Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Home Sweet Home - AGAIN

I wrote "Again" because I once entitled a post "Home Sweet Home" back in November, only I was referencing Albania, not America. But alas, here I am at my home (well my parents' home anyway) in the States and for the past week I have:
1. Slept
2. Ate (and flushed it all down with Dr. Pepper)
3. Spent insane amounts of time with old friends
4. And I have allowed my suitcases to remain in the center of my floor without unpacking them, I guess just magically awaiting for someone else to do it!

While these four things have definitely been occupying my time, and while I love being here with family and friends and getting used to life again here in Mississippi, I must say that I really miss Albania, probably more than I had thought I would. I miss the people that I used to see everyday. I miss the mountains. I miss walking everywhere, and I would continue to do so if Jackson, MS believed in sidewalks and if suburbia America hadn't taken over and things weren't so spread out. I miss my friends. I miss byrek. I miss walking across the Lana River in Tirana and wanting to hold my nose for a few seconds. I miss my hair salon. Oddly enough I even kind of miss random people asking me questions in the street. But most of all (except for people of course) I miss speaking Albanian!!! English is just not fabulous enough!

Sadly I don't think I will be continuing my blogging, so this will be the last time to toast "Gezuar." I will be starting a Masters/Ph.D program at the University of Texas in Austin this fall, where I will continue my studies of anthropology and of course Albania. Technically this isn't goodbye because hopefully one day soon I'll live in Albania again and will have plenty to share of my experiences.

I must say that while this year has had it's moments, various challenges and difficulties, to say that I enjoyed it would be an understatement. I have learned and grown so much, more than I thought an individual could do in such a short period of time. And I have established bonds and connections that I pray will last a lifetime. So I guess what I really need to say is "Thanks Albania." Albania has truly been a gift for me - sometimes when we receive gifts we're so excited to see what's inside that we hurriedly unwrap the presents, anxiously awaiting to know the contents of the present. But I think in Albania's case, I had to allow the gift to open itself to me, and for this reason I feel that made the experience that much more valuable than me trying to open it for myself.

Thanks to all of you for reading - hope you found it interesting and enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing! If you know any Albanians in Austin, let me know! GEZUAR!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tears in my eyes

*Before I begin this post I must apologize for forgetting Mexican food and oatmeal cookies off the previous list. I guess I'm just apologizing to myself ha ha!

OKay, but on a not so funny note, yesterday was a tearful goodbye. In fact not only did I cry at the train station when saying goodbye to people (Elvisa, Ms. B., Ikuko, Ikuko's new Albanian boyfriend, Austriana, Elvisa's sister and her best friend, as well as this girl who I just met yesterday but wanted to come and say goodbye) who came to escort me to the bus for Athens, but I cried as we drove all through Albania. And when I woke up at 7 this morning in the middle of Athens, I wanted to cry because it just didn't feel like home.
That's what I've come to believe - that though I'm going home, in fact flying out of Athens tomorrow afternoon, Albania was starting to feel like my home and so it felt like I was leaving home. I know it had only been a short time, but believe it or not I've developed some very close relationships, literally feeling right at home at friends' places like Elvisa's, Cindy's, or Ms. B's. I know that all of my family and friends are anxiously awaiting my return, and I'm ready to see them too, but still a part of me is very sad to leave.

I'm on my way to see the Acropolis now and that's pretty much the plan for the day because Athens is EXPENSIVE! I almost cried when I saw the 2 euro espresso - they are 50 cents in Albania! And they aren't even as good here!

One other thing - at the border between Albania and Greece we had to get off the bus and go through the station to talk to the police and have them search our bags (pretty intense border crossings here) and this one girl, who's Albanian but grew up in Greece, kept swearing that I spoke Albanian better than her, so she started introducing me as Albanian who had grew up in America - I thought that was pretty funny. I just hope now that after learning the language I don't forget it!

Okay, off to the Acropolis now though Shqiperia (Albania) is the only thing on my mind...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Top Ten Foods To Eat When I Get Home

Okay truth is, I've thought about this list for a LONG time - I think whenever people travel one of the first things they naturally miss is the good old home cookin', or even just stuff from home that's not available abroad. So without delay, I present to you the final product, in order with number 1 being the thing I've missed the most living in Albania this year:

10. Squash - weird I know, but for some reason I've really wanted some lately and I can't have it here
9. Real sausage for breakfast and not hot dog meat, I mean while I've grown accustomed now, I could really use some Jimmy Dean style meat for breakfast - in fact I just want a good breakfast, period
8. Lemonade - not really a food but I've missed it. Of course I could make it myself but I'd rather drink it freshly made by someone else (perhaps I'm revealing my laziness now)
7. Thick pizza, deep dish even, mmmm, sounds great
6. Red Beans and Rice, Gumbo, Jambalaya, ANYTHING Cajun, and also a trip to Popeyes - yes all of these things go together...Popeyes sounds wonderful right about now
5. Sweet potato pie, which my cousin Linda will hopefully have ready for me, ha ha ha hint hint
4. Greens - I've been trying to get by with spinach throughout this year but it's far time for some collard or turnip greens, far time
3. Fried Catfish
2. ANYTHING my Dad cooks, Daddy I hope you're ready to work in the kitchen!
1. of course there's a tie: Biscuits!!!! - I NEVER KNEW MY LIFE WOULD BE SO HORRIBLE WITHOUT THEM. And for this reason I plan to go to McDonald's for breakfast on the morning of Tuesday the 30th (because I get in on the night of the 29th)
And I'm sure many of you guessed it, DR. PEPPER...was there even a doubt that this was number one???

Okay, you can laugh all you want but talk to anyone abroad and after family and friends (maybe) the stuff they miss the most is food and Americans especially over here talk about foods they miss all the time! I'll probably be making updates to this list over the next couple of days...

Headaches

I've heard of some healing remedies before, trust me I can share a story or two. But I must say that what happened to me yesterday was truly an experience that I won't forget.
Bulli, my downstairs neighbor, is ALWAYS asking questions about me and in short, is pretty much all in my business. I mean she's the sweetest lady in the world, makes me food from time to time, and insists that I drink coffee with her every day. But she also listens at her door and comes out of her house whenever she hears me in the stairwell - and I'm almost convinced that at times she watches me from her peephole. While I enjoy having her as my neighbor, and have learned a lot from her and her old photo collection, sometimes I honestly try to avoid her because:
1. Sometimes she talks for hours (literally) and holds me up when I have places to be
2. She watches me like a hawk, questions everything that I do and who I'm with
3. At times acts like my grandmother (which she does call me her niece) and tries to tell me things like what time I should be in at night, or why I shouldn't go out to certain places alone (like the park, ha ha)

I also have to try and avoid Bulli at times because she and her son (who is a mute) can get started on a conversation and hold me hostage, forcing me to hear about things like hearing aids, different kinds of spinach available at the markets here in Tirana, or my favorite story (that I've heard several times) about how Eftimi, the son, fell off his bike when he was younger and since has never touched a bike.

But yesterday when I walked by them to go to my apartment, because I have to pass them, I wasn't trying to avoid them when I said I had a headache and was rushing to my house to lie down - I seriously had a headache. But when Bulli learned of this she got very worried, and though I assured her that I had my own medicine in my apartment that I was on my way to take, she made me sit down in one of the chairs outside her door, and sent her grandson inside to fetch the medicine that she thought was better. She kept saying that she had something that would help me more than advil, and so I sat there waiting and when her grandson came back, she made me bend my head over and before I could fully comprehend the next thing I know, she was pouring (literally) Raki in my head. That's right, Bulli poured Albanian alcohol, liquor, in my head and hair, and not just a teaspoon, I mean it was running down my neck. At this point, Bulli, the son, the daughter-in-law and the grandson were all staring around, smiling, and excited about their remedy. Bulli then says, "you see, I'm half doctor!"

Well I'm not sure what kind of doctor this makes her but not only did my headache not go away, but I was upset that I had to then go to my apartment and take a shower and also had to wash my hair - I mean what in the world, really, Raki in my hair? And I don't even wash my hair daily, something that most Albanians don't even understand, but I had to wash it because the smell was literally soaked into my hair and body. People would have definitely thought I was a drunk otherwise, and then who would believe this story if I told it while smelling like moonshine?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

REally????

