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...


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:

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!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Learn About the Presidential Election...But I Already Voted!

Today I was at the University New York Tirana for class when my main man Hektor told me about a political forum that was to happen later in the evening. Apparently the chief of politics and economics from the American Embassy was going to speak to students and faculty members about the upcoming election and how the political system worked in America. Hektor insisted that I must attend the forum and said that he really, really wanted me to be present.
Now I had originally had plans to go to the grocery store in search of sliced turkey (I can't seem to find that anywhere here) but I decided to cancel since Hektor really wanted me to come to the presentation. I think I know a little something about the 2008 Presidential Election and I've already voted but oh well, I went anyway. To my surprise I was able to make some interesting observations about how the Albanian students addressed certain issues and questions.
First off the guy next to me wanted to ask the speaker, "Who did you vote for and why?" He wanted to know if that was a good question before he raised his hand but I explained to him that a vote is usually a personal matter and that there were other questions that he could ask. But before I could give him some other angles, he asked, "What do you think Barack Obama will do for America?" Talk about a loaded question huh?
All I can say is that I'm glad that I wasn't the guy handling the questions though because some of the questions were really smart ones, really smart, about security councils, the next president's foreign policy platforms, things that would have made me say, "uhhh, let me look that up!" One girl was saying how much she loves the American elections and that they're so important for everyone around the world, not just Americans. I mean I knew these types of things before but I guess tonight gave me a chance to actually see how much Albanian students desired to learn about the political processes in America.

On a different note (completely different, I just didn't feel like creating a new post), I officially started my career as an English teacher tonight. There is an Albanian couple that is planning to live in America beginning in 2010. The husband has been invited to play the trumpet with some artists in Missouri, and from what I hear he's really good. So for 3 nights a week I teach English in my apartment and if you ask me, I have no idea what I'm doing but tonight the husband said to me, "you are a very good teacher." Maybe I'm doing something right, maybe...
I'm taking any and all suggestions about teaching and this week I'm going to purchase a book from the language store here about how to teach English, so we'll see.

A Mystery...Maybe Some Answers

"Where are you from?" a guy on the street asked me. "America," I reply. "Oh," he says with a confused look. "No, no, I mean, where's your father from?" "America." "And your grandfather?" "America." "And his father?" "America." "Really?" the guy asks. So you're from...AMERICA!
Yep, this is actually a pretty typical conversation for me. I mean I know that the people who ask are waiting for me to say that I'm from Africa, or that some relative is from Africa, but I just can't do that for two reasons: A. I don't know where my family comes from and B. Even though it's obvious that I am of African descent, I'm not sure I should be claiming it as the place I come from.
I think there are several reasons as to why this conversation commonly happens with me. First off (and probably the most obvious one) is that Albania was a closed and isolated country for so long that not many foreigners from anywhere have had the chance to come here - the country has not even been "opened" for 20 years yet. In addition Albania is very homogeneous and the people have been exposed to so few different types of people, so the questions I get are somewhat expected. Also, those Albanians who have spent time in other parts of Europe are used to meeting people who are from first or second generation African families, who now reside in places like England or Italy.
Thing is, when I'm with other Americans, Albanians tend to only ask me (just me) where I'm really from. Even in class today, a student made a comment about how soon Americans are going to be the only White people in America. I actually had to think about this for a few minutes to understand what he was saying (he was referencing the growing numbers of minorities, especially those of the Hispanic ethnicity). Funny though, it seemed that Whites were the only Americans...
Well I've decided that I'm not just gonna blog about this, I want to really learn more about how Albanians understand Black identity. So a couple of days ago I ventured to a bookstore/library and checked out some of the books. I came across one in particular that was about the history of America (it was written in English) and was intended to teach students who wanted to better their studies in history. I had a lot of time to kill so I sat down and flipped through the book only to discover that it never mentioned Black people. Slavery was mentioned once or twice during the 19th century discussions about the Civil War, but it was never mentioned that the slaves were Black, nor that they came from Africa. The book did not highlight anything about Black Americans, and it was not until the end of the book that Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and oddly enough, Rodney King, were mentioned. I mean the book was interesting in its perspective but I would never consider it a valid source of American history. Yet this is the type of thing that people here are reading.
I have so many questions about that book, and even questions about why Albanians ask me the questions that they do, especially when they call on me to speak for all Black people everywhere (like how Elvisa says I'm the same as Black Africans in Paris). I'm not going to make assumptions based on one book and my interactions with only a couple of people but I have decided that throughout the year this will definitely be what I have now titled my "side study."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Are you ready for some futbol???

