"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

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Getting to Madrid

It was quite the interesting journey. Well, just the first few hours. I arrived at the bus stop to rinas airport at 6 am just so I would make it on time. Unfortunately as every thing in Tirana is the bus schedule on the airport website was incorrect. I ended up splitting a taxi with 3 nice Albanian women who spoke no English. Upon arriving I checked in and went to the security check.

I got through security just fine, but Once I got to the passport check I knew something was wrong. I applied for my residency visa about 5 weeks ago, but have yet to hear anything back from them. I was told I'd have no trouble getting out of the country, just getting back in. I packed my house contract and work contract, along with a signed note from my boss saying I ha applied. They didn't accept this. The police officer called another lady who informed me i would have to pay a 100 euro fine. I asked her about getting back, and she said it'd be no problem. I'm not sure I believe her.

Emotions ran high. I allowed myself a bathroom trip to spend 5 minutes crying, reminded myself that it was just money and continued on my way. All I could honk was that I just wanted to go home. But, truth be told I have no clue where the hell that is. It certainly isn't Tirana, and it doesn't really feel like Minnesota or Wisconsin anymore either. The closest thing I have to home right now is the people that are in my life, and I was heading to see my favorite.

After this The day was pretty smooth sailing. When i left tirana i tried to think back to what my journey there was like. All i could remember was that mixed feeling of being excited and nervous.found my way through Istanbul much more easily, and made all my flights on time.

Daryn was waiting for me when I got of the plane, and he greeted me with a big hug, which is just what I wanted.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Untitled Blog Post number 3

December 14th 2012
I’m almost speechless. How the hell can something so terrible happen in the world. The sounds of people asking me if teaching in Albania would be safe come rushing back to me. I picture the security guards at the front gate of our school, and the armed gunmen standing outside of the bank next door. Then I remember my response. “Is anywhere safe anymore? What’s ‘safe’?”

December 16th 2012

I spent my morning cleaning my apartment and was feeling very at home. Then I made a quick trip to Euromax to get butter. As I walked outside it hit me that I live in Tirana. Every once in awhile I get so comfortable I feel like I’m “home.” And then something happens to make me realize that I’m not.

The rest of the day I’ve felt like part of me is missing. I’m not sure where it went or why. My guess is that it is back in Minnesota somewhere. Maybe it was the part of me that craves a relationship. Maybe it finally realized that I’m going to spend the next 3-5 years of my life single. Maybe it realized that the rest of me is content with this fact. Maybe it realized there was no good live music to be found here, and has given up hope. Maybe it needed a hug from my mom. Maybe it couldn’t last any longer without cheddar cheese. Maybe it went home to watch the packer game with my brother. Maybe it’s in Connecticut comforting a fellow teacher.

Maybe it will never come back. Something feels different today, and I’m not sure why.

December 17th 2012
Some days I have to take a breath and remember that I can’t do everything I want to do at once. My life is pretty incredible for 22, and I have plenty of time to accomplish many things. I may have to pick and choose, but I have time. I need to be more thankful for where I am, and the time I have been given.

December 22nd 2012
I’m 2 days away from being in Madrid. And I had quite a fantastic night out yesterday evening. It began with dinner at another school that is owned by the company that owns my school. The school was gorgeous and our director informed us that it is hoped that soon they will be able to purchase land to build a similar school. I also got to eat the best cookie and baklava of my entire life. So good!

Then we headed to rainbow road for one of my fellow teacher’s birthday party. I started the evening with some delicious hot wine, followed by some beer from the beer garden, a 600 lek bottle of wine (which we topped off in about 20 minutes.) Then we decided to head to the plywood place (as we refer to it.) Unfortunately it was closed. So we sat on their tables and drank our travelers. Me and Robert had to pee pretty bad at this point, so we decided the playground nearby would be perfect. Robert informed me, “if anyone comes to yell at us let’s just pretend to be making out.” Little did we know there was already a guy peering in on us. I noticed him just as I was about to unzip. Robert and I ran away laughing super duper hard. I don't think he understood english, but if he did I'm sure he had a good laugh too. Then about 5 minutes later we peed in an alley together. Pretty sure it was a bonding moment and Robert and me can now be considered best friends. On the way home we stopped at Slippys (aka Goodies) and had fries and ice cream. I felt like such a fat girl, but I still managed to be wearing my skinny jeans. Not really sure how this happened.

The point of this story is that I’m always going to remember the time Robert and I peed in the alley together.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The trip of a lifetime

So I’m gearing up for my Western European trip with my brother. I’m so insanely excited and also really nervous. The traveling I’ve done has been fairly easy because we’ve been renting cars and finding hostels to stay at. We can travel on our own accords. However, during this trip we travel by plane, train, and foot, and will be staying with couch surfers along the way. I’m pretty excited to surf, after hosting a few surfers myself. However, the winter weather is making me a bit nervous about our plans, and making it far more difficult to fit everything I need into a hiking pack.

I’m trying to go into the trip with my friend Cortney’s mindset about traveling: Have no expectations. If I have no expectations then I can’t be disappointed. However I think I was doing a bit too good at this. So good, that I was actually starting to get extremely stressed about it, and for a bit, not even wanting to go at all.

What caused me to get to this point? Mostly thinking about returning to Albania. My time here has gone so quickly already and I can’t believe that when I get back I’ll only have 6 months left. And chances are that is going to go even faster with starting school again, and searching for jobs. Here’s the thing: I just got over my culture shock, and quit being so desperate for a piece of home, 3 weeks ago. I’m worried that when I get back to Tirana I’m going to have to go through all that stress and craziness again. And what makes it even scarier is that this time I have no idea when the next time I’ll see any part of my family will be. Sure it could be in 6 months, but it could also be in 2 years.

So to try and make myself okay with this I went on my Pinterest sight and looked at all the items on my bucketlist. This made me more depressed. I have no money to travel this world! So I got to my really desperate point, and got out the American phone. I have no charger and it only has half a battery left, so I don’t turn it on often. Only when I’m really doubting myself and my decision. Then I re-read the last texts I got from my brothers. Both of them are so encouraging to me. And quite honestly if it wasn’t for their support I wouldn’t be where I am. And then I got excited. I get to have a real face-to-face conversation with my brother and best friend. I get to talk to him about all our worries, all our dreams, and all the adventures we have had while we’ve been apart. And we get to have one together.  :)
Christmas in 2010

New Years party 2011: gangster style
New Years eve 2012: let's skip the gingerbread latte this year please.
I’ll blog about it all when I get back, but I’m sure it is going to take a while to get caught up. Here is the itinerary as of right now.

