A few days ago, I quickly walked down the streets of our capital, Tirana. Lost as usual, I barely noticed the surrounding cafes, stores and street venders. On the corner, I saw a younger mother was trying to reign in the four children who were scrambling around her. Moving past them, I continued checking Google maps on my smartphone. All of a sudden, I felt something grab my leg. I turned around and stared straight into the eyes of one of the young girls. With my backpack and foreign looks, her mother had undoubtedly sent her chasing after me. She was about 5-6 years old, had crumbs in her hair, filthy clothes and wasn’t wearing any shoes. This is not an uncommon sight in Albania, and it wasn’t the first or the last time I will be approached. As she started asking me for money, I swiftly told her to go away. After a few minutes of this as I tried to walk down the street, she stopped me and literally wrapped herself around my leg. I stared helplessly until she stood up. I told her to go back to her mother and continued on my way. As I was walking away I felt her jumping up and trying to grab at my backpack, but ignored her. After a few blocks, she gave up and returned to her little spot on the street.
As I made the trip home from the capital to Permet, my bus broke down. I am actually surprised this hasn’t happened to me before. I guess life in Albania wouldn’t be complete without encountering some sort of furgon troubles over my two years. A burning smell drove all of us out of the van, as the driver tried to figure out what was wrong. As ten minutes stretched into half an hour, I sat down in the ditch and watched what I can only call Albanian chaos. The driver hitch hiked to get a new part. He returned an hour later, was unsuccessful at fixing it, and hopped into the next car for more parts.
As I waited, I started getting hungry and went to get some snacks from my backpack. I took out a banana and noticed a small hole in the plastic bag. The homeless girls big eyes popped into my head. She had been trying to grab the apple and banana from the top of my bag. Instantly, I felt like a terrible human being. I knew she had been hungry, but I barely gave her a second thought as I walked by. It seems to be a lose-lose situation with the kids that are begging on the streets. If you give one of them money, ten more appear with the same sad faces. Even so, I felt incredibly jaded to have barely blinked an eye at this little girl. And couldn’t have felt worse as I sat in the ditch and ate the fruit that cost me less than a dollar.
The next morning, my coworkers and I were discussing how much time I have left in Albania. I replied that I was down to the ten month mark, which is still crazy to me. My counterpart looked at me and said, “well why don’t you just go home now? You have already been here over a year.” I stared at her for a few moments, and finally explained I would be here until next summer because my commitment is for two years. She just laughed and told me to do as I wished. Some days I can just feel the “love” pouring out from my coworkers.(Please note the sarcasm.)
After work, as I walked to the post office to mail some letters, the past few days started to get to me. In desperate need of a mood changer, I thought about holing up in my apartment for the rest of the day. However, as I walked into the post office, I got one of the coolest surprises that has happened to me thus far in my service. A woman from Brooklyn, New York sent me a care package!! She is married to an Albanian in the states and had been reading my blog. I literally could not wipe the grin off my face as I sorted through all the goodies she sent.
As I read her card, I could not get over the amazing thoughtfulness that she put into this package. Just as I was getting extremely frustrated with life here, I got the pick up I needed from a stranger halfway across the world. Sometimes, a card and a few nice words are all it takes. Of course, a little chocolate never hurts either!