Friday, December 26, 2008

All is Well That Ends Well

What a wonderful Christmas Day it has been! Earlier I would have never guessed that I would write such a sentence but I'm truly grateful and thankful for today. This morning I went to an Albanian church service and learned how to sing "Away a Manger" in Albanian. Then I went to Camille's house for a FABULOUS Jamaican/Ghanaian dinner, with some of the spiciest food I've ever eaten though everyone else talked about the food not being spicy enough. Jake brought about 12 or so futbol (soccer) players with him, from Nigeria, Cameroon and Zambia. Turns out it was Valentine's (one of the guys) birthdays, so after dinner we had a party for him. I danced to music from Nigeria and Cameroon all night, and even learned some new moves...though I'm sure I looked quite horrible dancing them! One of the greatest things about tonight was that with the guys I even spoke Albanian since many of them have lived here for 3 or 4 years.
So yeah perhaps today wasn't all that Albanian but it sure was fun and good because I didn't think about how much I missed home. In fact I really enjoyed myself, I really did.
Plus with the amazing technology of Skype I was able to talk with family and friends, so though I wasn't physically present at home, I was still able to spend part of the day with loved ones. So I guess as they say (whoever "they" is), all is well that ends well :) Gezuar per Krishtlindje (which means, "Merry Christmas).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Y'all

On Christmas Eve I did some walking around the city, hung out a little with Ms. B, and ended up in my room with pizza and apple cookies for dinner watching my dvd collection of "The Wonder Years" on my computer. It was definitely a first for Christmas Eve. Now I'm awake and it's 6 in the morning...I guess no matter how old I get or how far I am away from home, the internal clock in my body will not let me sleep in for Christmas. Later today around 10 I'm heading to a church service and then off to Camille's house to eat Christmas dinner with their family.

Many Albanians celebrate Christmas but not all of them because a majority of the country is Muslim. However, the country celebrates Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox holidays, therefore we get breaks for all of them:) But seriously, New Year's is the big thing around here. There are "New Year's Trees" (which we would call Christmas trees, exactly the same) decorated on the streets and in houses. Everyone gets together on the 31st and 1st to celebrate with family, eating food and exchanging gifts. And apparently the sky is completely lit on fire with fireworks at midnight. I'm going to spend the 31st with Elvisa and family, then on the 1st, Ms. B is hosting me, Ikuko, a friend of Ikuko, and Huija for dinner, since her children are pretty far away and her husband has passed. It should be good for all of us to celebrate together, Ms. B will host the club of international students I guess.

So today should be both interesting and fun, though of course I'd rather be home with the family, eating my Dad's cookin' and watching college football. BUT there's no time to complain or sit around being homesick ....Merry Christmas y'all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Entrepreneurship

Today after breakfast Naja and I walked around town for a while because today, despite the cold temperatures, was a really nice day. We decided to walk through the huge outdoor market and we ended up on some of the streets where they sell second-hand furniture. This one couch in particular caught our attention because it looked so comfortable and when we inquired about the cost, it turned out that it was only 25 dollars. So while Naja was making small talk with the owner of the store, I wandered inside to discover many birds inside of cages. I asked one of the employees about the birds and he informed me that they were for sell as well. Naturally he then asked if I was looking to purchase a bird to which I kindly declined. But now I am fascinated at the fact that the same store that sells used couches also sells pet birds...neat.

Other notes from the market today:
1. One guy was selling wrist watches, socks and floppy disks.
2. It was extremely difficult to resist going to the fresh bakery shop and stuffing my face with the bread (bread in Albania has changed my life)
3. I purchased a brand-new pair of bright orange fuzzy slippers to wear around my house (pictures upon request....ha ha)

Today was a good day

Brains for Breakfast

My friend Naja is always telling me that I have to join her for breakfast some day so today I finally did and we ventured to a small hole in the wall kafe/restorant (all of a sudden I'm forgetting how to spell things in English) where we joined a group of men who were smoking and drinking wine and whiskey at 9:30 in the morning. I've found that many times restorants only have men here in Albania, I guess the women are supposed to stay at home! Anyhow, Naja kept raving about this dish Paçe (pronounced Patchay...kinda), saying that Albanians love it for breakfast and that I had to try it. But then when we got to the restorant she says, "okay well I just realized that maybe you won't like the dish." I asked her why and then she said, "because it's basically brains." Hmmm, "who's brain?" was my first question!
Surprisingly, I loved it! The dish was kind of like this soup and we put some vinegar and peppers inside. I enjoyed dipping my toast inside and kind of scooping it, but perhaps that just the Mississippi girl in me who's used to scooping everything with biscuits or rolls.
One of the greatest things about breakfast this morning was that Naja and I ate Paçe, meat (which again, I don't know what kind they just called it "meat"), toast, hot tea and water for 5 dollars. Can we say, fabulous?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Really???

The grocery store here in Tirana, Albania has Weight Watchers Milk! Yes that's right, Weight Watchers Milk. THIS BLOWS MY MINE AND UPSETS ME AT THE SAME TIME! On the one hand I think to myself, "wow, why on earth does this store (which it's called Conad, an Italian supermarket chain) sell Weight Watchers Milk here in Albania and who is buying it?" It's definitely something that makes me laugh. BUT...at the same time I am upset! So we can get Weight Watcher Milk but not Dr. Pepper? I don't understand...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Cake for People with Black Skin

