Two weeks ago I had the honour of being a speaker at OSCAL in Tirana, the Albanian Open Source Conference. Still having vivid memories of this remarkable event, let me share my impressions with you while they’re fresh.
One of the most beautiful things about working in an open source project is having friends and colleagues around the world. They not only give you insight into different cultures and languages, but eventually will also lead you to countries and places you might have not seen otherwise.
Throwback in time. LinuxTag in Berlin, 2014. Redon, an Albanian free software enthusiast, visits us at the LibreOffice booth and talks about an open source conference they plan in Tirana. I was flattered to be invited, but Albania not being the closest destination and me travelling a lot at that time, I somehow didn’t manage to follow-up. Time passes by and I lose track of the event. Entirely my fault.
Another throwback in time. LibreOffice Conference in Brno, 2016. After the opening ceremony, someone in the room starts handing out candy, a nice conference tradition. “Llokumi” the candy is called, as I learn later on. I took a bite and was impressed how it’s possible to get so many calories into so little space. ;-) Later on it turned out it was a present from the Albanian community and so I got to talk with Jona. Over the course of the conference I learn that this is the local community who organizes OSCAL, the Albanian Open Source Conference and they would be happy to have LibreOffice contributors as speakers. It rings a bell, but I am not sure if I made the direct link to the meeting in Berlin a few years ago at that time already. In any case, not having travelled a lot for a while, going there sounded very much tempting, but sometimes life comes in between and so it didn’t work out for me in 2017 either.
Third throwback in time. FOSDEM in Brussels, 2018. “You really need to come to OSCAL”, I am told with a smile by many of my Albanian friends – an offer I neither would nor could refuse. This year, life’s surely not coming in between, the calendar looks good as well and so I decide to file two papers. And, d’oh, stupid mistake, Florian – eventually both of them get accepted! :-) So – seems I’m gonna talk about The Document Foundation as well as about open source cooking in Tirana this year! And actually it’s a perfect year to go, because in September, the Albanian community will organize the annual LibreOffice Conference as well, so why not get to know the country before?
I never made it to Albania, so I’m excited! I love travelling, I love flying – and escaping the bad German weather at that time sounded tempting, too. Having heard the exciting reports from my colleagues who went the year before, I was super happy to go – so, yes, Tirana in May it is! The flight worked like a charm and went pretty well. Just one word of warning: If they try to sell you “three unique bottles of Bavarian beer” at the duty free store for “just” 9,90 € – better run away…
Well, to be fully transparent, not all went so well – my hand luggage and my beloved headphones both broke at the same day, but that’s just bad luck and I at least got the music issue fixed afterwards. ;-) And luckily I travelled together with my colleague Sophie, so we had a good time to talk.
I was already very much impressed by the Albanian community before I went to Tirana and my experience was more than confirmed during my stay. Already their airport pick-up service made a big difference. Having left the customs area, Izabela was already waiting for us, welcoming us with a smile and took the bus to get us to our hotel. Now that really is a welcoming atmosphere! Instead of being lost in a foreign country, someone picks you up, shows you around, brings you to the hotel and has some helpful hints for your first evening. Wow!
This wasn’t the only positive surprise for the day. Shortly after I checked into the hotel, I found a wonderfully wrapped welcome package on my desk. It contained a letter with warm words of welcome, including two phone numbers in case we need help and also had some local food and a small bottle of Raki. Again, wow! Such a nice gesture makes everyone feel home and appreciated after a long travel.
For the evening, we went to a welcome party and it felt good to celebrate the first evening together. Agreeably, we didn’t stay too long and after some really good sleep in my cozy hotel bed, the next day saw the opening ceremony of OSCAL. Located at the Piramida, whose history was explained to us by the organizers, from the beginning it had a very special atmosphere. Welcomed by an enthusiastic group of organizers, we got our badge and entered the building. Old and new, present and past, all combined in one venue. Piramida was equipped with lights, speakers, a big screen, wifi and everything else a conference needs. To be honest, I have no idea how they managed to get everything in there – it must have been a lot of logistics and sleepless nights to get that done!
The conference was opened by Kristi and Boris and once again, I was amazed. The first two talks were held in Albanian language, but we got simultaneous translation to English – in perfect quality! I’ve been to conferences near and far, free and expensive and have seen a broad range of “somehow acceptible translation” to “we don’t mind at all if you understand us”. But this was outstanding – we got a professional translation, absolutely well done. That’s how it’s supposed to be, and many others could learn a lot from you for sure!
The conference itself was split into two venues that were connected by a beautiful park, with flowers blooming all along during these wonderful days in spring. Piramida was the main venue and Protik offered further rooms for talks at just five minutes walking distance. As an additional benefit of walking from one venue to another, there were quite some good bars and restaurants nearby where we could stop, have a little break, enjoy a good espresso and relax in the sunshine. There was no lack of food during the conference either, as the organizers have prepared a wonderful speaker’s lunch with a variety of food of all sorts – and it all was extremely tasty. The conference itself had various exciting talks of all sorts, covering different aspects of free software and open culture, and many old and new friends were met. We’ve learned about the business behind free software, about security problems in governmental websites, about diversity in free software communites and in the evening I’ve seen many people trying their luck in lockpicking that was obviously explained in a talk, too!
Not only the organization at the venue was brilliant, but also the communication and coordination upfront. Speakers and attendees were connected via Telegram groups, and e-mails gave all details for the event. In one of those announcement mails we learned that there might be possibly eventually maybe a little party planned perhaps… and there are drinks involved! :-) After a delicious buffet that even had a chocolate birthday cake, the lovely streets of Tirana further invited for a stay during a long summer night. In other words: We essentially crashed into one sempty bar and completely took over the space with the sheer crowd of people joining. Rumors have it the last went home just after 4am in the morning. (Not me!)
morning day we went back to the venue. Lesson learned from the day before is that getting some sunscreen could be helpful as well as wearing a hat, as the sun is burning much harder already than in Germany. There’s an interesting side story of me “lending out” my hat, but in the end I managed to get it back in return for the promise to bring some as presents during my next visit. ;-)
While the first day of OSCAL had my talk about The Document Foundation, I was also excited to talk about open source cooking during the second day. Having held this talk just twice before in German, it was the first time actually to have it in English and I was very keen to see how the audience would react. I turned out they were as open, friendly and crazy as the organizers, and I was very happy to hear I actually was able to make people hungry. Who knows, maybe we see an open source cooking in Albania soon as well? ;-) Count me in!
Afterwards, I spent parts of the afternoon outside of Piramida in the beautiful park, taking pictures and talking to friends and colleagues. The second evening, of course, had a party as well. :-) Having had a short trip through the city organized by my colleague Italo, that covered Skanderbeg place, the market and other venues, we went to a bar to celebrate this edition of OSCAL with many speakers and attendees.
While for the conference attendees, the organizers offered a tour through the city, for us Monday started with a meeting about the upcoming LibreOffice Conference, to discuss details with the organizers, plan for hotels, logistics and other bits and pieces and I am very much looking forward to being in Tirana in September again.
This was my first OSCAL and my first visit to Albania, but clearly not my last. I’ve rarely been to a conference where organizers cared so much, were I felt so welcome and accepted and where ideals of friendship, community and hospitality were so strong and ever-present. I could literally breathe so many of the ideals that free software communites mean to me and OSCAL was an outstanding, remarkable event.
I am happy and thankful for the wonderful experience, for having the opportunity to meet such amazing people from all around the world and that I made new friends in Albania. I miss all of you already and look forward to be back again soon!
Faleminderit, everyone and kudos to the amazing organizers!