The story begins in February 2017 at FOSDEM (https://fosdem.org/) in Brussels; a cheerful Albanian delegation arrives on the Brussels ground. Among these Albanians, Anisa Kuci and Redon Skikuli, members of OSM Albania; since they are on Belgian soil, they decide to contact OSM Belgium and yaaay, some of us also attend the FOSDEM. First contact around a Belgian beer, our new Albanian friends announce that they are organizing an open-source conference at their home in Tirana in May: OSCAL (Open Source Conference Albania) and that we are welcome. Even if these Albanians are rather nice, Tirana is not really one of the dream destinations. I therefore answer politely (and prudently) that I will think about it. FOSDEM ends, weeks pass and I kept in touch with Anisa and Redon … I discover that they manage a “hackerspace” in Tirana and that they organize full of interesting events related to the open source (in addition to OSCAL). The idea of visiting Tirana is gradually becoming a necessity. And why not go discover this city and these people I know absolutely nothing about and take advantage of it to attend an open-source conference.
Hotel booked, airline tickets purchased, so I decide to spend 5 days in Tirana for the fourth edition of OSCAL. Arrived on Friday in the early afternoon, I take advantage of my afternoon to visit OpenLabs (https://openlabs.cc/en/), their “hackerspace”. Small friendly place at the end of an alley, I met other members of the hackerspace as well as 2 American speakers that also came a little bit earlier.
After an encounter with the local alcohol and one night to get over it, it’s off to one of the most interesting and exciting weekends of my life. OSCAL is definitely a major international conference. Speakers and participants from all over the world, conferences and exciting topics, all in a warm and sunny atmosphere, what more can you ask for? The organization was truly perfect (despite the fact that several speakers had canceled their visit without warning). The volunteers and organizers were very caring to the speakers and the participants (I think the welcome basket that waited for speakers and “supporters” in their hotel room did not go unnoticed).
Special mention to Sidorela Uku for the excellent OpenStreetMap introductory workshop (“sold out””) and for the OSM Albania stand during the whole weekend (as well as the introductory flyers to OSM available on the stand).
An OpenStreetMap meetup was also held on Sunday afternoon and I was lucky enough to meet OSM Kosovo members (including Besfort Guri, also a member of HOTOSM) and the unavoidable John Sturdy straight from Cambridge! Very interesting to see how other communities evolve around OpenStreetMap in other parts of the world. I discovered that OSM Albania has signed an agreement with the city of Tirana to have access to data that they can use to improve the quality of data available in OpenStreetMap.
Conclusion: I must admit that I did not expect to get hit that hard by this discovery! Tirana is truly an incredible city and its people really lovely. I’m not sure about the image I had of Albania and Tirana but I was obviously wrong! The city is under renovation and although some corners are in poor condition, the renovated part (and under renovation) is really impressive (and much more modern than the center of Brussels). Tirana and Albania in general are worth a visit and I am sure that I will be present at the next OSCAL!