Whenever I go to Elvisa's house her mom is always in the kitchen preparing some yummy dish. And EVERY SINGLE TIME she eventually emerges from the kitchen with food for me. Well one particular time her mom brought some creamy cake that appeared to have a lot of milk in it. Now as many of you know I'm lactose intolerant and so I require a Lactaid pill whenever I eat dairy (which Albanian food is basically killing me day by day with all its milk and cheese). Well on this occasion I had forgotten to reload my backpack with Lactaid so I was unable to eat the food. I explained this to Elvisa and her mom, which turned out not to be a problem because her mom just packaged it up for me to take back to my apartment.
The next time when I went to Elvisa's her mom had prepared a more simple (yet still delicious) cake with a few nuts and spices. And every time since then her mom has only prepared this cake for me, no other types of creamy or milky desserts.
Well a week ago my friend Celeste, another American who's teaching English here in Albania, was at Elvisa's and her mom had given some of the same cake to Celeste. Elvisa then told Celeste, "Chelsi likes this cake too because it's good for people with dark skin, like Chelsi." Naturally Celeste was both surprised and confused by this statement and asked Elvisa to explain what she meant. Elvisa went on to say that since Black people cannot have milk, since we have problems with it, we must only eat a certain kind of cake without milk...NICE!
This isn't the first time that someone has assumed that I am the typical model of Black people everywhere around the world, apparently, according to Elvisa and some of my other Albanian friends, we all have seasonal allergies and we all have trouble digesting bananas too!
Okay so maybe this post just makes me sound weird but ultimately I'm trying to address this issue of many Albanians assuming that I'm a representative of ALL Black people everywhere. I had to explain this to Elvisa tonight and you wouldn't believe the shock on her face when she realized that all Black people aren't the same...who would have thought?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

G-Up Paqe Jeshile

Hmmmm....

Everyday when I walk home I pass by my friend B.C. who is always, always ready to speak to me about any and everything. He always asks about my day, about my family, about class, partly because those are some of the questions that I can properly answer in Albanian. But I absolutely love this guy because he gets so excited to see me, singing my name in this deep voice, "Chelllllssssiii, Chelsi is here," as though I get some kind of grand entrance or something.
Anyhow today B.C. informed me that I will have to meet his son, a rapper here in Albania. Now B.C. has no idea that I studied hip-hop here in Albania last summer, he just randomly suggested that I meet his son. "Sure" I said, "that can happen." Well later I asked Gersi about it and turns out they are friends and Gersi has directed me to a YouTube Video with B.C.'s son. I am posting it here for yall to take a look, feel free to tell me what yall think, the video will post above this message.
Nanny Garcia I think you may find this particularly interesting....

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Seeing the World Through the Eyes of Language

I knew that learning Albanian wouldn't be easy. It's not as though I came over here thinking that learning the language would be a piece of cake, I was totally aware that Albanian is ranked as one of the most difficult languages to learn, especially for native English speakers. But what I am learning now is that learning the language has to do with more than just trying to speak or pronounce words correctly, it also involves learning to see the world as Albanians do. I am now fully convinced that in order to properly speak a foreign language you have to undergo some literal shifts in your thought process. Examples:

1. You do not "bring" an umbrella to class, but rather you "take" an umbrella (or any other object for that matter). I was trying to make a sentence in class one day and this was an issue because in English I can say, "I need to bring my umbrella with me" but in Albanian the correct verb is not "to bring" but rather "to take."

2. People do not "know information", they "have it." Look at this sentence in Albanian: "kam informacion rreth qytetit" which means, "I have information about the city." But in class I tried to say, "E di informacion" which means, "I know information." But my professor made a face and said that people have information but they cannot know it, that does not make sense!

3. EVERYTHING has a gender, EVERY SINGLE THING! So as a result there is a different word for male dog and female dog (and so on). I asked my professor what would happen if we were riding in a car and saw a dog on the street, would I say qeni (male dog) or qenushe (female dog)? She said I would say "qeni." But why, I asked. How would we know the difference? She said that we can distinguish female dogs when they're in the house, maybe if they're wearing a pink collar or bow, or something like that. Or if they're surrounded by their puppies...other than that, we just refer to all dogs as qen until we know otherwise. I wanted to ask why this couldn't be the other way around, but I decided against that.
Don't be fooled, gender is not limited to living things, inanimate objects have genders as well!

4. The day cannot be busy. In a sentence, a person can be busy but not the day. So if I say, "Today was a busy day" that does not work. "Today I was busy"...that's more like it.

5. You don't go "to" work, you go "in" your work

6. There are completely different words for school pants, work pants, jogging pants, sleeping pants, etc. You can't just call all of them "pants."

7. And if you're ever going on a trip, you cannot say, "I have a trip tomorrow so I'm going home now to pack." If you do Albanians will look at you strangely and say, "pack what?" Then once you say "I have a trip tomorrow so I'm going home now to pack my clothes," then and only then will you be speaking clearly.


That's all for now but trust me, there are more to come.

Mississippi Food!

I have two friends here Oret and Gersi and they coach futboll near my house. We've become friends because I literally walk by them everyday on my way home and naturally we just started to hang out. Oret's always asking me about the food we eat in Mississippi and said that he really wanted to try some, so finally last week I had them over for dinner. My friends Ikuko and Huija from class came, as well as Peter and Kim, my landlords (and probably the best landlords in the world). The menu? Well I've been experimenting a lot lately with different foods so I set out to prepare fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cornbread and sweetened tea. My father gave me cooking tips via Skype, and though I didn't have the exact seasonings that he uses, everything was okay.
I had to go to the pazaar to buy everything for the meal, I had to buy the chicken really fresh (I'm talking somebody killed it the day before and I bought the individual pieces which were hanging inside of a shop), and I bought fresh potatoes, veggies for the salad, and corn meal from a grocery store.
Huija and Ikuko came over a couple of hours early because they wanted to see how to prepare the food, and Huija especially wanted to learn from me. It sounds so odd because before coming here my cooking skills were pretty much limited to grilled cheese!
But alas the meal turned out really well! Everyone had a great time and ate all of the food! Albania's known for its amazing honey so we put that on the cornbread and Huija also brought some Chinese food from her family's restaurant, making it a hybrid meal! I actually found hot sauce at this itty bitty everything-you-need-store, which was fabulous for the chicken. We also had this amazing wine that Oret and Gersi brought from Italy, but I'm afraid it may have been contraband...oh well it was good!
That night was my first time to ever host a dinner, not just here in Tirana but I think in general. Or maybe I should say it was the first time that I hosted something in which I did the work and not just my parents throwing me a party or something! Oret and Gersi were so glad that they got the chance to eat some "Mississippi Food" as they are still calling it, though I wish I could have given them some greens, because that really would have made it good! If anyone knows how to get turnip or collard greens to me here, I'm all ears!
So overall I was very satisfied with the night and I think everyone had a good time, the only problem is that word has gotten out about the meal and now my other Albanian friends are wondering when I'm going to have them over to eat Mississippi food....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thessaloniki

Here are some pictures from Greece:




















Some pictures like this came out really dark but I have to post them because it's a freakin' castle.













