April 5, 2013 by theloneblonde
Week two in the village:
31 March- 5 April
Well I have been braving the village life for yet another week, and there have been some unique events.
Five-year-old birthday parties
I had the pleasure of experiencing my five-year-old host sister’s birthday party the other night. It was quite the experience. I mean most five year old birthday parties, we are talking kid city… bouncy castles, clowns, other little kids. We had more of a quiet family type celebration, which consisted of more food then humanly possible to consume, three kinds of wine, a crate of beer (both Greek and Albanian), and raki (homemade/multipurpose moonshine). I as usual showed up late due to my hectic life schedule of 6 hours a day of language classes plus whatever else the day brings be it culture class or work trainings, etc. I broke out my presents early for my little host sister; I brought her a hello kitty coloring book, sparkle crayons, and a purple princess crown (which is actually from a McDonalds Happy Meal).
Now having recently been in a country where every five year old owns a nicer phone then me but a tablet/kindle/ipad (ehhem Singapore), these gifts seemed pretty nonchalant. But I am clearly the best host sister ever, and brought the best gifts of her birthday. I am happy to report that she has yet to take off the crown since Friday night. She proudly wears it around town, in the house, takes it to grandmas, sleeps in it, and may have only taken it off to wash her hair (adorable!). She told all her family members (grandmas’ included) that this was the best gift ever, sooo cute!
As for the dinner, everyone was served this HUGE plate of meat, potatoes, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, lemons, and pickles. Me being the silly foreigner thought this was dinner, which was PLENTY. But then all of a sudden the pilif (fired rice), and MORE meat shows up! Where do you even start? Then they filled the table with salad, onions, and cucumber kos. Damn… sooo much good food. So I am seriously considering calling the man vs. food guy for advice at this point, because I don’t even know how to attack. So I tried my best… but then Food won.
No food commas allowed in Albania. No, never. Instead the family took this as an opportunity to show off my circle dance, skills. Which are really non-existent. All week they had been trying to teach me the circle dance. The Circle Dance is the traditional dance of Albania in which you can guess you dance in a circle! Sounds simple right… well for two left foot me not so much. My strategy is normally convince them to play a really fast song so instead of concentrating on me doing the steps all backwards, they are more worried about keeping their footing and therefore not watching me. Host dad took a movie on his phone without me knowing, which I caught the family watching yesterday. I am sure it’s on youtube by now…
The most interesting part of the entire ordeal was the birthday cake or torte. With Hello Kitty on top, which may have been the sole evidence that the birthday was for a 5 year old. Cake Make-up: 70% fake strawberry flavored icing, 20% finely chopped hazelnut layers, and 10% cake… Deal.
Cleaning house/Getting Sick
So I have mentioned the concept of Raki before. But I feel like it owes further explanation, as I was trying to explain this via text to a friend in the homeland, but it just did not do it any justice.
Raki: Albanian Moonshine. When you look in a dictionary it says it is “Brandy.” To me Brandy is a classy old men’s drink. Raki is not legit unless it comes in a reused plastic water bottle and made by someone’s grandfather. It’s clear like vodka… and if you know anything about distilling alcohol (as I learned from my whisky booze cruise) in raki it’s not distilled from the high wine/low wine from my understanding. It’s just straight up moonshine. You get a wiff of it and it burns, and you don’t mix it or cut it. It’s normally made of grapes, but can be made of a few other things like plums, or honey and walnuts (a bit like mead). You drink it out of tall egg cups, you sip (never shoot), and it’s more of a men’s thing. Like I mentioned before it taste a bit like tequila, burns more but does have a surprisingly grape like after taste.
If you can remember watching the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and you remember the dad and his obsession with Windex, how it solves any problem. Well that here is really Raki. Raki solves problems.
Raki can come with coffee at breakfast, it can be enjoyed when you go to someone’s home, it’s offered to guest like I would offer someone water or more likely in my case diet coke, it goes with anything, it will put hair on your chest, it can be enjoyed at any age. But it also is a great cleaning agent, cough syrup, antihistamine, germ killer, whatever! I watched my host mom take raki and sanitize and clean all the counters, I was offered some when I was not feeling well and my host sister put it on a bug bite to make it stop itching. So put a little raki on it/have a little raki; sip and smile, do it like a champ.
There should be a warning for this…
Now some people in my life, specifically my past room mates know I have a slight aversion to birds. I like birds to keep their distance… I have a slight fear that they could poke my eyes out. Now I mentioned last week we have a lot of animals around here, but I can normally keep my distance unless they are on the dinner table.
It does get a little annoying at night when the roosters in town get really confused at one in the morning, and they all start going off. One known of village life is the fact that you may always have a mystery animal going off at 1am, rooster, chicken, turkey, dogs, cows, cats, etc. I digress.
Today on the way to the Hub city of Elbesen, one of the other volunteers scored us a ride into town. Her host father happens to be a driver of a Furgon. A Furgon is an Albanian Mini-Bus, essentially an Astro Van from 1996. Though this Furgon in particular is a shiny new Ford Transit, in which we road in STYLE to the training office in the Hub city of Elbesen. The concept of the Furgon is to pretty much drive from city to city picking up people on the side of the road, a cross between hitchhiking and shared taxis. They pile the people on in, and the people clearly bring stuff, which today was the adventure.
We started out in our town with an entire trunk full of empty beer bottles, then we dropped those up picked up a guy with a ton of onions, dropped him off then I was pretty convinced the last people put something in the back but I was not sure (we left a little too early for my daily cup of kafe turke/Turkish coffee). I had this looming feeling that there was something behind me but I then thought to myself, ehh I must be crazy.
