An Account of an American's Final Days in Albania:

A Letter Written by a Peace Corps Volunteer

Previous Page Final Thoughts

A January 27, 1997 Letter:

It was a beautiful day for a riot in Albania. The sun was shining, snow-capped mountains all around an isolated city of 12,000. The precedent had been set all throughout the larger cities of Albania-a meeting of demonstrators erupting into violence at the prodding of riot police armed with shields and helmets. Anger at Albania's loss of an estimated $750,000 to a billion dollars in pyramid schemes exploded in masses on the streets.

I was introduced to the sound as I sat quietly working in my classroom. I heard the rush of manic hoardes coming toward the center of town, where my school is located, then the doors of the school were thrown open and people rushed the stairs. I waited for my door to be flung open as well, for rocks to break my windows, but waited in vain.

I cautiously opened my door, and saw hundreds of students with the same fearful excitement on their faces that I felt in the lump of my stomach."How could this happen here?," they asked themselves, continously comparing the event to the 1991 takeover of democracy over communism.Only then, the city remained quiet while the other towns were full of destruction of all things that reminded them of the past era, from windows to carefully planned trees.

Several students were near tears as they rushed to hide in the safe net of the teacher's known confines of a classroom, confident that I, as an adult, would protect them from whatever surprises would happen. I realized this as I stared nervously out the window overlooking the central street.

Riot police were beating young men. Other young men were throwing bricks at the police. The people tried to gather in a large mass to organize the storming of the government building. In every other city, the bashkia,or government building, had gone up in flames as a protest to the fact that the government had made no effort to stop the doomed fraudulent investment schemes.

At this point, the vice-principal, as all the city's principals were out of a town for a conference, gathered all the excited students into rooms. I found my friend, and we watched the situation from the safe confines of the school. On one side of the school is a large hill at the base of a mountain, with donkey paths in switchbacks. Men were lined up on these paths, covering every foot, looking on ominously.

We went to another room to continue looking on the scene,actually she has a balcony we sat on. The crowd had grown, the men would gather in a large force and slowly walk together in a menacing way. Then, they would meet up with the police who would fire threatening shots both with pistols and automatic weapons into the air. The men would suddenly revert into little boys, running and giggling back over fences and behind other buildings, only to go through this process again and again, with and without bricks.

Fifty yards to our left, just out of our site, was the bashkia. Smoke was rising from it, as the masses had set it on fire. Students leaned out the windows of the school giggling and calling out, "hi, teacher!" to me like third graders, flashing the peace sign.

More automatic rifle shots, and the people ran down the street again. Another student had asked me earlier if we could postpone the midterm exam, as they'd had one test already that day. This was after the riots had begun. Amazing, that they were listing that in their super-important events of the day.

"Don't worry about it today, in fact, don't worry about it tommorow,either."

Teachers in the elementary school next door left, irresponsibly letting their young children wander towards home unattended-probably the most sickening part of the afternoon.

Eventually there was a lull. The students were sent home, and they locked up the school, forcing us to leave our safe seats and go home. We passed the burnt government building, every new window smashed, large rocks everywhere, riot police guarding it carefully.

A man came to visit a few hours later, the kind of man that tells a tall tale clearly, but told us that it had erupted once again, leaving a teenaged boy dead. I heard that from others as well, but from no official souces. And to think that this was the least crazy of the riots in this country this week.

We made BBC-which means my mom's probably heard about it. So far, Americans are pretty safe if they just stay out of it, although that same visitor before learning my nationality or ability to understand Albanian, asked why didn't Clinton stop these pyramid scams? Why didn't they help them against the government? After all, it was an American invention, the pyramids. That's the kind of talk that scares me personally, chills me to the bone. I called into Tirana today, and so far everyone is safe despite the chaos.

Did I mention the two earthquakes in southern Albania this month?

And the weirdest part of all is I like it here. I don't want to get evacuated-probably won't happen anyway.5

January 29, 1997