Okay while I will not voice my preference for political parties or candidates in Albania, I will say that I'm getting sick of the "Shqiperia po ndryshon/ Albania is changing" bus/van/truck that's driving all around the city, blasting the democratic party theme song from its speakers, especially since whoever is driving it likes to park it right outside my apartment and forces me to listen to it! But this is not why I'm so upset today. I'm so upset because today I was waiting to cross the main boulevard and when the green walker lit up, I gave the slight hesitation (as normal) and then proceeded to begin to cross the street, when I (along with two other people) was almost run over by this darn bus! That's right the democratic party bus almost hit me in the street because the driver more than blatantly ran a red light, all the while speaking into the microphone about why we should choose that party candidate! I don't know about you but I'm not sure this is the best way to win votes...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Shqiperia po ndryshon/ Albania is changing

This is actually one of the tag lines (and actually the title of a new song) for one of the political groups and is EVERYWHERE around Albania - elections are coming up! The big day is June 28th though from what I can tell, it doesn't seem that it is such a big day for everyone. Pretty much everyone I talk to says they aren't terribly excited about the election, they just want to keep their jobs and have food, which of course is what everyone wants when you get to the bottom line.
However, truthfully, Albania really is changing and one of the biggest things that has happened lately is the construction of a new highway that extends throughout a large portion of the country and goes into Kosovo - a highway that now makes the trip between the two countries only 4 or 5 hours, a trip that used to be 11hrs, I took it! Though the highway is not officially finished, large parts of it are and the tunnel (which many people just call it "the tunnel" referring to the whole thing) is nice, it really is. Today, I actually set out on an adventure to see the highway with my own eyes.
Klaudi, my amazing hair dresser, has been telling me for weeks that he wanted me to go out on a roadtrip with him and his sister to see parts of Albania that I hadn't yet seen before, so today we did just that. Because elections are coming up we had to travel to Klaudi's birthplace so that he could fill out the necessary paperwork for the mandatory national ID cards. I woke up at 5 a.m. this morning and by 6 we were on the road. We stopped first at his mom's house in a small village outside of Tirana and had breakfast, byrek of course. Then after that we ventured through the windy hills of northern Albania and headed to Miredita. All along the way we got all kinds of views of the new highway, from below, from above, from the side, you name it. Klaudi took about 200 photos and pointed out almost every single detail to me. As an anthropologist this was a very interesting experience to see how people reacted to something like a highway, something that doesn't get too many second glances in America, but here, for many people, means so much. Particularly for Klaudi and his sister, the construction of this highway is unbelievable to some extent because it goes right through the village where they grew up. Places that used to have houses or small stores; plus Klaudi kept pointing out to me all the small bridges in the area that were made by hand and used to stand out as important landmarks, but now are somewhat insignificant compared to this highway.
In addition to seeing the highway though, I realized again today that the Albanian countryside really is beautiful, I mean I feel like I could just drive (well technically ride) through the country all day, the landscape never ceases to amaze me. But what I learned today is that this is the same even for Albanians, people who've spent their entire lives here. Klaudi, his sister, and Marku (the friend of the family who was driving) seemed to be just as in much awe as I was as we rode through the hills and mountains, admiring the views and colors - and it was such a refreshing trip (though at times a bit rough on the roads, but then again, perhaps this is why they are building the highway in the first place!).
We didn't stay in Mirdita too long because everybody had some things to do. We stopped in Lezha on the way home and had a coffee (my third or fourth of the day), and then on the way back, I met three English speaking travellers, two from New Zealand and one from the States, who wanted info about what to do in Albania for a couple of days. One of the guys referred to me as a local since I'd been here a while and could speak Albanian - it felt good to hear that!
So as time winds down I'm realizing that I'm actually already kind of missing this place and I have yet to leave - in short, I really enjoyed today.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Apologies apologies

It's been a while again, I know! Sorry about that, been trying to get in some last minute travel before I'm out of here. Just got back from the beach at Vlora today, fantastic water!
That's right though, in 13 days I'm leaving Albania and in 15 days I'll be landing back in the States. Here are some thoughts that have been on my mind:

1. I'm a little scared about driving again. I do not know why because driving is one of my most favorite things to do and I really enjoy it - but what will it be like the first time in such a long time?

2. Everyone keeps asking me what's Obama really like but I always have to say that I honestly don't know because I've been here...I guess I'll find out now huh, ha ha

3. I have no idea how I'm going to pack everything. I may just end up having a huge give-away everything party from my apartment because there's no way all of that junk will fit into two bags (how did I accumulate so much???)

4. Any tips for shipping things from Albania to the States (books for instance?)

5. I CANNOT WAIT TO GO TO MY HAIRDRESSER! Though I will say that the one I've befriended here lately, Klaudi, is Fab-u-lous!

6. Actually, though I've made this list it hasn't exactly quite hit me that I'm coming home so soon, and I think I must stop writing now before reality hits in...but really, when will it "hit" me, the night before I leave, or the day I actually see the States again

7. Oh ok wait, one more - who's going to speak Albanian with me once I leave???

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How To Ride a Furgon

A "Furgon" is the name for the Albanian minibuses used to travel around the country. But bear in mind that when I say minibus, it's more like a 15ish passenger van (that frequently turn into 20 passengers, depending on the day). Anyhow, riding a furgon is no easy process - it involves a complex step-by-step, carefully planned technique, and it's best to remember the following when attempting to do so:

1. Okay though various guide lists have attempted to provide tourists/foreigners in Albania with a furgon schedule, no such thing actually exists. Furgons leave when they are full, simple as that.

2. Going along with number 1, ALWAYS get on the furgon with the most people because that's the one that will leave first. There will more than likely be several drivers trying to get you to take their furgon but be warned, if choose one because it's pretty but turns out it's empty, you could end up waiting for 45 minutes while various others pull off. And then you'll be wishing that you didn't care so much about colors...(speaking from experience)

3. Furgons never have a straight ride. You must stop and pick up people along the way, drop people off in villages, pull over to allow carsick people to handle their business (hey it happens a lot here), and also once you're in the destination, drop people off all over the city - just tell the driver where you want to go!

4. If somone's selling cherries or fish on the side of the road, just holler at the driver, he'll let you stop!

5. If you're sitting near an older lady she's going to make you eat whatever she has, even if they are old biscuits (cookies) that she insists will help with the motion sickness (though in actuality probably make you worse), she just wants to ensure that you are okay.

6. If there are only two girls traveling and the rest are men, many times the men will insist that the two girls HAVE to sit together - it would be inappropriate otherwise

7. No furgon ride is complete without a soundtrack of traditional Albanian music blasting from the speakers

8. I have met some of the most interesting people of my life on a furgon, I find that people always have stories to share while they are riding. This being said, if you're a foreigner and can communicate in Albanian (and people know it), don't be prepared to sleep.

9. In fact sleeping is not always the best thing especially if you have to be dropped off somewhere along the way or in a particular location because you might sleep right through Pogradec and end up in Korce because no one woke you up (no jokes...)

10. Oftentimes people who ride never have ANYTHING with them, no bag, no change of clothes, no book, nothing. This always bewilders me because I ALWAYS have these ridiculously large bags full of all kinds of stuff, even if it's just for 3 days. But I constantly see people going places for several days without a thing - I bet life is much easier this way

11. Furgons are amazing because I can literally go cross-country for 9 dollars - can we get one from New York to L.A. with these same prices???

12. Lastly, and then thing I can't seem to understand - the drivers ONLY collect the fare, the fees, at the end, when you're getting off the furgon. I guess this is just their system, but I always think to myself, what if we get there and I actually don't have any money?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

No Ordinary Lunch...

