Pastrimi Pranverore 2013

Despite pouring rain which started when we did and passed as soon as we were finished, we did successfully hold the Third Annual Pastrimi Pranverore (Spring Cleaning)!  As ever (can you say ‘ever’ after 3 years?  I hope so!), the credit for having this happen is almost entirely due to the 40 students of Mushak Haxhia Shkolla 9 Vjecare.  These days, around about April every year they start demanding “Well, are we doing it again this year?”  Also to be thanked are – most of all – our own Skender Selimaj, who despite an overwhelming amount of work of his own, still managed to spend two days chasing the grown-ups around (much harder to organize than children!) and collected everything from the 10 local businesses who contributed to make the evening party happen.  And they are: Alfred Selimaj, Petrit Selimaj, Hajredin Selimaj, Kelmend Saliu, Skender Beqiri, Mysli Selimaj, Lazer Cardaku, Mark Lamthi, Ilirjan Lamthi, and Mirash Lamthi.  Thanks to everyone!

2011.  For those who don’t know – the Pastrimi Pranverore started being planned in 2010.  With small funds from 1/7th of a UNDP minigrant (we crammed 7 projects into 0ne $10,000 grant!) we took the kids out of school one Friday, and picked up every bit of trash, from Liqeni i Xhemes to Fushe e Gjes.  After 4 hours of cleaning, the kids were released to go home and fancy-up.  At 6pm we reconvened for a feste – A big party to celebrate the kids & the beginning of the Tourism Season.  The tradition has grown.  The first year, we were happy just to have it, and grateful to Hajredin and Tradita Restaurant for hosting it in Valbona Qender (where the dot gets put on the maps).  Our attempt to hire a “traditional band” – in costume, backfired, and despite reassurances, the band we did hire turned up and out to be a noisy wedding band, fully electric! Still, the food was great, and Rally Albania came and donated t-shirts which the kids (and I!) still have.   The trash was phenomenal.  Every house seemed to have its own little dump, and many of them right in front and next to the road.  Alfred spent the afternoon politely knocking on doors, pointing out the children cleaning up the mess, and subtly shaming people into coming out and joining in.  NOT that this is the people here’s fault, actually.  Non-biodegradable trash is a relatively recent thing here (maybe 10 years?).  And of course the major problem is that the local government (despite being paid taxes) does not collect and remove any rubbish.    (This, mind you, is despite the fact of their having received an identical $10,000 minigrant the same year as we did, which was called “Cleaning up Valbona.”  You would think that UNDP would have pushed them to actually do it, but instead UNDP asked us to stop pestering the government, as “it was upsetting them.”  Go figure.)  There was a mountain of trash, which we had no choice but to burn, next to the river.

2012.   To be honest, by the next year, the guesthouse owners were all so busy that we sort of forgot about it.  It was the kids who surrounded me at the school and demanded to know when we were having “the Feste.”  “Uh?”  said helpfully.  “May 18th” they informed me firmly.  Okay!   This year the little dumps by the road had more-or-less disappeared.  The island of floating “disposable” diapers (Define disposable? These things are constructed to survive nuclear war!) had disappeared from the bend in the river.  And instead of milling around the school for an hour waiting for someone to think of something, we briskly organized into 3 groups, and off we went.  I stayed with the liddlies in the middle of Valbona, where they ran shrieking from one candy wrapper to the next.  Cries of “U jeta!”  I found it!  were mixed with repeated calls “Kanaqe, Kanaqe!” Cans, cans!  We kept the aluminum cans separate, and sold them for scrap the next day in Bajram Curri.  The 900 lek we made was enough to buy 2 new notebooks for every kid in the school!  The rest, which filled two trucks, was once again disposed of by us.

In the evening the party moved to Kol Gjoni’s in Rrogam.   In the beautiful setting of green lawn surrounded by snowy mountains, we ditched the live band and gained a bit of authenticity (no matter what ANYONE tells you, that is not me dancing with Kol’s son.  I would never make such an exhibition of myself!) (Oh all right, I confess.)  Thanks must be given to Kol’s son for keeping it live, and to Dashnor Hysi, for putting on the hat, and picking up the Ciftali!

2013.  Which brings us to this year.  Once again, the kids cornered me.  We are all even busier than EVER (tourism continues to
grow 30% per year), but Skender manfully made it happen.  This year it rained.  And it rained and it rained.  That didn’t stop the kids however, who adapted the trash bags (see picture above), got soaked, and still cleaned for 4 hours.  We all realized a stunning truth:  There is MUCH less trash these days.  Could the ritual of “cleaning up” be changing habits here already?  With the money we collected from local businesses, there was enough to pay Lazer to drive the trash into Bajram Currri where there is some sort of dump.  This was particularly good, as it gave him time to pick up Ice Cream (!) for the kid’s big finish!

This year it was our turn in Quku i Valbones to host the party, and we did our best at Rilindja to ‘pull out all the stops.’   Every year whatever we did the year before has become tradition and we know how to do it, so every year we try to add something new!  This year it was Akullore (ice cream) for dessert – this may seem like something little, but there’s no ice cream in Valbona) and for a grande finale – fireworks.  Yup, fireworks.  Well, we had two tubes left over from New Years!

And that’s it till next year!  I’ll leave you with a few more pictures, too good to resist:

If you would like to help encourage responsible trash removal:
Emails of some key government figures can be found here:  http://www.journeytovalbona.com/good/action/.  Please bear in mind that they don’t like being bothered, and if they think we’re behind it, there could be repercussions for us.  General complaints about trash in Albania, mentioning more than one location are probably best.
Anyone with ties to non-Albanian environmental or political organizations which could shame the officials should consider asking them to help mount a larger campaign.
Most effective, but hardest to organize,  is probably bringing direct aid to local people (without going through the deep pockets of local officials).   Anyone with ideas of how to organize (and pay for) a sustainable method of dealing with trash is eagerly welcomed to contact us.  Aluminum and iron can be sold for scrap (with funds going to the school!), and there is now a plastics recycling plant somewhere near Tirana – but the key to this is transport, and that costs money!
As ever, thank you for your help in this.

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