A few minutes later…
#feathers rustling# bacooooook scurry scurry #flap flap# BACOOOOOKKKK.
My reaction was similar… BAHHHHHHH SH*******TTTTTT OOOO ZOT (OMG) #attempts to jump into the seat in front of me#
Albanians: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA #falls out of seat#
Seriously though you should warn people if you are putting LIVE BIRDS in the back of a van that don’t happen to be in a cage. The chickens happened to be in a box but they were just hanging out in the trunk in a box… chillin/squakin…
High Expectations/My guide to being awesome në Shqip
My host family yesterday told me that I need to really work on my Albanian for the next two months (I mean this is what I do everyday anyway), because I could totally be the one to give the speech to the Ambassador në shqip (in Albanian). Sure host family, sure! I mean I will totally try my best, but I mean I am no linguist. I almost failed Spanish 1 in college, and Shqip is a totally different experience.
Background on Albanian or Shqip (pronounced Shiip—cross between sheep and ship): It’s exclusive to Albanian and Albanians as a community. It is an Endo-European Language, which means that it is all by it’s lonesome. It has no language relatives and due to the intensely deep history of the state there is A LOT of influence from everywhere. I draw connections to Hindi, German, Spanish, Turkish, Greek, Italian, and Russian daily. But it’s uniquely Albanian.
So far in the past literally 14 days, I have learned more Albanian then I did in two semesters of University level Spanish. So far it has just totally clicked, and it’s awesome. Clearly you want to know my secret, it’s the same rule that Ferris dictates to Cameron in Ferris Buller’s Day Off.
Ferris to Cameron: Don’t take life too seriously; you will never make it out alive! So language-learning advice straight from Ferris, if you take it as a joke or laugh it off everything becomes sooo much easier!
It’s also great how PC Albania structures their language lessons as there are no test, it’s more like a self-assessment. You’re not being graded, there are no major exams, your homework is yours to do or not to do, no one cares if you study or not (It’s somewhat of a forced studying situation through immersion). Though I mean you have to show up to class, have a pulse, and answer some questions, EASY!
Well all right there is a LOT more too it, but the process has been laid out really great so far. Seventy percent of training for the first 10 weeks is exclusively language, 6-ish hours a day at the school. We have almost total immersion in a village where everyone knows exactly who you are and what you are supposed to be doing (which happens to be exclusively learning Albanian and being the token village foreigners not anything else).
It’s not all fun and games, and I am really not very good at all. I am a strong believer in the fake it till you make it concept. Albanian does seriously has some ups and downs. There seems to be a lot of words that are extremely close that mean something totally different.
Quhem (To be called… what?)
You conjugate the word quhem wrong… and you may get a reflexive F you…sorry.
Byrek or Brek (Pie or Underwear)
No pie for you… ever.
Dua Birrë or Dua Burrë (I want a Beer or I want a man/husband)
Try to order a beer and roll the rr’s wrong you may get a man or a husband… awk.
Not to mention the Po (Yes) and Jo (No), are two of the most perplexing words EVER. Also all the vowels are switched up in sounds e is I and I is e and then there is this thing ë, which only sometimes makes a noise. My name also makes no sense and becomes Hedhër (pronounced: Heather) and I am from Milluaki, ShBA-ja (pronounced: Milwaukee, she-buy-ya aka USA). They also throw crazy long words out there for you as well like gjashtëmbëdhjetë (sixteen). Try to write that on a birthday cake… Sweet gjashtëmbëdhjetë!
Though there is an escape, there is a word Mirë! Which is pretty much a solve all problems word in Albanian. You can answer almost any question with Mirë! and you will totally be able to fake awesome Shqip! Shout-out to a group 11 volunteer who taught me this, because I was already on page three of the language book when I arrived with this advice!
Essentially, you have three months to become intermediate low, meaning that you need to be able to have simple conversations. Though what’s great is that if you are struggling with the language thing they will help you out, get you a tutor and work with you to be awesome.
Next week I may not be saying the same things but right now I am totally working on my speech në shqip to the American Ambassador!
This weekend I am going on a serious adventure! They are letting all of us volunteer trainees out into the wide world of Albania with two weeks of language classes under or belts to visit other volunteers all over the country. I am going to have the pleasure to be visiting another Community Organizational and Development (COD) Volunteer who is actually living in the very picturesque summer holiday city of Sarende. Which ironically is the only place in Albania that I have actually been to. It was just a little over a year ago I was there, and I loved every minute of it. My two days in Albania made my volunteer placement in Albania even more amazing. My parting words when leaving Sarende were that I wanted to come back and work. It’s almost to sound really cheesy kind of fate like or even bittersweet that it’s something that I am actually getting to do. Then on the other side it’s a little wild, and then on top of it for my first work related official “business trip” to be sent there… awesome!
I found out today that I will be visiting not only one but two and possibly even three volunteers who are in the Sarande area. One works in an Orphanage and the other in a Bashkia (municipality office). It’s great because I will be able to see two sides to volunteer service as a COD volunteer. Both of them have apparently had so much success in their projects as a volunteer they are choosing to extend their projects for another year.
I have always tried to differentiate myself from tourist to traveler or even adventurer in my case, but is something that is a very new experience and one that I have always dreamed about going from traveler to “development professional” (yet volunteer, but still). Even though I have been there before going back is an entire new adventure. One that I can be proud of, because I am right where I have dreamed of being…
I did like no editing of this so sorry if it sucks.