"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
- Mark Twain

Saturday, June 29, 2013

My Love Affair with 'Merica: Debriefing

It is my last day in the states for potentially 2 years. It's crazy and I have to say I'm feeling much more prepared for this move than the last one. But, it is that time once again, to write so that I can process through the life I'm living.

So I had a ton of fun in America and I know that next time I return I need to plan more time so that I get to some more places to see some more faces and concerts. Mostly I want to get out to Colorado, and possibly to Omaha. Can you say road-trip  I also didn't have enough time to get some of my vaccinations  so I'm heading to Indonesia without the most important one. Yikes :S My 3 weeks here was way less stressful/scary than I expected it to be. While I enjoyed my time here I finally realized yesterday that I'm ready to get on with seeing new things and having the adventurous life I desire. This round of leaving seems easier in a lot of ways and harder in a few.

I found packing much easier. Last year I packed 3 bags plus a carry-on, this year I packed 2 and one is a third filled with a sleeping bag. I'm pretty sure I have everything I need too. It's crazy how I'm able to fit my whole life in 2 suitcases. I'm also finding that I'm not as overwhelmed by the insanity of moving. Last year I was constantly thinking about my move. This year my freak-outs just come in small waves, and then they are gone, and I forget about the whole dilemma.

The goodbyes have been a lot different. I thought last year was the last time I would ever see two of grandparents, now I pray that it was the last time I say goodbye to two of them. They have both lost it, and are no longer happy, so I hope they can go and leave their families behind in peace.

Saying goodbye to Daryn was a lot harder since I'm not sure when I'll see him next, and I feel like our relationship is changing. Not exactly for the worse, I just know it isn't the same, and it scares me. In a good way I think. When he hugged me goodbye he told me that after this I could only have one more country because he hated doing this too much. The fact that even he is saying this is a good sign that I probably need to come permanently sooner, rather than later. Time will tell.

Saying goodbye to my mom has been easier. I know I get to see her in a year, and I know that she will always be there for me. I talked with her about it and she feels better about it too. She said our relationship has probably gotten stronger in the last year and that she is really proud of me and what I'm doing with my life.

I do not want to say goodbye to my niece and my nephew. Q will be 3 the next time I see him and K will be 6. That's just plain crazy! It breaks my heart that she told my mom "I like skyping with TT, but playing is much better."
At Bradford beach with Q&K

So here is a brief summary of what I know after this trip:

Firstly, I love Minnesota. I love the people, I love the beer, I love the music, and I love being so close to my family.

Something that surprised me: I prepared myself for a lot of the shocks. The first thing I noticed that I hadn't thought of was all the different kinds of cars. Trucks, vans, SUVs, America has it all, while Albania has only one. The grass was also still a major surprise. Enjoy your lawns America. The rest of the world doesn't have them.

Something that changed that I didn't expect to: The beers. So many breweries and beers I hadn't heard of or tried. I don't know what I'm going to do when I come back in 2 years. They will basically all be different.

Something I learned about myself: I like to pretend I'm an independent person, but in some cases you just have to become a reliant person. These weeks taught me that I rely on my family for a lot of support, and I still don't think I've acknowledged that enough. There is no way I could have made it through all this stress without them. Shots, appointments, a packed schedule, and visa troubles. You guys rock!

Something that makes me feel awful: The 27 year old girl who lives next to my parents has never been more than 30 minutes away from my home city. And she has no desire to travel anywhere else. AGH! This is horrible.

Something about myself that changed: Does anyone have any ideas? I haven't noticed that much, but I've been living with myself for last 10 months, and you haven't. I feel like basically the same person. I like my IPA, my bluegrass, my grilled food, and my late nights with my brother. Maybe I'm a little bit more independent?  Or potentially I'm more flexible? I noticed myself wondering why everyone kept planning things so intently. Then I remembered that this is America.

