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.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


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.


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!!!