Saturday, August 14, 2010

so where is he?

After Enver Hoxha, the former communist dictator of Albania, died in 1985, he was buried in a special cemetery "at the foot of mother Albania." The country was still under the communist regime and as a result, he received a very elaborate burial and memorial to his death. Well some years after the fall of communism, his body was exhumed and he was buried somewhere else. A couple of days ago, Teuta asked me if I knew where he was and after realizing that neither of us knew, we decided to go out on an adventure to find him. And so we did. And where is he? In Sharre, a small village right outside of Tirana with one of the biggest cemeteries I've seen in my life. And where was he inside the cemetery? Right with everyone else buried there, nothing elaborate at all. We found his grave and it had plastic flowers on top and around it. So there must be people that still mourn his death - this has added yet another shiny ball for me to probe.

So yep, I was kinda surprised but then again maybe people have decided that there's no need for a special burial for Enver Hoxha at all. Maybe some have thought that other things should have been done with his body. Teuta and I have both decided that we need to find out more.

**Of course this adventure of trying to find the former dictator's body included way more details than I'm writing here, including climbing hills through the cemetery, finding bunkers, and a crazy experience on a bus that concluded with a man sliding 5 meters on the sidewalk on his stomach. But due to the fact that some family members read this blog and would probably be REALLY concerned if I revealed the true details of this mission, I've decided to omit them. You can email me if you really wanna know!

Albanian expressions and sayings

This summer I informed my teacher that I wanted to learn more about Albanian expressions and proverbs. A few days later she arrived to our lesson with a list of expressions and then after that, she just started teaching me all kinds of things, stuff people say to congratulate on honors, or old expressions from her grandmother, Albanian proverbs, you name it. I've really enjoyed learning these all summer and in fact, whenever I'm with a group of Albanians they all get a kick outta me saying these things. This however can be bad at times when I'm with a family and they want me to keep saying things over and over again, almost puppet-like (the following are literal translations by the way, I'll explain) :

Albanian family: Chelsi, Chelsi what have you learned in your lessons?
Me: Oh we've been studying grammar, I've been reading the newspaper, and oh, Albanian expressions
Albanian family (very excitedly): Oh oh, tell us what you've learned
Me: Ummm, okay, "Don't fly with leeks up your but"
Albanian family: (laughing hysterically) ahhh hahahahaha, another one another
Me: Don't put off today's work until tomorrow because you can do it even the day after tomorrow
Albanian family: wooo hoo, woww, another, another
Me: I don't eat soap for cheese.
Albanian family: ahhhhh hahha, where do you get these? Another, another
Me: Do you think you're special, you make red eggs or something?
Albanian family: hahahaha

And this game can go on for hours. Now the thing is, as I said I really do enjoy learning expressions, sayings, etc, so now I'm writing below some of my other favorites, with the Albanian and English together.

- "Mos bie nga Kina" which means, "don't come from China." The meaning is somehow tied to, don't go all the way around the world when trying to explain something - in other words, be direct.

- "Kali kuqe ka nje huqe" which means, "even the red horse has it's flaw." The meaning is that even the pretty girl, nice girl has at least one flaw. One of the women from my language school has instructed me to say this to my Albanian female friends that smoke

- "Mos shit pordhe" which means, "don't sale farts" - you can say this to someone who is being a know-it-all or someone who thinks that he or she is all that

- Albanians love it when I say, "Per mua, shqipja eshte buke e djath" which means, for me, "Albanian language is like bread and cheese." English speakers would say, "like bread and butter." This is a big lie, but people laugh when I say it.

- "Te bashkohet toke me qiellen, ti nuk do te paguash per kafe!" I often have to say this to my friends when I'm trying to pay for coffee and put my foot down, the meaning is, "Even if the earth and sky were to meet, you cannot pay for this coffee!" Yep, paying for coffee can get this dramatic.