There was an entire museum inside of this Tower:


Inside St. Sophia Church:




This picture may not actually be from Greece, I took it on the side of the road while driving, so it could either be Albania, Macedonia or Greece. I love driving in the Balkans, what great things to look at while on the road!





























Tuesday, December 2, 2008

There's No Place Like Home

The oddest thing has happened to me...and I can't really explain it. You see I have now officially been out of the country longer than I ever have before (last summer I spent the majority of my time in Tanzania and Albania) and so I believe my mind is finally accepting the fact that this is not just another trip or vacation. However as a result, I think Albania is starting to grow on me, really grow on me.
This past weekend I went to Thessaloniki, Greece with Camille and her two daughters. She invited me to come along since there was a long holiday here in Albania and she offered to cover gas and stuff. Well it took me all of 5 seconds to agree to join them! It was my first time to Greece and I thought it'd be a cool way to conclude the holidays. Not to mention a break from the intense day-to-day action of Tirana!
Some of the oddest things happened while we were there though. For instance after taking our bags to the hotel room we asked our receptionist for a recommendation of somewhere good to eat and he said, "well you can go to Applebees or Pizza Hut." For a second I thought he was kidding but NO this guy was serious! I couldn't stop laughing about it. Thankfully we talked to some locals and ate some good Greek food throughout the weekend, but yeah there was definitely a Pizza Hut and an Applebees.
We saw archaeological sights and went to several museums. But what stood out the most to me was church architecture - man the churches there were breathtaking. Tourists are not allowed to take pictures in many of them, I'm posting the few that I have but they don't even begin to do justice. While in the city I thought to myself, "wow, I'm in a place that's mentioned in the Bible." I thought that was cool and added to my interest in the churches.
I also met lots and lots of African immigrants, particularly from Nigeria. At first I was caught off guard when I saw Black people working places and walking on the street, or coming up and speaking to me because as I've gotten so used to not seeing many other Blacks here in Albania.
I have a confession as well...I went to Starbucks! Okay phew, glad I got that out of my system, call me a typical American traveler, but oh when I saw it I just had to have it, okay, I can't even talk about it anymore...
To get back to the original context though...about midday Sunday I made the oddest statement. I said to Camille, "This place is nice but I'm ready to go home to Tirana." And then I thought, wait, Tirana's not home...or is it? Well the answer seems to be that yes, it is becoming home. Turns out that I wasn't the only one missing home, so was Camille. She even made the comment, "I miss Albanian drivers." I wouldn't dare go so far as to say that!
It's true though, we missed the everyday life here, the smiling people who say the craziest things, the fact that even near a border crossing in the middle of nowhere, Albania ALWAYS has a cafe where you can use the restroom, or the fact that you never meet a stranger, we missed home, I missed home!
So overall the trip was great, I enjoyed myself, but now I'm glad to be back in my smoggy city where everyone honks their horns, no one crosses the street properly, time is spent in cafes all day and people will grab you on the street, hug you and proclaim, "Barack Obama, very good man!"
Home Sweet Home

Ditë e Falinderimeve

Turkey Day was great here in Albania. I realize that this post is a few days late but I've been running around all over the place. The only important thing that you all need to know is that Dave and I successfully made my Dad's cornbread dressing and it was actually edible. In fact people gave many comments about it, though they could've been lying to me to make me feel good, but hey that's okay too! I thought the dressing was fabulous but of course it paled in comparison to the extravagant and magnificent cooking of Dave Scott, who cooked a wonderful Thanksgiving Day meal. He even made sweet potato casserole, which literally made my day. Because Cindy and Dave are such great people they hosted about 14 of us that day, including Ms. B who got the chance to celebrate her first Ditë e Falimderive, which is how you say Thanksgiving in Albanian.
I'm posting some pictures now for you all to enjoy.

Ms. B and me
Everyone!!!
What's Thanksgiving without Sweetened Tea (my Dad makes me write "Sweetened" and not "Sweet" Tea)
Above on this plate you can see turkey and dressing, Dave's famous five bean baked beans, homemade applesauce (which I'm in love with), the infamous sweet potato casserole, and then this Italian meat dish that I actually don't remember the name of. And also Dave made some bread from scratch, this was only round one for me.

And yes, pictured above is my greatest accomplishment, the cornbread dressing. Below is what it looked like later:








Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pressure

Okay I realize that some of you may make fun of me for this post but I feel that it is something I must write about. My international organizations course meets every Thursday afternoon but this Thursday is Thanksgiving and so I informed my professor that I would not be attending class. He's spent some time studying in the States and so he completely understood, but since this week was midterm week, he told me that I would need to take the exam early. He suggested that I sit in on his Tuesday evening course because those students would also be taking a test and I could take mine early.
So I arrived to campus on Tuesday evening only to discover that many students from my international organizations course were in this other class as well. They all wanted to sit close to me so that they could see the test questions (the test that they will be taking on Thursday). One of the girls even came up to me and instructed me to write down the questions from the test and give them to her afterwards. At first I smiled and laughed but then she said, "oh no, I'm serious." 
When Ilir, my professor, handed me the exam he said, "Chelsi, please be sure to cover your work and do not tell the other students about the test. Even as he was talking to me I could feel the other students staring at me, and I begin to feel the pressure. As someone who wants to become  a professor someday, I would never cheat on an exam. I hold students to high standards and expect everyone to study hard and earn their grades. This perspective though, is largely shaped by my idealism and optimism. In the real world people cheat all of the time and many of my classmates expect me to "help them out" or to "give them a hand" when they're struggling. In fact many of them responded to me as if to say, "why wouldn't you help us, what's the big deal?"
Though I had the test in my possession, I thought about this for five or ten minutes. I didn't contemplate cheating, just tried to reason how I would get out of this awkward situation. My solution? I wrote as fast as I could, I mean I didn't really check my work, I just wrote, wrote, wrote, in hopes of beating anyone else and racing home to the other side of town. After all, I already have my bachelor's degree and these classes don't mean all that much (I apologize if this offended anyone...Mike or Julian). 
But seriously, I've been thinking a lot about this over the past couple of days. It was clear that many of the other Albanian students were cheating during the other test and helping each other out. They expected me to do the same. In no way did I consider myself superior to these students or better than anyone else, I just couldn't cheat. I mean we've even signed an honor code, swearing that we wouldn't do such a thing, but from the looks of it, only a few were actually abiding by that code.
What does that code mean anyway though? What does it matter if I abide by it and others don't? Are my actions and the actions of the other students just a reflection of our cultural and societal values? Who can really say what was the "right" thing to do in the situation, because though many would consider cheating "wrong," these Albanian students are trying to get ahead, to get degrees, and maybe sometimes they need a little help? But would me giving them answers help at all? Would the situation have been any different or the same anywhere else? Is it even a big deal at all? 
These are the questions running through my mind. I welcome your response? 

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I'm pretty sure differences will always exist

Last summer I researched hip-hop music performance in Tanzania and Albania. My thesis addressed numerous questions and issues, but my central focus dealt globalization, and whether or not our world was experiencing a more homogeneous performance of hip-hop, or if global and local practices were fusing together and producing a more heterogeneous hip-hop scene. I know that's a lot of wording, but basically in today's age many people feel that the world is just becoming the same place, that with advances in technology and more communication, it seems that societies are no longer as culturally distinct as they once were. I think about this pretty much everyday here in Albania and after my recent class field trip to get lunch, I felt moved to blog about it.

Albania, I believe, is the only European country without a McDonald's but who needs McDonald's when you've got Kolonat. While I have no idea what Kolonat stands for or who Kolonat is/was, this fast food restaurant has everything from the golden slants to the Big Mec. If you've noticed I changed my blogger picture to one with the Kolonat bag. Though the name is different it seemed at first that almost everything about this place reminded me of McDonald's, except for the fact that customers can order beer with a combo meal, which is not called a "combo" but rather a "menu." Upon first inspection though, one might assume that this place is just another effect of globalization and increasing homogeneity everywhere until you see something like this:

That's right the girl behind the counter wrapped my drink in a bag. I tried to stop her and tell her that I could just hold it but I was so intrigued that I just let her continue. Then I took a picture.

So I know that many of you want to know what the food tasted like...well unfortunately I wasn't brave enough to try the Big Mec so I just ate some pizza (another thing McDonald's in the U.S. doesn't have) and french fries. And of course my Sprite that was wrapped in a plastic bag!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oatmeal

It's always been one of my favorite things to eat. When I was younger I rode the bus to elementary and middle school, and often times this required me to wake up as early as 5:45 in the morning to catch a 6:20 bus (my schools were weird and the bus rides were long). In an effort to make sure that I did not go to school hungry my mother always got up shortly before I would leave to prepare me a quick breakfast. For the most part this would include one of three things: oatmeal, grits or biscuits. I know that some of you may think, "how exactly did I my mother prepare oatmeal for me on a school bus?" Well simple, she would just pour the oatmeal in Styrofoam cups and then cover them with foil, then give me a couple of plastic spoons. All of this she would put in a Wal-Mart bag and of course she always included enough for my friend Micki as well.
So imagine my surprise when I was at a really small fruit and nuts market the other day and came across oatmeal on one of the shelves. I mean I was truly in heaven - I'm afraid I won't be able to find biscuits or grits anywhere here in Albania. But as for oatmeal, I mean to find that here just made my day. Naturally I did the likely thing once I found it: I began to make it for breakfast in the morning. For some reason though, no matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to wake up an extra ten minutes early so that I have enough time to eat the oatmeal before leaving the house. Considering this coupled with the fact that I've always eaten oatmeal on the go, and plus my mom sent me over here with Glad Tupperware from the U.S., I decided to just take the oatmeal with me to class. I soon learned however just how odd of an experience this was for everyone around me.
For one thing, no one else in the class had ever seen oatmeal. Ikuko said she had heard about it but the dish was foreign to all of them. Now I have seen several Albanian students eating snacks around the campus, stuffed croissants with chocolate inside, or bags of chips, or candy bars, things like that. So I assumed that it would be no problem to just eat whatever I wanted in class as long as I wasn't loud. But ummmmm....no! Everyone watched me as I took out my spoon and before I ate my first bite they had to say, "Ju bufe te mire" which when translated basically means, "Bon Appetit." Then when I finished everyone wanted to know if it was good or not and if I was satisfied. I thought it was a weird experience but assumed they had those reactions simply because it was the first time I'd eaten something in class. Besides Huija eats bread and crackers all of the time and no one makes a big deal about it. So I decided to try the oatmeal again but still got the same reaction. I'm not exactly sure why. Today I ate yogurt in class and it did not warrant a single response...there must be something about oatmeal!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

So How Did It All Turn Out?