December 24th: Daryn will be arriving in Madrid on the morning of the 24th and will go an meet our couchsurfing host as she has Christmas Eve plans. I will arrive in the afternoon (if all goes well in Turkey) and will meet him. I’m kind of hoping we can find a late night church service, but am also expecting Daryn to be exhausted from his journey. Wine and sleep will be just find with me.

December 25th-26th: Explore Madrid. Eat Tapas, drink beer and wine, possibly meet up with some other couch surfers.

December 27th: Get on plane to Brussels in the very early am. Spend a few hours explore Brussels and take a train to Gent. Spend the Evening in Gent.

December 28th: Hope on train to Amsterdam. Spend the day exploring Amsterdam.

December 29th: Take train to Berlin. Explore Berlin

December 30th: Explore Berlin, take evening train to Munich

December 31st: hang out in Munich

January 1st-4th- Hang out in Switzerland with Daryn’s friend from High School. Daryn and I will take trains to Amsterdam(him) and Milan (me) on the afternoon of the 4th, and we both fly home on the 5th.

It’s going to be packed and crazy, and I have a feeling nothing will go as planned, but the more I think about it the more excited I get!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Letter: Gëzuar Krishtlindjet

Dear Friends and Family,

Another year has come and gone and with it has come yet more changes. I’d like to start this letter by giving you a quote, that for some very strange reason I have chose to live by: “You’re 20’s are your selfish years. It is a decade to immerse yourself in every single thing possible. Be selfish with your time and all aspects of you. Tinker with shit, travel, explore, love a lot, love a little and never touch the ground.” –Kyoko Escamilla. I became extremely selfish in 2012.

I kicked off 2012 by almost dying in a car crash on the way to Lambeau field. At this point I was already considering teaching abroad at some point in my life, and the accident helped me realize that it was now or never. In February I started applying for jobs overseas and was offered a position at Memorial International School of Tirana, which I wholeheartedly accepted, in the end of March. In June, I finished up my year of student teaching, involving a lot of struggles and contemplations about the kind of teacher I want to be. I grew a lot, especially in the area of classroom management. I also finished up all but one Masters course, which I will be taking this spring. 

I spent my summer working for the Binsfeld family once again, and found myself falling more and more in love with their kids and their outlook on life. I miss them terribly. Summer highlights include seeing Pert Near Sandstone, Charlie Parr, The Polyphonic Spree, and Trampled by Turtles live. I also spent two weekends up on the Superior Hiking trail with my brother and his friends.
Finally, I got my second tattoo, which reads: “When I die I’ll rot. But when I live, I’ll give it all I’ve got.” I love it and it acts as a constant reminder that my time on this earth is limited, and that I need to live life as I want, constantly diligent to improve myself. I spent my last week in the States with my brother’s family in Wauwatosa. I tried to soak up as much time with my niece (Kaydence) and new nephew (Quincy) as possible.
I moved to Tirana in the last week in August. The experience has been one of unforgettable memories. I met several new awesome teacher friends and settled in to my first apartment that was my own. I hated it due to the terrible loud music, and moved in late November, to a much quieter and nicer place. I had my first true bout of culture shock, but have continued with the motto that what doesn’t kill me can only make me stronger. I was lucky to have such a wonderful support system both in Tirana, and back home.

Overall I find Tirana adequate for living, but am considering moving somewhere new next year. The plan overall is to apply to different jobs and see what happens, which is so not my style. My major complaints about the city are the pollution, making it hard to breathe, the random garbage thrown all over the street, (thank god America has regulations) and the terrible traffic and honking of horns. I also feel very weird having blond hair, because no one here does. The biggest goal is to find somewhere that allows me to pay off my student loans in the shortest amount of time.

I have taken several trips since arriving here, but none too far away. I traveled to Ohrid Macedonia, which was met with fresh air, incredible views, and vast amounts of vegetation. Saranda, Albania was also on my bucket list because rumor had it that the beaches there were as beautiful as those in Greece. Rumor was true. We spent our time on the deserted beaches (it is the off season), and one day hiking in Butrint National Park, which was filled with buildings from the B.C. period of history. I was lucky enough to be able to touch these buildings. It is insane how unprotected they are. On the way home we stopped at Syri I Kalter (The Blue Eye) which turned out to be one of the coolest natural things I have ever seen. Fresh water springs from the ground, and creates a blue center with perfectly clear water surrounding it. The last weekend in November, Albania celebrated 100 years of independence. I took my days off to travel to Fier to see the ruins of the Greek city of Apollonia, and the historic stone city of Gjirokaster. Everything I’ve seen here has been gorgeous, and I feel so thankful I have been given this opportunity.
This Christmas I am planning to meet my brother in Spain for a few nights. From there we will fly to Brussels, take the train to Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, and Switzerland. I’m very excited to see all of these places, to drink some decent beer, and most of all to spend time with a small part of my family. I didn’t realize how much I would miss them. I wish you and yours a happy holiday season and the best wishes for the New Year!

I’ll leave you with one last quote to think about as you enter a time of making resolutions for the New Year:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work, or family, or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do It. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” –Neil Gaiman

Monday, December 3, 2012

Beyond the Sky and the Earth

A few weeks ago I was looking for something good to read. I was altogether sick of coming home and downloading a movie every single night. It is a great way to unwind, but I felt like I was truly wasting away my life watching all these horrible chick flicks. Luckily my fellow teachers were smart enough to bring a few of their favorite books with them. Dear Mr. Scott kindly borrowed me a book titled Beyond the Sky and the Earth by Jamie Zeppa. He suggested I read it, knowing that I was going through a pretty bad case of homesickness at the time. He told me that I’d be able to relate to the book and would think about teaching abroad on a whole new level. He was correct.

