Elbasan was selected as one of 13 sites for a new USAID Planning and Local Governance Project (PLGP) and somehow I have managed to get myself included in the preparation and implementation of that project.  Huzzah!  A meeting was held with various directors within the Bashkia and one or two representatives from the regional government (qarku) and nonprofit sectors, to identify the immediate needs and create an action plan for the PLGP.  I find myself a bit out of my depth trying to understand the language and now the language of government, but hope to be a quick study.

One of the major elements of the action plan regards reconciling the national and local governance and the transference of powers and (most especially) funds, as well as deciphering and implementing new national laws on urban planning.  From the little I’ve understood it has caused quite the upset.

All about Albania there is a tumult of activity as it overcomes economic, infrastructure, political, and social barriers in hopes of entering the EU, and nowhere can the physical results of this change best be seen than on the beaches.

For the 4th of July week I joined a small group of friends in Velipoja along the Adriatic.  We came laden with the usual beach supplies (water, towels, blankets, food, etc.) expecting sparsely populated coastline stretching out to either side for as far as the eye can see, but instead saw an altogether different site.  In the year since one of our colleagues had last been there, Velipoja’s beaches have largely been privatized and now instead of clear coast, were row upon row of umbrellas and lounge chairs rented out for the lofty sum of 400 lek.  Behind them, a growing development of lokals, restaurants and a burgeoning boardwalk.

For my part, I received the sight with a mixture of pleasure (yay for shady umbrellas!), and remorse at the privatization of a once a public resource (400 lek to sit here?  What if I don’t have 400 lek?).

And as more isolated beaches get developed others have become less suitable for swimming because of the increased pollution.  Hotels and tourism have improved but the waste water and trash collection systems have lagged behind.

Despite the issues that exist, after a bit of sunning, it’s pretty easy to put it all in the back of your mind for a few hours, and in fairness there are wide stretches of  protected Albanian coast, though so much more needs to be done.

Velipoja is quite nice during the day, even with its searing hot black sand. It is far more lovely, however and cliché as it may be, under the light of a full moon.