Something that stayed dramatically the same: I need time to myself. Yesterday I just couldn't take it anymore. I decided to workout. My niece came to try and talk to me while I was doing so, and I though I felt a little awful doing it, I turned my music up and ignored her. I just needed my hour to myself to process my life. After I said goodbye to Daryn I had to go downstairs to "nap" or just listen to my music and cry for an hour.
Smelling the fresh air of Wisconsin
Something that confuses me: I sat down for dinner with my best girlfriend. We got to talking about boys and our issues with them. After a little while she noticed my face and commented "oh my...you're still not over him are you?" I responded with "Nope. I keep trying to remind myself about all the awful things he did to me. I've put 3 years and half a world in between us, and I still can't get over it. Something has to be wrong with me." She assured me nothing was wrong, and that if anything this just proved that I was a strong headed woman who stuck with the things she cared about. But why do I still care so much?

Something I want to copy: My brother is crazy passionate. I'm so happy he hasn't changed too much as a person, he just took his passion and multiplied it. by like a hundred. It was a reminder I needed. He taught himself several new instruments and began playing with several more bands. I love listening to him talk about the gigs he played and the band members/friends he has met along the way, while noticing his eyes light up with his descriptions. Listening to him play some new song and falling in love with the lyrics will be one of my favorite memories of my time home. I feel like last year I didn't meet many people with passion like this. I hope I can take this lesson to heart and think about ways to multiply my passion next year.

Well, there you have it. For my last day in the US we had sticky buns for breakfast while dancing in the kitchen to some great tunes. After morning nap I am going out for brunch/bloodies with my family and bestie, followed by an afternoon of laundry/packing. This evening we are having my homemade mac&cheese for dinner followed by popcorn and a movie night.

And that's it folks. I'm outta here. Time for a new adventure to begin.
And may it always be so...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Minneapolis: My true home

So after spending 8 days in the city I called home before leaving for Albania,I feel like I know, without a doubt, that someday I want to live there again. The only problem I potentially see about this is that Minneapolis is a changing city, and I can't guaranty it will be the same when I'm back.

Here are a few things I took for granted while I was gone:
1. The impeccable city artwork. The walls of the buildings are covered in murals, beautiful colors woven together to make the chunk of cement look less like an eyesore and more like happiness. Tirana had its fair share of art doused buildings, but the quality was poor, to say the least.
2. The beer. I know, I'm obsessed, but for real people! In the last 10 months several breweries have opened in the area. I had to ask about so many beers that I had never heard of. And I thought I knew IPAs....
3. The parks and backyards. You can go less than a mile in any direction of your house and run into an area covered with grass, trees, swings, and jungle gyms. What a privilege! Then there are backyards offering you the benefits of sunning yourself, sitting and drinking a beer, and socializing with your friends. Balconies don't have nothing on the comfort of grass. I just missed the green!
4. Bikes! Riding my bike felt like flying. So much better than walking or driving a car. Not to mention that Minneapolis is rated one of the best cities to bike in.
5. The people. Holy nice, Batman! Do people really think that Albanians are the most hospitable people in the world? I won't lie, I've met my fair share of kindness in Albanian, but not to this extent, and never with this many different people in one day. Maybe it was a language barrier issue? I don't know. Either way I felt very welcomed.
6. Live Music! Holy Mama. Don't even try to pretend like you have live music Tirana. If you had live music it would mean that even old people would come out to see it, and they would dance to it. That is live music.

Things I did while I was there:
1. Drank waaaaayy too much IPA. Except I still haven't had enough to make up for the year of Pilsners.
2. Watched live music from the following bands: Roe Family Singers, Armstrong Clawhammer, Pert Near Sandstone, Trampled by Turtles, Brady Perl and the Kinfolk Choir, Reverend Daryn Christenson, Pocahontas County, and one other Jazz band that I can't remember the name of.
3. Went out to the 3 most popular college bars with my college friends.
4. Went shopping at the mall of America (worst experience ever!)
5. Spent 2 weeks paycheck at REI
6. Sat and stared at my brother's ceiling covered in artwork

Song that describes my week there:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Back in the states: Mild Shopping

This morning I woke up, after 4 glorious hours of sleep post 17 hour flight and a few beers with friends, ready to take on the day ahead of me.

Okay...so I woke up at 5:00am confused about where I was and why I couldn't just sleep. Seriously body. 8 hours in 3 days isn't going to cut it if you plan to do all the things on your list. After rolling around for 90 minutes I opted to get myself out of bed, shower and get ready for my "relaxing" day. I had planned on heading to the U to turn in my Master's completion form, but surprise they changed the form since I printed it out. Oh well. I caught up on some e-mails, drank some water, spent 30 minutes reorganizing my luggage for future use, and after seeing Daryn off to work and Luka of to Idaho (yes, I already had to say goodbye to one awesome friend) I decided to head to the store to pick up some essentials. As it turned out I didn't need much because Daryn already had stocked up on yogurt and some grilling supplies. I figured I could go and just get some fresh fruits for snacking as a way to stay healthy.

Oh America....

So I drove (yep, with no problems or freakouts) the 5 blocks to the store. I wish someone could have video taped all my reactions. I immediately grabbed raspberries and blueberries, and proceeded to scan the rows and row of fresh produce looking for something intriguing. I found it: avocados. Ripe, green, perfect avocados. Guacamole! I wanted to make some. What else did I need for guacamole  Tomatoes, onions, cilantro(?), limes, garlic, peppers (?) Wait, peppers are for when I make salsa? I was confused. And I got a little dizzy trying to find the limes, but I got all of the items I needed and headed on to the rest of the grocery store. The donut selection was overwhelming, and I purchased one because I couldn't resist. I was going to go up and down each aisle, but opted to take the easier route. I just looked up and down them from one end and went down when I saw something I wanted. The hot sauce availability was overwhelming. All those delicious mexican ingredients! I just kept smiling and screeching "ermagherd!" under my breath. Cheddar fricken cheese! Extra sharp! Chocolate milk!

I got nervous waiting in the checkout line. Do I have enough money for all of this? Wait I pay with a credit card. How the hell do I swipe a credit card? All went well. On to target.

I grabbed a java chip frappucino,because it has been so long, and I can tell you that for the rest of my time home I will be sticking with black coffee. It was delicious, but way too sweet (Let's be real, I also ate a donut covered in frosting this morning.) I managed to find a pair of brown flip flops for pretty cheap, so I grabbed those and headed to the clothing section. Mistake. I almost threw up, and then opted to grab the 2 or 3 items I actually really needed, and then see how I felt about clothes. Eyeliner: too many choices, I just grabbed the first one that looked decent. Water bottle: I knew exactly what I wanted. I stopped and grabbed some nuts for healthy snacking. Umbrella: done. I browsed the clothes, but not really, and then headed out.

So far today I have eaten yogurt, half a banana, a frappucino, and a donut, and it is 10:30am. Yesterday I had taco bell. I'm about to head for a walk to the university to pick up some forms, and turn them in, and then I'll probably head home for some salad and a beer for lunch, followed by happy hour and potential grilling with my brother.

P.S. This blog is titled "mild" shopping because when my brother asked me if I was going to the mall I responded by telling him I had to wait for mom and dad for that because I needed some serious support.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

My favorite places in Tirana

One of those blogs I've been meaning to write for awhile. It sadly, may be the last. Some of these may be very personal, while others may be highly related to food and drinks.

10. Duff Bar. Why did you have to wait until 3 weeks before I leave to come into my life? Sports bar? Packer gear on the wall? Only "good beer" available for purchase? Delicious mojitos for only 300 lek? Who could ask for more. You easily could have risen to the top 5.

9. Public House. You are a pretty cool bar, with pretty forward thinking people, and better music than any of the other bars around here. And sometimes even decent live music. Thanks for that.

8. Shamrock and Cheers. I'll lump these two together. Mostly just because I go to both of them for the same reason. To drink delicious Paulaner on tap and people watch with my boys.

7. Atsh Cafe. The fresh coffee smells you produce are wonderful. The coffee is great, the tea is better. I had so many nice chats at you little cafe.

6. Jimmy's Pizza. "Jimmy has done it again! This is the best pizza I've ever had." -every time we go. Thanks for the Diovola.

5. The Artificial Lake. Thanks for the runs, thanks for the beer walks with my boys. Thanks for the wine picnic on May Day.

4. Brauhaus. This is one of the few places to get good beer that is brewed in Albania. The red is fantastic, and they even have bock on tap! Also the beer still cost under 200 lek ($2) on tap. The atmosphere is classy, but in a comforting way, and the bathrooms are the top rated on my list of Albanian bathrooms.

3. Umbrellas. I don't know the name of the actual place, but it is where we typically meet after work when we need a beer. The lady who works there is so sweet. She usually gives us free food, and speaks Albanian to us even if we don't speak any back. This is also the first place I ever had a beer in Tirana, and it is where I met Scott.

2. The Holy Tree. Mostly because it the place where I meet my favorite people. "Meet at the holy tree at 7?"

1. Scott and Roberts balcony. Thanks for the drinks, for the laughs, and for the talks.

Well, thanks for all the great times Albania. It's been a year, to say the least. Not a day will go by where I don't think about how lucky I was to have this experience.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Madness. Melancholia. Panic and Fear.

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.
- Graham Greene

Confusion wraps around my heart and brain, and it won't let the feelings out. I try my best to comprehend all that I will go through in the next month of my life, but for some reason my mind won't let me escape all the way to Jakarta before my heart feels completely overwhelmed. 

For awhile I thought the reason was because this time around I'm leaving America for two years, but when I embarked on this journey to Tirana, I didn't expect to go home for two years. Then I realize that it will be more than two years before I can call anywhere in America home. To top off that comprehension, I also recognize that Albania will never again be my home. As we were out walking this weekend I noticed a coffeeshop that sold cafe american in to-go cups. I immediately thought I'd greatly enjoy spending my Saturday morning walking around the artificial lake with a cup of coffee in my hand. I turned to Scott and mentioned this, only to have him point out that I'd easily be able to do this in America in 2 weeks. 

Then there's goodbye. Last time I dealt with saying goodbye to my brother and best friends in Minnesota, and about 2 weeks later I said goodbye to the rest of my family. 2 families, 2 homes. Now I have 3 families, and 3 places that feel like home. I say goodbye to one, head home to be greeted by my loved ones whom I haven't seen in nearly a year. I say goodbye to Minneapolis, to head to my other home, only to greet it and say goodbye less than a week later. Then I have to move on to create another family, and a new home. Let's just top all this off by pointing out that I am also saying goodbye to twelve fantastic students, and less than a month later I'll be starting a job teaching a new grade, at a new school, with all different curriculum. 

As I type I become overwhelmed with happiness and sadness. 10 months of my life. The best, and the worst all compressed into photos, my blog, 2 suitcases, and my small beating heart. No one cares. It is understandable and frustrating. 

I haven't started packing. I took out my suitcases and laid them on the floor on my living room, weeks ago, hoping this would convince me to do something, anything. The school had a clothing drive, so I managed to sort through and create a few bags of winter goodies, no longer necessary. My luggage sits, nearly empty. 

Madness. Melancholia. Panic and Fear. I beg you to escape me.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

10 goals for next year

Most people make resolutions or goals at the beginning of the year. As a previous student, and present teacher, I prefer to make them at the end of a school year. This makes even more sense now that I'm moving to new countries between school years. So here is my list of goals for the 2013-2014 school year.

1. Learn Indonesian at least better than I learned Albanian. I was pretty gung-ho about learning this language before I left America. I think I know less now than I did when I came. Here is a vow that I will learn more Indonesian. Hopefully I'll even be able to have a brief conversation in the language. Luckily it is a bit more spoken, and  there are a lot more resources online.
2. Improve on my classroom management. At the beginning of last year this was my second biggest weakness. Albania forced me to work on my flexibility skills, which was my first major weakness. Time to work on this one. I had a very well behaved class this year, but they could have been even better.
3. Be more involved. I think somewhere in the middle of the year I lost sight of what it meant to be a teacher. I started doing less work. Mostly because I was busy with grad school and wanted to spend as much time with my friends as possible. Next year I want to be more involved at school on a large scale. One of my favorite parts of this year was the international fair. I was able to see my work pay off. Next year, I want to be in charge of and lead events, and I want to attend more extra curricular activities. I also want to volunteer if possible.
4. Immerse myself in culture. Try more of the food, try more of the drinks, shop at local markets, wear the clothes, go to events, see the land, learn the history

5. Meet friends outside of work. I love my friends here, but I wish I had more, and I especially wish I had more Albanian friends. These are the people who really teach you a lot about their culture and their history. This is what I love about travelling and what I'm interested in. I want to get more involved in internations or couch surfing so that I can meet people from all around the world.
6. Spend less time on the computer and more time living my life. Blogging is great. It helps me get everything out and process through experiences, but I have to cut back on facebook, youtube, and movie time.
7. Get in shape. Volcano hiking groups, a swimming pool in my building, and I've read about a ton of races in the area. I'm going to go for it this year. I'm going to cut back on sugar, drink less, and try to eat healthier. Too bad the food is going to be so inexpensive and delicious.
8. Do a bit of research on religion. This is something that I've always been interested in. I tried to take 2 courses in college, and they were both cancelled for low enrollment. After learning a little bit about Buddhism I became very intrigued. Although Indonesia is mostly Muslim, I feel like I already know more than I care to about that religion. So I choose to try and teach myself a bit about Buddhism to prepare for my possible winter break trip to Bhutan. Woohooo!

9. Be open to the possibility of a relationship. I don't want to end up in Indonesia for the rest of my life. At least I don't think I do. And dealing with visas for the rest of my life certainly doesn't sound like fun. And the ropes of dating in another culture are more complicated than they may seem to any outsider, but I blocked people out this year, because I was afraid of finding something great, and having to deal with these things. I spent the majority of the year finally getting over my past, and I think I'm finally ready to move forward. So, if it happens, then I'll be open to the possibility, and if not, then I know I'm doing a damn fine job of being on my own and single.
10. Save more money. Given the cost of living and how much I will be making, I need to do better at this. For serious. Those loans are a burden I want to be gone.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

My 5 favorite untold stories

Here are some stories I haven't written about, at least not that I remember. They are some of the wackiest, strangest stories from my time here. I hope you enjoy them and that they make you laugh, or cringe, or at least realize how strange my life is.

5. Using the restroom in the wilderness:
At the begininning of May we were lucky enough to have a random Wednesday off from school. Scott, Robert and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and spend the majority of the day outside. We started out with a breakfast of bagels and coffees, and moved on to ice cold beverages while people watching at Shamrock. Next on the list was picking up some wine, so that we could have a bit of a picnic at the artificial lake. It truly was the perfect way to spend our day off.

We headed to the newest wine store we had found, and picked up a few bottles. Knowing this was the plan in advance I had brought a cork screw and some plastic cups with me. On this particular day the artificial lake was extra full, probably because it was a national holiday, so everyone wanted to soak up the sun We went back into the trails to find a nice place to lay down our blanket and pop open the wine. The unfortunate part was that Scott and I both had to pee, and there were no bathrooms in sight. Being an avid camper this was no problem, there were lots of trees all around, and I'm pretty good at doing the "gypsy squat". We attempted to find an area where there were no people. Scott went over behind a section of trees and I tried my best to find another area, however I couldn't, as there was a man that seemed to be following us and slowing down to watch us. What a creeper! Once Scott had finished he yelled for me to come over claiming it was a decent area, and him and Robert would protect me from on coming lookers. As I squatted down and began to relieve myself I noticed a syringe and needle nearby. Not okay! I'm not one who can typically stop mid-stream, and I knew that I was already exposed. I tried to finish more quickly and then noticed another 2 syringes with needles in them.