I sat down the night I got it and knocked out the first 3 chapters with a few glasses of wine, while watching some candles burn. Usually it is quite hard for me to get into books, but this one was easy. She began the book with a description of Bhutan and I was hooked by her complete and beautiful description of the country. That night I finished reading about her decision to move away from Canada, her fiancé, and planned out life into the unknown of  Buhtan. She describes the culture of the country and I was struck by all her explanations into Buddhism. Religion has always interested me, mostly because my brother was a religious studies major and he always has such interesting information. Also, partly because I grew up in a Christian household, and in recent year I’ve just been interested about how other religions are similar and different. I find that most are far more similar than different. As I read the book, I flagged the parts that really resonated in me, with post-its, and looking back on them a lot of them have to do with Buddhism. Now I’m not saying I’m going to convert anytime soon, in fact I highly doubt I ever will, but I certainly may take some of the perspectives and try to use them in my life. Here is her initial explanation:

“The Buddha did no claim to be a deity. When asked about the creation of the universe and the existence of God, he refused to speculate. He was not offering a new religion but a way of seeing and living in the world. For me, though, one of the most interesting things about Buddhism is not that there is no all-powerful God who we must fall down and worship, but that there is no permanent self, no essence of self. It isn’t even clear among scholars if Buddhism accepts the idea of a soul, an immortal individual spirit. Separateness is an illusion. Nothing exists inherently on its own, independently of everything else, and a separate permanent, inherently existing self is the biggest illusion of all. There is nothing we can point to and say, yes, this is the self. It is not the body or the mind, but a combination of conditions, circumstances and facilities. At the moment of death, these conditions and facilities break down, and only the karma generated by that life remains, determining the circumstances of the next rebirth.

There is a principal tenet of Buddhism, but the Buddha tells his disciples not to take his word for it. They are to analyze and search and test what he says for themselves. On his deathbed, he reminds them, ‘Decay is inherent in all compound things. Work out your own salvations with diligence.’ I am struck by this spirit of independent inquiry, by the fact that enlightenment is available to all, not through a priest or a church or divine intervention but through attention to the mind. In Buddhism, there is no devil, no external dark force—there is only your mind, and you must take responsibility for what you want and how you choose to get it.”

The last part of this writing got me through my week. My life is my choice, nothing is standing in my way of getting what I want other than myself. This was a lot to take in, a bit responsibility, but it was reassuring in its own way. Now, I thought to myself, if only I knew what I wanted.

She also describes the 4 Noble truths, which I will summarize below:
  1. We suffer in life.
  2. We suffer because we have desires and are never satisfied.
  3. Our goal is to end this ceaseless wanting.
  4. The way to end it is to use the Noble Eightfold Path of Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

The next portion of the book seems to describe exactly what my first 2 month here were like, thought Zeppa’s experience is completely different from mine. She goes through culture shock. No running water, no supplies at her school, inability to communicate with those she loves in the way she wants to. She misses and desires things like I missed and desired them. She doesn’t cook for days because she just doesn’t know how, and she begins to meet those are destined to be her friends. “And I think, sometimes it all makes sense: you are sitting in a restaurant with your companions. It could be a restaurant anywhere, it could be Sault Ste. Marie. Other times it makes no sense whatsoever. I don’t know how this relates to the rest of my life. There is no link between my life on the other side of the planet, all those dark miles and starry oceans away, and me sitting at this table, tearing my beer label off in strips, no connection at all. Except for myself: I myself must bridge the gap, I am the bridge—although I feel more like the gap. All the experiences and achievements that defined me at home are irrelevant and insignificant here. There is just me, here, now. Wherever you go, there you are.”  The number of times I’ve  sat around with my new friends and wondered “How the hell did I get here” is uncountable. I just woke up one day and was. Innumerable times I will comment to Cortney or Scott in a overwhelmed and surprised voice, “This is my life.” Other times I say it with remorse and disillusionment. Zeppa comments: “There are long moments where I cannot remember where I am. I feel completely unfamiliar to myself, almost unreal , as if parts of me have dissolved, are dissolving. The Buddhist view that there is no real self seems completely accurate. I have crossed a threshold of exhaustion and strangeness and am suspended in a new inner place.” This is my life. I say it to myself again as I marvel at the obvious but unreal statement.

I continue to read every night, completely immersed waiting for the next entirely relatable part. It is too easy to find. As I begin looking for new apartments I read about the difference between arrival and entrance. “Arrival is physical and happens all at once. The train pulls in, the plane touches down, you get out of the taxi with all your luggage. You can arrive in a place and never really enter it; you get there, look around, take a few pictures, make a few notes, send postcards home. When you travel like this, you think you know where you are, but, it fact, you have never left home. Entering takes longer. You cross over slowly, in bits and pieces. You begin to despair; will you ever get over? It is like awakening slow, over a period of weeks, And then one morning, you open your eyes and you are finally here, really and truly here. You are just beginning to know where you are.” I wonder to myself when I will truly enter, and get my answer about a week later when I finally feel at home in my new place. I’m starting to settle into life here, and thankfully so. I can shop at the markets, I can cook for myself, I can find delicious beer,  and most importantly I can cross the street in a mostly safe way.

I continue to spend my nights reading and find myself continuing to be interested in the points that are related to Buddhism. “Nothing in this world is permanent. Everything changes, breaks down, dies, and this is why attachment to things in this world causes suffering.” I tell myself to let go of the things I miss. I don’t need cheddar cheese, I don’t need stout or live music. I’m lucky to have the things I do. I now have running water, and a working toilet, what else do I need? “Buddhist practice offers systematic tools for anyone to work our their own salvation. Here, the Buddha said, you’ve got your mind, the source of all your problems, but also the source of you liberation. Use it. Look at your life. Figure it out.” My life is changing and this is normal, and okay. All things change, and this is okay, a normal part of life. Nothing will stay the same forever, so why should I? I’m becoming a new person, and I am figuring things out slowly, but at a good pace. One step at a time, through talking to my friends and self-reflection, I will discover who I am and where I belong.

One night I sit down to read and find myself completely captivated with the writing, and yearning to know how this story ends. I just can’t seem to stop reading the book, and so I finish the last 100 pages in 1 hour, desiring to find some answer for my own life within. “I came to Bhutan to find out if the careful life I had planned, the life of waiting, watching, counting, planning, putting into places, was the life I really wanted. I can still go back to that life, even now, after everything. Here I am, in another high place, the highest edge I have come to so far. I can turn these last three and a half years into a neatly packaged memory, pruned by caution, sealed by prudence, I can still turn back. But I will not. I will go over the edge and step into whatever is beyond.” And so will I.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Checking out the mountain view on top of the Castle
I spent the first night at our hostel in Gjirokaster rolling over, not wanted to get up out of the warm bed to pee. To say I was a bit chilled would be an understatement. Yes, I was freezing almost the whole night, which is quite a different feeling for Albania where I am usually sweating. We decided to set our alarms for 8:00 to get a usual start on the day. The guy who runs the hostel also happens to run a café, so the first thing we wanted upon waking up was a warm coffee from his café. It was the perfect start to the day, a double macchiato, and a bit of raki. I mean, we are in Albania, after all, and Raki is part of the local breakfast.
Then we headed to the huge castle, filled with gorgeous views and mossy stone. The castle was first built in somewhere around the 12 century, and was added to many times, but the most famous renovation was made by Ali Pasha in the early 1800’s. There were many large tanks from the days of war, along with an awesome airplane and beautiful clock tower. There was a sign when we entered that told us not to stray from the path because parts of the castle were dangerous. We, of course, completely ignored this sign and went wherever we wanted.
The Italian aircraft that was forced to land in Tirana was brought here as communist propaganda. This reminded the city of the threat to their lives.
During this time we paused several times to take some contemplative pictures of each other looking at the misty mountains. Honestly, I took way more pictures of the mountains than I needed to, but I just can’t even believe how gorgeous they are, and can’t fathom how I ever lived somewhere so far away from mountains.
The clock tower
5 minutes of our time was spent trying to take a timed picture of ourselves jumping. We failed and eventually decided we were hungry enough to head to a local restaurant to eat what was probably some of the best pizza we have had in Albania.
Our jumping picture

