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?