Well the last video that you all saw involved attempts to wash all of the relaxer out of my hair. Fortunately, four rinses and shampoos later, we were successful at getting everything out. We had a slight emergency though because the comb we used to do the relaxer still had chemicals on it that wouldn't come out and Mindy didn't have a comb, but as always Cindy came to my rescue (with the aid of her daughter Taylor)! A process that takes about 30 minutes at home took Mindy and I about 2 and half hours!
Since then I've been to the Albanian hair salon where my new found beautician, Alona, gave me my first "wash and set" here in Albania. Though she did not part my hair, oil my scalp or have any oil sheen, I'd say that the style turned out very well. I received numerous comments about my hair at the Marine Ball last night and though it's very frizzy now (from all of the dancing and then rain today), I'd say that everything turned out A okay - THANK GOD!
Below is a picture of me from last night and also a picture of me with Mindy, who has now found a calling relaxing hair!




Washing it all out

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Time is running out

Starting to relax!

Now I Think I Know Why Many Black Female Anthropologists Rock Natrual Hair Styles...

Okay people so here's the deal, on Thursday my friend Mindy and I attempted to relax my hair. You see there's this ball coming up here in Albania (it's actually tonight) that's thrown by the embassy and as a "prestigious Fulbrighter" I'm going to it. But my last relaxer was 8 weeks ago, before I left the U.S. For those of you who are not familiar with this process, you should google something like "Black Women and Hair" to learn more, and you can also read one of my earlier blog posts, "Hair: A Black Woman's Dilemma" to learn more about my personal takes.

So I am now posting the first video above this post, I believe two more will follow. Please prepare yourselves...this really did happen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Retirement Plan

There's a couple, Mr. and Mrs. G, that owns the "Nova Bar" Cafe near my house. It's kind of a small cafe, large enough to accommodate maybe 15 people comfortably at any given time. They have everything from a fully stocked supply of alcohol, to every type of coffee you could ever want to order. Anyhow Mr. G always sees me walking the same route home every night and so one day he offered to treat me to a coffee. I decided to take him up on the offer because I did have a lot of homework to do that night and needed a pick-me-up. When I got inside Mrs. G started making a big deal about how pretty my smile was (a nice change because I was sure she'd first start talking about my hips) and kept talking about my teeth to the guy next to her. The reason that I knew she was talking about my teeth is that we were studying the parts of the body in class, so YES, one point for me!
Anyhow Mr. G brings me my coffee and we attempt to have a conversation. While using my hands to gesture, which I am frequently forced to do, Mrs. G grabbed my left hand and noticed there was no ring on my finger. She showed my hand to Mr. G and he smiled, then the two of them proceeded to talk without me, all the while the guy next to me is cracking up laughing. About 5 minutes later Mr. G asked me if I would be his wife. My eyebrows furrowed and I made a face as if to say, "but isn't this your wife right here?" Then Mrs. G starts to nod her head as if to encourage this, and then everyone just starts laughing, me included, though my laugh was more of that "uhhhh this is kinda awkward, what's really going on" type laugh. After a few minutes Mr. G finally cleared things up: he would leave his wife, marry me so that we could move to America together and then he could make more money and send it home to his wife. She was thrilled with this idea and again said that she loved my smile!
I told Cindy and Dave about this and Dave said that the couple must think that I'm their new retirement plan! Perhaps this is the case but I'm not looking forward to marrying any Albanian guys any time soon, especially not those that already have wives. Although I must admit that this is not my first Albanian marriage proposal!
Since that night Mr. and Mrs. G have been really cool, always speaking and frequently inviting me for coffees at the cafe. We talk, we laugh and the entire time I'm asking questions in my head about what would happen if this guy really tried to marry me...

Petrelë

On Sunday Camille invited me to go with her family and some friends out to lunch. She said that since the weather was pretty nice (which we have to be extremely grateful for so late in the year), they thought we ought to head to the Petrelë castle to eat. I had never been there before so was very eager to join. Although climbing to the top was somewhat of an adventure, the walk was well worth it for everything was absolutely gorgeous. I'm posting some pictures now, including the castle itself, a couple of views from the castle below, and also the inside of the restaurant. Enjoy!



















Saturday, November 8, 2008

But They Kiss???

Machismo. Bravado. Strong. Protective. Big Manly Men. These are just some of the terms and phrases used by Albanians and foreigners to describe Albanian men. Traditionally Albanian men have been seen as the heroes of this nation, the strong links of the family, basically the strength of society. At one point it seemed that a woman's life was half that of a man, if that much! Today as Albania becomes more "connected" with the rest of Europe and the world, and with the spread of globalization and development of capitalism, it seems that these views are changing. Woman today are in a much better position than they once were (for more info you can check out this fascinating article about gender in society http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/23/europe/virgins.php). Albanian men though, are still expected to be very tough and rugged. As I explained in an earlier blog I think that Albanian men frequently use the road as an outlet of expressing this "tough-guy" mentality, which means running red lights, running over pedestrians, or even running over other cars when necessary (okay so maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but just wait til you come over and see for yourself).
Since I've been here I've taken many notes about the behavior of guys here, how it is more socially acceptable for men to just talk with anyone in the street, or for men to yell whatever they want at women, or how I am often the only female eating at a restaurant in the middle of day with a bunch of guys because all of the females are "supposed" to be at home. This manliness displayed by all of the men is very confusing however because...they kiss! Traditional greetings in Albania involve kissing twice, once on each cheek. This practice does not stop with the men, who may also even hold hands when walking. I guess I just find it extremely interesting for a man to yell at another guy about being tough and willing to beat him up, but then five minutes later kiss another guy and walk arm in arm down the street. Interesting!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Shum vështire

Sometimes I just look at some Albanian words and think to myself, "really???" How am I ever supposed to pronounce that?!? This word right now is not my friend:


Gjëegjëzë

The translation of the word is puzzle. Go figure!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Son of Kenya Day

