I have accomplished one of my goals thus far in the Peace Corps…successfully telling a joke in shqip. Maybe not the loftiest of my goals but I believe you have to start small and work your way up. Plus, adding some laughter to your daily life is always an improvement.
I told my coworkers about the fact that no one thinks “Amber” is a name here so there is constant confusion as I am repeating myself to people. One particular occasion was in a dyqan in Permet where I was trying to buy a few things for my apartment. The owner wanted to write down my name along with the cost of the items I was buying. Our dialogue went like this:
Me: Miredita, Si jeni? (Hello, how are you?)
Owner: Mire, Mire (good/ well/ okay/ awesome- the answer to anything and everything here. When in doubt answer with mire.)
Me: Sa Kushton? (How much?)
Owner: 300 Leke. Si quhet? ( what is your name)
Me: Une jam Amber ( I am Amber)
Owner: Jo, Emri edthe Mbiemer (No, First and Last name. Now don’t even get me started on pronouncing my last name to Albanians. That usually produces more blank stares than talking about the state of North Dakota)
Me: Emri eshte Amber ( I am Amber)
Owner: Une jam Dionna ( I am Dionna and then she points to me to say my name)
Me: Po, kuptoj, Une jam Amber! ( I understand, my name is Amber!)
Owner: Starts laughing: ska problem (no problem, nevermind)
Me: By this point I was starting to get frustrated so I finally took out my Peace Corps Volunteer ID and pointed to my name. Emri eshte AMBER!!!
Owner: She starts laughing, ooooohhh shume bukur. Amber, shume bukur! (pretty, Amber is a pretty name)
One of the many reasons why going to a store here may take twenty minutes to buy one thing. I felt a little overwhelmed after this confusing conversation so I decided it was a perfect time for a coffee break. I went to my favorite cafe in Permet and sat down to have a relaxing cup of coffee.
Turns out, that wasn’t going to happen. The basektball coach of Permet was there and he had been waiting to meet me. A lot of people here know me as the sports girl and word had spread that I knew how to play basketball. I proceeded to have a coffee with the coach, to which he treated as a recruiting session. The team in Permet has girls that are high school age and they are one of the few girls teams in Albania, which is awesome! The coach decided that he wanted me to play for his team. I continued to tell him I am almost 25 years old, not albanian and I do not wish to play for his basketball team. I would love to help with practices and coaching. He replied that he is in the coach and he wants me to play. He decided that he will call the Peace Corps and get the A okay and we will be all set. I think I finally got across that I cannot play for his team. I repeat; I think I got the point across. Sorry, Peace Corps office, I wouldn’t be surprised if you get a call about one of your volunteers playing basketball, he was quite determined.
My week significantly improved when I was able to pick up my first care packages from the post office!! I have been going into the post office throughout the week to check if I have mail and to ensure the post office ladies know who I am. As soon as I saw the USPS white boxes that had to be mine I started clapping and a huge smile lit up my face. The workers said Miredita Amber (they pronounce it Emmmber or Ammmba). I asked for my packages and the lady at window started asking me questions about my teeth.
Why are your teeth so white? How do you get them to be that way? What do you use? Why, why why? I just laugh usually and say that I don’t know. I go to the dentist, I brush my teeth, I don’t drink pop. I don’t know. She was not satisfied and continued to stare at me. WHY!? She wanted to know and she was not giving up. She must have thought that I was keeping some amazing secret from her about why my teeth are white. We continued this awkward staring contest until she finally gave up (until next time) and started the process for my mail. Until next time. I may have to come up with a better answer for her or she might not give me my mail.
The days are getting hotter and hotter here and I am starting to enjoy “Pushime” time every day. It is very similar to a siesta in Spain and it gives everyone an opportunity to relax and get out of the sun. This happens every day from 2 to 5pm. I kid you not, Permet becomes a ghost town. The stores shut down, people go home, no one is out and about.
It is actually kind of peaceful to walk around but that depends on how motivated you are and whether or not you want to be drenched in sweat. These days definitely call for some time spent in the river or lake. I visited fellow volunteers in a neighboring town and we went on a hike to castle ruins and followed it up with some time floating in a lake. Perfect way to spend those days that are too hot to function.
Transportation here is… interesting. As PC volunteers we are not allowed to drive or ride a bike without a helmet. That will get you sent home, no questions asked. So we are left to using the means of buses or furgons. Furgons are basically vans that go from city to city and sometimes run on an actual schedule. Most of the time it is just luck of the draw on where and when you will find them. Especially in the smaller sites.
My ride to Kelcyre was accompanied by nineteen other Albanians. Twenty people squished into one of these stylish rides on a hot summer day was a great start to my morning. 😉 That is my new record for the most people I have ridden with, I am sure it will be broken again and again this year. My mother tells me the middle back is the safest but to be honest I try to sit by a window, sorry mom. Sometimes it is your only hope at getting a breath of fresh air, much needed when you’re jammed between everyone.
Hitch hiking is extremely common in Albania and I found myself on my first hitch hiking experience last week- complete with air conditioning. We told the driver that we were American and he immediately called his daughter who spoke English and wants to work with the Peace Corps. Now before anyone freaks out back in America, it is a lot safer here and I promise to not do it by myself. Also, it’s free and on a volunteer budget that is awesome!
There are also taxis here but that tends to be a little more expensive unless you can find enough people to fill the car. My last taxi ride I found myself in between three Gjyshes (grandmas). Being American makes you an instant topic of conversation and I spent the ride answering questions about what I am doing and where I am living. The conversation then took a turn to whether or not I have a boyfriend. When they found out that I didn’t they tried to set me up with the taxi driver. He is a nice boy, your age, why don’t you like him. All while the driver is listening, laughing and enjoying my uncomfortable answers.
If there is one thing I have learned about traveling in Albania it’s that you have to soak up the conversations and remember them. They almost always provide some entertainment and when in luck give you something to laugh about.