- "Djali pa vellai eshte si zog pa krah" which means, "A boy without a brother is like a bird without a wing." This is just a saying that I find intriguing

- "Bej syte kater" which means, "Make four eyes." My teacher likes to tell this to me, it means, be careful! I think we in the States would talk about eyes in the back of our head but here, it's just better to make four eyes

back but soon heading out

Hey y'all, took a break for a while. Did some traveling, some chilling out and been having those last few coffees before heading out on Monday, at which point I'm back in the States. The summer's gone by really fast and I can't say that I'm exactly ready to begin classes again in the fall, but I can say that I'm excited about getting back to Austin and eating queso.
Anyhow, I've decided to post a few things since I've been gone for a while - these are just some things that I've been thinking about, starting with hugs. In my experience Albanians do not really hug people as much as they kiss them. Kissing here is very important, and you must know who you're supposed to greet with a kiss (versus a handshake), when it's time to give a 2-cheek kiss, versus a 4-cheek kiss, or even a 3-cheek kiss if you're in Kosovë (warning, could be confusing if you're expected the 4th and the other person isn't!). There have even been times when I watched someone kiss another person 8 or so times on the side of the road as we waited for her to board the furgon. I thought that since they kissed 8 times she must be headed out for a long long journey but I learned that she was just going away for the week! One time a woman that I didn't know just came up to me in the rruge, greeted me with a good morning, and kissed me twice as though we had been old friends - that was just her way of saying hi.
Anyhow, I digress, the point is you must learn the rules of kissing once you arrive. Well I've always thought that Americans, well let me say Mississippians, are really big on hugs. Handshakes too, but hugs, I mean we give long, solid hugs but rarely outside of family members do people exchange kisses. Going back to Albanians, some people hug when they give kisses but for the most part, hugs are not as important - that is until you run across those few people who like to give the kind of embrace that puts you in a choke hold. I wrote all of that just to share this picture below - just trust me, this man had a grip!

Friday, July 30, 2010

the rruge

nope that's not a pet's a bear - yep this was in the rruge, not too much more i can say

Monday, July 26, 2010

In the Rruge

Rruge or Rruga is the Albanian word for road and lately I've been putting a lot of Albanian and English together (or shqiplish as we refer to it) and one of my favorite things to say is, "oh yeah it happened in the rruge." Well I've decided to dedicate this post to things that happen "in the rruge"

In the rruge I oftentimes get hungry and one of my favorite things to eat is a doner. The original doner is a Turkish sandwich made with lamb meat and comes with things like tomatoes, cucumbers and yogurt sauce. Albanians have kind of remixed the doner and even add french fries to it. I personally like the chicken doner. And the best chicken doner of course is at Mr. Chicken. One day though I went by another place that is right across the street from Mr. Chicken to order a doner and ever since the two places are in somewhat of a war over me, as to where I'm supposed to eat. Mr. Chicken does in fact have good chicken but the owner of Gjiro Kamara now lives in Boston and ever since he found out that I too was an American, he says I need to eat at his restaurant out of respect. Everyone there wants to speak English with me though, whereas at Mr. Chicken I can practice my Albanian - oh decisions, decisions...

One day in the rruge I noticed a building that looked as if it had recently caught on fire. Further inquiry confirmed that there had indeed been a fire but my question is (and has been for quite some time), where is the fire station here in Tirana??? I've been looking now for a while

The city is now doing construction in the city center at Skanderbeg Square. Those of you who followed my blog last year know that this was my favorite place to write, I could spend 3 or 4 hours just writing on the steps near the opera house. Well now when I walk by I just get upset about this particular rruge because I haven't found a new place to write that gives me the same feeling. I hope they hurry up with this "rruge improvement"

About a month ago in the rruge I noticed that Tirana has gotten new city buses, whoop whoop. They have air conditioning and digital writing on the front. Someone told me that they are from China but I have yet to confirm this. Check 'em out:

Albanians are always very concerned if someone is upset or tired, in fact I could write all day about how people are worried that I might be worried, sad or take part in an activity that would tire me out. One way of greeting people is to ask, "you tired?" Anyhow, one thing that does concern people is if you carry items in your hand without a bag, in particular without a plastic bag. So one night some friends and I were headed to a party and I was wearing flip flops while carrying my heals in my hand. And would you know a man from one of the cafes in the rruge stopped me, took my shoes, put them in a plastic bag and then gave them back to me.

One night while walking in the rruge we came across former communist statues that were hidden behind the art gallery, and would you know it but there was a statue of Stalin just kind of hanging out in the rruge. Of course I got a picture.