Okay so it's not exactly John Madden and Al Michaels, and the sport is played differently but hey, a game's a game. And last night I ventured to the stadium here in Tirana to watch Tirana take on Milan (of Italy). I purchased my ticket on the street about two hours before the game started for about 2500 lek (so around $27 or $28) and was sure that I would get turned around at the entrance because of a fake ticket or some type of scam, but surprisingly I got inside!

I arrived at the stadium around 6:40 to find a huge crowd trying to get inside and hundreds of children trying to sneak in past the police officers (many of whom were very successful). A lot of the guys and older men gave me looks to verify that I, a Black American woman, was in fact coming to the game. I showed everyone my ticket stub and found a seat with some students from the university. I didn't know them, but as with every situation here in Albania, we quickly became friends. In fact everyone became my friend when they saw that I had a notebook. You see I had taken my notebook to journal and take observations during the game (I know I'm such a nerd) but I had no idea how bad the seats would be. Well one guy asked for a sheet of paper to sit on and I gave him one without thinking. Next thing I know all of these people are begging for paper, left and right. I must have given out about 30 sheets until I finally put my notebook away!

Then once the game started, everything was so intense from the announcement of the lineup to the first goal (which Tirana scored), everything was exciting. There was a section full of Tirana fans who rolled out blue and white fabric (the team's colors) to make a flag. They also had drums and sang all kinds of Albanian songs, and also had fireworks in the stands. Later when they lit and set off those fireworks after the team scored, I was caught off-guard because something like that would never be allowed in the U.S.

I kept looking for someone to come around selling peanuts but that never happened. Only cigarettes and sun-flower seeds were available...pretty easy to guess which of those two I purchased!There were not very many women at the game at all, but there were some. I'm slowly realizing that futbol/soccer really is a man's game!

People also had hundreds of rolls of tissue paper that they threw onto the field and surrounding area, when the team scored, or if the crowd did the wave (which yes, we did the wave) or just to sing with a song, people were just throwing tissue everywhere. Later when the game was over I thought about who would clean up that tissue and how my paper-lending business also contributed to the ever-present litter problems of Albania!

Final score: 2 to 1, Tirana. The sky exploded with fireworks and the town went crazy. People shouted, cheered, high-fived, danced, everything! I myself even cheered as though I was watching Peyton Manning or something. Though I'm not sure if I was ever all that good I'm glad now that I played soccer for so many years growing up because if nothing else, I can now participate with Albanians as we celebrate last night's victory!

Monday, October 13, 2008


**Disclaimer: before I began this post I must announce to my mother and any other concerned family member that I am okay and there's no need to worry, freak out, or try to book a ticket to Albania. I'm not sick, I'm okay:) Some of you may not understand but with my family you have to try and provide reassurances like that, though they probably may not even work!

So I was looking for the doctor today. The state department has set up specific physicians and medical care groups for us to see if we're ever in need and I wanted to go and talk to someone today about the smoking and air problems here and what that means for my allergies and stuff. Again, nothing serious but just wanted to go and see the doc, see if there are any suggestions, recommendations. I figured that more than likely he/she would just tell me that I'm severely out of shape and that I need to adjust to my new lifestyle which pretty much requires me to walk everywhere I go.
So I set off to find the office around 1 p.m. today because I was already out and thought I was near it. Another American had mentioned that this office was near the Abraham Lincoln Foreign Language Center (I didn't know Abe Lincoln was so involved with foreign languages) and I was already in that vicinity so I looked all around but didn't see the clinic. My address in my Fulbright packet was in Albanian, and let me just inform you that here in Albania, street addresses do not exist too often as they do in the United States. When translated a typical address might say "On the Elbasanit Road, next to the stadium." See if you notice, there's no street number, just information about what the building is next to. In addition, only a few roads are important enough to be named. The rest are just there I guess and if you say something like "road with the slanted houses," I guess people are just supposed to know what that means. When I couldn't find the clinic I finally asked someone and they informed me that they didn't know where it was but that there was another Lincoln Center in a different part of town, maybe it was close to that one.
Okay, no panic, just 45 minutes wasted. So I took a Taxi to the other part of town and then when I got out, I had instructions from my friend Mirela. These were her instructions: Once at the roundabout, head through the fruit market. Then keep straight through another fruit market, and then when you pass the fish market, veer right. Keep going until you come across some second-hand furniture and then turn there, towards the right, then pass the Lincoln center on your right and the clinic will be on your right. Now, mind you, none of the streets had names, and oh there were only about 6 or 7 fish markets, so I wasn't sure which one to turn at, and then there was all kinds of second-hand furniture surrounding me! There were couches on one side, but then there were chairs and tables on another. Plus how was I supposed to know which furniture was second-hand?
Of course I got lost. Around 3 I finally found ABC Family Clinic only to discover that they close at 1 p.m. and will be open again tomorrow at 9 a.m. The lady there gave me a sheet of paper with an address so that I won't get lost next time. I couldn't tell if she was trying to be of assistance or trying to piss me off more...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Mystery...

While having coffee with Mirela and Elvisa the other day, Elvisa made some comments about her strong desires to study in the U.S. I told her that when she's there she'll get to meet all kinds of people and then she talked about being amongst Latinos, Asians and Negroes. Well when she said Negroes I heard her quite clearly but wasn't sure what to say, however Mirela very quickly corrected her and said, "Oh no, you don't say Negroes, you should say African-Americans." Elvisa quickly grabbed my hand and apologized, saying that she did not realize. She asked me, "Well if not Negroes should I say colored person, or what?" "Oh please," I said, "don't say colored I prefer Negro to that!" Then Mirela, who has spent some time in the states, chimed in with, "Or you can say Black person, right Chelsi?" I nodded my head but Elvisa says, "but you are not black, why would I call you black, you are brown." And I thought, she is absolutely right, I'm not black, I am brown. So I just told her to call me an African-American.
Well here I am walking with my two friends Vini and Driti today when they asked me about the presidential election. Vini told me that he wants Obama to win (as do many Albanians). And then he says, "Obama, he's not American, right? Where is he originally from?" I corrected him and told him that Obama is an American, and he says, "I thought he was African though." I then explained to Vini that Obama's father was from Kenya, and then he says, "So he's Kenyan?" I didn't feel like getting into a long and drawn-out discussion so I just said yes. Well then he looks to me and says, "And you, where are you from?" I looked at him and said, "America, you already know that." Then he says, "But your origin, where are you from?" That made me stop walking because I wasn't sure how to explain that one. "Well my ancestors were brought to America by force, so really I don't know my origin." To my surprise, Vini laughed and said, "What do you mean you don't know your origin, why don't you know? How can you say you're an African-American if you don't know?"
Six hours later I am still thinking about this question and also I am now taking suggestions for new things to call myself...

What exactly do I look like?

Tonight I went over to Elvisa's to help her with her studies and while we were talking and what not, her mom announced that dinner was ready. When Elvisa brought my tray to me I said something about being hungry and she says, "I see." Then she asked, "so are you concerned about your weight?" I looked at her kind of confused and said, "well no, should I be?" She then goes on to talk about how I am so much bigger than other girls and she wondered if I was doing something about my eating. I then asked her if she was referring to my hips and thighs because if so, I told her that many Black women were naturally more thick and had larger body parts in some areas when compared to other women. Then she asked, "So you are made this way by construction, and not by eating so much?"
I admit that I had to kind of laugh but really, it makes me wonder what I look like? Albanians make me feel like I'm about 400 pounds or something. I mean I realize that when compared to many people I'm considered overweight but people here may say things like "whoa" and put their hands around their hips when they see me walk by. I've looked in the mirror numerous times to see if I'm gaining more weight but I don't think I am. When I told Elvisa that many women look like me in the US she said, "but all of the Black women I see on TV are perfect, they have perfect stomachs and perfect legs and look differently."
Alas, death to the television I say!!!! I'm so sick of emaciated models and movie stars representing what I am supposedly supposed to look like! And yeah I realize that many people here have never seen a Black female and that's striking to them. But I guess I didn't think that my size would be such a problem. Also people here are much more forward in their questioning so they may just come up to me and ask, "how many kilograms do you weigh?" Usually I am upset with Americans because we don't use the metric system but in this case I am eternally grateful because I really don't know how many kilograms I weigh so I just look at people and say "Nuk e di" which is "I don't know!"

