An Albanian Journey
Web-Only Feature - Winter 2007
Excerpts from Dean Dale Scalise-Smith's
2007 Albania Field School Journal
Thursday, May 17 – As we arrive at the Tirana Terminal, I noticed a sleek new building that resembled German Modern structures.
We wait 20-25 minutes for passport/immigration processing. We find our bags promptly and head out to the coach bus. At the bus I met Auron (Ani) Tari.
We are transported to the “Hotel California” – 25 minutes from the airport. Traveled around the city of Tirana observing the people and the environment.
I immediately notice that almost all structures are concrete. It is evident that many Albanians live in abject poverty. I have never seen housing that was in such disarray. Many residents start to build homes, then when they run out of money, the house sits until the family has more money to finish the structure. We pass hundreds of such homes.
Friday, May 18 - After breakfast we depart for the American Embassy. At the entrance passports are checked. As we wait several deliveries are made. The routine seems to be that the first guards check the outside of the vehicle for bombs and then they are checked for ID by guards armed with a shotgun and an automatic weapon.
Once in the Embassy, we are escorted into a room we are told is bomb proof. Unfortunately, we did not meet Marcie Reese, the American Ambassador, as she is preparing for President Bush's visit in June.
Saturday, May 19 - The Archaeology/Anthropology team left for Durres early this morning. The DPT students and I opted to stay in Tirana and relax. We had a wonderful day visiting the markets and shopping in the alleyways.
At 4:00 p.m. I met with Aferdita Prroni and spoke with her about PT PT in Albania. She seemed to think that the need was greatest in northern Albania. Three hours by car, three hours by boat, then one half hour by car to Traponja. I will speak to Tom and John about this trip.
Sunday, May 20 – We spent the entire day traveling by bus to Butrint. Very beautiful countryside but hair-raising roads. Steep cliffs and sheer drops. The road is 1-1/2 car widths. Quite an exciting but frightening trip!!
Dinner, unpacking, then to bed. I am beat and tommorrow we will start visiting local villages.
Monday, May 21 – (Visit to Vrina) At 10:00 a.m. Ani arrives and we walk to the canal. The ferry is broken so we travel by boat to the other side of the canal.
We walked to the village school built by a wealthy Japanese businessman. There we met Xhoanna, a young girl with a leg lenghth discrepency. She was very timid and barely spoke to anyone. Her dad told us that she has significant pain in every step on the right hip.
Her family is very poor and have no money to purchase shoes. We decide, after our examination, that she desparately needs shoes and a lift. So we explain that we will travel to Sarandë and purchase shoes, then we will take the shoes to a shoemaker to put a lift on her shoe. Her dad is very excited and thankful.
Ani brings us to the home of Zoe. His mother welcomes us into their home, offers drinks, then takes us to see (him). He is severely and profoundly handicapped. As we examine Zoe, Ani seemed particularly sensitive to this situation and tears up. He briefly left the room and Mariol was left to translate.
"We stop at the Village café for espresso. To my surprise, the café is full of people waiting to be evaluated. This is our clinic."
Tuesday, May 22 - (Return to Vrina) We travel back to Vrina to visit and fit Xhoanna's new shoes. Xhoanna clearly is pleased about the shoes. She is actually able to run, an activity she could never perform before. We told the teacher we would be back next week for Phase II - the 2nd lift.
Next we travel back to Zoe's house where we speak with the mom about what he can and cannot perform. We practice sitting Zoe and demonstrate activities for her to perform. We left toys to stimulate him auditorily and made a "boppy" out of a pillow. [Zoe's mother] agreed he should sit more and said she'd follow through. We did not provide much else as his developmental level appears to be 0 - 6 months. Great mom and such pressure.
Wednesday, May 23 – (Visit to village near Sarandë) We stop at the village café. It is lively and I thought we would have espresso before visiting the children. To my surprise, the café is full of people waiting to be evaluated. This is our clinic - two tables inside serve as my exam table and the café floor space my walkway.
- Child #1 - Bahram, age 2.5 years. We made suggestions to the family: 1) Insist Bahram ambulate at home. 2) He should ambulate with high-top sneakers - plastic - to maximize the support he needs. [Mom] has tears in her eyes and thanked us for seeing her son.