My friend Joseph from Kenya works for the World Bank here in Albania and this morning we ran into each other on the street. I was covered in victory buttons for Obama that I had received from the American Chamber of Commerce's Celebration Breakfast. Joseph told me that Kenya's don't take any type of credit for Obama's victory but that they are more than excited for him and glad that a guy like him will represent the United States. Joseph said that it means so much to Kenyans that Barack Obama came searching for his father and family when he did, and how he acknowledges his cultural heritage. Joseph tells me tomorrow has been claimed a public holiday in Kenya and it's called the "Son of Kenya Day," in honor of Obama's victory. I thought that was pretty cool.
Albanians are definitely excited about Obama. My neighbors own a small convenient store and one of the guys was taking a break from work to drink a beer when I walked in this afternoon. He told me that his beer was in honor of Obama. Lina, a girl who owns a sandwich stand near my house, gave me an American keychain last week (which I wasn't sure why, thought it should have been the other way around) and so I gave her one of my Obama buttons to wear for today, which she loved! And cab drivers or basically anyone on the street will just shout, "Urime Urime per ti" which means "Congratulations, congratulations to you." When I first heard it this morning I thought, "why are they saying congratulations to me, I don't normally hear that on election day." But then I thought about it, the Albanians are congratulating me because he's my new president. I guess it just took me a while to realize it since it's my first time to not be in America when the new president is announced.
I'm posting some pictures from the election party this morning. They had a live feed of CNN international which was great to watch, I was even able to watch Obama's speech. And I met a whole bunch of people including a Peace Corps Volunteer who has invited me to speak at his school in Southern Albania because he's teaching students about cultural anthropology. Cool huh?
This first picture is of Cindy and me.



I promised that I would also upload pictures from Halloween. Ikuko and I went to a party together and it was her first time to go to a costume party. You may not be able to see very well but I decided to go as a sandwich...the cardboard is the bread and I'm wearing a yellow jacket for mustard. There are pink and green pieces of paper to represent the meat and lettuce and there's even real spinach on the front of the bread.


My friend Ylna had never thrown a Halloween party but together with her sister and boyfriend I'd say they did one heck of a job, complete with pumpkin carving contests.










Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Here's to you Dave Chapelle!!!

I know it's been a while since my last post, that's why I'm writing a couple of them today. This post, however, is not really about Albania...it's paying respect where respect is due. Today I am watching an episode of the Chapelle Show on my computer, the one with the Black President. There are times when I get frustrated and just want to laugh away problems - these are the times when Chapelle is near and dear to my heart. But today I'm watching this episode because by the end of this day, there just may actually be a Black man serving as president of the United States. Every single time I get in a cab here in Tirana I must have the same old conversation about how Barack Obama is a very good man, very good for America. "Obama I like," people tell me around here. Well yes, he is a good man and whoever thought that the day this could happen would be today??? I'll tell you who thought it, Dave Chapelle...here's to you Dave, though you've quit making what was quite possibly the funniest show I've ever watched in my life, gëzuar!

A Note About Tipping

Today Huija, Ikuko and I went out for lunch after class. When the waiter brought our check the meal turned out to be around $7 (which would NEVER happen in America) so we each chipped in 200 lek (that's Albanian money). Now tipping in Albania is different than tipping in the States, you don't have to tip 15 or 20% of your bill, some waiters don't expect much of a tip at all, if any. Well I threw in another 50 lek (which is about 55 cents) for the tip. Ikuko and Huija saw what I left and started making the biggest deal about it. They were saying how I was being really nice to the waiter, and how in China or Japan such tipping is unheard of. I had initially thought about leaving 100 lek for the guy but after they made such a big deal I didn't add anything else. When the waiter came Ikuko made sure to tell him that the 50 lek was just from me, and then the waiter smiled and said thanks. I was kind of embarrassed because I wasn't supposed to show off...I was just leaving a tip.
So lesson for the day: Hmmmm actually I'm really not quite sure what the lesson is, but I guess remember that when you're living outside the US, don't think that just because something is a cultural normative "at home," means it's a cultural normative somewhere else. And also, if you come to visit me in Albania (which I hope many of you do), don't leave 15% of your check for a tip...or if you do, you just might get a huge kiss or something from your waiter!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lessons Learned

Ten Important Lessons That Individuals Should Know When Living in Albania:
10. Women in boutiques will not just let you try on clothes in the room on your own. They must first screen your selections, examine your body, and then decide if they think the clothes in your hand will fit or be cute on you. If they don't think so, then you won't even get to try the clothes on, even if you know that they are your size.

9. Often times when ordering at a restaurant, you may see the word "meat" on a menu that's been translated into English. When you ask your waiter, he will likely respond that the dish is made with "meat," simple. Only by ordering the dish will you learn the true contents.

8. Bookbags aren't cool at school, in fact they're nonexistent, at least at the university.

7. It's totally okay for a professor to answer his/her cell phone if it rings in the middle of class.

6. No need to use trash cans, that's what the ground is for.

5. "Having a coffee" is not simply, having a coffee...it means so much more.

4. Girls don't play futboll

3. Americans shouldn't be trying to study here, Albanians are trying to study in America. Why on Earth would I want to come here?

2. You must tell your friends every single thing you've done each day, when you spent money, how much things cost, etc. The term "personal business" is also nonexistent.

And the NUMBER ONE thing to always, always remember: ONLY CROSS THE STREET WITH OTHER ALBANIANS. Car drivers like to express their personalities on the road, which often times is saying to other drivers: Get outta my way, I don't care if we crash into each other, and yes I'm man enough to take you on! Cars don't always stop at lights and people don't always stop at cars...please be prepared to sometimes wait 15 minutes to ensure that you can cross the street with sane persons...