When I was in Theth last week I met up with my friend Pjeter who I hadn't seen in two years. I first met him and his family in the summer of 2006, back when the only things I could say in Albanian were, "how are you?" and "no, I'm not tired." But for long periods of time, hours sometimes, we would attempt all types of conversation as we sat outside the small cafe, drinking Turkish coffee and eating Oregano Potato Chips. Anyhow, Pjeter was so ecstatic to meet me and to speak Albanian that we exchanged phone numbers and he wanted to invite me to Shkoder (where he and his family spend the fall and winter months) to have lunch with the family for the day. He said that I would come up from Tirana for the day, we'd have lunch, take a walk around the city, and then I'd head back home in the evening. Sounds simple right...but that's not exactly what happened.
I got to Shkoder around 11 a.m. that morning and met Pjeter in the center. After a thorough greeting (greetings are always more thorough in Albania, people have to know how EVERYTHING in your life has been going) we headed to his house. First we started walking but then Pjeter was convinced that we should take the bus because I'm used to driving in America (meanwhile I told him that I don't have a car in Tirana and I pretty much walk everywhere here) so we caught the bus. For a moment I didn't really think anything of it because I ride the city bus often here in Tirana, but I forgot that people in Shkoder had probably never seen a Black person on their local bus so after about 5 minutes when I took off my sunglasses and realized that EVERY person was closely watching me, a few with their mouths open (no exaggeration), I remembered that this was a new thing for them. And you should have seen how their faces changed once I started speaking Albanian with Pjeter, just pure shock I guess.
We got to the house, had a tearful reunion with his wife and daughter, looked at about 200 photos, drank lemon soda, and then I found out what we were really going to do that day. It was the birthday of the daughter of Pjeter's brother. Notice I could have simply said Pjeter's niece, but that's not how people talk here in Albania. It's always the daughter of someone of someone's sister, and so on. So we were all going to go to Pavli's house to celebrate his daughter's first birthday and even I had been invited.
I've mentioned before about the importance of hospitality and the role of the guest in Albanian society. But I do not think I have ever had an experience such as the one I did on this day. Because everyone else at the party was family, by default I became the head guest, and basically what this translated into was that everyone was desperately trying to ensure my comfort and make sure that I had everything I needed. I had to sit at the head of the table, the spot normally reserved for the oldest person present. Gjergji (George) the oldest person there and grandfather of the family, sat next to me and entertained me the entire time. From the first moment he saw me, he was fascinated and about lost his mind when he realized that I could understand him and communicate with him. He was already drunk from Raki when he arrived at the house, and continued to drink more as we conversed. Several times other family members pleaded with him to quit talking to me so I could talk to others or enjoy the meal, but then he would just get upset and start yelling, talking about how they were democrats and needed to be a communist like him.
When we sat down to eat the meal, the food was placed in front of us and we all kind of sat around talking. I was waiting on everyone to be seated and comfortable, or just waiting for them to start eating or say something like "ju befte mire" (bon apetite), but nothing, no one said nothing. So I just continued to talk to Gjergji who was telling me all about Albanian history, one that is totally different from the books I've read - very interesting for an anthropologist. But the bad part is that it never occurred to me why no one was eating. Finally after about 20 or 30 minutes one of the younger girls told me in English: "Okay you can start eating now." WHOOPS! Turns out they were all waiting on me, because the minute I lifted my spoon, everyone immediately began to eat! I felt horrible.
I must say that if I never have to see lamb again I think I'll be okay because people kept making me eat it. In the end I felt bad because they have given me three plates of meet (not lying) but I could only eat 1, which I barely finished. This was in addition to salad, bread, and vegetables. Plus I had to drink coke, wine, raki, you name it. And of course there was a huge torte in the end. Gjergji insisted that I had to stay and become a part of his family, and kept making jokes about how his wife was jealous of the amount of time he spent talking to me.
The other guy next to me, an uncle, was telling me how Mississippi's government used to have a communist wing, and that they had ties with Enver Hoxha, the former communist dictator of Albania, back in the 1960s and 1970s. Other areas of conversation included: my experiences in Theth (because this entire family comes from that region), why I don't like Tirana so much but love other parts of Albania, why I live alone, the origin of my name, and so on.
What was supposed to be a 1 or 2 hour lunch became a 6 hour festival at this family's home, I kid you not there were at least 20 people there. In the end I was wondering if I should feel bad or not because if I had not been there, I feel like they would have enjoyed just another family celebration and kept it easy; but I kept wondering if my presence burdened anyone...
I can say that I am truly grateful though for Pjeter's (and Pavli's) invitation because I can say that I truly enjoyed myself and had a fabulous time. Plus this has made for one amazing culturally ethnographic experience

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Independence? Living Alone?

So not only is this the first time for me to live away from Mississippi, it's also the first time for me to live alone. After high school, I lived with the same roommate for 4 years in college (love you Jimmie) and so this is the first time where it's just me - but I like it. Many of the Albanians here however, in fact pretty much all of them, don't understand me. I frequently get questions about why I'm living alone and so far away from my family. Elvisa's mom is ALWAYS concerned about my well-being and is also constantly forcing me to take food because she's so worried, just like Ms. B. Also when I make comments such as, "oh yeah tomorrow I'm taking the bus to Shkoder (or some other city) to meet friends," immediately people want to know, "Alone? Why are you going alone, why isn't someone going with you?" In my mind I always think, "But why does someone need to come with me?"
My neighbor Bulli, an 80ish year-old woman who lives under me is constantly checking on my and giving me stuff to make sure I'm okay, which is great except for the times she spies on me and my friends - plus she can be a bit nosy at time asking too many questions, but hey, I feel like I'm interrogated daily here!

My friend Andi once asked me about life in America and why when people turn 18, they generally leave home and no longer live with their parents or families. He wanted to know why this was the trend in the States, and honestly I had some trouble explaining it. I told him that people just want to leave home to "be on their own," to learn about life, some to make their own rules, and I don't know, just for freedom - but none of this made sense to him. He told me that he feels people can grow up and still live at home. For most people here, the trend is usually to live with their families until they marry, so it is not uncommon to have a family of 6, with the two older kids, who might be 24 and 25, still living at home because they are single. In fact, even my friends that do live apart from their families live with friends and roommates. To live at home is just weird for most people to grasp here, even my Nigerian football friends say the same.

Thing is, I kind of like it. Of course there are times when I'm in my apartment and get a little lonely, but then those are the times that I find something to just occupy my time or I just leave and go meet friends. But I honestly don't have too many qualms about living on my own - but people think I'm strange...

The Land That Holds My Heart

I went to Theth last week for the first time in two years. For those that don't know, Theth is a village in the far north of Albanian, in the mountains of the Shala Valley. When I came to Albania for the first time, in fact the first time I ever left America, I was in Theth with my archaeology professor from Millsaps. He came in town last week with another professor from the school, and the three of us, with an Albanian archaeologist, headed to the valley for 3 days.

So one thing I've realized this year is that my first Albanian experience in the valley was totally different than that of my experience now in Tirana. Not that being in Tirana has been bad, but I realized that I'm definitely made for the small town life, and I particularly like places with less amounts of noise and fewer people. It was amazing to go back to Theth this time and actually be able to talk to people because before I never knew any Albanian beyond greetings and the word for donkey, "gomar"...still not quite sure exactly why that word stuck in my mind!

It's always really funny to share my Thethi experiences with people here in Tirana because very few of them have ever been there and many people don't understand why I like it so much. I must admit that I've never spent a winter there and am not sure I'd survive if I did, but I can say that I feel the most at home in Theth, more so than any other place in Albania. Beyond the wonderful Turkish coffees (I really think they make them the best there), the beauty of its landscape, and the unrivaled hospitality, there's just something about Theth that has become a part of me - and usually I can't really explain.

I can also say that living in Tirana has shaped my anthropological perspective in numerous ways, one of which being that now when I travel around Albania, I'm starting to recognize in more detail the cultural differences and practices throughout the country, and how each region has its own distinct elements. This of course is obviously true of the language and dialectical variations, but also true about interactions between men and women, concepts of family and child-rearing, and ideas about work and earning.
Okay, well below are some pictures, enjoy...











Wednesday, May 20, 2009

FYI...

I'm leaving Tirana tomorrow to head off to Theth, a small village in the northern mountains of Albania, my home away from home, the place where I first fell in love with this country. While I'll only be there for 2 days, I'm excited to return after a 2 year hiatus. Hope to have lots to share when I return, until then...

The Music's Calling Me...

This post may come across as kind of random but lately as I've been walking in the street and hearing music blasting from the radios, something strange has been happening. Usually it's traditional Albanian music that I hear but every now and then (which it just happened about 10 minutes ago) a car pulls up at a light, windows down, blasting American hip-hop music, particularly Dirty South Rap. And I don't know why but my head just instantly turns and I just get this huge longing for home! Not in this homesick type sense, but actually, I can't even describe it. Today when these particular guys saw me turn my head they all started putting thumbs up in the hair and clapping as if to say, "yay, yeah, look at us!" They were so excited that I just started smiling and laughing. I don't know why but the music just seems to be calling my name...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Quick Question

Whenever I go with friends to get coffee, someone usually orders bottled water to go with our coffees. Many times, especially if it's a quick coffee, there's water left in the bottle that no one has drunk, and so naturally, since we're paying for it, I grab the water from the table before we leave. I recently did this with Elvisa and I guess it was the first time she'd notice and she asked what I was doing. I said, "What, well I mean we did pay for it right? This is almost half of a bottle that I can drink later." She stared at me for a second then called me strange. But while she thought I was strange, I thought I was thinking practically, especially since it's getting hotter outside lately, it's convenient to have water on you, right? I mean is there something wrong with this? As I conclude this post now I'm going to leave this cafe and take my water with me because I've only finished half of the bottle...

Oh Why Not Sooner???

