Himara

Mr. Shinogle was selected to work in the Office of Urban Planning and Development; he spent two years with Himara and its associated villages covering a gamut of projects. As a Peace Corps volunteer, integrating with the community is often crucial to having a successful service, since generally the communities served are tightly-knit and skeptical of foreigners. Accomplishing such, between Mr. Shinogle's work at the office and language lessons he found himself stomping grapes, camping with the locals at a monastery, on a fishing boat, and immersed in the unenviable chore of picking olives amongst many other things.

Briefly,

About the Municipality of Himara

 

  • Population: 11,000
  • 7 Villages: Dhërmi, Palasa, Ilias, Vuno, Pilur, Qeparo, & Kudhës
  • Head of local government: Himara
  • Himara's winter population: 3,500
  • Himara's summer population 20,000
  • Greek spoken as mother tongue: 85%
  • Coastline: 20 km
  • Beaches: 13 km

 

PLEASE NOTE: These statistics are general, as at the time of publishing there were no reliable sources.

 

 

 

For more about Himara, visit:

himara.eu

himara.travel

Geographically, the Municipality of Himara is made up of mountains that fall into the sea or valleys that meander to it. The ground is rocky and ideal for growing olives and citrus crops, while at the higher elevations shepherds with their flocks are a common sight.

The winters are something like that of the American northwest, with frequent wet and gray days—but almost never subfreezing at sea level. The promontories that wall the region off can get their share of snow occasionally, requiring chains to navigate them despite being only several kilometers from the yet-raining seashore.

Summers are the opposite to the winters: clear, dry... sunny; July and August see the population exploding as the most heavily touristed months.

If one can manage, May and September are the best for visiting with a perfect combination of weather and activity  offering a nearly divine time.

Many Himariotes pass the winters in Athens and repopulate the region in summer giving Himara a rather bipolar personality.

Himara's history can be traced back at least 3,000 years to the cyclopic stones on a portion of its castle. Though its history is often murky it crops up occasionally in history; Spile, a cave in the center of town is believed to have been visited in Homer's Odyssey. In Julius Ceasar's great pursuit of Pompey it is often noted that soldiers nested at the neighboring village of Palasa.

Between pirates and the Turkish, Himara remarkably maintained its autonomy in-large and its Orthodox faith. What must have been epic times has brazened the region's pride and spirit. To be a Himariote one must have a long paternal history—and interestingly many can trace this back several hundred years when their families migrated to the region from elsewhere in Albania over the Ceraunian "Thunderstruck" to escape the Turkish wrath and keep their Orthodox faith. This is even reflected in the city's castle where a second ring around the original structure marks where the then immigrant population settled.

With the dissolution of the Turkish Empire a second breath was breathed into Himara with renewed self-awareness and pride, to even yield its own country for several months. Shortly lived, HImara found itself in the cross-hairs of both WWI and WWII occupied by the both the Italians and Germans. Walking the hills or visiting its castle one will occasionally find large shells of heavy artillery (about thirty centimeters long).

With the end of WWII HImara continued to find itself amidst political turmoil, finally devolving to the emergence of the communist dictator of Enver Hoxha.

Himara's churches soon emerged as storehouses for oranges while society took on a paranoiac mindset. Bunkers sprung up on the beaches and hillsides to become become ubiquitous while housing and other basic needs remained in marginal supply. As China and Russia's communism evolved, Hoxha a stern Marxist-Leninist parted ways with them further isolating his country, to a degree little different than North Korea today.

Yet again, with the fall of communism in Albania in the early 1990s turmoil ensued and many Himariotes  fled to Greece as refugees. Things stabilized on both sides of the border; in Athens the Himariotes founded a large expatriate community.

Again in 1997 the country fell into anarchy with the collapse of the country's banking system causal of a large pyramid scheme that much of the country invested in and likewise fell victim of. A second wave of immigration left Himara all the more abandoned. Accounts of this era account for a sincerely a terrifying time, when people were shooting and behaving maniacal, at no one thing but perhaps out of loss and frustration—not knowing where to turn?

Enver Hoxha's personal medical doctor, Sali Berisha was finally booted from office as prime minister in 2013, releasing a major choke-hold for development. Today, as politics and other services have slowly improved HImara is working to find itself again. Simultaneously as the Greek economy continues to find itself on the rocks more expatriates are returning to their beloved homeland. In a sense the community is working to rebuild itself.

Hampering Himara's progression into a successful Mediterranean oasis that it prides itself as are numerous property disputes where multiple people have claim to the same parcel. This is compounded by lax building regulations (bribes) that is allowing shoddy buildings to erupt like weeds undermining what could otherwise be a pleasant Mediterranean town.

The community's attitude is not the healthiest either—litter covers many beaches and fills many crags , as what one throws to sea "disappears" which of course is hardly inviting to any tourist.

In many ways Himariotes today betray their own cause... selfishly building every square inch available , destroying historical buildings and beautiful rock formations while littering  and complaining about weaker tourism recently. It is something like when crop prices plummet and farmers subsequently produce more to regain their former incomes, all the while while destroying their soils.

Himara is experiencing and learning, as the Cuyahoga River had to catch afire to lay the groundwork for environmental concerns, so to maybe some mistakes will be part of Himara's path to coming of itself. With the recent boot of the prime minister there remains room for a lot of optimism.

It is certainly a special place, something held dearly by its residents and experienced by the many visitors.

