June 19, 2014 by theloneblonde
And so it has begun! My crazy summer has started off. By far it will be one of serious excitement and insanity. I have been working hard to plan out a summer in which I will literaly not stop once I start. With a kickoff running the first Girls Leading Our World Camp this summer in Delivine (Where I taught a flash mob dance, yes, me, and I was awesome) followed by a quick gaunt to Greece with a fellow volunteer to see some old friends passing through on a cruise ship, and then returning to town to run not one by TWO day camps held by my Outdoor Ambassadors groups, this summer has already been one of excitement and there is so much more to come. In the coming weeks I will be running off to Serbia and Macedonia to run two pre-departure orientations for exchange students from the Balkans who will go to the United States next year. Followed by a 2-day return to town for a wedding, which is promised to be the wedding of the year and a reason to wear my dress with so many sparkles. Only 8 hours after the wedding I need to make it to training in the capitol city. Then finally, I am off to meet my parents in Turkey where we will take a boat to Italy and return together to Albania. A whirlwind, right?
It will have been 15 months since I have seen anyone in my immediate family and I happen to be very excited for my parents to be traveling here to show them a little bit of “my world.” My town is already preparing there arrival, the Mayor wants to set up a time to meet my parents and drink beers with my father, my second Albanian Family is very excited to try my family’s wine, and my neighbors want proof that I actually have parents (I think they secretly doubt that I do).
Due to the fact that my parents and my aunts are the only people who actually read my blog, I wanted to take this time to write an open letter explaining to them some of the things that they need to take into consideration on coming to visit Albania. After being here over a year, I think it is important that they know what they are getting themselves into but also the things that they need to take notice because culturally this will be the most eye opening part of their trip. However, if anyone stumbles across my blog and is thinking about traveling to Albania, think about these things. I also am writing this as a reminder to myself about the things I have learned and the things that I need to value over the next 10 months or more of my service as a volunteer here in Albania.
An Open Letter to My Parents on coming to Albania:
Out of all of the places that I have decided to visit, Albania is one that I will carry with me forever. Not within that tattoo that I jokingly snap chatted of the words to a traditional song (don’t worry I am still afraid of tattoos and needles), but one that I have turned back to. Since I was young you installed me with the idea that you should always save something for the next time when you are traveling. Save something that you wanted to go back to, weather it be the Golden Temple of Amritsar in India or the Fancy Go-Kart track in the Wisconsin Dells. Save something for later so that you will have a reason to return. When I came to Albania for the first time, I left saying that I wanted to come back because I was taken away by the hospitality and culture. Albania did not offer me a location that I wanted to see but it offered me something different it was the people that I wanted to meet and understand, it was the appreciation I wanted to pay back and it was the fact that I thought it was someplace that I could help others make a difference. It was a feeling unlike any other I had ever had when traveling. When my information came for a chance to Volunteer in Albania, it was like the world had come together. It was in that moment that I truly realized that there are chances to go back to something, clearly as my mother tells me it was just meant to be!
Now, of all places I know it is hard to believe that Albania was one of the places that truly left me totally enamored with the life around me, but I honestly believe that I am one of the luckiest people out there. I wake up everyday doing the job that I went to school for and even though I make merely pennies and I happen to be jaded in the experience to an extent it’s still an experience that I would never have turned down. Sure there are days when I cannot stand what is happening, but it would be the same anywhere else, my struggles are just a little bit more of a challenge because I am doing them in a language that I had never even knew existed until two years ago. Which I have to boast I am pretty damn good at it, comparatively to how miserable I am at other languages.
Coming to Albania is not for the faint hearted, not because of the 570 stairs that go up to my road from the South-East Side of town, or the occasional pungent smell in the air of burning trash coming over the mountain from the makeshift landfill but because the hearts and minds of the people around you are beyond anyone else on planet earth. Regardless of expectations or money, anyone around here would literally offer you the shirt off their back if you are cold, or their only potable water if you are thirsty. It is this process in which I hope the best for Albania in the coming years. But in the present there are some things in which I would like you to consider being aware of before you arrive here and join me for a few days in my life that I have worked so hard to create for myself in country that I have worked to call a second home.
First of all, I want you to remember that for the majority of your life coming to Albania is something that would have been impossible. Before you were born, and until after I was born, Albania was closed to the world. To your generation, I am literally living the impossible. This would have been impossible at my age, unless of coarse you managed to sneak past the bunkers and the isolated state run by a cruel and unusual dictator, named Enver Hoxha. Hoxha’s regime locked off society to the outside world aligning only for a short time with the USSR and with China, it was not until I was a little over a year old that it was finally opened. Your entire life was essentially skipped over in Albania, it was like it was frozen in time. Which is why I would like you to remember as we cross through the countryside that for the majority of your life this would have not been possible.
From man landing on the moon, to the invention of the calculator those are events that Albania never saw because they were formerly Europe’s own North Korea. You think things may be strange or unusual, and perhaps that is just the view of our own cultural perceptions but at the same time their former isolation lead them to be the country they are today. I try to remind myself everyday, that it’s not how far they need to go, but it is how far they have come.
Life is different here, there is no point in planning ahead things will happen as they come, you will walk slow, because honestly we don’t have anywhere we need to be quickly. We call it a Xhiro (Gee-ro) and it’s a way of life. You will understand if even for a short amount of time that life is slow, and you are meant to literally stop and smell the flowers. It’s ok for time to stop and for us to have a coffee, because why not! We won’t have a plan, and for once trust me, it’s fine we don’t need one, and this is coming from a planner. Embrace the day and what is around you, embrace the things that you have once looked poorly upon. It’s ok to have a meal consisting of pasta and french fries, because potatoes are totally a vegetable. The waiter may even comment on how healthy you are being. However, they may call you fat in the next sentence, however embrace it the literal meaning of fat in Albania is with health anyway.
So embrace the sugar, and the real stuff, not that fake cancer-causing non-sense. Speaking of cancer, well it’s unavoidable, and smoking is also part of that lifestyle. It’s legal everywhere, don’t stick you nose up at it, it will just make it worse. You will be offered cigarettes wherever we go, don’t take offence they are offering you something to share. It’s not necessary to take them, just politely decline. Lecturing will get you nowhere. Whatever Albania throws your way, as one volunteer will forever say, “embrace the chaos, because TIA this is Albania.”
Sure people may not have all their teeth, and there is a woman who walks her donkey to collect trash down my street on a daily basis. Yes, I am aware there is no air conditioning or heat. I know that I only have water up to 5 hours a day. But look around you, hear the laughter and the noise. Check out their teeth as they smile and proudly yell things in your direction in a language that you don’t understand. Smile back, and remember you are doing something that was formerly impossible.
The music will be loud and they won’t turn it down. The drinks will be plenty, and coffee will always be had. It may not be right when you wake up, however if you are ever overtaken by the sudden urge to have coffee every 40 minutes you are coming to the right place. It may not be up to your standards of “Europe,” but Albania is truly alive and well as much part of Europe as any country on the continent. It is by far one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I am living right in the middle of it. You may see filth but it is only on the surface, truly look into the beauty of the nature around you and you will be swept away into another world.
At the end of the day, I know you are always concerned that I am going to go native. You can laugh about it all day on skype, but I want you to realize that your idea of going native is my idea of integration, and it’s actually part of my job. So don’t worry about me, I am going to be mire, in fact I will be shume mire (mire=good, okay, great, anything you really want it to mean). I will attempt to translate to your hearts content, however I can never really show the gratitude that everyone in town will have for you coming and visiting not only proving I have parents but proving that not only do I have loving and caring family but ones that are willing to come all the way to Albania. Just knowing that fact will help me with your fears of going native because family here is everything. Your presence will really not only mean the world, but it will put a leaf on the tree of my life giving my community a look into my past as they help shape my present and my future.
Embrace it, it’s going to be quite a journey. See you in 4 weeks.
Faithfully, Your Daughter
*Please note all views expressed at those of the blogger to her parents are meant only as a depiction of their travels not to express any opinion about the aforementioned subjects.