Pirja e duhanit shkakton kancer

When translated that basically means, "smoking causes cancer!" It's pasted on the front of every pack of cigarettes here. And yet everywhere I go, and I mean EVERYWHERE, there's smoking. Smoking at the internet cafe, smoking at the restaurant, smoking in the park, even smoking in front of the "no smoking" signs at the store. And everyone seems used to it. I had coffee with two new friends, Driti and Vani today and Driti says that hardly anyone gets lung cancer in Albania, well at least he's never heard of anyone getting it. I'm not sure what the facts/statics say but I'm gonna have to find out now.
Thing is, the smoke is everywhere, so when I get home, my jacket and shirt smell like smoke. Or worse, my hair smells like smoke. When I express frustration about that many people just say things like, "well you're going to wash your hair anyways right?" Ah, but again, a hair dilemma because I don't wash it daily.
I told my friend Idi about my problem with the smoke and explained how it irritates my allergies and nasal area so now he doesn't smoke around me if we're at a kafe. And Viti has promised to smoke in the opposite direction of me, so that helps. But as for walking down the street behind a smoker or sitting next to one on the bus, a solution has yet to be found! Perhaps I'll invent some type of mask to where that will prevent me from inhaling the smoke, after all, second-hand smoke can cause problems as well and unfortunately I'm not used to all of this as are the Albanians!

In other news I am still trying to adjust to the kids in my neighborhood who point at me or run and hide when they see me coming down the street. Yesterday I met a couple of them who spoke a little English and once I said "Chkeme" which means, "What's up?" in Albanian, it seems that they warmed up to me a little more. I'm beginning to explore various back roads in the area that I live in and there are some really cool places near me. There are several small markets and stores, 24-hour restaurants, cafes, and internet cafes. And also a couple of shops where I can buy t-shirts and socks if I'm ever in need. All in all, I really like the area that I live. For those who have been worried about safety, I actually live about a quarter mile or so from the police station!

Tomorrow's my first day of class...catch you later!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

hair: a black woman's dilemma

So yeah tomorrow makes two weeks since I left the states so of course I had to get my hair done. Problem...not too many African-American women with relaxed hair walking around Albania! So of course everyone looked at me kinda funny when I walked into the salon but I had been to this place before last summer and a really nice girl, Alona, washed my hair, blow-dryed it and straightened it with a flat iron. I mean it's not your wash and set from the beauty shop at home, but it works huh?
Well when I got to the salon, Alona wasn't there, something about tooth surgery. So Mosa and Daniella (who speak very little English) set out to do my hair. With the combination of their English and my Albanian (which isn't so hot to say the least) I was able to communicate that I wanted my hair styled and even got my eyebrows plucked as well! All for $6. You can't beat that huh?
But now I'm sitting here with very flat hair, which is okay, it looks nice but attempting to wrap it tonight will be a challenge. Perhaps I can bump it a little with my curling iron. I did however notice rollers at this salon and something that may have been a dryer against the wall, so maybe I can teach them how to roller set my hair, although my skills aren't the greatest!
My new friend Elvisa came over to my apartment today and she didn't understand the fact that I don't wash my hair every day. When I told her that I wash it weekly or every other week, it blew her mind. And she asked, "How did you know not to wash it? Did you know it from birth? Who told you?" I tried explaining about the different textures of hair, and how many Black women in the states relax their hair, but we didn't seem to be getting anywhere. I guess in about 4 or 5 more weeks I'll show her what my hair looks like at the root and then let her watch as I attempt my first solo perm over my kitchen sink!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Travelling to the grocery store on a bus with a camping bag