Luckily after this were were able to run and get rid of the creepy guy following us, and to find a slightly secluded area to lay our blanket down and sip on our wine. I needed those drinks to attempt to forget the yuckiness. I still cringe at the thought.
Artificial Lake

4. The night I almost got beat up by 12 year olds.

So back in January Cortney made a resolution to go out more. This tended to lead to us all going out, going home at like midnight and her and Kevin staying out until 10am the next morning. For Robert and my birthdays we decided to actually go out and stay out.  We started with dinner at Taiwan center, followed by beers at my favorite brewery, which led us to Cargo (our then favorite "club") and on into the block to find somewhere to sing karaoke. The karaoke bar wasn't very interesting that night, so a few people opted to go home and the rest of us ended up at Whiskey bar (where I drank zero whiskey.) For the majority of the night I felt like I was in the background of some awful movie where the people go to a crazy bar. We danced on the tables, we danced on the bar, and we definitely dirty danced with the bartenders. Basically we were the last people there and decided it was time to head home, given that it was about 4:00 in the morning. Keven walked a few of our friends home in one direction, and me and Cortney decided we were fully prepared to handle our 20 minute walk home with my pepper spray in tow. Outside of the bar, we stopped briefly  to dance with some 12 or 13 year old boys who were selling cigarettes. Take a minute to think this over. 12 year old boys. Selling cigarettes. At 4 in the morning.

They began to hustle us a bit to stick around and hang out with them. It was pretty clear they were looking for money. We began walking towards my house and were immediately followed by these boys yelling very inappropriate and rude things to us as we went. Naturally, as we strong headed women do, we responded by being defensive. I held up my mace, explained what it did (though I'm sure it was lost in translation) and told them I would blind them so they couldn't read anymore. Then I added in that I loved to teach kids to read. (What Tiara?!?! You are an idiot!) They kept advancing on us, being cheered on by an older 20 some year old Albanain man. So I sprayed a warning shot and followed Cortney as we ran as fast as we could, in high heels, to find a place where we could be safe. Unfortunately  instead of smartly running back towards the people of the block we ended up on some deserted streets. We could still hear the group of little boys following us, so we ran into a courtyard and very slowly and quietly went up some stairs to wait for them to pass. We went up to about the 3rd floor, and sat down whispering out a plan for what we would do if they came up the stairs. The whole time I just wished I had any clue where we were, so we could call someone. Luckily, the apartment we were sitting in front of was doing some sort of construction and there were a few bricks next to us. Cortney passed one to me as we discussed the plan. If they came up we could throw the bricks, and run down the stairs back from where we had come, toward people. Eventually we would go, but we wanted to make sure they were gone first.

At one point we heard a noise, but thankfully it was just a rabid dog, acting all scary and weird. Eventually Kevin called us, but unfortunately we could not explain to him where we were. Taking the bricks with us, we made a run for it, Corney grabbed a large stick, and we ended up on the river road. Suddenly we realized how scary we must look running with bricks and stick toward a poor woman on her way to work. We called Kevin back, and said we'd meet him at AMC tower, but as it turns out there are two and we ended up at different ones. Cortney and I were close to my house, so we met him there and continued on our morning of finding food, and eventually, for me, a whole 2 hours of sleep. Worst birthday ever? Well I'll never ever forget it. The bricks still remain in my apartment as I speak.
Home safe at 5:30am!

3. The night I fell into the sewer.
Oh my. Where to begin? This story takes place in the beginning of January, the weekend after I got back from Christmas vacation. It was one of the very first nights of Cortney's resolution to go out more. We went in search of a great club. Needless to say, before we went out I had a bit too much to drink, probably because I was extremely homesick, but after walking a bit I sobered up and we found the club. We define clubs as good if there are people dancing inside, and there weren't. We weren't willing to pay the 5 dollar cover to get in to a bad club, so we opted to head to another place. Naomi's Husband (she works at our school) happens to work for a liquor distribution company, so we went to one of the bars he distributes to, to listen to some live music. Cortney and I danced to the pleasure of some slightly decent melodies, and after we had all finished our drinks we left, knowing we had a long walk ahead of us. We stopped at a few random locations, unwilling to pay the expensive prices for drinks, thought I am told we danced on some poles at one bar before they kicked us out. This is the part of the story that is blurry to me. I don't really understand what happened, but in Cortney's words, "The sidewalk crumbled under your feet." Apparently I stepped on a weak point in the sidewalk, it broke away and I fell into the sewage below it. I attempted to crawl out and fell down once again. Eventually they got me out and attempted to get me a cab home. I sat in the cab crying that I needed to walk home. I knew I wouldn't be able to handle the stench in the cab, and all I wanted to do was walk. Adam and his poor nose kindly walked me to the river road, and I was easily able to get home from this point. I immediately changed, and started a batch of laundry after rinsing everything off in the shower.  Unfortunately I had no hot water, and it was winter, so I had to wait until the next morning to shower. Gross. This was also the end of my favorite pants ever, as the crotch tore when I tried to crawl out the first time. This story makes me sound like some drunk. Trust me I wasn't that drunk. With Cortney as my witness I wasn't walking in a drunk way at all when this happened. I just stepped on the wrong part of the sidewalk.