Adios

My language classes are three hours long with a half-hour break in the middle of each class. Everyday Kledi (our professor) takes us to a kafe across the street and we all have coffee and attempt to speak in Albanian. Of course the other students are successfully doing so, I kind of just make head nods and try not to finish my coffee too fast because then I wouldn't have anything else to do. But today I started talking and tried my best to say a sentence about being a student, and Kledi kept correcting me, "no estuduar, but studuar." However my lips just kept forming the "e" before the word. Kledi finally said, "no Chelsi, it's not like Spanish, just say "studuar." Aha! Aha! Aha! That's it, that's what is preventing me from learning Albanian, it's Spanish! There's a joke here in Albania (maybe many parts of Europe) that says, "What do you call someone who speaks two languages?" The answer is "bilingual." "What do you call someone who speaks one language...an American!
While I do not like that joke, I have to admit that learning this language has probably been one of the hardest things I've ever had to do (that and living without Dr. Pepper). But I see now what I have to do to excel...drop Spanish. Take for example word gender. The Albanian language identifies words as masculine and feminine, just as they do in Spanish. But here, it's a totally different system, yet I keep wanting to use the Spanish method. Also I keep saying "y" for "and" when the word in Albanian is "dhe." There's just all kinds of things I'm doing because for some reason my brain wants to speak Spanish, perhaps because that's the only language I know even a little of other than English. Well I'm not sure what this means about me but I don't think there's enough room in my head right now for all three languages to fit, so unfortunately I believe I must say to Spanish, Adios! At least for now...

An International Cast of Characters

Every single time we step foot into the University we get stares. Where on earth are the Chinese girl, the Japanese girl and the Black girl going? And why are they all together? You'd think that people would have already gotten used to us now since I don't know, we take the same classes at the same time everyday. But nope, still the stares and funny looks. It's okay though because though I would have never imagined meeting such people here, Ikuko and Hjuin are starting to become my friends. The greatest thing is that they only speak some English but all of us are trying to learn Albanian, which forces us to communicate in it!
Hjuin's kicking my butt in our Albanian classes. She's only 17 but she's been here a year already helping her family run a Chinese food restaurant here in Tirana. And when she's not working at the restaurant or learning Albanian, she's teaching Chinese to some Koreans who live here in Albania...yeah I know, talk about a burst of multiculturalness (yes i made that word up).
Ikuko just wants to learn Albanian - simple. I told her that she'd make tons of money by learning the language, creating an Albanian-Japanese dictionary and then developing tourism here for Japanese travellers (because her side hustle is already working for a travel agency). Ikuko is also great because she wears these metallic gold sneakers, complete with sequence. I'm trying to figure out where I can get a pair, but perhaps I may shoot for a color like green.
Of course my focus is studying Albanian life/history/culture while I'm here but I can't help but be fascinated by the international merging that's happening here. Another example...I FOUND OTHER BLACK PEOPLE! Yep turns out they've just been hiding, but the other day I ran into this guy Prince on the street. It seems to be that whenever Black people see each other here in Albania, we just introduce ourselves, that's just what we do, some type of unofficial rule or something. Well Prince informed me that his wife worked for the World Bank and after talking for a little while he and I exchanged contact info so that maybe they could have me over for dinner. So last weekend Camille (Prince's wife) called me and invited me to meet up with them and some of their friends to hang out. Well what both of them failed to mention was that Camille is actually the country manager of the World Bank here in Tirana which mean that she's kind of a big deal. I mean she's on the Top Channel News at Night...need I say more?
So yeah I also met 4 Nigerian futboll (soccer) players here...never knew they existed! So here's the cast:
Camille: A Jamaican American
Prince: A Ghanaian American
Joseph: from Kenya
James, Jeff, Jake, and Emanuel: from Nigeria
Me: A Black American, who's looking for a new name to call herself
I tell you when we went out, it had to be one of the oddest experiences for me here yet, and trust me, there have been plenty of odd ones. I'll have to blog more later about the details but though it may not seem like it, we actually seemed to share some sort of grander connection being here in Tirana, what some anthropologists may term "a sense of shared identity." And for the first time I didn't feel so different when going out with a group - yet the first word that comes to mind when I recall the experience is that it was something different!
The international list goes on and on. I've literally met people from all over the world since being here, which has only been a month so far. There's also Jean from Austria, Kim from Finland, Bob from Australia, and more people that I just cannot remember right now. By the time I leave I may have just met a person from every country in the world...or well maybe I'll just shoot for every continent, I've already got 5 of those down. Though I'm not sure how to meet someone from Antarctica...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You Can't Just Add an "S"

Shqip, that's the Albanian word for "Albanian language" and it's shum vështirë, which means very difficult! I take a class every morning from 9 until noon with two other students, Ikuko from Japan and Huija from China. Both of them speak Albanian better than I do, so whenever Klidi, our teacher, calls on us to repeat things or to respond in Albanian, everyone just kind of looks at me as if to say, "come on Chelsi, you can do it!"
As I write this blog now I'm supposed to be working on three things: how to make singular nouns plural, definite and idefinite articles, and word gender. Unfortunately in Albanian you can't just add an "S" to a word to mean more than one. And I'm having such trouble with the articles because in Albanian if you say "the pencil" vs. "a pencil", well those things just mean two different things entirely! Not to mention that in English we don't assign masculinity or femininity to words as they do in other languages (this happens in Spanish as well), so this is also a challenge. When I put all of this together my head just starts to hurt more.
There are 36 letters in the Albanian alphabet and particularly I have problems with the following: dh, ë, and y. And for goodness sake somebody please teach me how to roll my freaking tongue so I can pronounce rr!!! Another thing about Albanian is that it is totally okay to have three or even four consonants in a row, a tough thing for me to handle. Some of my new favorite words are shkruhet, ndërkombëtar, bashkëtingëllore, and xixëllonja.
It's funny because we go over lots of words in class and I can always provide the Albanian word for things like onion, spoon, bread and cooking pot, all thanks to Ms. B!
Well as I get back to my homework I say to all of you natën e mirë which means, "goodnight!"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Making Heads Turn

