After language refresher, I headed straight to the airport to pick up my dad. He was my first visitor from the states and it seemed kind of surreal. As I was standing there waiting for him to come out of the baggage claim I started getting excited to finally see someone from home. It was a little overwhelming when he finally walked out. I think it had hit me that I have been gone for over nine months. Thankfully, his bags made it and we were on our way to pick up the car rental. After that, we were on our way!
I had warned him that the roads suck here. He learned that might have been an understatement, as we continued on the five hour journey down to Permet. I almost gave myself an ulcer as I tried to navigate us through some of the bigger cities. I came to the conclusion that I need to pay more attention to where I am going when I get into a furgon. We only had about three days in Albania before we headed to Italy, so a car made it much easier. The transportation system, aka furgons, seems to shut down once it gets dark. Now, it is getting dark around 4 pm, so it would have been tough to do much without our own car. Obviously, since I am writing this, we survived driving here for three days. But I can’t lie, I was a nervous wreck the whole time!
When we were about half an hour outside of Permet, we stopped for supper. It was my dad’s first taste of Albanian food and I ordered us a spread of different “delicacies”. We had greek salad, potatoes, bread, salce kos (yogurt spread), and grilled meat of some kind. There was plenty of time to decipher what kind of meat it was as you tried to gnaw and cut through it. I’m guessing, it was probably one of the goats I saw tied out front yesterday.
In the five days I had been gone, winter had arrived in Permet. There was snow on the mountains and definitely a chill in the air. I live in a cement building with no insulation, so needless to say, my apartment was freezing. As I showed my dad my humble abode, I had to pause as I realized I could see my breath. Needless to say, I felt like a terrible hostess! Luckily, my apartment is small enough that a space heater made it comfortable enough to hang out in the living room.
We spent the next day walking around Permet so I could explain to him more about where I live. Sadly, we had to fight off terrible weather for his whole visit! We are native north dakotans though, so a little rain never stopped us!
We went to my work, the farmer’s market, made frequent coffee stops to warm up, and walked around the rest of the town.
On one of our coffee stops, I decided my dad should try turkish coffee. He took one sip and from his reaction, I thought he had been given raki. I ordered him something a little more American. I drank the rest of his coffee without blinking an eye. Without even noticing, I have gotten used to, and even grown to love, the coffee here. Unfortunately, I have developed a strong caffeine addiction, along with the rest of Albania. However, if that’s my worst vice, along with an oreo obsession, then I think I am sitting okay!
I LOVE my dad’s camera, and he was able to get some great shots of the landscape and people in Albania.
For lunch, we went to my favorite cafe. They are like my family in town and it was fun to introduce them to my dad. He also makes the best Albanian food I have had to date.
That evening, my dad had the “wonderful” opportunity of trying raki. Upon his initial inspection of it smelling like turpentine, he didn’t order a second. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
I did a much better job of ordering food our second night, and we had a great meal. Minus the raki! On the way home I found a friend!
The next day, we headed south to one of the bigger cities in Albania. Gjirokaster is a unique city, with a lot of history and beautiful views of the area. Unfortunately, it was pouring all but ten minutes of our time there. We walked around regardless and ended up getting thoroughly soaked. Before leaving, we did what any Albanian would do and stopped to warm up with a hot cup of coffee.
Our last morning in Permet, we finally had beautiful weather. We walked around the city and snapped more pictures.
We stopped in at my landlords cafe to pay my rent. I tried to tell her that we had to get going to the airport. She laughed and said no, you will sit down and have coffee. Then proceeded to try and give my dad raki. That brought about a round of laughter. His stomach wasn’t quite strong enough to down raki before 9 am. After our coffee, my landlord told me that my shqip doesn’t suck anymore. Ummm, thanks, I think?!
It was a blast to be able to show my dad around this foreign city that I now call my home. Introducing him to the people I have grown close to proved that I have settled into this little valley. Albanians hospitality and generosity continue to amaze me. It was interesting to see what he noticed and what surprised him about this country. Before he left, I asked him to write down some of his thoughts and impressions of Albania.
My Albanian Experience
” The only thing I knew about Albania when Amber told me about her Peace Corp opportunity was from watching the TV show Cheers. On the episode where Coach was helping Sam study for his GED exam, Coach informed Sam it was easier to remember things if you would sing them. The song he taught him went something like this: “Albania, Albania, it borders on the Adriatic” (all I remember of the song). So, from this episode, that was the extent of my knowledge of Albania. Actually, I wasn’t completely certain where the Adriatic Sea is located. After Amber accepted her Peace Corp assignment, I started planning when I could go see her, which turned out to be the end of November.