Sorry it's been a while, been doing some traveling and the only question I'm asking myself is why did I wait so long to go to Korca? Okay I may have said this before about another city but okay seriously, I think I have to live in Korca now!!!

I pretty much spent my time hanging out with locals around the city. I sat and talked with old men in the park about their experiences living in Albania, specifically about times during the Communist Regime. I also went to see the first school for Albanian, from 1887. I ate some fabulous traditional food and then made "Gjiro" in the street. The "Gjiro" in essence is strolling down the street, but it's so much more than walking. The main boulevard is closed to traffic, people put on their best clothes, and walk and talk, greeting one another, stopping for coffee here and there. So though I was wearing a gray t-shirt, my raggedy jeans, and green converse, I strolled with the Korcan women, as though I were a local of the city. In all honesty I felt right at home.

The men kept telling me I was making all of the women jealous, even in my beat-up jeans...ha ha...

Korca has the nickname of "Small Paris" because at one point it was the standout city of Albania, with the nicest landscape, the nicest houses, and was the happenin' spot for traditional culture and life. Though some parts have changed, the city still maintains the traditional culture, especially when it comes to things like weddings or music. Plus as I said, some of the best food comes from Korca, as well as the best cooks - like Ms. B!

So Tirana I love you and all but looks as though there might be a new apple of my eye...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Long Summer Days and Hospitable People

First off thanks to all of you who provided positive feedback for my friend - I really appreciate it.

So in other news, I really love long summer days. And while summer has not officially begun and will not do so for at least another month, it kind of feels like summer now with warmer weather, the conclusion of school drawing near, and days where the sun is out until around 8. Last week, Thursday maybe, I was walking home when I ran into Lilli, a lady who owns a small store* near my house and usually when I walk by we always chat for a minute or two. It's always the same questions about school, my day, how much time I have left here, etc. But on this day right as I was leaving, her sister dropped by and Lilli wanted me to chat with them a little longer so she invited me to stay for a coffee. I had actually just finished a coffee with another friend maybe 10 minutes before, but I could tell that Lilli really wanted me to stay so I agreed. Another neighbor had also dropped by so the four of us sat inside the small store and drank machiatos (how do you spell that?) together. 

I could tell they were really worried about my comfort because they kept checking to make sure that I was okay and didn't need anything. Lilli didn't have any chairs in her store so I sat on a crate of Tirana beer with a piece of cardboard on top, and though she was worried about that, I felt right at home. As we drank our coffee, gradually more and more neighbors came by (kids and older people) to buy things but also to figure out why in the world I was sitting there. It eventually occurred to me that though I've been walking the streets of my neighborhood for about 3 months now, this was actually the first time that I had ever sat somewhere for longer than 10 minutes to drink a coffee and have a discussion. Oh wait, there's the exception of Bulli who lives under me who's always checking on me, literally every day, and who somehow always convinces me to drink coffee with her and look at old photos. BUT I don't think my neighbors who live in the apartments around mine actually knew that I spoke Albanian beyond everyday greetings.  

Once people realized I could talk with them, they kept coming over and telling me all kinds of stuff about their lives. A group of about 8 young girls came over and started telling me their names and ages, and of course I don't remember them now, but hey, until this day they used to all run from me as I smiled at them in the street - now they know that I don't bite. But seriously, I guess on this day I felt more like a resident and not just that strange girl that's always carrying a huge backpack and loads of books around the street at odd times of the day. Lilli was worried that I was spending too much time with older women (because they were all over 60, not that 60 is old!) and that I would rather be with 20ish people, but I reassured her that as a result of my friendship with Ms. B, I pretty much hang out with older Albanian women all of the time!

After I left Lilli's store, I went to a small park area near my apartment to write for a while and this little girl, maybe about 4, came close to me and stared for about 10 minutes, but she didn't say anything. Whenever I would look up she would kind of look away. Then at one point she just ran away. A few seconds later she returned, this time with her mom, and her mom said to me, "Excuse, my daughter wants to sit down next to you and color in her notebook because she sees you writing here and she wants to be like you, is that okay?" Though it may sound kind of cheesy I really thought I was going to cry because sometimes kids say mean things to me, one time a kid even threw a stick, but on this particular day I was so excited to hear what this girl wanted to do that I forgot all about that other stuff. I love my neighborhood! 


*Tirana, and Albania in general, is full of these really small stores in the street where you can get just about anything. They are more than the "corner stores" as my family calls the small stores in Mississippi. Plus if I need to buy just two eggs because I'm right in the middle of cooking something, I can run down to Lilli's in my pajamas and buy them - that or fruit, vegetables or detergent if I need it. Don't know what I'm going to do when I'm forced to go to Wal-Mart again.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Big Apple

My dearest Albanian friend Elvisa has been awarded a grant to study in the States and will be starting graduate school at NYU in the fall '09 (if you remember I started tutoring Elvisa in the fall for the GRE and also I've shared my learning experiences with "cultural differences" that have occurred with her). Anyhow, thing is, she's just a little worried (understatement of the year) about moving to New York. This will be her first time to the States, and in fact asides from a short trip to Italy and Croatia, she's never left Albania. And she's also never lived on her own. 

So basically I'm soliciting advice because I've only been to New York once and the only thing I know is that you shouldn't smile at people on the subway the same way I smile at people in Mississippi. So to all readers, can you all offer any help? 

Also, anyone know anything about Albanian communities in New York?

Monday, May 4, 2009

hittin' the road and back again

Sorry about the week-long absence - I've been in Istanbul the past couple of days. Initially when I moved to Albania, Istanbul (in Turkey) was not on my "places to visit" list, but after hearing so many good things about it, and plus after realizing how close I actually was, I decided to take a trip. It was fascinating, to say the least! 

I could go on for days about many subjects but then that would just resort in a long post with excessive amounts of information and me talking too much - which is something I naturally do. Instead however, I will recap some of the highlights from my trip. I guess like my friend Nanny Garcia I'm really into lists...

1. When walking around the city people always asked, "excuse me, where are you from?" to which I usually replied, "Albania." This was always a very interesting experience because people either thought I said Armenia, and then they were confused. Or they heard correctly and yet still, they were confused. Many times people would then call after me saying things such as, "you're a liar, a liar" or "no no, you look like Obama, you're not from Albania." 
In addition to this many people who wanted to talk to me repeatedly called me "chocolate" in the streets, so it was not uncommon to hear things such as, "Excuse, Miss, Chocolate lady, would you like to buy this bag?"

2. I had forgotten that one side of Istanbul is in Europe and the other side is in Asia, so now I can officially say that I've been to Asia - whoop whoop!

3. Istanbul is an incredible city for walking. I say this not only because the sidewalks and streets are great, but also because it just seemed that there was always something amazing to see, I even enjoyed walking through the neighborhoods and the "non-tourist" kind of places. This however was also quite dangerous because I kept seeing things that I wanted to buy and unfortunately bought many of them. Carpet anyone???

4. The Grand Bazaar is very grand - take precaution when visiting.

5. Whenever we went into a store and hung around for a while (usually trying to figure out if we could afford something or not), the store owner would come out with Turkish tea and we'd sit and chat for while. One guy even offered us wine and coffee as we looked through his shop...how come I haven't experienced this more often in America?

6. Fresh corn on the cob and freshly squeezed orange juice in the street...need I say more?

7. While crossing a bridge with a lot of fishermen I somehow got a small fishing hook stuck in the bottom of my shoe and when the police officer came over to help (no it was not that big of a deal but somehow I was "rescued" by an officer), he at first didn't try to help because he kept laughing and saying that I was a fish and someone's perfect catch. 

8. I really like speaking Albanian when I travel because usually people can never understand what we're saying. However, I did learn on this trip that there are way more Turkish words in the Albanian language than I had previously thought. Nevertheless I got many strange looks walking around speaking Albanian - what did they expect me to speak in, English? 

9. I like the number 9 right now so I will end on this note: I really wanted to go and take a Turkish bath but I couldn't because I didn't have any hair products. Now you may think that this is not a big deal BUT, not only did I not have products, but also I had limited means of taking care of my hair afterwards, if I had washed it (I mean they don't call it backpacking for no reason). I mean yeah it sucked that I didn't think about it before hand, but I was content with it. Besides I had just gotten my hair done two days before. Anyhow, we were invited by some Croatian students from our hostel to join them for a trip to the Turkish baths, but when I said that I could not go for hair purposes, and was serious, they didn't know how to respond. This led to about a 30 minute conversation on Black hair - they were really intrigued and told me that they have never experienced an opportunity before to converse with a Black person about hair differences. While I can't speak for all Black people of course, I was happy to be able to share some things with them - in return they shared with me a lot of things about cottage cheese and science. 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Something Interesting to Check Out...

Albania was the only European country after WWII in which the number of Jews inside the country was higher after the war than before - and now there's a book about it (well sort of, it's mostly pictures, so it's a coffee table book, but a book nonetheless). A Jewish guy from the States found out about the relationship between the Albanian people and their government with Jewish people fleeing Nazi Germany, and as a result, went on a quest to talk with Albanian people about their experiences helping and protecting Jewish individuals during the war. One of my professors sent me a link to this info and now I'm sharing it with you just in case you're interested.

http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c44_a15485/The_Arts/Books.html

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Superstar!!!

Okay so I've written about "Big Brother" before but omigosh would you believe it but yesterday the people living on the show ate Chinese food and had a Chinese lesson (language) given by the one and only, Huija, my classmate (from my Albanian language class)!!!! We knew that the people on the show would be eating food from her family's restaurant but when I was at Elvisa's and looked to the TV and saw Hujia teaching Chinese I flipped out!!!!!



Yep that's right I totally took pictures of the television with my camera! And Huija, who is normally kinda shy, was so cool and relaxed. The family that I was watching TV with kept commenting on how well she speaks Albanian - and she's only 17!
Really "Big Brother" is the hottest thing here right now since sliced bread, which now makes Huija kind of a big deal. Today after class we were walking in the street and people were making comments about the girl they saw on TV last night.
Okay but one funny thing that did happen was that the people on the show, I guess to be in the "Chinese mood," dressed up in traditional Chinese clothes, only they actually ended up looking more Japanese (kind of like Kabuki theatre for any of you familiar with that). And people kept saying, "Arigato" over and over again, which again is actually Japanese for "thank you" but ummmm yeah, perhaps they'll work on that for tonight because Huija's going back on the show for part two of the lesson. Whoop whoop!

**Ah yes, there was one more thing. One of the "Big Brother" cast members (if you can call them that, I'm not sure) asked Huija how to say the letter "B" in Chinese. But she replied that you couldn't just say the letter, that you had to say a word so he asked her how to say "Babai" which means "dad" in Albanian. Once she wrote it on the chalkboard, he held up his wrist to show a tattoo that he had gotten from a guy who said that it was the Chinese word for "dad" or "babai" but Huija's writing on the board proved that in fact this guy (as I'm sure many others in the world) had been lied to! Sure enough someone else figured out that his supposed Chinese tattoo for something like the word "love" was in fact something completely different, in fact Huija said she wasn't sure it was Chinese at all!



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

store hours

Okay as I've written many times, Albania (like many other Balkan countries) is a coffee society. Just take a turn down any street and you'll count probably 6 or 7 cafes in the first two or three hundred meters. As a result, even people who work at stores and shops along the street drink coffee and take coffee breaks whenever they so choose. It is not uncommon to go to a store when it's supposed to be open and push the door only to find that it's locked with a handwritten note that says, "te lokali" which means, "at the cafe," which is usually just next door. In situations when this happens you have three options:

1. Wait around for a few minutes until someone comes back.
2. Leave and return a little later (though warning, it could be time for another coffee break)
3. Go to the cafe and find the store receptionist or owner and explain you need something from the store. Usually they'll immediately leave the coffee to attend to you but sometimes first, you have to join them for a drink.

Recently I went to what I call the school's "campus bookstore" because I needed to get some materials for my Ethnic Conflict course. I use quotations because the bookstore is actually a photocopying store, but since NO ONE here buys the actual books, everyone just photocopies them. This particular store is located across the street from the university and pretty much has every book on hand, just a photocopied version that's spirally bound. I mean even 700 and 800-page books, just go and tell them what you need. If it's not on hand, they can photocopy it and have it ready for the next day. This is just how it works. Sometimes copies are as cheap as a penny per page, but usually averages around 3 cents.

So I headed over to get some articles that our professor had photocopied for us. Now mind you, I had informed the guy that I'd be coming the day before (we've become friends I guess) and he said, "yes, yes, see you at 9, I'll be here." So I showed up at 9 only to find written on the door: "At the cafe." So naturally I headed to the cafe but the waiter informed me that the store owner had been there but now was somewhere else. I had to be on the other side of town soon and didn't have time to come back so I hung around for a while. Eventually I ended up drinking a coffee, started reading, when I looked up about 20ish minutes later to see the store owner laughing and having a coffee with some friends. When he saw me he says, "Oh hey Chelsi, there you are! I was ready for you!"

Yep so if hanging out at the cafe means ready for me, so be it! Funny enough the store is supposed to be open from 8 until 10 everyday but right after he gave me my copies, which was around 9:40, he again put up the "at the cafe" sign and left.

Shqiptaret jashte Shqiperise

Which means "Albanians outside Albania." Over the past couple of days I finally got the chance to visit a couple of cities in the areas north of Albania in Kosovo, primarily in Prishtine, Peje, and Prizren. I'm not sure if those are the proper English spellings or not, but lately I've been spelling many words in a combination of what I like to call "Albaglish." Anyhow, might I say that I absolutely loved the trip, especially my time spent in Prizren. I must apologize to Kosovari, one of the blog readers, because I know that you'd invited me to visit before but the trip was really last minute so I didn't have time to notify anyone but don't worry because I'll definitely be back. Particularly because the focus of my doctorate work will more than likely focus on transnational identity, which basically means that I will study Albanian identity both within the country "borders" (physical borders) and outside.
Of course many people are always questioning why in the world I travel to the places that I go, giving the usual raising of the eyebrows when I explain what I study but if nothing else I've learned this year that sometimes you just have to see things for yourself, especially before making decisions about a group of people and their story. I must confess that like here in Albania I had a few encounters with racism and people who acted rude or said improper things in the street, but also I met some of the most hospitable people in my life - there were also those who were so curious as to who I am and why I'm over here that they wanted to talk just to learn about me. So while I met ignorance along the way, I more frequently met smiles and kindness.

A few things that I noticed right off the bat about the trip: people in Kosovo speak with a different dialect than here in Tirana, or even in other parts of Albania, so I definitely picked up some new words and terminology. Also the roads were ten times safer, sorry Albania, Kosovo definitely wins this contest. I mean people just stopped in the road for no reason to let us cross the street, and even gave nice smiles and waves at that! We were shocked! One thing about Prishtine is that it has a huge international community which means we got the chance to eat things such as Mexican and Indian food (which was really good actually), but also meant that we didn't get a lot of the "local" experience until we traveled to places like Peje and Prishtine. I also must admit that I absolutely love traveling by buses now and the Balkans in general has some of the most beautiful landscapes that I've ever seen in my life. Plus for a student with no job, $15 for an international bus trip is kind of awesome!
So below are some pictures from the trip:

Above is a photo of the headquarters for the "League of Prizren," a group that was formed in 1878 during the time that individuals were coming together to create the nation of Albania (this was towards the end of the Ottoman Turkish rule in the Balkan region). This building, the initial headquarters, has now been turned into a museum. Interesting that this building is located in a part of the area initially thought to be Albania, but when international borders were drawn by the powers at be, this area (as well as many others) was left out. Helps explain some of the border problems today.

To be honest this photo does not have much significance beyond the fact that I really liked the positioning of the houses and the mountains with the snow on top.

Austriana and Iku decided to take photos around Prizren while I stayed at the League for a while to do some writing and looking around the area. While writing these kids approached me and wanted to know all about me, they even complimented my Albanian skills (which was shocking) - the young girl in the purple next to me also spoke English and was so excited to practice sentences with an American. These kids were so thrilled when I told them that I liked their city the best and they told me that I'm welcomed anytime and can even stay with them!


A picture of an old bridge and the river that runs through the city in Prizren.



Yep that's Bill Clinton alright! He's some figure in Kosovo, and has streets and Boulevards named after him all over the place - this picture was taken on Bill Klinton (with a "K" of course) Boulevard in Prishtine. Whenever I would talk with locals in the street or that the parks and they learned I was an American, some of them would put their hand to their heart or kiss it and say, "yes, we love America and Bill Clinton."
**This love for Clinton is due to the fact that when American intervened and helped Kosovo during the 1999 war, Clinton was the current president and sided with Kosovo. For more info about Kosovo, you can click here.




This is a picture of me at a monastery in Decan (pronounced Day-chan), which was built in the 14th century. We weren't allowed to take photos inside, so this all I can provide (sorry!)





This monument was erected once Kosovo declared its independence last year, and NEWBORN stands for the newborn state. Thousands of people have signed their names all over the place. Again for more info, check out the link to Balkan Analysis.






Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mom visits Albana aka, "this is your mom? no no, must be your sister..."

That's what I heard all week long - "Chelsi? Where is your mother because this can't be her, she must be your sister!" I mean pretty much every single person she met, whether friend or just someone on the street or at the market, EVERYONE commented on the fact that my mom just couldn't be my mom. The only other thing people said all week: Your mom dresses better than you!
Ah nah, ok there was so much more to our week, but I promise that the previous statements are true and un-exaggerated. From the moment my mom landed she was full of energy. Her luggage didn't' make it with her (thank you Al Italia) but that was okay because she was able to find a snazzy (that's right snazzy) dress at a local store (thanks Taylor) and was up and ready to party Sunday afternoon. After meeting all of my friends and dancing for hours with Ms. B, and then after a glass of Raki she was pretty worn out so that was the end of that day.


Featured above: Me and Mom dancing with Ms. B. Below, my mom and I with my new sisters Elvisa and Anisa.

Below is a play by play of the rest of our week together:
Monday - I took my mom to my Albanian class. It kind of felt like a "show and tell" or something. She brought some paperwork from her job, but I also made her interact with our assignment for the day. We had to take 20ish minutes to write about our favorite movie in Albania, and for my mom, she decided on her favorite movie and I translated for the class. She picked Splash with Tom Hanks and all I have to say is, how was I supposed to know the Albanian word for mermaid?
After class we walked around Tirana, bought her some shoes (because the bag still hadn't arrived) and headed to the ambassador's house for coffee. Had a blast - the ambassador's from North Carolina, so because he's had experiences in "the south" he and my mom had many things to talk about. That's right, when mom comes to town I get to do big things, like meet with the ambassador - felt kinda important!

Tuesday - We headed off to Berat for the day in southern Albania and hung out there for a while. We also visited the city of Kuçove (and I think I've fallen in love with this city) before we headed back to Tirana. I think I'm moving to Kuçove some day though people from Tirana keep frowning their faces at me when I say this. My mom brought a copy of Slumdog Millionaire with her and we watched it - definitely worth the hype, that movie had me hooked.

Wednesday - Lunch with Ms. B = Chelsi and Mom could barely move the rest of the day because of severe food intake. Ms. B's friends brought over all kinds of gifts for my mom, such as a pair of gold earrings, chocolates, items used to set a table, and Ms. B. had an Albanian medical article translated for my mom to read because it featured an article about her late husband who was a doctor - oh, right, guess I should mention that my mom's a doctor, or have I done that before?


Thursday- Back to class in the morning and then afterwards headed off to Kruja, to explore the city of Albania's national hero Skanderbeg (or Skanderbeu in Albania). Plus my mom had to buy all kinds of souvenirs, particularly a raki set for my dad - hope that's working out well! Afterwards we headed to Elvisa's house (my adopted Albanian family) for yet another ginormous (gigantic + enormous) meal, which included two birthday cakes, one that Elvisa's mom had made for me, and another that she had ordered, because I guess just one cake wasn't enough!

Friday - Said goodbye to my mommy, sad that we had such a short time together (because she's been traveling a lot lately and had to get back to her clinic) but grateful that she was able to come. Also grateful that:
1. She was able to experience espresso coffee here (and liked it a lot)!
2. She could try byrek (liked it too)
3. She met all of my friends (who now like her more than me)
4. Brought me Dr. Pepper (yep yep, brought in 4 small bottles covered in bubble wrap and Ziploc bags, made my day!)
5. She successfully learned 5 Albanian words: Shëndet (health), Po (yes), Jo (no), Faleminderit (thank you), Mirupafshim (goodbye)

We kept working on the word "mire" but I guess 5 is enough for now! Miss you already mom - dad it's your turn now!










Back to Business

Hey yall! So I know it's been a while, but now that we're done with all of the NATO celebrations, my birthday festivities, and of course, hanging with my mom, I'm back. And pretty tired too, but I'm making it. I'm just now finding time to bring updates but the good news is, I have pictures too, which I hope that all of you will enjoy.
Below on this post are pictures from the NATO festivities here in Tirana. As I wrote about on a previous post, Albania has now become an official member of NATO and the party to celebrate has yet to end. The weekend of the 4th and 5th there were two concerts/festivals in honor of NATO, and though they were set up by the municipality and the national governmental branches, respectively, it just so happens that the mayor (who's head of the municipal branch) is a member of the socialist party and currently running for prime minister, against the current PM who's a member of the democratic party and who was in charge of the festivities on Sunday. So in a way many people were considering it a political showdown, in terms of who threw the best party...I want share my views here - ha ha!
But congratulations Albania - Gezuar!





















Wednesday, April 1, 2009

It's time to Celebrate

Okay, as someone stated under the comments in the previous post, you are correct, I did not share info about Albania joining NATO in the last post because I was purposely planning to do so on the official day, which I have been told is this Saturday April 4th. But if we want to celebrate ahead of time, which everyone is doing around Tirana anyways, then yes by all means, URIME (CONGRATULATIONS!!!) because this really is a BIG DEAL. More details to come later, promise. Right now I gotta make my apartment look presentable before my mom arrives...

P.S. There's a rumor going around that Barack Obama might make a secret visit, what are the chances this could actually happen? By all means as his cousin I think I have to be first in line to meet him.

So...

Okay, so it's been about a week since my last post and though I'm sure none of you have been on the edge of your seats awaiting this one, I've decided that there's too much going on in my head that I want to write about, so I'm taking the easy (or maybe lazy) way out and making a list. So the top 11 updates from my life because 10 is just not a cool enough number:

11. Did I announce that I moved apartments? This actually happened about a month ago, but yeah I've moved and I like the new place. Five flights of stairs, but hey, it's from communist times. The front of the apartment is some pinkish-orange color I think because Edie Rama, the current mayor of Tirana, insisted on painting all of the buildings when he took office a few years back, and I love this fact. Only problem is that they forgot to paint the other side, so people often ask when they see that side of my place, "you live here?" ***To any family member, please do not freak out or worry, the place is perfectly fine I assure you.

10. I'm addicted to byrek I think (those familiar with Albania with know about this)

9. My class on ethnic conflict is going really well but I'm quickly learning that I do not know nearly as much about European history as my counterparts, go figure (thanks Mississippi!!) ***Again, only joking

8. I went to Budva in Montenegro recently and met some Albanians there who I attempted to convince that I'm a native Albanian but after the first 15 min of our conversations the truth was revealed because that's when my language skills began to break down - they were still shocked I knew anything at all and I'm still shocked that I set right next to people from the same city at that particular cafe. Of course maybe my physical appearance may have given away the fact that I'm not native but I'm going to go with language on this one...

7. I can't stop drinking coffee now, this is new

6. My hair has been successfully relaxed (permed as some people say) three times now in Albania and this is truly a shock because before coming here my beautician was not confident at all that my hair would survive (still though, it's not looking its best but hey, I still have hair)

5. I'm now crossing the street by myself

4. I have mastered the art of walking with an umbrella in the road because as those of you familiar with Tirana know, it rains, and rains and rains (at least in the winter and early part of spring anyhow)

3. I finally made a grad school decision so looks like I have a future. Well I mean I've always had one but looks like it's more concrete, maybe

2. My birthday is tomorrow and when people find out they always say, "ah, nje qind" which means that they are wishing me to be 100 years old. I like this, why don't we say such things in America?

1. MY MOMMY'S COMING TO ALBANIA!!! She gets here this weekend and I could not be more excited, in fact I was thinking of stuff to write basically so I could write this one thing. Whoop whoop!!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Quick Lesson in Greetings...

Okay if any of you are ever going to try to learn Albanian, the most important word you need to know is "mire," which means, "good." Those of you who speak the language or have ever studied it can attest to this. I say this because the first ten minutes of any conversation with an Albanian are always with questions that you can just simply reply to with "mire." For example:

- Ah Chelsi, how are you?
"Mire."
- How have you been?
"Mire."
- How have things been going?
"Mire."
How is the apartment?
"Mire."
-How was class today?
"Mire."
- Your mother, father, family back in America, how are they?
"Mire."
-What do you think of Albania lately?
It's "Mire."
-How was today for you?
"Shume mire" (which means very good)
- How was lunch or dinner?
"Goxha mire" (another way of very good)
- okay, talk to you later.


I promise I'm not making it up. Plus the words for good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, all have "mire," so really, this is probably the most important word you need to learn. This is not just for foreigners, even when Albanians are talking with each other, it seems that the first part of the conversation is all about how many questions can you answer with the word "mire." So now when you come to visit me, you've got greetings down pack, trust me everything's all "mire."

Introducing for the first time...ID Cards!