Endeavors

The Office of Urban Planning and Development was an particularly important department in the Municipality of Himara on Ralph Shinogle's arrival in 2012 because of a new urban plan in the process of being implemented. This is the first comprehensive urban plan implemented in the municipality since the fall of communism, and in many ways its first urban plan.

 

In Himara, Shinogle worked on a team of one other individual up to twenty.

 

As a new member of the Municipality of Himara’s team, Shinogle’s first projects were documenting the Castle of Himara and revisiting the previously drawn-up plans of Himara’s town center with his counterpart, Edga Rapo. These served as quick introduction to the community and a fast-paced means to integrate.

 

The Himara Castle Project consisted of documenting the Himara Castle which came to include building a photographic repository of its structures and breaking down the castle into three zones of need. The oldest zone (the original castle) and of the most significance, a surrounding zone that was built in the 16th Century, and the third zone, still significant and similarly old to the second zone, but in poorer condition in respect to its historical character. These zones were to simplify and prioritize needs on a basis of urgency for future projects and grants.

 

Shinogle worked as a consultant for the redesign of the town center of Himara—a promenade defined by buildings facing the sea and a large open space built on top of much of the beach. The entire center of Himara has suffered from the previous implementation of a poorly designed (financially, socially, visually, and administratively). Shinogle facilitated identifying key issues and finding solutions with clarity and usability.

 

From nearly the beginning of Shinogle’s service, he worked on the Himara: Past. Present.... and Future? initiative to build awareness of the erratic development facing Himara and foster community interest in planning. Underscoring this was the intention of building awareness of things that should be considered of intrinsic cultural value and to protect them. This initiative centered on an exhibition that he and associates compiled that displayed photographs and drawings of Himara and its seven villages through time tracing their evolution starting from 1848 to the present. Working with the community, he collected historical photographs from the schools, businesses, and individuals to assemble a “time zone” in the community library. Shinogle obtained funding with a grant from USAID sponsored by the municipality and in coordination with its employees and other members of the community. The grant included financing for an industrial-strength sign for the library, minor improvements for it, as well as money to be used in future grassroots projects related to Himara: Past. Present.... and Future? Upon Shinogle's departure Himara: Past, Present.... and Future? came to have participation from all students in the municipality.

 

Shinogle’s work in Himara often dealt with taking care of the environment. In October of 2012, the Chamber of Italian Renewable Resources visited Himara to discuss strategies to minimize negative environmental impact. Shinogle gave a presentation on strategies he had devised with his counterpart, in particular dealing with waste management and the creation of a recycling network in the Municipality of Himara.

 

The proposal for a recycling and trash collection network in Himara broke down the municipality according to contextual needs: beaches had seasonal requirements, the urban centers needed large bins, the villages needed special considerations that the bins did not contradict with the traditional character. What resulted was a comprehensive map detailing where trash bins should go, and what type would be most appropriate. This also involved planning a campaign to introduce this unfortunately, rather foreign idea.

 

Shinogle’s commitment to his community was exhibited in September of 2012 when a special meeting was called to discuss the World Bank’s investment in Himara’s wastewater treatment facilities where it was divulged that it was not going to treat the wastewater but merely push it farther into the sea. Shinogle took the initiative to write to the a letter to World Bank calling to attention the problems of pumping wastewater into the sea in a beach community, he was able to convince the mayor and others of consequence to sign this so it would have some gravity.

 

Some of the largest grants Shinogle pursued with his counterpart were the IPA (Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance) Cross-Borders Grants each worth on average 300,000 Euros and up. As the name suggests these grants work to facilitate cooperation and development in countries adjacent to the European Union through partnership projects. For example, one grant sought fire-fighting equipment (Himara currently has none—and typically has very dry summers). Another grant was to document the phonemics of the Albanian Language (as well as the unique dialects of the Himara region) relative to Greek. This also involved documenting the soundscapes (sounds in different environments), which would have been used as a tool to determine the impacts of development in natural settings. The third grant had the target of increasing investment in the community for development. This would have been accomplished developing more information about the community and reaching out to developers as well as improving some basic infrastructure.

 

Shinogle designed a village center for Palasa.

 

Amongst the many projects of Shinogle’s, perhaps the most rewarding times were when he was asked to give English lessons to the students at Scholeio Omiros (School of Homer). He taught students from third to sixth grades, this was particularly appreciated as there was no English teacher at the time.

 

Shinogle  was absorbed into the community in part by his commitment to it and in part to the memorable people he met. His counterpart, Egda Rapo and her mother quickly became another family to him. Egda Rapo’s mother, Enriketa Rapo taught him a significant amount of the Albanian language he learned and proceeded to teach him the basics of the Greek language (which is dominantly spoken in the region). Shinogle’s relationship with the Rapo family led him to opportunities in Himara and became an introduction for some of Mr. Shinogle’s friendships that will likely endure long past his time in Himara. Shinogle made many good friendships in Himara, some were built from taking photographs at a baptism, others were built listening to others’ ambitions for Himara; caring and helping whenever the opportunities allowed.

 

If Inclined...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edward Lear's  The Journal of a Landscape painter offers an insightful glimpse in Albania, reading the book, not always does it seem like that much has changed always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the original page seems to have been taken offline or moved, this photo document file expands upon the less or more prominent cave in the center of Himara (the one that is often connected to Homer's Odyssey). It touches on archaeology in Albania as well.