is going to be easy, I’m slapped back to reality by a man on a driving a donkey cart down the road to bring his produce to market…while texting on his cell phone.