Then we took a quick break back at the hostel, and quickly headed out to explore the other parts of the Old Town. The walking included constant trips up and down the stone paved road, several tries at finding Ismail Kadare’s* house, and a trip to a very abandoned house that Corntey and Scott decided to purchase and make into a starter home/bed and breakfast. Along the way one nice man put on his shoes, left his house and showed us to the path directly leading us to what we assumed was Kadare’s house. Another nice man stopped and offered Brain and I a ride to wherever we wanted to go. These are just a few of the many examples of Albanian hospitality. 
Ismail Kadare's house
We kind of wanted to go see the aqueducts, and noticed that our time of daylight was running out, so we headed up the mountain once again. The aqueducts must have been a lot further than we thought, because part way up we turned around and decided we wanted some coffee. Since good food is so hard to find here we decided to head back for a second round of pizza and beer, which was once again delicious and cheap. We stopped briefly at an internet café, and got an earful from the owner about communism, freedom, and some sort of speech about how everyone is a dog. It is quite possible that he was drunk, but this was okay with us since he allowed us to use the internet for free.
Exploring the streets of Old Town 
Every time we went back to the hotel it ended in a bit of cuddle time. For some reason it was colder inside than it was outside. Eventually Cortney and Scott were able to convince me to put back on my boots (not my bra though) to head out for a whiskey. I quickly noticed that me and Cortney were the only girls in the bar, but I sipped my whiskey, and may have led Cortney to become a bit intrigued by the flavor. We had a nice talk and decided it was time to head back and push our beds together so we could cuddle for the night. On our way out the door we ran into the man who kindly showed us to Ismail Kadare’s house earlier in the day. We offered to purchase him a drink and headed to a bar just down the road. Once again we were the only girls in the bar, and when I ordered a whiskey I got a very confused look and a few questions. We talked to Bledi and his cousin about the history of Gjirokaster and they showed us a video of some traditional Albanian singing. They also, of course, insisted on purchasing our drinks for us. After mentioning we were interested in seeing Enver Hoxha’s ** house Bledi agreed to meet us for a morning coffee, and to show us where it was. After arriving back at the hotel we did push our beds together and snuggle, but I still didn’t get much sleep because Cortney and Scott are blanket hogs.
cuddle buddies taking a nap
The next morning we were able to see the house of Enver Hoxja and still head out by about 10:00am to make it home by around 2. At one point on the trip I thought back to my road trips in MN and missed my crappy gas station coffee and chips. Then after thinking about it I decided when I go back home I’m going to miss my macchiatos and Albeni bars.
Enver Hoxha's house
*Ismail Kadare is a famous Albanian author. We love his books.

**Enver Hoxja was the Communist Leader of Albania for 41 years.

Friday, November 30, 2012

100 vjet pavarësi

100 years of Independence celebration in Vlore!
Today was Albanian’s birthday. 100 whole years of independence! Congrats! We of course had school off (5 day weekend) so we wanted to plan a trip somewhere cool. Cortney’s friends Tim and Brian were coming in from Seattle, so we wanted to spend some time in Tirana, but also wanted to make the most of our vacation time. Many options were tossed around, Kosovo, Shkodra, Berat, and Girokaster to name a few. After considering our time we opted to do Girkaster, and to make a few stops on the way down. We headed out of the city at about 7:30am, and made our second stop (first to pee) in Fier to see the ruins of the Greek city of Apollonia. Upon arriving we noticed that once again, to our luck, there was no charge to get in. We all shared a delicious stout and some peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast and were shown around by a very cute dog we later named Tuna (explanation later.)

After first mentioning the “pastoral scene” and noticing a table in the middle of nature Tuna showed us strait to the columns. It was quite clear that they had done some recent work on the columns, because there were some added red bricks, which we concluded probably weren’t around back in the day. Courtney and I stopped to take our picture in the theatre, similar to the one we took in Butrint, and we took a few Christian rock band photos of the whole group together. 
The columns of Apollonia
We continued to explored and found an amazing view of the mountains complete with acres of farmland and grass in the valley. Whenever we go anywhere we are amazed at how much nature there is in comparison to Tirana. I also paused to take some pictures of the church with some amazing clouds as a backdrop. 
Cortney enjoying the fresh air and gorgeous view

Church, complete with the usual beautiful clouds
By this point in time I was in need of a serious coffee, so me and Scott headed to the café to grab some coffee and some breakfast beer. We were soon followed by Cortney, Brian, and Tim. We also ate a small snack of fruit, granola bars, and corntey’s favorite runa and bake rolls. Scott and Cortney couldn’t resist giving the adorable dog some Tuna as a payment for the way she had shown us around. Thus the insanely adorable dog became knows as Tuna. It was a great breakfast and we were once again surprised that it was only 10:00 in the morning when we were ready to leave, and head to our next stop.
Just enjoying some coffee and a beer in the middle of this field. What's up world? 
Next on our list was Vlore, including Independence Balcony, where the Declaration of Independence was signed by Ismail Qemali 100 years ago. Traffic in Fier was a bit slow, and we kept seeing this hitchhiker along the road. He was walking as fast as we were driving. The cars sped up on the highway and time was moving fast. Of course the traffic was terrible once we got outside of Vlore, and we were stopped on the highway, so we opted to park on the highway and walk the 3km to the center of the city. On the way, as usual, we started craving ice cream, so we stopped at a market to get some and upon walking out of the market we saw our hitchhiker. He made it there at the same time as us. How crazy! So Cortney said “hey there” to him and we ended up hanging out with Kevin while we were in Vlore. 
Independence Balcony way back when
There were no signs telling us where the balcony was located, so we stopped to ask. One teenager told us we couldn’t get there by walking, so we started to lose hope. But we figured we had just walked 3km and something had to be happening, so we kept going. There was a ton of live music, and dancing and it felt a bit like MN on a gopher football game day. We stopped to look at the statue of the 6 most important figures in Albania’s freedom, and then moved on to look for the balcony. But no matter how hard we looked we just couldn’t find it, so we decided to give up and walk the 3km back to our car. Cortney decided to try one more time and went up to ask a cop. He quickly pointed to a balcony nearby with an Albanian flag on it. We had already seen this balcony, but thought it looked nothing like the picture we had seen on the coke cans. 