- Child #2 - Renalto, age 13 years. Demonstrated to mom how to promote improved gait pattern. Mom is overwhelmed and visibly moved by the changes she has seen in her son. She smiled as she watched him walk out of the restaurant with his exercise program.
- Child #3 - Adelina, age 7 years. Told [her parents] of her need for shoes and a lift. Not sure if they understood, but Ani was sure that they did. The he realized we were speaking to an uncle.
A young woman who spoke English suddenly appeared and asked if we needed a translator as another person from the village needed us to examine her. [The patient's] name was Liri and she taught all of us some important lessons. We asked about her injury and she first said (through the translator) it happened four days ago when she fell off an elevated surface while cleaning. We conducted a thorough examination.
We began to ask more in depth questions about Liri’s injury and the translator suddenly realized that she had used an incorrect word. Instead of 4 - 5 days since the injury occurred, it was 4 -5 years.
Thursday, May 24 – (Visit to Sarandë) David is a child 18 months of age with a club foot that his parents report was surgically repaired then casted for 3 months. The MDs did not provide orthotics. No home exercise program was provided. We told the family we would attempt to fabricate an orthotic to stabilize his right leg.
We travelled all over Sarandë trying to find supplies to fabricate an orthotic. We found sandals, velcro clips, soles (if we need another lift), glue, and plastic material from a basin. After locating the materials, we went back to Ani's to fabricate the orthotic. We started boiling water and placed the plastic in the water to mold the orthotic. We left [it] in the boiling water 5 minutes (no change), 10 minutes (no change), 15 minutes (no change!). Clearly this was not the correct material. We then cut and cleaned a plastic ice cream container to see if this material might be more favorable - NOT REALLY.
After hours of fabrication David and his parents arrived for the fitting. What a disaster! He still rolled his foot every time... We tried to modify the device but it did not contain the materials to provide support for ambulation. I was very disappointed. We took down David's family's name and telephone, promising to send an orthotic. I felt sad and could not seem to find any solace that we would send the device! I despise failure.
Friday, May 25 – (Visit to Lazarat) We had not eaten breakfast so Ani recommended stopping at a small café on the way for yogurt. As I generally eat yogurt every day, this seemed like a great idea. We drove about 30-40 minutes and pulled off to a roadside stand.
Ani ordered yogurt for all 6 of us. I put the first bite into my mouth and realized it was goat’s milk yogurt – without a doubt one of the worst tasting yogurts ever! Ani had honey in his, so we quickly asked for honey, hoping to mask the taste. The honey sure did improve the taste, but when it was gone the flavor of goat cheese, very pungent, returned. Yuck!
We arrived at the village on the side of a hill. Ani brought us to the mayor's office where we were introduced to the village politicians. The mayor held a brief T.V. press conference with a reporter from an Albanian TV station. Next we were shown the village and then the health center. When we arrived at the health center, there were 30 – 40 people [waiting].
- Child #1 - John, age 6 years. [Appears] the size of a 9 year old. He is affable, cherubic cheeks. I asked his mom about his eating habit. She reported that he eats anything and everything! He reportedly has a history of seizures and takes meds. Recommend greater overall activity level. Less T.V., more walking out of doors. Gave John simple 1 step directions. [Mom] said she understood. Thanked us over and over.
- Adult #1 - Young man, aged 21, with hepatitis B & C. The M.D.s in Greece diagnosed him and told him he needed [prescription name]. This drug is not available in Albania and the cost is prohibitive. The family asked for a precription for this drug in the U.S. or even Canada. I explained [to his sister or girlfriend] that I cannot write prescriptions. She begged repeatedly for any assistance and I repeat that I have no authority to assist them. She has tears in her eyes but is appreciative for the time I spent with them.
- Child #3 - Almanola, aged 14 years. Has Down's Syndrome. She loves watching models on T.V. and wants to be a supermodel. I asked her to walk or stand and she performed a runway walk or a model pose - perfectly!! She does not attend school, but rather manages the house as her parents are both shepherds. Very self-sufficient young adult!
- Adult #4 - Alfredo. What a character! His mother brought him to see us - she reported that he only spoke in single syllables. Tested him with basic equipment - tuning forks, bells, etc. [The team's translator] Mariol spoke to him for 10 minutes and reported that he hears fine but does not want to listen to his mom. He is ignoring her as most teenagers and young adults do! Very funny young man with a good sense of humor.