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.