The balcony now. I see no resemblance....
I quickly snapped a photo of the boring view and we headed back to our car. Scott quickly got us on the road, however we were soon stopped in some 4 lane traffic (on a two lane highway.) We were pretty much in the same place for about 90 minutes. We would sit for 20 minutes and then turn the car off, then traffic would move about 10 meters, and then we would sit still for another 15 minutes, turn off the car, and then traffic would move forward 20 meters. People kept getting out of their cars to walk around and we kept hearing our favorite Albanian song.

Eventually we realized everyone was going to Tirana, where we came from. Luckily about 10 minutes after the cars started moving at a generally slow pace we were able to get off the road to Tirana and on the road to Girokaster. Thank god for going fast. At this point I was getting a terrible headache from not eating a real meal all day long.
Enjoying the traffic jam. Hey, does anyone know what an Albanian flag looks like?
Previously we had drove through Girokaster and Tepelene, and come across a restaurant that looked super delicious and equally relaxing. Eventually, after another hour of scary driving in the rainy night, we made it and ate a delicious meal of fish, fries, salad, and bread. Once we arrived in Girokaster we easily found our hostel, and paid our 2000 lek each for our hostel. The hostel was cold inside, but we knew we could survive since we had our own bathroom, which was to remained locked at all times, for unknown reasons. After a short break we decided to head out to explore a bit by night. The roads reminded us a bit of Ohrid, hills filled with stone, but a nice difference from the busy Tirana roads. I stopped at the market to purchase some tuna for a meal the next day (our go-to easy meal) and we purchased a bottle of wine to share for the evening. I sit here listening to bluegrass, sharing a bottle of wine with a few new friends. Brian and Tim feel like long lost soul mates to our group. I have had a fantastic independence day :)
We made it to Gjirokaster! Cortney thinks this should be our rap album cover. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Culture Shock: A Definition

I feel like the term "culture shock" is used in the smallest sense in the real world. Time to set it straight for those of you who are confused, and for myself.

When i was 10 years old (maybe 11?) I travelled with my family to Honduras to visit my brother. He was going to school there for 9 months and it was my first real family vacation. All of the trips up to that point had been within a few states radius, to visit my aunts, uncles and grandparents. When my mother told me were going to another country my imagination flowed. I would get to swim in the ocean, and possibly see real live dolphins! The vacation was fantastic, but I was surprised by a few things. For example I would see little boys peeing in the middle of a street, and the same little boy would come up and beg for money. We would drive past mansions protected with barbed wire, and right next to them would be a one bedroom home made of a box. Nothing had a price tag on it it, you had to bargain for everything. When I returned to small-city Marshfield everyone wanted to know about my experience, and everyone kept asking if I was culture shocked. I concluded that yes, experiencing the new culture was very shocking for me. Never had I seen a box house actually being used for a house before. So I had experienced culture shock right?

When I came to Albania I learned the term in a whole new light. You cannot experience culture shock just by visiting a place for a brief amount of time. The only way to experience culture shock is to emerse yourself in a culture enough to change your pattern of living, and the way you think about things. For example: Instead of just going to Rainbow and/or target for my weekly groceries I now go to 4 places on average. I go to 1-2 markets, usually a smaller store, and 1 or 2 big chain stores just to find everything I need. If I wanted to save more money I would go to a different store to get my cleaning supplies, and a different one to purchase my cosmetics. It is crazy how much time I have to spend shopping. Don't even get me started on how many stores I have gone into to look for leather boots.

My way of living is different in so many ways, and I can't even begin to explain all the little things I've been forced to change. More small examples: there are no dryers so I have to plan 1-2 days of drying time for clothes; I have to think about when I want to shower so I can turn on the water heater 40-60 minutes in advance; everything I throw away could be a potential craft item for school; I don't get to recycle anymore; I have to remember to stop at the market to pick up jugs of water 3 times a week; I cannot trust traffic lights; the streets don't run in blocks; I have to walk with my head down so I don't fall into a manhole; And don't even get me started on the teaching differences and work culture.

I'm not saying I hate life here at all. I love my life, and I'm loving it more everyday. As my principal told me when I arrived, Tirana is a great city if you are willing to find yourself in it. I'm just saying that living here has taken a lot of getting used to. I had no idea what the word "culture shock" truly meant until I came here. It was little, tiny stresses that added up to a lot of tears and homesickness throughout the past 2 months.

I also have lost many things I used to consider my passions. The live music culture here is very limited, it's not as simple as exploring until you find a good band, and then seeing that band live every week. I've only experienced 2 concerts, and I know there is more out there, I just have to search harder. I used to run about 5 days a week. I have ran only once since I got here, and it resulted in a cold that has lasted a month (plus) long. The air pollution just makes deep breathing seem impossible, and thus running becomes much less healthy. I used to love drinking beer, and I felt as though I was getting somewhat knowledgable about it. Now I have 1-2 choices at a restaurant, 2-5 choices at a market, and if I'm lucky 10 choices at the supermarkets.

I like to think that after 3 months I'm finally starting to move past the shock, and I'm able to experience the culture and my life a bit more. I have down my routine. I know how to plan my showers in advance. I know how to stop at the markets on the way home. I know the streets enough to not get lost and confused. My passions have had to change as well. Now I like exploring. Just walking until I find something new, or something that reminds me of my old passions. I'm also starting to throw myself into blogging, because I love reflecting on my life, and organizing my thoughts into something meaningful. If I leave them in my head they all jumbled up into a giant ball of confusion. Thus you can expect more post from me in the future.

To be honest, I'm glad I got to experience culture shock and I hope to experience it again in the future. Hopefully, if I'm really lucky, it will be with a set of friends as good as the ones I have here.
You guys rock!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The debates in my head

I've had a rough month, to say the least. But after finally moving to a new place and getting running water I'm starting to feel better about the next 7 months of my life. I'm scraping by and finally getting a bit used to the lifestyle. My bit of culture shock is done for now. So now that I'm comfortable I think it is time to dive into the uncomfortable. The following things are up to debate in my mind.