Okay, you might be thinking, what is interesting about ID cards and why would I be dedicating a post to them? Well if you think that they're boring and nothing exciting about them, you are far too wrong my friend.

Today in the middle of my Albanian language class, my teacher announced that there would be a ceremony at 10 a.m. on the second floor for the issuing of ID cards, and as a departmental instructor, she was required to be present. She gave us the option of hanging around the classroom for a half hour or so or accompanying her. Needless to say, being the nerd that I am, and because I was curious as to why there was a ceremony for ID cards, I jumped at the chance to go. We walked upstairs to a huge classroom which had about 100 or so university students and a good number of teachers. There were two cameramen in the center of the room and a podium at the front. People stared at us as usual because we look like an international parade whenever we walk around (a Black American girl, Japanese girl, Chinese girl and an Albanian girl who everyone assumes to be French or something because she's with us***).

When the ceremony started a man (who I assume is a dean or something) addressed the crowd, explaining how monumental this day was. He then went on to talk about the importance of ID cards and how they work, what they are used for, the purpose of having them in the first place. It was only then that it hit me: this is the first time in the University of Tirana's history that the students have been issued ID cards! As an American student, an ID card is not something I think about too often. I mean when school starts you go to the records or registrar's office, take a picture and then a few weeks later, you get the card. Everyone has one, everyone uses them around campus, easy right? But in fact up until this point, no one has had ID cards - I'm not sure how people were identified as students before.

When the guy finished talking and thanking the bank representatives (who funded the project), he called out a few students names and they went forward to accept their cards. People clapped and cheered, a few even whooped for this one guy who was smiling and cheering as he went forward to get his card - I think he'd be the candidate for "Mr. Tirana University" or something. You would have thought we were at a graduation ceremony or something! At first I thought that they were going to call each person out one by one but luckily only a few people went forward, the rest will get their cards later.

After this a lady came forward kind of as a guest speaker, and she discussed what it means to have a card. The girl next to me appeared to be taking some hard core notes (as I was) but once I took a closer look, she was actually finishing a homework assignment. It was then that I realized that all of the students around me were doing the same thing. I guess I blended right in taking notes (again, I know, I'm a nerd).

So now university students (at least in Tirana) have ID cards and can prove their student statuses. This comes at a perfect time because the nation has recently implemented a new law that all citizens must hold photo-ID in order to vote, so now these students don't have to worry about the other cards - killing two birds with one stone, see how important ID cards are?




***I don't think I ever wrote about my new classmate, but Austriana joined our class about a month and a half ago. She's Albanian but she grew up in Austria and doesn't know the grammar of the language all that well, though she speaks it very well. Anyhow, she fits right in with the group, I love her! And now she just adds another dictionary to our class collection: German-Albanian!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Who?

Okay, Albanian, like many other languages, has gender specific grammar. By this I mean words have gender, so for instance the word for notebook, "fletore" is feminine, while the word for book, "liber" is masculine. Those of you who have studied Spanish, or perhaps German (I think) are probably familiar with this. Well also in Albanian, there is no word for "it" because all things are either male or female, in this case "ai" or "ajo."

Now, here's the problem: I'm still adjusting to the fact that things are a boy or girl because when I hear the word for boy/girl, I naturally think of a person. So yesterday I'm at Ms. B's house and she was talking about a person and said the sentence, "She brought this." The "she" was referring to a person, her cousin. But I didn't understand what she was talking about, so I said, "What did she bring?" Then Ms. B. pointed at an object and said (in Albanian), "her." I got confused and said, "no, I know who, but what?" "Huh" (says Ms. B). Again I said, "What did she bring, did she bring this?" pointing to a spoon. "No not him" says Ms. B, "her" pointing at something else. Me, thinking to myself, "when did a man enter the conversation?"
Before I could ask something else, Ms. B. said, "Now when she's done we're going to put her in the oven," to which I immediately wanted to know why a person was going in the oven, only to realize that Ms. B was just talking about the dish, which is a feminine word, and thereby the same pronoun as that for the word girl.

Shume veshtire (very difficult!)

I don't even know if you were able to understand what I just wrote, imagine what was going through my head yesterday. Sometimes I think I'm losing it!

Decisions...

I've been accepted to graduate school...WHOOP WHOOP! Time to celebrate, let the party begin, Urime, Gezuar!!!

There's just one problem: I don't know where to go! And I have less than a month left to make this decision....can we say, HELP!!!!!

I've been talking with my friend Fashionetta lately who is also trying to make some decisions in her life. She and I have been talking about how things can be so different once you feel like you have to pick a certain path. That for a while things can come so natural, it seems that everything's kind of laid out and then you have to make some choices for yourself and it can be tough.

So though I think I may be closer to make a decision about school (though I might say the exact opposite tomorrow), but I still haven't done so yet. However, at some point I will have to do this, it's the number 2 thing on my to-do list. Number 1? Trying to better my understanding of Albanian humor so that I can laugh at more jokes...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fresh?

I've been eating a lot more fruit lately and I just don't think fruit is as fresh in the States as it is here in Albania...in fact, I'm pretty sure it's not. What's up with this? Has anyone else experienced this?

Scooterists and Bikers

Okay, so I know I've written a couple of times about how bad some of the drivers can be in Albania and how dangerous it can be for people on foot like myself, but seriously something HAS to be done about people on the motorbikes, scooters and objects like these. I'm not sure why but most people on the scooters don't follow the same rules as people in cars, so this means that many don't stop at lights even when pedestrians are crossing the street! The worse thing that has happened me though occurred recently when I was walking on a street that I pretty much walk everyday. This particular street is a one-way street and everyone knows this, there are signs everywhere. Also many people walk this street in the mornings, especially students because it's near the school. Well since the sidewalks are always narrow and sometimes non-existent (as in the case of this street), most times people walk on the side of the street and look out for cars heading south, only south because as I wrote, it's a one-way street. Well would you believe it, a group of us almost got hit by people on scooters who were driving on the street the WRONG way! I mean if it's one-way for cars, it should be one-way for all vehicles of any sort, right?

Okay, just wanted to vent about this...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dangerous For Male Waiters with Plates aka "Dita e Gruas"

The 8th of March is Women's Day (Dita e Gruas) in Albania and is celebrated in high style and quality - I'm talking big time! You see I had been hearing about "Tete Mars" as it is affectionately called, for quite some time but I don't think I was really all that prepared. Ms. B. invited us to join her and some of her friends at this restaurant for the afternoon. We got there around 12 and once we went inside, they had all of these tables lined up with ribbons and decorations. There was a live band and a dance floor. Oh, and TONS of women! All ages, from about 8 months to the 90s. Everyone was dressed nicely (don't worry Mom I was dressed up too, well at least a little) and had flowers.

We began the afternoon with salad and a plate of food with three pieces of meat, cheese, a boiled egg, yogurt sauce, and bread. We also had soda, red wine, and beer. I thought that would be it for the day but silly me, OF COURSE NOT! After that we had more meat, french fries, fergese (a traditional Albanian dish), fruit, and a torte. I would write about how horrible this is going to be for my health but hopefully I danced away all of the calories because I don't think I've ever danced this much in my life! We made circles around the dance floor and held hands, doing traditional Albanian dances. I also realized today that Albanian songs are REALLY long, I mean they were going on forever it seemed. People were dancing on top of chairs and even the younger ones under the table. Would you know it but Ms. B. can really move, I mean there is no way that she's 66 because she was out-dancing everybody! The only males in the entire restaurant were the waiters and someone needs to create a better system for them to serve because the women were dancing all over the place and boys were moving through with plates full of food, I almost got whacked in the face with beef steak!

I honestly think that we need to adopt this holiday in America, just a day to celebrate women! I thoroughly enjoyed myself, we were actually there for about 6 hours! Albanians know how to throw a party, that's for sure. The power even went out twice during the middle of everything but that didn't stop anyone, the drummer kept playing and we kept our napkins in the air and danced anyway (anyone who wants to learn how to dance with napkins, I can now teach you!)

Gezuar Festa e Gruas 2009!!! U kenaqa shume!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dita e Mesueses

March 07 is Dita e Mesueses*, "Day of Teachers" here in Albania. From what I've gathered this is not necessarily a day off for teachers but rather a day when students show thanks for their teachers. My classmates and I have gotten together to get some flowers for our teacher for tomorrow, since March 07 actually falls on a Saturday this year.

But I was completely surprised when Sokol and Irena showed up at my house tonight with flowers. If you remember, about 4 months ago I started teaching English in my apartment to an Albanian couple (Sokol and Irena). Though I "teach" English (I used quotations because I'm not sure how great of a job I'm doing, ha ha) I hadn't really considered myself a teacher but sure enough they gave me a gift tonight, which almost made me cry. The first thing I said was, "Oh, I'm gonna tell my mom!"

