It seems like water is to be found everywhere except our house these days. We have been in our house for over three weeks and we still can't connect into Tirana’s public water supply. Someone from GSO stops by the house every day to check on the water levels in our storage tank, and as needed, drives over the pumper truck to refill it. I have no idea where the Embassy gets their water but I suspect they are filling our tank from the Embassy’s own water supply. (I seriously doubt Tirana officials would allow the U.S. Embassy to be cut off from water!).
Despite the ongoing drought at the Brown house, water seems plentiful in the rest of the city. Our neighborhood might not be officially connected to the water system but Albanians are resourceful when it comes to getting their needs met. Case in point was the “construction” that occurred in front of our gate last Sunday night. Two men were chipping away at the concrete and for a brief moment I thought it might be the water company coming to investigate the water problem. (Since no one seems to wear uniforms or carry identification badges here, it is virtually impossible to tell who is with the City or local utility company). I thought the men looked vaguely familiar and I soon realized that it was our next door neighbors that were hacking away at the pavement under the cover of darkness. Within a few minutes I heard the unmistakable sound of water splashing from a hose. Yes, you guessed it. Our neighborhoods had hacked into the water system to meet their own needs. By the next morning the only evidence that something out of the ordinary had taken place was the freshly poured bed of concrete that sat at the scene of the crime.
Our landlord has his very own pumper truck and stops by at least once a week to water our garden. Actually, he stands in the driveway and tells me in broken English that he "is the best landlord in all of Tirana" while his wife, dressed in her Sunday best, sprays down our entire front yard, garden, and driveway. While I understand his desire to keep his property looking nice, the sensible part of me says it is just wrong to waste so much water on keeping the driveway clean. He is not alone in this, since all of our neighbors spray down their driveways and patios on a nightly basis.
|A car wash abutting a neighborhood cafe|
Many mornings, while I contemplate whether or not I should run a load of laundry, I see streams of water flowing by our house. The source is yet another Albanian phenomenon. Car washes are to Albanians what 7-11s are to Americans. Signs advertising "lavazh" adorn billboards, sides of buildings, and tent-like structures that serve as car washes. It seems to me that there are several car washes on every block in this country. This is true in both the city and the countryside. A few look like established businesses that are readily recognizable as car washes. Most, however, seem to be pop-up endeavors that appear on the side of roads, attached to houses, or most commonly, attached to the ubiquitous cafes that fill every street and neighborhood. (How convenient is it to have your afternoon coffee and have your car washed at the same location?) Young boys and old men alike stand in the blazing sun hand washing cars with rags and garden hoses attached to water tanks while listening to American pop music blasting on their radios.
|Two neighboring car washes.|
In this post-Communism country that seems to have more late-model Mercedes and BMWs than the
Northern Virginia suburbs, people love their cars and take great pride in keeping them spotless. Yes, there are older jalopies, whining mopeds, and unexciting American models that were sold by departing Americans, but the majority of cars on the roads are German imports that shine as though they were just driven off of the new car lot. In a country where the average annual household income is just under $5,000, one has to wonder how families can afford such luxuries. Or maybe we shouldn't think about it too much.....
Regardless of how people have come into possession of these automobiles, they take great pride in maintaining their appearance and this isn't an easy feat in a country where everything is perpetually covered in a layer of fine dust. One could argue that car washes are the type of small business that keeps the Albanian economy running. I wonder two things. One is where do all of these businesses get their seemingly endless supply of water and who is footing the water bill. The second is whether or not we have enough water so I can wash my clothes.