1. Where should I go next? I feel completely clueless. The only thing I really know is that I want to make more money than I am here. But as I've been doing research and talking to people I've come up with a list of where I want to teach. The top 4 are as follows: Saudi Arabia (because of the pay,) Thailand (um, I've always wanted to go), Vietnam(from the research they pay quite a bit, and you can easily save), Columbia (I heard this is one of the best places to teach.) I also applied for a job in Japan. I feel it is early to be applying, but you know how I'm a planner.

2. Should I go back to school next semester? I could finish my master's degree with one class. And I'd love to do it, but I'm not sure I want to. The stress of doing this in another culture is scary, but tempting. I'm trying to do more research and I'm currently talking to the professor about the class requirements and whatnot. Pros: I can apply for more jobs, and would probably be given higher salary wherever I do go. Cons: time contraints, taking the class with limited resources, having to pay for more school when I JUST started paying loans.

3. When I get done with this journey of being a travelling teacher, where the hell do I want to go? But wait Tiara, the journey will not end when you go home. This is just a portion of this crazy journey of life. I beg myself to stop worrying so much. I beg myself to quit thinking about my future and just live my life. How did I become this crazy control freak as far as my life goes? Why can't I just let go? It will be a battle forever, but I can keep trying.
For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; And for everything you gain, you lose something else.

It is about your outlook towards life. You can either regret or rejoice. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Turkey Day America!

When I was in high school, our church would take an annual trip to Chicago in the month of November to help out at a place called JPUSA. Mostly it was full of Christian hippies who lived in a communal environment and would volunteer their time to help those in need in return for their home. One year while we were there I took on the task of writing a list of 100 things I was thankful for. It was insane, but very doable. I was thankful for things like friends, my tv, my computer, sweaters, my favorite mocha from Starbucks. Ever since that year I try to write myself a list, either in my head, or on paper/the computer. I recently re-read my list of things I was thankful for last year. It is insane that I’m now living without many of them, and still maintaining a sense of sanity. Here is the list of the 10 things I was most grateful for last year.

1. Love. It stupid and wonderful. It definitely makes us do dumb things, but it's breathtaking and incredible in every single way. It floods you with joy and with sadness, and causes you to feel things you never thought possible. It's just plain amazing,
2. My ability to choose where I go in life. I can go anywhere I want. Arizona, Texas, China, Thailand, North Dakota, or I can stay here. And I'm grateful for the many options.
3. My education. After this year of working in a room with many under privileged children I have become grateful not only to  attend such stellar schools, but also to grow up in a house hold where education is so valued.
4. The Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers. Seriously. They make my life bearable and they are awesome. Go Pack Go!
5.  My iPod. Where would I be without this? Definitely way more depressed.
6. My two feet. Running has become a true outlet for my frustration, stress, and happiness, all in one. I'm glad I can use these two feet for something so wonderful
7.  My family, mostly for being so supportive of my decisions. I've made some pretty bad ones, and someone has always been there to help me through them.
8. My soul mate, Rebecca Nelson, for always encouraging me to dream big, and eating ice cream or whiskey with me when my dreams fall apart.
9. Second, and maybe even third chances. I'm thankful that I can try to be forgiving of others, and that others can be forgiving of me.
10. Coffee, for keeping me awake and Jameson, for helping me sleep. This year would be impossible without you. I know this one seems shallow, but I have to be honest...these two things are necessary in my life.

Please compare to the top ten things I am grateful for today
  1. My freedom to go wherever I choose. Here in Albanian the boarders were just recently opened up. People were not always allowed to go wherever they want. This is a great freedom. The majority of the jobs I have been looking are only able to get living permits to Americans, Canadians, Australians, and people from the UK. I’m so lucky to be on that list.
  2. My language. People speak English almost everywhere I go. I’m so thankful, and I wish I had enough energy to get off my lazy but and learn another language. Also people speak English here very well but say they know only a little. When I say I know a little Albanian, I mean I can order in a restaurant, say hello, how are you and goodbye. It is insane how little I have learned in the last 3 months.
  3. My family for supporting me in everything I do. I would not be here if it wasn’t for you guys cheering me on, and listening to my complaining and homesickness. I never knew I could miss people as much as I miss you all. I came with the full intention of not coming home for 2 years, and now I can’t even see how that would be a possibility.
  4. My freedom as an American woman. Albania is living a bit in the past. Here, women are still expected to do the laundry, cooking, cleaning, and to not complain about it. Their main purpose in life is to please their man. Also, in the countryside there are often still arranged marriages, and girls get married as young as 15/16. I’m so thankful I was able to experience 3 whole relationships, and decide that none of them were right for me. Tacked on to this is being single, at least for now. I have learned so much about myself in a year of being single, and I’m excited to learn even more.
  5. Love, because I know it exists in many ways, and surrounds me everywhere.
  6. My education: Last year I worked with a bunch of underprivileged children, and I saw how lucky I was to grow up in my wealth. This year I work with very privileged children and I’m thankful for my roots of working hard and knowing how much my complete education was worth.
  7. The fact that, on a whim, I chose teaching as my degree, and that most days I love it.
  8. My friends, both here and back in America. Between both I feel very lucky. None of you are completely crazy, but all of you are crazy enough for me to tolerate. Thanks for that J
  9. Music. I just don’t know what I’d do without it.
  10. My two feet, for carrying me to beautiful views of the world.

There are definite similarities and differences. But overall I would say that I think about these things more often now than I did in America and that is pretty cool. Happy Turkey Day America! I think of you as we celebrate 100 years of Independence in Albania. I will also be heading to the Christian center for (hopefully) a thanksgiving meal with my friends. If now, we will have a delicious dinner at Piazza, one of our favorite restaurants.

Also, as I sit here writing this I’m doing laundry at my friend’s house yet again, this time because the water in my new place isn’t working. So please be thankful that almost everyday you can wake up and have working water. This is only my 3rd day without, but that is out of 90 days. One more thing, I miss the cold. Today I wore a skirt and t-shirt to work. Oh, and another thing I miss my night of pie making and drinking with my brother. Seriously!
making pies with my big bro!  Still planning on making my pumpkin cheesecake next week. 

Um this all looks delicious! Remember when we somehow ended up with like 7 pies and gave some to Matt Jacobson? And don't even get me started on those cookies.

Remember this awesome contraption we made to carry them?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My New Apartment :)

After about 2 weeks in my first apartment here I knew I hated it and would want to move. Finally the three months I paid for was coming to a close. So I started asking around and the grade 2 teaching assistant, and good friend Silvia volunteered to help me look for a new place.

