Sixteen Candles

My favorite part of having a host family in Albania is being a big sister. I grew up with two brothers, am the middle child and I got used to being the only girl around. My brothers and I fought a lot and were lucky one of us didn’t kill the other when we were kids. Having little sisters here has shown me that siblings can actually be pretty great! Anxhela, the oldest of my host siblings, was turning sixteen this last weekend. You already know that I am a big fan of birthdays and strongly believe everyone should feel special on their day. Emily, the volunteer who had lived with the Plaku’s before me, jumped on board planning a birthday celebration for Anxhela’s sweet sixteen.

I had been saving a box of cake mix and frosting from America (Thanks Sus!!) and decided this was the perfect occasion to use it. Emily and I made chocolate cupcakes, homemade sugar cookies and spent the night decorating our birthday goodies. Of course, we had to taste test our creations to make sure everything turned out okay. 🙂

Emily and I

Emily and I

Cookies!

Cookies!

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We threw in a salad for our meal to round out the sugar high.

We threw in a salad for our meal to round out the sugar high.

Tasty treats!

Tasty treats!

The next morning, we took off for Pajove, the village where the Plaku’s live and where we both spent our weeks in training. We were a little nervous about the trip because there is a furgon strike going on right now in Albania. Furgons are the vans that run all over the country and are the main means of transportation for Albanians. Luckily, we found a ride and were even able to stop for lunch and leave a cookie for the waiter who spoke English. It doesn’t take a lot to impress us anymore!

A cute little girl in Fier, where Emily lives.

A cute little girl in Fier, where Emily lives.

Not a bad tip

Not a bad tip

Almost there!

Almost there!

Hugs and kisses were delivered to us as soon as we stepped through the door. Emily and I are lucky for the host family that we were chosen to live with. They are truly great people and you could see on their faces that they cared about how we were doing. We spent the next few hours talking to the mom and grandma about our lives in site. They kept talking about how much my shqip had improved. Whether or not that was true, I will take any compliment I can get! We also learned that there was a turkey cooking in the oven for that evening’s meal. Yum!

My host mom and the Turkey. Not sure why she put it on the floor.

My host mom and the Turkey. Not sure why she put it on the floor.

I have decided that I would like to kill a chicken while I am in Albania. A few other volunteers have embraced this daily event that is a part of Albanians lives. My mom lived on a chicken farm while she was growing up in MN. They had over 1,000 chickens and would kill and clean hundreds at a time. They would then sell them to restaurants around the area.  I guess you could say I am embracing my heritage. After seeing the turkey, I explained to my host family that I would like to kill a chicken while I am here. My grandma just started laughing and they both gave me weird glances, as if they didn’t understand why this was a thing. Just another point to add to why the American is weird list. Later on, Emily and I didn’t think anything of it when we were asked if we wanted to see the animals in the back. We wandered behind the house and started playing with our little host sister and the cat. When we glanced up we realized that our host mom had grabbed a chicken and was holding a large knife in the other hand. I guess we were about to see how we could kill a chicken. Just another normal day at the Plaku’s!

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Sorry in advance if these images offend anyone.

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Just hanging out with a bucket of chickens.

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So that happened. Later on, we decided to have a girls only outing and walk around the village. Nothing like a little sun to forget about the bloodbath we had just witnessed.

Cutest little sister ever!!

Cutest little sister ever!!

Emily and I with our host sisters

Emily and I with our host sisters

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An old cemetary

An old cemetery

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We finished off the afternoon watching a Disney movie with the girls. Of course, no movie is complete without a little chocolate!

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Brikena was a trooper and shared her chocolate. She did end up coming back into the room around midnight to steal the rest back from us though. She must have been worried we were going to wake up hungry in the middle of the night and eat the rest. Silly girl!

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The birthday girl

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Around 9 pm, supper was finally ready and we all sat down to a birthday feast. Along with Anxhela’s present, we had brought some birthday decorations/ toys. I had no idea that these would go over so well. We spent the meal laughing at our grandma and Brikena battling with the birthday blowers.

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So happy we could make Anxhela’s day special!

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The next morning, we sat down to breakfast, still full from the previous nights meal. Grandma Plaku doesn’t take no for an answer, and we proceeded to eat whatever she put in front of us. She also packed us four bags full goodies, part of which was literally an entire bucket of oranges. As well as a piece of cake with a spoon so we could eat it in the furgon.

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One of the four bags of goodies that we were sent with!

There is and probably always will be some anxiety when I go visit my host family. The language barrier, the cultural differences, the nerves about whether or not I am in the way. However,  I finally feel as though I am starting to fit in and become comfortable. It will never feel the same as home in the states, but I wouldn’t expect that. I have two homes and two families who care about me in very different places of the world. If that’s not lucky, then I don’t know what is!

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