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: