Tuesday, October 28, 2008
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...
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...
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
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
Here's a sample of the song for those of you that aren't familiar:
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
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 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.
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
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.
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
Monday, October 13, 2008
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
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
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
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!