Walking through Skanderbeg Square tonight I turned my head at the sound of unfamiliar music. I thought I heard James Brown blasting from a parked car but then thought that I was surely mistaken. Much to my surprise however I walked a little closer to discover an Albanian police officer playing "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine." The music was blaring from the speakers of his cop car while he bang his hand on the outside of the door. When he saw me he smiled, waved and then got back to nodding his head to the beat. I wonder if he even knew what James Brown was saying in the song. And I wonder if James Brown ever thought that his music would be played in Skanderbeg Square.
Here's a sample of the song for those of you that aren't familiar:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUgIQej9SMg

Why I Like Mondays

One simple answer: Ms. B!
Ms. B is one of my new favorite people here in Tirana. We were introduced through a friend and I go over to her house on Monday nights for informal cooking and language classes. She has a son in Florida and she's visited him once so she knows some English. However we get by on a combination of English, Albanian, gestures and most important, facial expressions. When I arrive at Ms. B's she's always excited to see me, genuinely excited. She already has the food out on the counter that we're going to cook. Tonight it was pork chops, a veggie medley of green beans, tomatoes, onions, and carrots, boiled potatoes, and homemade kreme karamel (kind of like a pudding dessert dish, in a way). We always immediately get to work, Ms. B quickly moving from one end of the kitchen to the other, and me hurriedly following behind, notebook in one hand and Engligh-Albanian dictionary in the other. Ms. B may point at an onion and say "qepa" or ask for a "tangjere" and I have to guess at items until I successfully hand her the pan that she wants.
It usually takes anywhere from 30-45 minutes to make dinner, depends on what we're cooking. I must say that tonight's meal was splendid, just as last week's was. Ms. B is also always trying to give me more food, offering fruits or zucchini once I've cleared my plate. I came up with a concept of trying to eat more slowly but then she thinks that I don't like it as much. So yeah, it's a catch-22.
Spending time with Ms. B makes me so happy because she just radiates so much positive energy. Her husband passed away a few months ago and both her children live far away (daughter in Germany, son in Florida) and so she enjoys having company. I'm just grateful that someone takes the time to cook and talk with me, so I thoroughly enjoy it as well. Plus Ms. B shares her stories with me, well as much as she can in English. Having lived in Albania her entire life (she's in her late 60s), she has much knowledge about the country and it's history. She promises that when my Albanian gets better she will tell me all about her life. After dinner each night we finish it all off with coffee (which is the glue of Albanian culture and society) and watching the Italian soap operas that Ms. B loves so much!
Another great thing about Ms. B is that she purposely cooks too much food so that I end up taking some home with me - that's great for someone likes me who before now was surviving on spaghetti, tuna and pringles! (okay just kidding, it's not that bad). Plus when I got there tonight she had prepared a list for me with two columns, Albanian words on the left and English words on the right, in order to inform me of the night's menu. She said that she spent time this morning working on that just for me. Yeah, she's great.
So here's to Ms. B, Gezuar!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Gorcian and Berat Pt.II

After leaving the school in Gorcian we travelled to the old city of Berat for lunch. We weren't there very long and I'll definitely have to go back soon for a longer visit, but here are some of the pictures that I was able to take:



The menu at the restaurant had some translations of entrees in English and this is what one of them read (the first one) - of course I didn't order it!

After eating we headed back to Tirana but stopped at a locally owned winery on the way home. I don't really drink much wine but Cindy thought it would be a good "cultural" experience for me to check things out, and I must admit I never knew how wine was made, very interesting. The family who owns the vineyard has been making wine for over ten years. Like many families in parts of Albania, they had been using their own grapes to make wine for personal consumption and realized that it was pretty good, so they went into "the business." The daughter of the house gave us a tour of everything and eventually the father joined us to explain about the different types of wine they offer, which really educated me about how certain grapes are used to make certain wines. Here are some pictures:



Of course I'm just sniffing the wine here to make sure that it smelled alright!!!!






Gorcian and Berat

I took my first trip out of Tirana yesterday and ventured to some of the more "southern" areas here in Albania, a small village known as Gorcian and then the city of Berat. Our mission for the day was to visit the village school in Gorcian and plant trees, work on a soccer field, create a volleyball court area, and to put up basketball goals. Initially my assignment was to work on the soccer field but when we got of the car, pretty much every kid in the village was there and so working became somewhat difficult. Since there were so many kids though and I needed to help get rocks and trash from the soccer field, I thought "why not use these kids to help?" I'm still working on my Albanian but I do know that "guri" is rock and "plehra" is trash, and so I just started yelling those words and making motions into the garbage bags. Many of the kids caught on and they must of thought it was the coolest thing ever because we got to work.


Of course you always have your wise guy or comedian in every group and this kid definitely fit that mold for the day:



I kept telling them to put rocks and trash in the bags but he kept getting inside. Finally he came out and then he wanted to do poses everywhere. Plus this girl to the right in the NYPS shirt kept wanting to get in all of the pictures, you might see her pop up again. Many of the kids could say a few things in English, so over and over again I heard "What is your name?" and "Thank you very very much." I must say that it got tired pretty quickly. Also, somehow this "Chelsi Entourage" formed around me, so there was this group of girls who followed me everywhere I went asking me to take more photos for them. They also tried to follow me into the bathroom, which I think I can master, I've only been doing it for 20 years.

These are pictures of people who were doing the "real" work that I missed out on, laying concrete or posting up things. Most of my day was spent trying to hide my camera or stopping kids from putting the tools and other valuable items into the trash bags.


But in the end the kids loved it and there was a presentation in which the headmaster thanked everyone for volunteering. I'm going to go back in a few weeks to deliver photos of people because I have a thousand of them!