March 31, 2013 by theloneblonde
This is what I feel like learning Albanian will be like.
Well I know I am a bit of a crap blogger (and I know this will take pretty much forever to get posted due to the fact that I don’t have internet, and I am trying to take a break and go off the grid for a time), but hopefully you have kept with me. If you are just showing up to the party, I am now in Albania. I have finally made it here with about 7 months of waiting; the day was finally here on Monday!
With my 100lbs of luggage, or really two huge 50 pound bags, and two massive carry-ons, I made my way to Albania via Philly/NYC. So far it’s been a bit of a whirlwind of an experience. We started in Philadelphia where I had the pleasure of meeting 34 very interesting people who will serve in areas of Health, TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language), and COD (Community Organization and Development). Half of everyone arrived in Philly Sunday night and if you were less then 3 hours away you arrived Monday morning. We had a half-day in philly with the peace corps staging team, where we went over goals, expectations and where exactly Albania is. Essentially trying to convince anyone to back out now, to do it now! Fortunately we all made it on the plane the next day at JFK. Then we flew to Munich, where I introduced some of the new volunteers to my favorite German/Bavarian Snack, Butter Pretzels!
Then from Germany to Albania! It was surreal finally making it here! We landed in Tirana then hopped on a bus to Elbesen, where we began a three day orientation. Though it feels like we were there for weeks! We had daily language lectures to attempt to give us the very BASIC communication skills that we need to talk to our host families. My language learning skills for the first few weeks are pretty awesome, but that is because I end up copying people. I know Albanian will be a challenge, but that is maybe because I cannot get over how to say yes and now. Which is PO (yes) and YO (no). Seriously it’s hard! Somethings are similar like Banana-Banane or Tomato-Domate or Potato-Potate but Cheese-Dyjathë… not so easy.
We were all somewhat informed ahead of time about our site for training, where for the first 10 weeks we lived with host families in a city surrounding elbesen. I am in a city called Thanë. Which when you google you find only pictures of sheep; not only is there no Wikipedia page but it does not even show up on google maps. There are 6 other volunteers in my site, and we will take language/culture/job training classes 5-8 hours a day, 6 days a week. It’s going to be INTENSE!
My host family is awesome! Really I am very excited, I think I am going to learn a lot of Albanian from them! I have two host parents, my host father is a police officer and my host mother is a hairdresser. They have two daughters, z and v who are 12 and turning 5. My 12 year old host sister is just like and 12 year old obsessed with Justin Biber and Robert Patterson. And V, is adorable, she thinks I understand what she is talking about (I hope I will soon!!). They hosted a boy last year who is now located in Elbesen, whom I got the chance to meet at orientation, whom is a legend in the family.
Tomorrow is a holiday, in which you celebrate the first day of spring. My host family in the morning is going to make byërk (filo pie, which is awesome!!!) and they told me that they would teach me to make it! For this holiday specifically you put a coin inside of the byërk and you cut it into slices and whoever gets the coin will be lucky for the next year. In some places you have to take the coin and buy salt, which will make your luck last throughout the year. Apparently my host grandfather likes to cheat at this game by taking a fork in the byërk and trying to find the coin, claiming he is cooling it down. I guess I will find out tomorrow!
Short Stories of my first experiences in Albania…
20-27 March: My first week in Albania
I prefer not to have a relationship with my food… among other things
In Albania, animals are not cute. Dogs are not house pets, baby ducks are not something to coo over, and cows are not really to be seen… alive. The only exception may be penguins, which my host dad thought were hysterical on the tv at breakfast. It’s pretty normal to have a conversation with my host mom in my broken shiqp as she is de-feathering a chicken, which just five minutes before was running around in the yard. Due to the fact that my best friend is my dog, and have an entire cell phone album dedicated to penny “monster,” showing my host family cell phone pics of my dog on the couch, my dog dressed as a shark, my dog in my lap, is in all respects heinous. You for the most part get what you see around here. Walking to school there is a internet café/bar/coffee shop/corner store/butcher which displays the town meat of the day (if it’s not the chicken in your yard). Today it was a cow, skinned and hanging from a hook. Guts pretty much all over the stairs the rest of it was displayed upon. Hooves, skin, intestines, fat, hide, and fur just hanging out, like the biology class in the school could come and study it… it was all there. If this was the case in the US I feel that a lot more people would be vegetarians, its just part of our culture to have everything prepackaged and ready for you in the grocery store! It was a big question about refrigeration of meat and if you should actually eat the meat here and with your host families. Bottom line you don’t really need to question refrigeration if it goes straight from the yard to the oven. After school and a long walk to work on some community mapping (putting my degree to use), I came home to a pressure cooker of beef stew for dinner. Hum like I said I prefer not to have a relationship with my food, but I’m going to go with it.