Cows also like to chill in the rruge

Whenever it's nighttime and I'm in the rruge alone, I never look for cafes, familiar people, or even for an open store. In fact there's only one place I look for and that's the funeral home. I know, sounds weird right? Well in fact in Albania, and in particular in Tirana, there are many funeral offices and they are always, repeat always, open 24 hrs a day. There is always someone inside and on the Lana Road, one of the main roads in Tirana, I have already memorized where each funeral shop is located, because if I ever have a problem in the rruge and there aren't many people around, I can always count on the fact that I can find someone here

Stay tuned for more from the rruge...this might become the new name of my blog, "in the rruge" because now that I think about it, this is where a lot of my research takes place

Friday, July 16, 2010


You can always tell who is a foreigner and who is not by the way that people walk down the street. Well many times if I'm with a group of foreigners people say that I walk too slow - this is usually because I'm just taking the road, I try to do it each and every time I walk anywhere. Today I thought about this poem, it kind of reminds me of how I process the road as I take it in.

Walking Down Park

by Nikki Giovanni
Nikki Giovanni
walking down park
or columbus do you ever stop
to think what it looked like
before it was an avenue
did you ever stop to think
what you walked
before you rode
subways to the stock
exchange (we can’t be on
the stock exchange
we are the stock

did you ever maybe wonder
what grass was like before
they rolled it
into a ball and called
it central park
where syphilitic dogs
and their two-legged tubercular
masters fertilize
the corners and side-walks
ever want to know what would happen
if your life could be fertilized
by a love thought
from a loved one
who loves you

ever look south
on a clear day and not see
time’s squares but see
tall Birch trees with sycamores
touching hands
and see gazelles running playfully
after the lions
ever hear the antelope bark
from the third floor apartment

ever, did you ever, sit down
and wonder about what freedom’s freedom
would bring
it’s so easy to be free
you start by loving yourself
then those who look like you
all else will come

ever wonder why
so much asphalt was laid
in so little space
probably so we would forget
the Iroquois, Algonquin
and Mohicans who could caress
the earth

ever think what Harlem would be
like if our herbs and roots and elephant ears
grew sending
a cacophony of sound to us
the parrot parroting black is beautiful black is beautiful
owls sending out whooooo’s making love ...
and me and you just sitting in the sun trying
to find a way to get a banana tree from one of the monkeys
koala bears in the trees laughing at our listlessness

ever think its possible
for us to be

Shiny Ball Syndrome

Teuta says that I have shiny ball syndrome because every single day I change my mind about the things that I want to study in Albania. I started off working on an archaeological project in 2006 and then in 2007, I worked on that same project while conducting independent research on Albanian hip-hop. In 2008 when I came to live in Tirana for a year, I was still interested in ideas surrounding hip-hop but more as they related to questions dealing with identity, nationalism and what it means to be Albanian (primarily influenced by this song "Proud To Be An Albanian"). While living in Albania for a year and learning Albanian I became more and more fascinated with how Albanians construct their identity and in particular about the ways in which Albanians in Albania relate to Albanians in Kosovo and even in Macedonia. So with these thoughts I came here this summer to work on my Albanian language but also to hammer out I'm going to be writing about. Yet as Teuta says, I'm suffering from shiny ball syndrome because my thoughts have been ranging from:

- The story of Skanderbeg and how that relates to nationalism
- Reading everything about Enver Hoxha
- What it means to be a democracy now but how this relates to socialist ideas, how people feel "free" to do so much but yet feel still trapped (so for example, trapped and not being able to travel)
- Migration (both legal and illegally, especially waiters who have gone to other countries for work and come back here and speak English and want to tell their stories)
- Storytelling
- Albanian feminine identity (huge topic)
- Greetings and expressions (Albanian language has a whole category of grammar for wishing things, such as wishing someone a good day)
- Representation of Albanian identity in literature and poetry
- Men who sit at cafes all day and watch the road
- Trauma experienced in the 90s with the end of communism in Albania, the eruption of crisis from the pyramid schemes, but also in comparison with trauma in Kosovo as a result of the 1999 war
- Refugee status in both Albania and Kosovo
- The "city" vs. "the village"
- The ways in which people remember - and for this I would have to choose something specific to target