So on Tuesday I looked at a really terrible apartment. Like horribly dirty, smelly and filled with broken furniture. I was scared to be in it, and I was with 2 other people, so I figured I couldn’t possibly live there. On Thursday we looked at a great 2 bedroom place for 300 Euro a month. This was a bit more than I wanted to pay, but I figured I might be able to have a roommate for part of the time, and that I could afford it since the cost of living is so low here. Then I looked a wonderful 1+1, perfect just for me. It was filled with antique furniture, cozy, quiet and came complete with a cute old man landlord. Unfortunately the man did not want to rent to me since I told him I would only be paying rent through July, and not for a full year. I was a bit devastated, but headed to my second job confident that something would work out and knowing that the 2 bedroom place was also an option.

The next morning I debated in my head how I could change my odds by offering the man more money for the 7 months I lived there, or lying to him and saying someone would replace me after I left. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t see myself making it work out.

I had quite the morning of trying to get my residency application in. After walking to the migration police to fill out the form, I then had to go to the bank to pay the fee, then to the notary to get my lease fixed with a building number, and then back to the migration police to turn the form in. However, the notary wouldn’t fix the document without the person I was living with present (I had to do a bit of fibbing in order to be able to move out of my terrible place and still get all my permits turned in, in time.) So needless to say I haven’t finished applying for my permit yet.

I arrived back at school for lunch and a bit of prep time to catch up (I missed my prep and one of my teaching hours running around the city.) On my way to pick up the kids I saw a strange man who look quite like the landlord of the “perfect for me” apartment. I was definitely so exhausted from my walking that I was imagining things. But no, wait, the man was approaching me and soon afterward my teaching assistant was translating for me. After being scolded by his wife, he was offering me the apartment for the next 7 months. She reminded him that his kids lived in America and he wanted them to come home, so it was understandable that after 7 months I would want to go back home to my family. I set up a time to meet him and get the keys, but was still a bit skeptical.

At 4:15 I headed out to try and find the apartment again, which I did with little difficulty. The man and his wife were kindly waiting to welcome me into my new home. They showed me around and talked in broken English, explaining that lived in the US for 7 years, but that was a long time ago, and they have since forgotten most of the English they learned. They seemed very interested in meeting monthly for coffee to talk and practice English. They also constantly reminded me that there were a few broken things (a light was out, the bedroom needed new curtains, and the toilet need a new back cover) and also mentioned that they would clean the place thoroughly before my official move in day on Monday. However they were very willing to let me bring loads of my stuff during this time. This was great since I already had brought a load. I wasn’t going to waste a 25 minute walk to take nothing there.

We set up a time the following day to exchange money and sign the lease. Once they left I began assigning drawers for various items, and made note of the few things I would need. Essentials like silverware, a blanket/quilt, something to hang my clothes to dry on, a spatula, and then headed home.

I was a little devastated when I got home and found out that my German friend officially got the go ahead on moving to a new place. I hate living alone, so it would have been nice to have someone to live with, but I also loved my new place.

The following day we were unable to sign the lease, because the notary place was closed, however we did stop and get a coffee. Between my minimal memory of Italian, the little bit of Albanian I know/speak, and the little bit of English the man knows/speaks we were able to get through a coffee. We planned on setting up a time to sign the lease on Monday. At this point the only thing I was nervous about was getting an internet connection in the place, but would it really be the worst thing to be without internet for 6 months? Probably. When I get homesick I need my skype and email at hand. But I suppose I could make due with borrowing the fellow teachers and spending a bit of extra time at the school to download movies and tv shows.

On Sunday we went to Teg (the mall) to get some stuff we needed. We all purchased fancy winter jackets, searched for boots, got some things for our classroom, and I was able to get my bedding and kitchen stuff. Overall I spent about $100 for all of the stuff for my apartment and about $100 on my super nice looking winter jacket.

On Saturday I finished moving my stuff in with the help of Scott for one load. In total it took 2 big suitcases, one little suitcase, a load in my hiking pack, 2 backpack’s full, and the fan being carried on it’s own. Also one load in the hiking pack from the Mall.

On Monday I went to sign my lease. I was lucky to have Silvia volunteer last minute to go with me. It was great to have her there to translate and make sure that I was paying the right amount, and not signing my life away. It took much longer than expected because the notary was about 30 minutes late (typical in Albania.) Eventually we got it all sorted out and I headed home completely tired. I arrived home at 6:30 and decided to go check and see if the internet company was still open, so that I could hopefully get internet within the week. Last time I moved it took a good 2 weeks to get it all sorted out, so I hoped that it wouldn’t take quite as long this time, since I was planning a vacation a few days later. Luckily they were still open.

The following day, they of course, called while I was at school, even though I was very clear that I needed them to come after 4. I told the man on the phone to come in the evening. I arrived home at 4, finished unpacking and just about the time I was all done, the men came to set it up. I can’t believe that so much has worked out in the right way at the right time. I’m currently sitting in my new home with working internet, listening to the drone of traffic and occasional honking. It feels like I’m back on Como (other than the honking.) Now if only a train would whistle on through, and I could drink a stout and eat some cheddar cheese. Korca dark, pasta, and salad will have to do. Unfortunately the water isn’t working tonight, so no laundry and no shower. This is one of two complaints so far. The other is that there are no lights in the hallway. Luckily all phones in Albania come complete with flashlights attached. So far I have to say I’m quite happy with my new place. And now the much awaited pictures:

My bedroom

Entry way

Living room, balcony is behind me. Dang, I need some porcelorses

sink, stove. Sadly, I can't do my dishes without running water.

Kitchen/dining room

Bathroom, without running water :(

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Untitled blog post number 2

November 3rd 2012

Some days I have a lot of time to myself, and I start thinking about the things I miss. Then, there are days I have TOO much time to myself, and I get lonely and I think about you. The thing about “me time” is that I need it, just as anyone does.

But this “me time” leads to memories. And I miss you, and I miss how I felt about you, and I crave our love. And then the reality of our love sinks in. It was real. I loved you, and you loved me (at least I think you did,) but it wasn’t what it was supposed to be. We had our passion, but we also created a mess. Somewhere along the way, probably from the very beginning of us, we both got confused. And we ended up where we shouldn’t have. In love. And young. And stupid.

When I think back to all of the memories of us, and I remember the good with the bad I’m so glad for the reality of where I am today. Because, the mess we made taught me who I was and made me strong. And, of all the places in the world, I chose here. And it was really the first decision I have ever made that was completely my own. I’m so glad my present and future are mine, and not ours.