I think I just ate Mush
This morning I was woken with my host sister telling me over breakfast that today is a holiday, and we are going to paint all the trees with the blood of a chicken! What a thing to wake up to. Post two cups of kafe, or really two cups of Turkish coffee which is more like sugar laden mud with extra strong coffee taste (I know that sounds awful, but I actually prefer it to my mother’s half-caf mix, but it’s really good and that’s the best description I can come up with), I was ready to paint the trees with blood. My host father comes from the back garden with two paintbrushes and a bowl of blood. Which apparently if you let chicken blood sit for a few minutes it solidifies into this jello like state. So you mix it with some water, and you get some excellent tree paint… until you get to the end and it’s all clotty and a bit gross. The idea is that you put a stripe of blood on each tree you own, it also needs to look like blood. When I asked my host sister why this was, she was like I have no idea it’s just what you do!? It’s the holiday of spring so I am going to take a guess that you paint the trees for the hope of a fruitful summer? Sounds good, right?
My host family has not only chickens (pulë), but grapes (which they use to make raki, Albanian moonshine brandy-taste/smells like tequila, burns more, better aftertaste), oranges (portokall), salad (salat) spring onions, tomatoes (domate), cherries (queshri), and maybe some other things that I am not sure about yet. Also a bunch of wildflowers, which my host sister insisted on making me a crown out of, not like a little dandelion crown, this was the most legit crown ever, something a greek goddess would wear out of combining long stemmed purple wildflowers/weeds.
So this holiday was Noveruz, which is an Albanian Muslim holiday for spring. Otherwise I have no idea what. I think my family is Muslim, but you would never guess in a million years, the only reason of this assumption is that they know where the mosque is in the next town over. Though they also receive Jehovah’s Witness periodicals in Albanian (there is such a thing…). Religion is not a defining thing here, not the least.
Also on this holiday you make byërk në lekë, which is a filo pie of gyjhz (pronounced jizz… I really cannot get over that… it’s white cheese), in which you bake a coin into the dough. Whoever get’s the coin get’s a year’s worth of luck. So sadly I did not win the coin, which is normally strategically placed in front of one of the kids. But I did learn somewhat how to make byërk, and how to make filo. It’s actually made of corn flower, which you add water, kneed, and then you ball it up and make layers, it’s quite labor intensive! Though so worth it in the end! It’s actually really similer to American pie except they would NEVER make it sweet, so no cherry pies. I attempted to communicate to my host father that my father makes the pies, and she was just really confused at the idea of why my father would make the pie.
They have cornbread in Albania, which there are some amazing things to do with corn bread. Corn bread stuffing, corn bread pudding, corn bread corn bread. But my host mom took it mashed it up, added water and made mush, have to say not my favorite thing in the world. But I have always wondered what the “mush” that Oliver ate in Oliver was… and this may have been it. Served with a chicken it was not so bad.
If I have to play UNO one more time…
So I brought my host family things from the USA. We are talking, I ran to target the day before I came and picked up really random things, and I really guessed right. My host sister is obsessed with hello kitty and being a princess, hello McDonalds princess crowns and hello kitty coloring book! Not to mention sparkle nail polish and crackle nail paint, and lipsmackers, I really guessed right. So after they have shown everyone they know all the cool things from the USA. I taught them to play UNO, which I brought hello kitty UNO.
The rules of UNO pretty simple, everyone caught on pretty quickly. Well except for my littlest host sister who is 5, and obsessed with hello kitty and likes to sort the cards by what hello kitty is wearing… but you get the idea. My host sister who is 12 LOVED IT. She loved it so much we have played seriously about 300 times in the last 48 hours. Now, I really love me a game of UNO. You can catch me playing for hours, and hours at a time. But oh man, so much UNO!!!
So I have decided to attempt to remember back when I was 12 and what I remember doing in school. So tic-tac-toe, fortunetellers, the dot game, there is so many things I can teach her! I think a new one everyday and I would have my entire 10 weeks covered (though suggestions are welcome!). Though her teacher may come and yell at me for teaching her games she can for sure play in class (as we have language classes in her school). Maybe I can even remember the rules to MASH… she would love it!
What the fuck are you doing here…
It’s somewhat hard to explain if you have not lived in a place where you are incredibly foreign before, but Albanians love to stare at you. The volunteers in my town are not locals, and not related to anyone around here, we look really foreign. With our backpacks, blue raincoats, purple umbrellas, green shoes, and naturally blonde or red hair (though there are natural blondes… nothing like my color). We also walk fast, don’t hold hands, and in general have no idea where we are going.
Example: What would you do if you saw a random group of Super Asian (or a very distinctive race that you can clearly tell is NOT FROM AROUND HERE), just wandering through your neighborhood right this minute. In the states, if there was a group of example Chinese Tourist wandering through your neighborhood wearing slip-on shoes taking pictures, and talking loudly in Chinese except when they see you whom they make an effort to say Helllllooooo in badly accented English. I mean in the USA you may not really think twice in some places, but in my neighborhood… At least my general reaction would be WTF, because in both cases we are a little in the boonies.
Today we had to come up with a community map, in which we walked around town, and identified all the places that we should know. I spent the last year of my life working on community mapping projects, so I feel like I am somewhat putting my degree to use.
Another volunteer and I post lunch were feeling up to the challenge to start walking around our village, which is not even able to locate on google maps to try to get a visual that we could use in our project. In the end we could identify the school, the coffee bar, and our houses, and that’s about the entire town. Everything else is informal and you are not sure if they store is also the house or a bakery. You really would never know. The only result we got was a lot of strange looks, stares, and even some approaches.
My personal favorite approach, this guys pulls up in a audi station wagon, rolls down the window and in English goes;
Albanian: HEY! WHAT THE FUCK!?
Us: preshiemdajthe (hello)
Albanian: ARE YOU AMERIKAN?
Us: Po (yes),
Albanian: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING HERE!?
Us: We live here, we are volunteers, peace corps?
Albanian: THAT IS FUCKED UP!
Albanian: Where do you live?
Us: In Thanë
Albanian: Do you want a ride? (super confused)
(we were on the edge of town)
Us: No, it’s ok…
(He then flipped the car around as fast as possible and took it into 6th gear back into town…)
Glad to know what people think… Thinking about it after the fact, I think someone had told him/bet him to go use his English on the Americans walking around town looking really lost or he was genuinely interested, I may never know.
Swearing and general profanities are a bit of a funny topic here, because the English ones you hear and everyone says them. Like What the Fuck or as one kid was greeted by his host brother, what’s up my nigga (seriously he said this, and the volunteer responded in hysterics, but went with it). English profanities are not bleeped out on the tv, nor is tv edited from the worst 90s movies ever to Albanian tv today. Though they do monitor Albanian shows, like Albanian big brother (everyone is obsessed and there is a 24 hour tv channel dedicated to it) and make sure that the Albanian swears are beeped out.
You don’t need to marry an Albanian…
Albanians to an American ear are a bit on the invasive side, how old are you, how much do you weigh, how much do you make, how about your family? They also like to touch you, pinch you, kiss you, old ladies will get all up in your business and rub your boobs and say something crazy in Albanian (it’s part of the experience). They also check out your eyebrows if you are not married as if they are close you will marry someone near by and if they are far apart you will marry someone far away. So mine I keep on lock, and they are far apart, meaning that I will marry someone not in Albania (win for the groomed eyebrows…).
Yesterday some random members or my host family dropped by, I am really not sure who is who, but I can identify I am related to them. It will come with living here longer I guess. So some cousin and some old people, who are not my grandparents but I really have no idea… show up and they wanted to know if I would like to marry an Albanian. Host mom in my defense, in Albanian NO she cannot marry an Albanian, they are all ugly, they have no money, No Albanians for you! (n.b this is my host mom’s opinion). Points for the host mom, I will not get married off any time soon. Cannot say that much about everyone else, who may get fixed up with distant cousins.