Okay so these are just some of the ideas I'm having and everyday I move around from one to the other, constantly journaling about these ideas - there just seem to be so many!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Donika from Shkodra

So Donika, my alter ego, is from Shkodra and she's happy to be in Shkodra for the weekend. Initially this weekend was going to include a trip to Kosovo but at the last minute I arrived in Shkodra instead with a colleague who needed to come for interviews - since Shkodra is my "home" of course I was down. A quick recap of what's happened thus far:

- Arrived by furgon and this furgon actually had air conditioning
- A kid who had spent some time in Malta knew some English and knew how to get to the house we were staying at so he showed us the way
- We went to this house (which belongs to two Peace Corp volunteers and put our stuff down
- Walked around the city and then headed to the lake for dinner where we ate the best carp fish ever (as always at the Shkodra Lake). This time I also had cornbread and by far the best cornbread I've ever eaten in Albania (and I eat a lotta cornbread)
- Decided to pick a hotel to stay at by the lake b/c it was so beautiful. So the same cab driver took us to get our stuff and then back to the lake - Gjovalin, he's so nice
- This morning Gjovalin came to pick us up and invited us to his daughter's wedding which is on the 4th of August
- We got so excited that we went and bought dresses on the spot!
- Met up with the directors of a museum (one of which is a good friend) and I ended up being a translator for a German couple that only spoke English and no Albanian
- Had an interview and coffee; at some point I had the best iced cappucino that I've tasted
- Walked around the city some more and now on our way to Velipoje, the beach!!

More to come, I love this place

Sunday, July 4, 2010

O Moj Shqipni

This is the title of a very famous and well known Albanian poem by Pashko Vasa and as I'm trying to increase my knowledge of Albanian literature and history, I'm trying to memorize it for my language class. Well on Friday I caught the furgon to Peshkopi and on the way up, I decided to read and memorize the poem. The poem is absolutely beautiful and is a great example of older Albanian literature; I thought it would be wonderful to read while traveling through the gorgeous mountains and rivers of this part of the country, but apparently Albanians weren't used to seeing a foreigner read Albanian poetry. When one woman got on the bus and sat next to me, she looked down to see what was in my hand and after a few minutes asked, "I'm sorry but do you speak Albanian?" "Yes," I answered to which she replied, "I can't believe you're reading literature, what are you doing?" Turns out she was a third-year university student in Albanian literature and had tons of questions for me, all about my life, what I was doing in Tirana, what I thought of Albanians, etc. She also ended up being my tour guide through the Mot and Dibar regions, explaining all kinds of things, giving me details about cities, rivers, mountains. And I told her about my favorite lines of the poem, how I really want to memorize it and say it for my teacher - other people around us on the furgon, younger boys for the most part, just laughed because they had either already memorized it or were also trying to learn it for school!
I'm still in Peshkopi right now and I must say, it's beautiful. We spent time around the river yesterday and are supposed to go to the hot springs later. There's a Skanderbeg statue here in Peshkopi and he has his hat off and he's not on a horse. Of course I took a picture of it (and with him, after all my Albanian name is Donika, which was the name of Skanderbeg's wife).
I probably won't have all of the poem memorized when I go to class tomorrow, but I've memorized a good amount of it, we'll see how it goes. I'm posting a link to the poem (click here)in Albanian and then one person's translation into English - though the translation is not perfect and after all, poetry is best in the original form, you'll get the gist of what it's all about.

Monday, June 28, 2010


So on Saturday night at a local pub I walked up to Ndricim Xhepa, a very famous Albanian actor, and asked him to borrow a chair from his table because we were one short at ours. I had no idea who he was. My Albanian friends freaked out, apparently I need to watch some more films!