2. The time I met the famous magician.
I have been to the post office many times to mail simple items like postcards, but I have never had to pick up a package from there. About 2 days before my birthday I received a slip from the post office, saying that I had a package to pick up. They don't deliver them, you have to go and get them. After school I decided to head there to get it, wondering to myself what would be inside of it. Upon arriving I knew it wouldn't be as simple as "giving them the slip, waiting, signing, and giving them some lek," which were the directions I was given. There a "line." And by line, I mean there was a gigantic hoard of people gathered around the kiosks waiting to pick up their packages, and yelling at the ladies behind the desk.

I overheard a man talking on the phone in English, holding a little boy in his arms next to me. Whenever I hear english I can't help but listen in, mostly because I'm just always intrigued. He said something like, "it is worse than it usually is, and none of the ladies I know are here. I'll be home a little later than expected." Then the lady next to me asked me something in Albanian. I didn't understand any of it. "Mafal. Anglist?" She just looked at me weirdly. Then the english speaking man responded to her in Albanian and asked me where I was from. As it turned out he was from Texas. I asked him what he was doing in Albania. He told me that his wife was from Kosovo and that he was actually a bit of a famous man in the area for his TV program, a magic show. At this precise moment some other kids came up to him and sort of smiled at him. He did a magic trick, pulling out a coin from behind one of their ears. Suddenly I noticed everyone kept looking over at us as we continued the conversation about why I was in Albania. Eventually he saw a girl working that he recognized and he told me to follow him. He gave her both of our slips of paper and told me we would just have to wait for one minute. Eventually she brought the packages back. He signed for his, and pulled out his wallet to give them some lek. As he opened his wallet it burst into flames. Yep. Burst into flames, and when he closed it it stopped. He kindly handed me my package and said he had already paid for it. I tried to pay him back, but he wouldn't accept. Thank god he came or I would have been there all night waiting in "line."
Cool saying I saw a long time ago and haven't had a place to add. Random but a good message.

1. The time the bus started on fire. 
During my first few weeks in Tirana we made quite a few trips to the mall outside of the city called Teg. At this mall there was a store that had basically everything you could ever want (other than cheddar cheese and IPA) and it was a bit of a comfortable place for us foreigners to shop. We later discovered you could get all of these items at shops in the city. To get there you took a short 20 minute bus ride from the center of the city, which was about a 30 minute walk from my apartment. One day after school Cortney and I decided to head to the mall to pick up some school supplies. During the first few weeks here I had some terrible stomach issues. I grew up with a bad stomach but this was something new for me. We initially referred to it at Tirana tummy as all of us got it, but later switched the name to Tiara tummy, since I got the worst bit of it.

After finishing my shopping I left right away because my stomach was bothering me and I wanted to get home. Cortney stayed behind to do a bit of shopping for teaching clothes. I hopped on a bus just in time for it to leave which was perfect. I was psyched that I would still manage to get home by 7. About 5 minutes down the road the bus started feeling incredibly warm. I didn't really think much of it as it was a very crowded and non-airconditioned bus. However 5 minutes later people began to scream and squish together and shortly after the bus stopped and everyone ran out as quickly as they could. The bus was on fire underneath. The bus driver brought around a jug of water and poured it on, but the smoke and flames continued.

Lucky for us another city bus came along. I hopped on even though I had no idea where it would take me or how much it would cost. Luckily it's route happened to be through the center, and it only cost me 30 lek (30 cents.) Needless to say it has remained my favorite story of my time here, mostly because it reflects so much of what Albania is. A bus that looks fine and safe on the outside, but is full of corruption that may burst into flames at any moment.