Diabetic like you…
My host aunt (maybe, someone old, so I am really not sure because they cannot all be my grandparents), told me then that she was diabetic like me? This may come from the fact I don’t like an equal ratio of sugar to coffee in my coffee and regular coke is not a breakfast item… So apparently due to the fact I have less sugar I am diabetic.
I was also told during the same gathering of random family members that I am the perfect American. Lol. Yep, just go with it.
Gossip, Gossip, we want Gossip…
The new volunteers/Americans in town are seriously the talk of the town. We are the center of gossip, the new novelty for the next 3 months. Not to mention we are compared and scrutinized to the ones who were here last year and the 4 years before them (they have had 6 rounds of volunteers in my village from my understanding). Before me in my host family, they hosted Luis, an awesome COD volunteer that I have had the pleasure of meeting and he gave me the low down on dhe famijlia. Though I have heard some pretty funny stories from both sides, but it’s still a little strange that you are like this new family member who is being compared to this estranged foreign family member. Host mom happens to be a hairdresser and from my understanding the pakaterra (hairdresser) may be the center of gossip.
When the volunteers showed up my host family immediately tried to get a glimpse of the male volunteers in town, who both happen to live down the hill from my gyshe (grandma). The male volunteers are the talk of the town, I’m never asked about the female volunteers. The entire town is seriously creeping on them. My host mom the other day during a short gyro (walk/stroll) attempting to communicate because I know about 50 words (30 of them numbers) goes ato Mire!? (He’s good?) I think she was attempting to refer to another volunteer being cute, which made me laugh. Her and I are pretty close in age, which was a little strange as well. Sure host mom, sure.
Other volunteers have run into funny and amusing things that have carried on from volunteer to volunteer in their homes. Most families have hosted before, or up to six times as in the case of another boy. One family keeps peanut butter on the table for when other volunteers happen to show up once a year, though they look like they may have never touched it themselves. They break it out every year when a volunteer happens to show up.
One boy is in the family that last year, hosted another boy who was continually served hot dogs. For some reason the family fed him hot dogs everyday for breakfast and if he happened to have lunch with the family hot dogs again! He had over 130+ hot dogs during his 10 weeks in Thanë. We are only here 70-ish days, and many weekends we are going to be gone visiting other volunteers, the capitol or our sites. Which means he had to have eaten two a day or more. He had respectfully earned the name hot dogs. Well history repeats itself around here, and the volunteer in that house this year has been having a lot of hot dogs. My host family is placing bets on how many he will eat, before he even got here.
It’s official, I’m a villager…
Today was our first excursion back to the main city for training. When I first arrived in Elbesen for training we went on a tour and my first thoughts were this place is a dot on the map. It was somewhat of a small town, not much going on… and after just a few fays in the village that is not even on the map… it was like returning to civilization. I was dazzled by the bright lights, the bustling city streets, the people everywhere. I had trouble crossing the road, was distracted by all the stores, and was confused why the animals were already dead. Post-Training all the other volunteers whom are staying in other cities wanted to stay in Elbesen. May I add that these volunteers were all placed in bigger places, with restaurants, coffee houses, and the wide spread availability of internet.
Here we have nothing, we have one place to have coffee that is not frequented by women so you have to go with a teacher, one computer that has internet that probably has more virus’ then working parts, to get to anywhere to eat for lunch we have to walk about three miles to a town that happens to have two restaurants and one English speaker. You would think we would attempt to delay our return to the village for as long as possible, bathe in civilization. No way! I needed to get back, my host mom would worry about me and she was making pica (pizza) for dinner! Clearly, I needed to get back! The entire village would send out a search party if we did not show back up before the sun went down. It’s official we are from the village. It’s the good life for the next three months!
I hope you have enjoyed my ramblings of my first few days in my new Albanian Life! There will be more to come in an undermined amount of time. I have AWFUL Internet connection, really I have no internet connection in the village. I can check my emails/Facebook on fridays but I don’t have access to skype or whatsapp. Maybe when I get my phone stipend/learn enough Albanian to deal with my phone I can work on that but for now, I’m going to enjoy the village life! Next time stories will include: 5 year old birthday parties, trying to make a map of the village, and adventures to other volunteers!
You can check out Rhana’s Blog for more updates on PC Albania! http://www.travelingwithrhona.blogspot.com/