Accepting Difference

Albanians often times ask me whether or not I like it in Albania. Sometimes I find that a silly question but people really are curious and so I reply, "Yes, I like here a lot" or "Albania has become a second home to me." Many times people follow up with, "What is your favorite place in Albania and I always say, "Anywhere outside of Tirana." When I'm in Tirana, people always make sad or even surprised faces and respond, "Oh really, why is that?" And I say, "Well in small cities people are usually surprised when they see a Black woman and are really curious to learn who I am or where I'm from. People point, stare, even make fun of me by calling out names but after a few days or weeks, it stops because soon everyone is just used to me and people know who I am. But in Tirana with 1 - 1.3 million people, every single day I have to battle being singled out as different and meet new faces who don't know how to receive me. I never know who will yell out an offensive comment or make inappropriate faces. It gets frustrating."

Now let me explain - I'm not simply whining or complaining about Tirana, never once do I begin a conversation about not liking it in Tirana, I only reply to people when they inquire and this is the truth; it's harder living in this city. Residents in Tirana however, always say that people in smaller places are close-minded and aren't as welcoming, but in fact, I argue the exact opposite. For me I prefer to be in smaller places.

As I said, this comes as a surprise to many Albanians and tonight I had a conversation with a young Albanian woman, she said, "Well I mean, I just thought that our people (referencing Albanians) were accepting of everyone. We have a Roma community and they are different but we all live together." Now not only did I inform her that I'm not Roma and different from the Roma community but I wanted to ask her if she really thought the Albanians and Roma in this country are living on equal footing - however I didn't go there. I did however tell her that it's different for me, that when I walk the streets people not only stare and point, but they make rude comments, they come and touch my hair, they may follow me, and I wasn't necessarily complaining but just explaining that in Tirana, it can get difficult to have to keep doing this every day. She said that once I made some friends it would change but when I told her that I've been here in Tirana for as long as I have, and things are pretty much the same, she just looked as if she did not understand.

This is just it, she did not understand. It's not that Albanians don't accept people that are different. For the most part people are really really curious about me when they meet me and I am frequently accepted into peoples' homes and invited for coffee just because they want to know more about me. Albanians are ridiculously hospitable, seriously. In terms of experiences of outright racism, they have been few, though yes, ignorance is everywhere. The thing is, to be a Black woman and to be a Black American woman from Mississippi, I inhabit a different position here that many people (most people in fact) just cannot understand. When situations occur here that some people interpret simply as "oh they were just making fun of you it's a part of the culture," or "oh that's not a big deal" what they don't realize is that those instances are layered with more meanings, layered with gendered and racial meanings that most people just don't see. Oftentimes other people just don't realize their privilege so when people talk about blending in and looking Albanian, I joke about it because I know I never blend it, but truth is, some days I wish people didn't stare as much because there are just those times where I just want to blend in.

I do not write these things because I desire to bash Albania nor in any way am I writing negative things about people here - in fact though I experience difficulties, I always learn from them. I write because it gives me time to clear my mind but also express these thoughts. When I decided to be an ethnographer here I knew that "the field" would present challenges, but I just don't think I was ready for those that have come my way.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

From Mississippi to Texas

This summer I've decided to tell people that I'm from Texas and not Mississippi. Since I'm living in Texas now and going to school there, and since many people always thought I was living in a river before ("Ah Mississippi yes, the river, that's where you're from??"), I'm running a new experiment to see what reactions I receive when people learn I'm "from" Texas. So far people have said:

- Texas, yes, land of cowboys
- Oh, George Bush is from Texas!
- Texas, wow, is very big!
- Texas, ah yes I have a cousin in Dallas
- Texas, oh with John Wayne
- Do you know how to play Texas Hold 'Em?

Stayed tuned for more on Texas...

Oh There's Always a Towel

My friend Teuta has arrived in Tirana and will be one of my housemates for the summer. When she came last week, she had a huge piece of luggage with her and when I inquired about it, I learned that the suitcase was for her brother's new wife and needed to be delivered to Kosovo. You see, Teuta was born and raised in the States and now lives in Michigan, but her family is from Peja, Kosovo and her brother recently made a trip there and fell in love, which resulted in a marriage. The wife, or "nusja" (Albanian word for new bride) is still waiting on the final processing of her paperwork but Teuta needed to deliver this suitcase which was basically the bride dowry. In addition, Teuta needed to meet her new sister-in-law for the first time. When she asked if I was up for a trip to Kosovo of course I was!

We sat out for our journey on Friday afternoon and just before pulling off from the square (because Tirana has no bus station, you just gotta figure out where all the buses leave from in the city) I realized that I had forgotten a critical item: my passport. So we hurriedly got up and got off the bus, explaining to the driver the situation. He informed us that the bus needed to make a trip to Durres first before hitting the road and so we could take a taxi, go back home, get the passport and then meet the same bus in F. Kruje. We really needed to take that bus because it was direct to Teuta's hometown so we found a taxi.

Our driver, turns out, was not only a taxi driver but also a former police officer and and currently performs songs at weddings. He asked me all kinds of questions about the US and said that Texas had the best police force in the world - someone should check on this. Anyhow, this guy was very talkative and once he learned Teuta was from Kosovo, he basically started talking noise about her people. He also was offensive when speaking about people who live in villages and mountains, but then when Teuta called him out on it, he pretended as though it was all jokes and lighthearted. By the time we reached F. Kruje we were both thankful to be getting out of the car.

Did I mention that we had to meet the bus at a random cafe on the side of the road?

Yep that was what the driver had decided and Teuta had given her number to some man that we were hoping was on the bus. Well after being at the cafe for about 8 minutes and catching a glimpse of the world cup match between the U.S. and Slovenia, Teuta's phone begins to ring as the bus pulls up. Finally we were able to begin our trip.

Some of you may remember me blogging about going to Kosovo last year and complaining about the 12 hour journey on horrible roads but nope, not anymore, Albania has a new major 4-lane highway, complete with an amazing tunnel that's 3.6 miles long!

The highway was wonderful but the tunnel isn't completely ready yet and only one lane is open inside. Therefore cops stand on either side and direct the flow of traffic. As a result people have to wait so what have Albanians done? Opened cafes of course while people wait for the tunnel to allow cars to move through. So our bus stopped and people had a coffee on the side of the road.

After getting through the tunnel we continued along and after a total of about 5.5 hours, we made it to Peja - amazing, seriously. We exited the bus and Teuta lugged the suitcase to her aunt's house and up the stairs to her aunt's house.

Thankfully her aunt lived near the bus station. Peja has a bus station. We stayed at the aunt's house for the night. The next morning we woke up and a young waiter from the cafe downstairs delivered coffee to us in the house - love the personal service. We later got dressed and set out to meet the Nusja. Once we met up with her in the center, we had a coffee at a cafe and then sat out to visit all of the family.

Six houses and five Turkish coffees later, we found ourselves making our way back towards the center. Teuta, her cousin and I decided to have dinner at this qebatore and I ate my first "gys e pese" which was more than delicious.

Afterwards we drank Peja beer (what else would we drink?) and made our way back home. Initially there were plans to go out to a concert but the rain kept us in for the night, which was quite alright because we had our own party in the house. And who was the host? Grape raki of course! Teuta's uncle started it all, he brought out the raki and kept toasting and refilling my glass. Plus one of Teuta's younger cousins continually brought out plates of cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes, I mean how was the night ever going to conclude?

We had ourselves a good ole time, at one point I found myself saying "Mashalla si molle" - I apologize, translation unavailable!

Sunday we woke kinda early to head to Prishtina for the day. Prishtina is the capital city of Kosovo and has recently erected a new statue for Bill Clinton on Bill Clinton blvd. All weekend people had been calling me Bill Clinton's daughter after they learned my name so Teuta said it was only fitting that I go and pay my "dad" a visit.

On the way to Prishtina however, our bus was pulled over by the cops. Perhaps I driver was speeding in the road, however from my window, I was unable to fully understand the exchange between the driver and the police.

We got to Prishtina, walked around for a bit and visited Skanderbeg and Mother Theresa in Kosovo. We also saw many signs like this one about Kosovo's freedom - I'll have to further write about these at some other time.

Finally after a few hours we made our way back to Tirana, where we dropped of not at a bus station Wondering what was in the suitcase? Well there were items such as a fancy dress, nice shoes, other pieces of clothing for the Nusja, a few household items, decorative soap, and also some really nice lace because Teuta's aunt is going to properly prepare the package and then dress it with the lace before delivering it to the Nusja. Last but not least, there was a towel on top of everything. I asked Teuta what the towel was for and she replied, "Oh there's always a towel." And that's that I guess, mission accomplished.

Monday, June 14, 2010

chaning my name

I've changed my name. It's no longer Chelsi, it's now Donika. That was the wife of Skanderbeg. What do you think?
And I'm telling people that I"m from Shkodra.

An Albanian Party

So I realize that I haven't posted in about a week but it's been because:

A. I have too much Albanian language homework
B. There's been some serious partying going on lately

Seriously the lack of writing is probably more closely related to the second and not first but hey I'm doing homework too! Anyhow, on the subject of partying I've decided to post about the party I went to recently. A friend of my has finished her stint in Albania working for the World Bank and so her office came together and threw a party in her honor. My friend DB and I were invited to join and I just don't think I was ready for everything in store. First off I was informed that there would only be light refreshments as it was a cocktail party. So when we arrived and found plates with meet, cheese and small pieces of bread, I thought to myself, great, glad I ate dinner before coming. However, after that round of food out came salads. Then some kind of unrecognizable fish in a creamy butter sauce. Then some uncooked (yes uncooked) shrimp. And another fish we didn't recognize. Then came out octupus and squid. Then another round of shrimp, this time small and lightly fried. Followed by mussels. Followed by crab cakes. This kind of seafood kept going on and then finally when I thought it was all over, they brought this out for each person:

Well I wasn't very hungry when I got there but really, after all that food to begin with, who was going to be able to eat that whole fish and potatoes? The next time anyone mentions a light meal (just like at Ms. B's) I'm just going to have to starve myself beforehand. I'd really be curious to see what a big meal is!

After all the eating it was time to dance and man y'all should see DB's moves on the floor! We two-stepped, did the twist, danced to the Beatles, pulled out some moves from Saturday Night Fever, at one point I kinda felt like a flapper from the 20s. But everyone there loved it, at one point we got a standing ovation and whistles for our dancing! Here's a picture of us doing some traditional Albanian moves:

And the dancing went on and on and on, here are some more pictures and a clip:

People even got up and recited poems, I love it when Albanians get up and start reciting poetry from Albanian literature, I'm going to start memorizing more poems, especially by Naim Frasheri (if I can memorize the Albanian first).

At the end of the night, or at least when we had to call it quits early Sunday morning, we were going to just walk home but then one of the ministers (and nope not from church, from the Albanian government) insisted that his driver send us home. Well you just can't be that!

Monday, June 7, 2010

A small lunch

Mrs. B. invited Ikuko and I over today for what she called a "small lunch":

Salad with tomatoes and cauliflower
Grilled eggplant
Soup with vegetables
Rice with vegetables
Stuffed peppers and stuffed tomatoes (by stuffed I mean meat and rice)
Toasted Bread
Turkish Coffee at the end

I guess we'll call this the Albanian small lunch. And speaking of lunches, I learned never to bring kumlat (or at least I think that's what these are called, see photo below) to someone's house for a meal. I was completely rejected, everyone just laughed at me, is this fruit just not appropriate???

Saturday, June 5, 2010

names and origin

I had lunch with Mrs. B. and her friends yesterday (I'm still working on a name for this club, but trust me, I definitely feel that I am a card-carrying member of an official ladies lunch group) and while eating, they asked the typical questions of how my family was doing back in the States. FYI, we only speak in Albanian during these lunches, so I always have to explain as much as I can but sometimes I actually have more to say, I'm just not able to. One of her friends, Jolanda, asked why my brother's name was Alexander, inquiring whether we had Greek or Macedonian heritage in our family. I laughed at the question and explained that no, we didn't have any to my knowledge. Illiria, another friend of Mrs. B, then asked how Alex got his name, to which I responded that I had picked it out when I was a little girl. They asked me if I had a classmate whose name was Alex and I said no. So then they wanted to know how I came up with that name. "I just liked it," I said. This answer did not suffice. They nodded their heads but I could tell that they were not satisfied.