When we went to this flower shop to pay for our teacher's flowers today, one of the employees asked me about the "Day of Teachers" in America and I stared at him with a blank look because I honestly could not remember if we have such a day in America, and if so, when it is. So please don't fault me but I'm wondering, does such a day exist? When is it?



*For those readers who speak Albanian, I may have messed up the word "mesueses" because I sometimes have trouble with this particular rasa, since it's the Gjinore form, but I'm promise I'm working on it...

Thanks

I really like the fact that many of you enjoy reading the blog and I just want to write thanks to all of you who've provided positive feedback and comments lately, they mean a lot.

I especially want to thank those Albanian readers that may live outside of Albania right now and enjoy reading the blog and have sent me encouraging remarks. I haven't found a way yet to send feedback via the comments under the posts, so I'm just writing a thanks now.

Gezuar!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Please

I created this blog to document my experiences and travels while living here in Albania, especially so that my friends and family could read about my journey over the course of this year. I realize that sometimes I express deep emotions and feelings and that some of you may not agree wholeheartedly with me, but I am not asking you to - this blog exists for me to convey my thoughts.

That being said, I would appreciate it if those who would like to comment could refrain from derogatory language (i.e. PLEASE DON'T CALL ME THE N***** WORD) and abusive statements, I would appreciate it.

Perhaps some people who have written such things (if you're confused, see the comments in the previous post from Thursday Feb 27) are mad at me about something I wrote. I'd appreciate it if you could express yourself in a more adult manner and just let me know if I offend you or offend someone you know. In no way whatsoever do I write this blog to offend anyone, rather to just capture my life while living here. I often record personal thoughts and reactions to situations, but in no way am I trying to disrespect Albanian, Albanians, or anyone for that matter. I would hope that people would also not disrespect me!

Just to clear things up about the previous post, I was in no way trying to convince people that something was "wrong" with Albania or the people here, RATHER, just examining cultural differences and how I understand them. If you have a problem with this, there is no need for name calling or hatred, just in an appropriate manner learn to express yourself.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Did he/she really just say that?

I'm learning that many Albanians are a lot more forward than what I'm used to in the States. I know I may have mentioned this once or twice before but I'd like to share with you now some of the more recent comments I've heard from people:

1. I recently walked into a hair salon to have my eyebrows shaped up (been getting kind of bushy) and when a lady inside saw me she said, "Oh you've changed your hair" (two days ago I rodded my hair all over so that I now have tons of small tight curls) and then she said "you look better with straight hair, this isn't beautiful."

2. A guy was looking at some of my pictures from Rome and said, "You look nice here but the Japanese girl looks better. Her figure is better than yours."

3. A girl at a cafe asked me, "Chelsi, why don't you run in the park more often? Me, I run in the park a lot, not that I need to, I mean look at my body, I just run for fun, I don't need to. But why don't you run in the park?"

4. How come you don't dress nicer like Albanian girls? (okay actually someone asked Ikuko this but I had to include it on the list)

5. And finally, this is my most recent conversation in a taxi:

Driver: Hey let me ask you something
Me: Okay...
Driver: How come foreigners can't speak Albanian like Albanians?
Me: Uhhhh (making the confused face that I always do)
Driver:What I mean is, whenever Albanians go to England or America, after a few years they speak like English or American people. Or when Albanians learn Italian, they speak like Italians. Or with German, we sound just like Germans. Even when we go to Asian countries we talk like Asians. But why is that when people like you, or foreigners, learn Albanian, you don't sound like Albanians...why is it that people don't sound as good as us, we sound just as good as you...


BECAUSE IT'S ALBANIAN!!!!!!!!!!!! It's hard! IT'S FREAKIN' ALBANIAN! Well at least this is what I said in my head. What came out of my mouth was: "uhhhhhh..."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Name Game...Again

I hope that I don't offend anyone with this post. For some reason I just feel like I had to say that before writing.

Okay, in honor of Black History Month the embassy here in Albania is hosting an event with music, poetry and discussion for Americans and Albanians at the ambassador's house tomorrow (Wednesday). Now when I first got here, back in September, would you know it, 3 whole people asked me that day if I would agree to help with Black History Month - it was my third day in the country and my first day of orientation. Anyhow, needless to say, I have known for a while that I would be helping out some way in February.

Now once the details were all set I asked my P.O. (the person unofficially in charge of me while I'm in Albania) if my friends Ikuko and Huija could come to the event since I had been telling them about Black History Month and they were curious as to what a celebration entailed. My P.O. loved the idea, and warmly extended an invitation. As a result during a recent class break I was trying to explain (in Albanian) about Black History Month and its significance, when our professor came along and heard me say, "Njerezit te zi" which means "Black person." She immediately corrected me by saying, "No, no Chelsi, 'Black person' is impolite, it's not proper. Instead you should say "person of color." She continued by saying, "all of you are people of color, don't refer to yourself as Black or Yellow, but persons of color. Whether you're Black American, Chinese, or Japanese, you're a person of color." I then added that in America, regardless of whether it sounds "polite," most people say, "Black History Month," and that it's totally accepted. However, my professor now makes me say (in Albanian) "month of people with color."


Ugghhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (That is supposed to express my frustration) I DO NOT LIKE THE TERM "PERSON OF COLOR!!!!" I don't care if people think it's the "PC" thing to do, I don't like the term. Honestly I think it just separates the world into two groups: White people and everyone else. Seriously, there is nothing wrong with grouping everyone together, in one group - I don't want to begin a debate on the blog but race, in my opinion is largely a cultural construction anyhow. But to divide the world into two groups is just ridiculous to me! And then to just group all "other" groups together, apart from Whites, makes it even worse.

I'm not faulting my professor, she apparently just didn't want me to be offended by the term "Black person" which I totally understand, but however, I don't like being forced to use a name that I don't agree with. As I've expressed in previous posts, I'm looking for a new name beyond African-American, and beyond Black American, but those two I will still use every now and again until I find the name that fits. But "person of color" just doesn't get it for me...


I shall end with this thought: last time I checked, white was a color too! And since when are people really divisible into these distinct "colors" anyhow...who came up with the term "person of color?"

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Life Resumes in Da 'Bania

A friend of mine started referring to Albania as the 'Bania - I've now coined that to "Da 'Bania" and many people are starting to like it, including Albanians...I just may have started a new cultural trend - or maybe somebody already did it and I just don't know yet...
So yes, I'm back in Tirana and as promised I'm uploading some pictures from the excursion to Rome. Everything was AMAZING! Normally, as I said in the last post, I'm all about Eastern Europe and hyping up places that normally few people (well at least Americans) travel too. But I must now say that if any of ever have the chance to visit Rome, DO IT!
Hands down my favorite place was Piazzo Navona, I honestly can't say why but I think I went there a total of four times in four days, loved it! I also spent about 6 hours at the Vatican and couldn't believe that I actually got to see the Sistine Chapel. Other places that we wandered include the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, St. Peter's Basilica, the Pantheon, the Forum, the Palatine, and of course the Colosseum, which I swear now that we look at some of the pictures, it seems as though they were "photo-shopped" but I promise I was there!

I ate gelato five times, ice cream will never be the same...
I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before but Ikuko probably speaks Albanian better than she does English, therefore we made a pact before leaving that we would try to ONLY communicate in Albanian while in Rome. Well this proved to be extremely useful because we never had to worry about anyone listening in on our conversations - NO ONE KNEW WHAT WE WERE SPEAKING! One guy at the hotel interrupted us at some point to ask me, "hey, you speak Japanese, " to which I responded, "no I don't." "Oh," he says, "because I know some Japanese and I didn't think that's what you all were speaking. What are you speaking?" I laughed, "Albanian" I told him. "Oh" (with a surprised look on his face), "Well why are you speaking that, it's so strange!" hahahahahaha
Don't be fooled though, there are many Albanians that live in Italy, and though Rome is a city of over 3 million, we just so happened to walk right into the ice cream parlor where an Albanian guy worked. In English he asked me where I was from. I decided to reply with "Albania" and when I did so, his eyes almost came out of his head. "Une jam Shqiptar, Une jam Shqiptar!" Which means, I'm Albanian! Man was he surprised! We ended up talking for about a half hour, that guy couldn't believe his eyes (and ears at that)!
Alright so to sum it all up, Rome was great, thoroughly enjoyed myself, and by the way, we had the best weather. I'd almost recommend that people visit this time of year if the weather's nice because there are fewer people and cheaper prices.

I've also decided that the next language I want to pursue is Italian...