So I had this great idea about getting groceries for my new apartment. I decided to take my hiking backpack to the market with me. When I was on my way on foot a guy suggested that instead of trying the Condad (small store) near my apartment, that I take the free bus about 6 kilometers (which I still don't know how far that is exactly) to the big Euromax. Well little did I know but I ended up at this ginormous mall, definitely the result of some serious globalization. While it wasn't exactly Wal-Mart, it was a big big place, with practically everything. And there were also stores, for perfume, clothes, shoes, and one was even called "Women's Secret" aka, Victoria's Secret. There was also a Star Box coffee near by!
Looking for items at the store proved to be an adventure because though the place was called Euromax, few things were written in English, but I think my Albanian is improving. Plus I had my dictionary. I still however, couldn't recognize some items, so as a result I bought very little meat and more stuff that I easily recognize, such as fruits, veggies, sauces, pasta, etc. And I got some peach preserves which are going to be so good later.
Anyhow, I got so excited finding stuff for my kitchen (I mean this is my first time living alone) that I forgot that I didn't have a car. When I finished purchasing I put as much as I could in the backpack and the rest I carried back, via the bus. But the bus only goes so far and I was too weighed down to make the walk back (I mean I was carrying stuff like pots and jars of spaghetti sauce on my back, don't ask I why...) so I caught a cab and the driver was very nice, he even helped me get my stuff out once I made it home.
So that pretty much sums up today. Lesson learned: buy fewer things or shop closer to home!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

embarrassment to a new degree

While journaling at the park today an Albanian gentlemen approached me and asked if I spoke English. When I looked up from my notebook I saw two guys standing in front of me waiting for a response. I informed them that I did speak English and this one guy, Edmond, began a long speech about his life, his 9 brothers and sisters, his experiences in Italy and Greek, and then finished the story by telling me how badly he speaks English...I guess he wasn't paying attention to my Albanian!
Anyhow, Edmond eventually invited me to join him and his friend for coffee (which is what everyone does here) at one of the cafes. After about an hour of talking about Albanian history and languages, Edmond asked me about my life. Well I accidently mentioned my love for sports and how I played soccer, to which he interrupted me to clarify that he had heard me correctly. It took a while to convince him but I told him that I had in fact played soccer (or futboll as it is known here) for 12 years. Well he immediately challenged me to a game. 
So we left the bar and headed to a local park in the center of town. Edmond knew one of the street vendors and "borrowed" one of the balls for sell so that we could play. And then he promptly kicked my butt in a game. Though I made some good moves, Edmond was way better. At the end he says to me, "You're good and I see that you have the intellect for the game and I am not being mean, but maybe it's that you're fat and are slower than me. You see I am thin because I smoke, but I am fast. That is why I am better than you.
Albanians, to say the least, are a lot more forward than Americans but somehow in a nice way I guess? Just one of the several cultural differences that I am adjusting to, and as an anthropologist I guess that's what we do. But my lesson for the day...never again mention that I have played futboll! 

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

name change

I don't know, I guess the name "chelsi in the land of eagles" just seemed so plain to me so I changed the name to Gëzuar, which means "cheers" in Albanian. So if you're ever at a table and toasting to a drink (especially Raki) then this would be the time to say Gëzuar! 
Anywho, one thing I love about Albania is how funny some of the acronyms can be. For example, today I noticed a school called UFO university and thought, well surely that cannot stand for "unidentified foreign object" university. Talking later with an Albanian I discovered that the acronym is stands for something in Latin that is more closely linked with education (we think) but I just thought that it was funny to see this sign.
Another funny sign was that of a company who tried to make their product sound more American in order to sell it. This happens all of the time here in Albania and the latest attempt is this new beverage out that has a red can with white writing, a soda, but guess what the name of it is...cocaine!!!! So I wonder what's going to happen as a result of this beverage's name. I bet the company will still attract people, just maybe for different reasons then they may have intended!