Illiria continued and wanted to know what exactly was my "origin". I have written about this before, how oftentimes, many Albanians want to know where I'm "really" from. When introducing myself, I explain that I'm from the States and that I'm from Mississippi but this is never enough to answer their questions, they don't believe that I would have my origin in the States. It is true that asides from Native American Indians, no one has their "origin" in the States, but many times people only ask me this question. For example I was once with a group of students and I was the only Black American (everyone else was white) and the Albanian family who was hosting us would not believe that I was from the States, they kept questioning where I was really from - only me.

So yesterday I tried telling Illiria that my mother's family, all the way back to the 18th century or so (because we have records from one family tree) comes from Mississippi. But then she wanted to know where I really came from before that. Then Mrs. B interrupts and says, "she doesn't know." "Well why wouldn't you know?" asked Illiira. At this point I was confused about how I would answer the question. You see, the way American history is often taught internationally is that a group of white Europeans "discovered" this land and claimed it as America. At some point much later some Black people came and there has been some racial tension but that's about it. The one history book that I've found didn't even mention slavery. Blacks aren't actually from America though, they are from Africa. Somehow people have forgotten that whites aren't really from America either.

I decided to just say that when people were first coming to the United States in earlier centuries, they did not maintain good records and therefore, a lot of information was lost. As a result, my family doesn't actually know where our ancestors are originally from. Even as I said the answer though, I felt torn in two directions because though I'm very proud of my heritage and who I am, who my people are, at the same time, I know that many people here don't see me as a "real" American and for lack of better words, it pisses me off. I know that this concept of "origin" is ripe with potential for research questions but right now, I just get frustrated and annoyed when I'm singled out.

Let the hair questions begin

My friend Adam from grad school asked me what my experience in Albania was going to be like this time around because of my recent hair changes. For the majority of my life, my hair has been chemically relaxed (some of y'all might say "permed") and for the first time since I was a small child, I've decided to let it be natural. I cut it all off (it was really short at first) and now it's growing out, like a fro. I'm loving my natural hair - though my dad isn't - and for those of you who remember the hair experiences from last time (you can see the infamous youtube videos here on the blog) then you'll know how much easier it is for me with my hair at this length.



Well Adam was right though in his thinking that Albanians would have odd responses to my hair because already people are touching it more in the street, asking me questions about it, even how I "got it" this way - I grew it:) But it's funny because I don't think they are used to seeing Black women with natural hair. Of course many are still getting used to Black women as I frequently write about, but the new hair addition is causing lots of questions. Also I visited Klodi, my former hair stylist, yesterday and he's disappointed now because he said all we can do is have coffees together. There's no more hair for him to straighten or at least not until it grows out more! I guess that was the highlight of our time together. He really did look sad. I however cannot express more strongly how glad I am not to have long hair to straighten or relax every 6 - 8 weeks!

Anyhow, I went out with some friends to Tirana Rock last night (who needs The Hard Rock Cafe?) and when I got there, I met the first Albanian person who I've ever seen with twists in his hair! Basically this guy's hair looked a lot like mine especially when I twist it, of course the texture is different, but it looked as though he's trying to lock up (what many refer to as dreadlocks). I was surprised, and went right up to him in true Albanian style, and started asking him questions. I just wanted to know what motivated him to change his hair style, to which he said, he liked the looked and wanted to try it. Sometimes people here give me the simplest answers! I guess I had just never seen an Albanian person who had tried anything like twists or locks before but now I'm definitely going to pay more attention because I'm curious. He commented on how much he liked my hair haha! So below is a picture, I wonder if people walk up to him and touch his hair in the street...

Monday, May 31, 2010

here i go again

Hi everyone,
So I'm headed back to Albania, sitting at the ATL airport now waiting for my flight to head across the Atlantic. I've just finished my first year in my PhD program and my advisor has informed me that I need to spend this summer taking lots and lots of notes - just filling up notebooks with everything about Albania! And pretty much that's my assignment. I'm also going to be working on my Albanian language, I've enrolled in advanced courses for the summer. Plus I've finally been invited to an Albanian wedding and I'm so excited to be going in August.
As part of my project I'm planning to visit more Albanian communities outside of the Albanian nation-state - in other words, I'm traveling more to other countries around the Balkans (and possibly places like Italy too) in order to learn more about Albanians outside of the Albanian geopolitical borders.
Okay well check back for updates, I'm sure this adventure will be just as fun as the last.