November 8th 2012

I had a great day today. I switched my classroom layout around yesterday and I was afraid it would throw the kids off, but overall they did really good after I explained the reason to them. The students are finally into the routine of our English morning. My 4th grade class loved talking about the oxygen cycle and the environment, and I’m starting to get them psyched about our upcoming endangered species research project. My math class was great: my students understand their number lines, they are understanding their patterns and they all love “my” math game (flipping two cards over and adding them.) During my social studies time we did a picture sort and talked about how we are all different and that is okay. On Tuesday we did Venn diagrams to compare students and they loved that too. This week was a seg-way leading into our culture studies, which will start next week. For the last 5 minutes of class we talked about culture and what it is. I was so surprised to hear them talk openly about their home lives, and they all seem excited to share.

I also taught games club today after school. The new game was different from many of the other games we have played, but toward the end the students started to get it and we had the least amount of whining yet.

Then I went to my second job of teaching English to teachers. Last week they gave me a ton of suggestions for teaching, mostly things they wanted to learn. So I came prepared tonight with a pronunciation key, American slang terms, prepositions, and a feelings chart. We spent so much time talking about these that we hardly made it to the essays I’m supposed to be using. But, either way they are learning pronunciation and vocabulary, and tonight was super enjoyable. Also, one of my students gave me an Albeni bar at the break, and translated it to mean “buy me” or “you want me.” How hilarious, since I always want to buy them.

November 12, 2012
Today I want to get on the next plane and fly home. I’m so stressed about moving and just trying to keep up with everything. If I’m packing I might as well go somewhere I love right? And I know I love Minneapolis. Plus it’s a Monday and if I hurry I can make it back in time for Roe Family Singers. Heck, if I really hurry I can make it back for $3 surlys.

November 13th 2012

How many times do I click my heels to go home?
It was a day I needed music.
It was a day I looked through my quotes.
It was a day I cried.
It was a day I wanted a hug from my mom.
It was a day I needed a stout, or 4.
It was a day I wondered, “what the hell was I thinking.”
It was a day I remembered why I got my tattoo.
It was a day I had strength to get through.
And I will get through many more like it.

November 18th 2012

All is right in the world again. That is a lie. Things in the world are better, and as they should be. I miss home, like crazy, and for some reason I still want to go there. As I was packing to move (yes I found a new, wonderful apartment) I just kept thinking that I wish I was packing to go home. Maybe it’s because it’s getting close to the holidays, maybe I miss the cold (I wore a short sleeve shirt today), or maybe I’m still just frustrated with being lost. I got to talk to my brother last week and that was really helping. He is so good at convincing me that I’m where I need to be and I’ll find my path out here somewhere.

I find myself looking at international job posting daily. No, make that 3 times a day. I’m dreaming too much. I need to start living more. I already know I have options, but it is too early to apply to most of them. I’m considering doing some European traveling in July, moving back home in August and waiting for an immediate hire job. It is so not my style to have an unplanned future, but these are the jobs that pay more. All I want to do is pay off my loans so I can live life the way I want. I want to go everywhere. Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Columbia, India, Brazil, Ireland, Morocco, China, Poland, Spain, France, Italy, South Africa, Kenya, Venezuela, Bali, the list goes on and on. There is so much to see in this vast world. I knew this before I came here, but really had no idea. Every time I talk to someone they tell me about somewhere they have been that I want to go to.

The part of me that wants to settle down in one location is becoming more and more distant. She is there, but she knows thats if she wants to do this traveling now is the time to do it. When I settle down I want to be close to home. And by home, I mean I want to be close to my family.

I remember telling my advisor freshman year that I couldn’t do study abroad because I would miss my family too much. At this point, it was a lie. I didn’t want to leave my boyfriend for another 3 months. Long distance sucked. But now I’m realizing it really is true. I miss them all like crazy! Keeping my mind on the fact that I get to see my brother in about 36 days helps. After that, who knows. But it is time to live. Road trip(s) in the next two weeks, so I’ll have to be living.

I’m also starting to get a little nervous about what life will be like when I do move back home. I have a feeling I’m going to go through culture shock all over again. There won’t be 8 café’s on one block. I’ll have to obey traffic laws, and say thank you all the time. I’ll have to stand appropriately in lines. It won’t take me 8 stops to do my shopping for the week. What will I do with all that extra time. I’ll have to start carrying a phone with me again. Strange to think of how much my life has changed in less than 3 months. Crazy!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Through a new set of eyes

The majority of this post will be in the form of pictures. Today me and my fellow teacher Scott decided to walk around some parts of Tirana we hadn't really visited. We began with a little morning croissant, and coffee from one of our favorite bakeries.
Breakfast: chocolate filled croissants and espresso/machiato
As far as tourist and sight seeing goes, Tirana has little to offer. It can almost all be summed up in the Qendra (center) where the famous statue of Skenderbeg, the clock tower  mosque, museum, and opera house all reside.
The opera house is decorate with our banner for our 100 years of freedom, celebrated in the end of November. This view shows the opera house, the clock tower, the mosque and Skanderbeg Square all in one picture. Behind me is the museum. All in one area.
But there are of course, many strange and beautiful things to see around the city if you open your eyes and explore. We walked to the center and continued down a road we had never traveled on. This road gave us many interesting pieces of art in the form of graffiti.
Interesting, to say the least

Distorted double headed golden eagle.

Now that is what I call art.

The music lover in my loved this one.
The further away we got, the more strange things seemed to get. We saw many markets run by chinese people. Perhaps there is a china town in Tirana? We also saw some christmas trees for sale and I saw the first black person I have seen since I arrived here. There was also a very large, crowded market full of clothing and shoes for sale. This market reminded me of the markets we visited when I was in Honduras.
Christmas trees and the first black person I've seen in Albania

After getting a little lost we ran into the man made river. This is probably the stinkiest river I've ever smelled in my whole life. We've always wondered where it started, and as it turns out, it starts at a huge pile of trash and a sewage dumping area. Oh Tirana.....
These random uncovered holes are everywhere. You have to really watch where you step.

The start of the river

The day ended at 1:00 when we decided we were finally hungry enough to split a burger at Stephen Center. I took several pictures of interesting buildings along the way as well:

The "manners building." I named it that because Je Lutem is please, Faleminderit is thank you, and Me Falni is I'm sorry. It was covered in "Kind words and actions" as we say at school. 

This is some famously old bridge, over grass. Why?

Loved the clouds today. Here is the clock tower on the way home.