As I approach my six month mark of living in Albania, I can finally say that it is beginning to feel like home here. I have settled into my site and like my apartment. People around Permet know who I am and most of them know my name. Almost everyone in town also knows where the “American” lives, not sure if that is a good thing. I am getting used to the crazy transportation system and can get around on my own now. I know how to pay my bills, although the frustrations with that could take up this whole blog. I buy my fruits and veggies from the farmers market every morning. I am no longer phased when I see men drinking shots of raki with their esspresso coffees before 9 am. As much as it scares me to admit it, Albania has turned into my new “normal.”
I had to say goodbye to one of my fellow PCV’s this last week. She was returning to America due to health problems. She was one of my closest friends here and lived only 20 minutes from my site. After helping her pack up her apartment I accompanied her to Tirana, so she was ready for her flight home the following morning. PC is full of tiny ups and downs. They even have a chart to show what most PCV’s go through. There are the expected highs throughout service and also the unavoidable lows. Most of us will experience all of the said emotions throughout our service. The unexpected lows, when something unseen happens, may be the hardest. It doesn’t give you time to prepare, you are just hit head on with the situation. In the end, my friend is home with her family and friends and that’s what really matters. Although, it doesn’t make us miss her any less!
Tirana is the capital of Albania and also the biggest city in the country. It comes as no surprise that I get lost whenever I go there. To say the least, I do not have a good sense of direction. I can do a lot of other things, but do not give me the map if you are lost with me. Don’t hand over the food to me either, I will probably get bored and eat that. I spent the morning walking around Tirana and trying to get used to my surroundings. After living in this “fish bowl” world for these last few months it was nice to disappear into a big city.
My good friend, Miranda, met me in Tirana and we decided we would try and hit up the mall that everyone talks about. Let’s get something straight here, malls are not that common in Albania. There is nothing close to that in Permet and that goes for most of the cities in this country. However, in some of the biggest cities, there are these glorious places called malls. Going to a mall on a volunteers budget may be just as depressing as it is awesome, but that’s another story. You cannot just get in your car and drive to the mall, we are PCV’s, we don’t have cars. So, we ask around and try to find where the bus is that goes to the mall. After a little bit of searching, we find the spot that the bus leaves from. As we walk up, we see the bus pulling away. We had to burn about thirty minutes waiting for the next one so we sat down for a coffee. What else can you do in Albania. We finally make it to the mall and I kid you not, we walked around for a good hour staring. It was honestly a bit of a culture shock. This was a legit mall, even by American standards. There were stores with neatly lined shelves of folded clothes. A store that is similar to Best Buy with brand new appliances and electronics. The choices were overwhelming and we almost walked out of there without purchasing anything. I was able to find a good deal on a blender though and splurged because I knew I would get my use out of it. We also bought different kinds of cheeses and some good wine so we could by classy that night. The last time I purchased wine it was from the back of a pharmacy store, homemade, and in a recycled 2 liter bottle. So when we purchased a bottle of wine, made in France, it truly was classin’ it up, even if it doesn’t sound like it!
Miranda is one of my best friends here and we always have a blast when were together. We have successfully hitched with four other people in one vehicle. Twice. We always make it to the destination we need to. But we do tend to have issues with transportation when were together. The last time I went to Milot we had to walk over three miles to get to her apartment because the furgon driver wouldn’t bring us closer. We thought we were bad ass by hitching to Bajram Curri one weekend. When in reality, the driver made us pay once we got there. After leaving the mall we got off the bus a little before Tirana. Our plan was to try and catch a furgon that was heading towards Milot. Our plan failed. We ended up walking for a good half hour, eventually arriving at the north bus station. It doesn’t sound that bad but we were also carrying everything we bought at the mall, blenders and all. Luckily we caught the last furgon that was going by Milot and we made it to her apartment. Small glitches in the grand scheme of things, but I’m starting to see a pattern.
The next day, Miranda was hosting some couch surfers from Poland. This gave us the unique opportunity to see Milot from a tourist’s eyes. The quirks of Albania, that occur every day in my life, were things they had never seen before. The transportation, the people, the food, the animals, the stores were all new to them. They brought up the fact that Albanians are very generous and helpful people and I couldn’t agree more. They were a little shocked at the way you can buy meat in the little stores around town. By that, I mean it is all shoved in a cooler, in open bags, most likely with a half inch of freezer burn. They had already experienced the confusion of someone shaking their head side to side- which means yes in Albania. Opposite of the rest of the world. They were instant celebrities in Milot, as it is not used to having tourists walk though. They met a man from Milot that walks around everywhere with his pet goat. This goat likes him and only him and will follow him anywhere. Too bad the goat doesn’t realize he is going to be eaten next month.
Things that should be easy here, rarely turn out to be that way. I went to pay my water bill when this week. The lady working there informed me I should pay for the last five months of 2012 as well. I tried to explain that I didn’t live in Albania last year and I didn’t want to pay that. She told me that it didn’t matter and that I can pay it off slowly. I am going to try and tackle that problem another day. Hopefully accompanied by an Albanian that speaks English as well as Shqip.
Albania is a strangle place in the world. Living here provides us with an insight into what Albanians view as normal. What PCV’s view as normal. What third wold countries view as normal. It’s only after having visitors from another country, that I realized how much I have settled into life here. I am seeing less and less that makes me stand there and stare in shock. Not because they aren’t there, but because I have seen them before. It no longer phases me. It may have taken perspective from someone else to realize I have integrated more than I thought. Here’s to no longer feeling like a tourist. Gezuar (cheers)!