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...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Be Back Soon...

I'm off to Rome for a few days. My teacher randomly announced that she was going out of town for some days and was cancelling class. At the last minute some of us decided to head to Rome, so I'll take plenty of pictures and be back soon.

I'm not going to lie, I'm excited about seeing the city, especially since this is kind of my first trip to Western Europe (I don't consider Greece to be Western Europe) but I'm also excited about eating Italian food...

Big Brother? In Albania...

Yes that's right, if you remember the show "Big Brother" used to air in America (well it might actually still be on TV), the reality show where a group of people live in a house, it's all on camera, and one by one someone leaves for some reason or another, well it has made it's way to Albania. Now with reality TV the country is doing big things.
I'm not going to lie, I actually enjoyed the one episode I watched, mainly because I was taking mental notes of everything going on (hey I am an anthropologist), like for example the number of times each day the people in the house had a coffee. Of course there are many things that I don't understand because naturally the people speak really fast Albanian, and there's a mix of dialects in the house (because people come from all over the country) - BUT all of this is okay because Elvisa's mom is a fanatic and when I go over there house, she talks to me about her favorite people and the things that have been going on in the show. Oh I guess I didn't mention the best part: You can watch this show 24 hours a day. Ah, see the local Albanian Top Channel airs the show each night around 7ish, so people can check out the weekly version, but for those families with the upgraded Digitalb satellite programs, you can enjoy watching the lives of these people 24/7...and there are many Albanians doing this my friends, many!

Right now my favorite guy on the show is from Vlore, a city kind of in the south. I like him because he wears this big chain on his neck and thinks he's from "the streets" which is the best way I can translate what he said.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Power to the People

News Flash: The students here in Tirana are protesting because there have been some problems as of late obtaining diplomas, or at least this is what I have gathered from my broken Albanian skills. It's crazy because I can watch the news for 30 min in Albanian and feel like I've obtained so much knowledge, but then when it comes to retelling the details, I don't do so well. But I digress...

The point is, not only are students rallying in the streets and shouting all kinds of things with megahorns in the hallway at the university (which I must say makes it very difficult to hear my teacher lecture), but many are also on strike from class. Which brings me to the clincher: Should I be going to class? I mean, I don't want to seem like a trader to the students, I'm a student too, well kind of, well sort of.

Actually I'm not a student at all. Albanians are always asking me what I'm doing here and so I tell them that I'm studying anthropology and learning Albanian at the university. They always follow with questions about which year I'm in (you know freshman, sophomore, etc) which then makes it confusing because I already have my bachelor's degree. I'm here in order to enhance my fieldwork experiences and prepare for graduate school. But most people around here can't grasp this concept. This oftentimes complicates the situation so then I just tell them that I'm getting another, separate degree which makes it easier for them to understand. I mean most people are already confused and shocked that an American would even be in Albania taking classes from the university at all.

So yes, many times I get confused about these classes, I start freakin' out about tests and assignments until my dear friend Nanny Garcia has to remind me that none of this counts for anything and that all my grant program requires of me is to be a "good American." Hopefully I'm passing that test...So yes I'm kind of the ultimate nerd because I'm taking language and history classes for no credit, simply to uhhh take them I guess.

Alright all of this rambling is basically to say, the idea of this protesting is really exciting and I always love sleeping in on weekdays so I just might join the rallies in the street!!!

***Disclaimer, I only wrote all of this as a joke. The students really are protesting but there's no need to get worried (particularly I'm writing this for my Dad, grandmother, cousin Linda and Uncle Harold) I'm not joining in ...yet....

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Remembering Those Who Have Passed

I hope this doesn't come across as sounding crazy but one thing that really fascinates me about Albanian culture is the understanding and expression of death, and how the society deals with those who have passed. Elvisa once took the time to explain to me how everything traditionally works when someone passes away, the mourning, the funeral, the remembrance, etc. Below I offer some of the activities that might occur when one loses a loved one in Albania:

1. Perhaps the second day after the person has passed, the remaining family members will have close friends and family over for coffee and everyone will mourn the dead person. These times can often involve lots of sad expressions of anger and bereavement. The close family and friends are also expected to give sums of money to the family in order to help with costs of the funeral processes.

2. Sometimes women are hired at the funerals as professional criers, and their job is to do just that.

3. The day of the funeral, a week later, 3 months after that, 6 months after that, and then a year later, the family has a meal to honor the death of the loved one.

4. These meals can go on for years, every year on the anniversary of the death.

Well today marked the 6 month anniversary of Ms. B's husband's death and she invited me to the lunch. At first I wasn't quite sure why because not only am I not family, but also, I didn't know her husband. However, she said that she wanted me to come, so I went. She said that we would have a "small" lunch and remember Josef (her husband) with some family members and friends. Well once everyone else arrived and we set the table I realized that it wasn't a small lunch after all. We ate: qofta (meat), pork chops, tzatziki sauce (Greek), tomato salad, another salad, red peppers, olives, potatoes, byrek me fasule (basically a bean pie), boiled eggs, bread and soup. When I inquired about the use of the word "small" to describe the lunch, I was informed that small referred to the number of people and had nothing to do with food.

So yes, 6 of us ate together, Ms. B, Josef's two nieces, his cousin, and Ms. B's sister in law. Later a few close friends of Ms. B came over, along with two of Josef's other cousins, a neighbor, and Ms. B's brother. In accordance with tradition we all drank Turkish coffee together.

I was just telling my student Sokol about my day and he was giving me more details about the Albanian traditions of mourning the dead, informing me that such festivities as this one are so very important to Albanians because during times of communism, when religion was banned and rules were so strictly enforced, it seemed that at times, family was the only thing that people had.
I wasn't sure what I was expecting to happen today, but I must say that more than sitting around and crying about the occasion, we talked and laughed. It was more about a celebration of life more than anything else, simply visiting with one another and me trying to follow the conversation in Albanian. Ms. B's always telling me that Josef used to enjoy having people over, that he was all about hosting guests at their home. So today we did just that in memory of him.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jim Belushi...who knew?

Yes that's right ladies and gents, if you didn't know, Jim Belushi is Albanian. He wasn't born here, but was born to Albanian immigrants in Chicago. His father is from the village of Qytezë. Belushi's spent all of his life in the States and doesn't speak a lick of Albanian (he came here for a concert last fall and confessed that to the audience), but sure enough he's Albanian and blames his bad driving skills on that factor!
Well Albanians take much pride in this fact...MUCH! Recently when I had some friends over I was forced (yes forced) to listen to and dance to "Everybody Needs Somebody" by the fantabulous Blues Brothers on YouTube, for at least an hour. They just kept putting the song on repeat over and again - if I never hear that song again I'm set for life. But I digress...
So yes, because Jim Belushi's Albanian it means that KLAN TV shows numerous episodes of "According to Jim" daily, which I admit I find myself watching every now and then if I'm home. I don't watch much television here but when I do watch it, especially if I'm a little homesick, I find that "According to Jim" is comforting - partly because it's in English.
What I've noticed though is that TV shows here do not begin on the hour or half hour as they do in the States. It is not at all uncommon for a program to begin at 9:20 or 3:50...and I swear the tv show came on tonight at 6:57, but that could have just been my watch.
Another great thing about tv shows here is that usually there's just one break in the middle for commercials, so instead of 3 or 4 breaks, there's just this 5 min point where all of the advertisements are aired, which I think is a great concept.

okay, basically the point of this post is that Jim Belushi = Proud to be an Albanian