I arrived on a Sunday afternoon with Amber meeting me at the airport. Hertz had a car waiting for me and we were off on the 4 to 5 hour journey from the capital city of Tirana to Permet, the city where Amber is living. When we started off, Amber mentioned there was one stretch of the road where there were some potholes we would have to watch for. This would not be the only challenge in driving the only road connecting Northern Albania to Southern Albania. We only made one error on a roundabout that was easily corrected. The next challenge was a section of the road where there wasn’t enough drainage for the rain they were experiencing. We waited for our lane to pass through the 12” deep 150’ long section of water and we were on our way one again, good job rental car! The next driving challenge started when the pavement disappeared. There was a section of road about 5 miles long where the road seemed to vanish! The road turned into gravel with no markings as to where to go, there many potholes that were deep enough I was not comfortable driving a rental through, and the recent rain was creating many large puddles. The vehicles out this night seemed to drive on whatever portion of the road was the smoother regardless of whether they were going north or south. The options for smooth sections of road were few. The potholes Amber mentioned earlier was this section of road which continued for over 5 miles. Amber did develop a new appreciation for Furgon drivers, as she now realized they did not have an option to provide a smoother ride in this area. With Amber’s excellent GPS guidance we managed through this section and continued on and arrived in Permet around 9:00 PM.
I brought my suitcase into Amber’s apartment and we settled in for the night. One interesting thing about apartments in Albania is that they do not have a central heating system, or any heating other than space heaters. With high temps in the 30’s and 40’s it gets a bit cool at night. Amber did have a space heater which did an excellent job of warming up the apartment.
The next morning we walked through Permet on the way to Amber’s office. Most of the buildings in the city are old and the people appear to be quite poor. Everyone Amber introduced me to was very friendly and they were very warm towards Amber. It is quite evident she has made a very positive impression on everyone she has met in town. A very common occurrence is to stop for coffee, there are many many coffee shops in Permet and throughout Albania. We did stop for coffee uptown to keep pace with the locals, and the first thing that happens when a customer sits down at any café or restaurant is they bring you a fresh ash tray! Smoking is very common and allowed in all buildings, similar to how things were in the US in prior to the 70’s. The cafe we stopped in is owned and operated by the family of one of Amber’s colleagues, they are super nice people and they informed me they are watching over Amber to make sure all is safe and OK with her. One could easily tell they were very sincere in this and knowing this gave me a warm feeling knowing Amber has found an Albanian family to confide in.
Goats, cattle, and sheep all herded by people. The size of the stock they manage is from a single animal to about 40 or 50 sheep. It is very common to pass by people riding donkeys down the road, or leading one or two cattle down the road to a new grazing spot, or leading a horse or mule packed up with as much “stuff” as they can load onto it. I even saw one old man grazing his cow on the street behind Amber’s apartment in Permet. I now have a new appreciation for the phase “Albanian goat herder”.
The land is very mountainous with farmland in the valleys that creates a very beautiful scene. Most of this farmland appears to be farmed by mules or very small agricultural equipment. I only saw one tractor in our journeys.
The fruit and produce are unparalleled. Amber purchased oranges from a local vendor (from the back of his pickup) and when we peeled them the fragrance filled the room, the taste was delicious, and the orange melted in my mouth!
Education seems to take a back seat to working or operating a family business. We stopped to talk with a boy working at a local café. Amber knew him and he was working instead of attending school. The attitude on the importance on education is not very high on their priority list. Per Amber, there are a few who want to excel and improve themselves, but it is more common to focus on running the family business in lieu of assuring the students are in school.
The national Albanian drink is Raki. From what I hear, they use this to drink, disinfect, clean and whatever else they think it will work for. Amber informed me many of the men sit and sip this with their coffee, I did not try this but was offered Raki with coffee on the morning we were leaving town. I was proud of the offer, kind of felt like I fit in. My description of this drink is that is smells similar to kerosene and the taste is not far from what I imagine kerosene would taste like! I can say that it does do a good job of warming up your whole inside when I tested it.
To sum up, the people are what make any area. The people of Permet are very friendly and proud of who they are. They love to hang out and socialize and they love to take coffee breaks, almost to the point where I wondered how they got anything done. Maybe this has something to do with why the roads are suffering? Seeing them and seeing Amber interact with them have provided me a great feeling that Amber will succeed in her Peace Corp assignment. Hopefully the Albanian view on the importance of education will improve with time. I am so proud of Amber and what she has committed to do, this assignment is something she will always look back on and be proud of! No doubt the experience will also contribute to her future success in life. Great job Amber, I really enjoyed our time together during my Albanian experience! (Italy too, of course). I love you and miss you and am so very proud of you!!
I think it is safe to say, I now know a lot more about Albania than just what I learned from watching the TV show “Cheers”! “