Return to sender in Albania...if you can find him

Fri May 14, 2010 10:00am EDT
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By Benet Koleka

TIRANA (Reuters Life!) - Missing street signs, changed addresses, building chaos and a vast population shift after communism's fall have so confused the postal system in Albania that up to one in five letters is returned to sender.

One of the big problems, particularly in Albania's sprawling capital of Tirana, is just figuring out where you are in a place where street signs have been removed, are covered in rust or plastered over with old election posters.

Everyone knows where Prime Minister Sali Berisha lives, but there was only one privately posted -- and barely noticeable -- sign naming the street until a new one appeared just days ago.

Another problem is building numbers and names in a city where haphazard construction has created chaos since the totalitarian regime fell in 1991.

Along with democracy came the freedom to live, and grab land, anywhere, a tightly controlled privilege under communism. The functioning address system practically collapsed as about one million people moved from villages to towns.

Letters are addressed to: "The Blue Building near the Eight Year School," "The Building with the Arrows," or "The Building with the Horse." One American aid agency can be found at "Pjeter Budi Street, Classic Construction Building."

Tirana's population alone grew from 200,000 in 1900 to 700,000 and now numbers some one million inhabitants if its sprawling suburbs are included.

Zana Bregu, a postal worker in the central government and financial district, said 26 years of experience and a lot of asking around helps her cope better than younger colleagues.   Continued...