Last Tuesday night, I was sitting in my apartment reading and listening to music. I was feeling a little out of sorts. I was wondering what the hell I was doing here. Why am I subjecting myself to two years away from my own world (read: friends and especially American women) to just sit alone in my apartment most nights reading and listening to music? A song came on that included the line:
Tryin’ to find me something, but I wasn’t sure just what. Funny how they say that some things never change.
That statement is fairly true for me and sometimes (like that night), it seems like a futile endeavor to search out new experiences although I seem to always search out new experiences. Wednesday night made me realize that I need to get over myself and it reminded me of a quote I had read of Cervantes: “The road is always better than the inn”.
I went to the village of Dartha (my host dad’s home for the first 15 years of his life) for my host dad’s birthday. The small village of Dartha is situated on a hillside surrounded by mountains and is about 20 kilometers southeast of Korça and very near the Greek border. The first thing you notice in and around Dartha is the forest. Much of Albania has been deforested over the years. For instance Belsh was renowned a few hundred years ago for having a beautiful and large forest, but now there are scant trees there. Dartha is still a very quiet and peaceful village in the middle of a huge mountainous forest. As my host brother Andi said, mostly old people live there. When we first arrived, we brought the food and wine into the family’s garden. It was beautiful. Palo’s brother lives here and lives in one of the two houses in the compound. He is an architect and has fixed the place up nicely. My host family has the other house there and they are in the process of fixing it up. They have invited me to stay there whenever I’d like. They also said that when anyone from the States comes to visit we will go there, so come one, come all. They want to have my birthday celebration there as well. I’m excited and honored.
Andi and I walked around the village a little before dusk. There are many nice old houses in the village (you can check out pics of Dartha in my new photo album, Albania 2). We were looking for Palo’s sister and brother-in-law, who live down the hill from Paulo’s brother. They were not home, but their neighbors were sitting in their garden. It was their son’s name day, and it is traditional for people to receive visitors and give them raki and sweets. The visitors stay for just a few minutes and have smalltalk then continue on their way. We went in and did this. Their son is working in the US, so they had the name day receiving line for him.
On the way back up the hill, we ran into Palo’s sister and brother-in-law. I don’t know why, but his brother-in-law LOVES me. The guy mauls me and hugs me every time he meets me (which is twice now). It’s great. We walked back up the hill and had dinner. It was really good. As the sun went down over the mountains and the air got cooler, Palo busted out his guitar and began to strum a little. This began about 5 hours of Albanian serenades with everyone (except for me, of course) joined in on. You can see the pictures of this in my photo album as well. I will have to say it once again, but these were good times indeed. As I looked around at the family, I reflected on how there is no way I would believe it if a year ago someone would have told me that I would be sitting in a small, beautiful village in southern Albania, invited to join in this wonderful and warm family gathering, eating and drinking wine, speaking in Albanian with people who a month ago were complete strangers and who have now invited me in as part of their family. This is why I joined the Peace Corps. How quickly my lame melancholia dissipated and contentment took over. It was a perfect night. We all left with smiles on our faces, and me a little more Albanian.
I have taken some short video clips of two of the songs. If I did not send these to you and you want me to, please send me an email to that effect and I will email the video.
Thursday, I ran into two PC Bulgaria guys. I showed them around Korça. We ended up going out that night and ran into some Irish Christian kids who were in town. We all had a good time, and the PC Bulgaria guys continued around Albania the next day.
On Friday, everyone in my office went to Ohrid in Macedonia, as the Regional Development Agency (RDA) works with the trans-border (Greece, Albania, and Macedonia) group called The East-West Institute, which was throwing a shindig for the end of the project year. Sabina and I were able to be tourists all day, which was great. Ohrid is beautiful and very built up. We went to a church and castle which overlook the city, went shopping along a great street, sat at a lakeside café, I laid out on the beach, then we all had a great dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I am going back as soon as I can. (By this I mean that we are not allowed to leave Albania until October, unless it is with work. As I will be also going to Sofia, Bulgaria in two weeks, others in my group are understandably mad at me. Teehee!)
The next day, Saturday, was quite a different story. I had to make it to Vlore, on the Albanian coast. Five people in my group have birthdays in July and we were getting together for that. I figured it would take me six hours from Pogradeç, the nearest Albanian city to Ohrid (they are both on lake Ohrid). I wanted to get up and leave around 5:30 so I could go to the beach with everyone, but our hotel was on the outskirts of Ohrid, so there were no busses going. I also would have the trouble of having to figure out transportation from the border to Pogradeç, which is about 10 kilometers from the border. So I was stuck having to go on the 10:00 A.M. bus with everyone else. The bus of course showed up at 10:45 and we didn’t make it to the border until noon. The Macedonian border went swimmingly, we got our passports stamped in about 15 minutes, then had to hoof it to the Albanian border shack, about 500 meters away. Americans have to pay a 10 Euro fee to enter Albania, but as I have papers saying that I work in Albania, I get this fee waved. I brought these papers along, but of course this isn’t what I was supposed to bring. I was supposed to bring a photocopy of the papers so they could keep them. As I didn’t know this, I was frustrated, thinking that I would have to pay the 10 Euro. Some of the Albanian guys that were with me argued with the disgruntled guard for about 15 minutes, which was brutal. The agreement they came to was that I would go into Pogradeç, get a photo copy and come back in a few hours, papers in tow. This was going to ruin my plans of getting to Vlore as it would take 2 hours or so, and would cost me about 5 Euros anyway. An extremely nice woman from the group who is from Pogradeç took me in her car and went with me to find a working photocopy machine (which took about 20 minutes, and we ended up using the photocopier in her office). She then took me to a police officer to see if they could take it since they work with the border guards. No dice there. We then ran into her boss, who said that either she or her husband would take it to the border for me. Although the border guard infuriated me, I was so struck by how everyone else was so willing to go out of their way to help me. I am so thankful for their kindness to this stranger.
So I had to flag down a Furgon (minibus) from Pogradeç to Elbasan. From there, I caught another one to the junction road along the coast and then three more to get to Vlore. In total, I took 7 vehicles and it took 7 hours to get to Vlore from Ohrid. I arrived at exactly six. We were staying at the University dorms, so I asked to be dropped off at the dorms in Vlore. So I was. There was a friggin’ mall there! (small, but mall nonetheless). I called one of the PCVs in Vlore, and he told me I was on the wrong side of town. The dorms are about a 20 minute walk from the University. Great. Luckily, right when I got off the phone with Mike, five other PCV friends of mine were walking by, going to the beach. We spent a few hours playing (American) football on the beach. Everyone else showed up later. The rest of the night was spent sitting on the beach, dancing at an outside disco on top of a hill overlooking to water (a really famous Albanian pop singer was there, which was cool), and swimming until 3 or so in the am. We returned to the dorms, which were like an oven. I got almost no sleep. Peter had to sleep on the tile floor with only a sheet and a floatie for a pillow (see picture). Good Times!
The next day I went to the beach with Ariel, Brett, and Mike. Invar Hoxha (the communist dictator from the 40’s to the 90’s) had a house on the water, and we jumped off of the high floors about 40 feet into the water. It was a lot of fun. That night I hung with Ariel, had a nice talk and a nice dinner. Then next morning it was four hours by bus to Tirane, the capital. I of course got dropped off about 2 miles from the Peace Corps office and huffed it through the heat. I luckily caught a bus halfway up. After a few hours of work and research in the office, I left for Elbasan, had a nice few hours with Nikhil and Larry who are there. Our conversation was great. We talked about politics, love, marriage, parenthood, and all of those great and important subjects. I then was off to Korça again, arriving a bit late.
All in all, I had a great weekend. I think I spent about 17 hours traveling, but it was well worth it.
I will be going to Belsh, where I was for the first three months during training. I just called Ramiz, my host dad from there, they are having some sort of party there on Friday night, so I am going. Then back to Korça on Saturday because I will be putting 7 people up again at my place. So much for my boredom!
Thanks everyone who has been keeping in touch with me, it means a lot. I hope to make my responses longer to you, but have not had much time in the internet cafes as of late. Thanks to Dave, Angela, and my folks for more packages. Angela, the CDs are great, I love that Bill Withers dude. How did you know? And mom and dad, some awesome spices, and Cilantro seeds!! We don’t have that here, so I am excited to introduce it here. The jeans you sent were cooler than I ever expected! Dave, your package got to Belsh a while ago, so I will get it on Friday. I’m excited to see what KU stuff you sent.
Mark suggested that I talk about Kosovo and how Albania relates to it. This is an intricate subject, so I will spend some time in giving it the attention it needs to do it justice. If anyone has any other suggestions of things they would like to hear about, please let me know and I will try to accommodate. On another note, I (and some of my friends here) have gotten some friendly grief over the stories and pictures I have included, which seem to show that all we do in Peace Corps is dance and drink beer. Yes, we do dance a drink beer here. It is great for us to have what I so lovingly term “good times”. We do, however, also work engage in socially acceptable activities. If anyone would like me to have someone take pictures of me writing an Access database or reading up on anti-trafficking on a semi-regular basis, please let me know and I will also accommodate.
I will be in Tirane and Bulgaria for a week, so I am sure I will have a few good stories from those adventures as well. Everyone take care, keep in touch, and don’t be afraid to send me packages. This means you, Jon Granat, I need that 80’s dance music you are so good at spinning. Don’t let me down!
And everyone be sure to check out the hottest music out of Lawrence, my friends the Harvey Girls at: