"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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Untitled Blog #1

Last year I blogged everyday and it was incredible. There is no way I have time for that this year, but sometimes I miss it. These are thoughts/information that don't deserve their own blog, but are still important for my memories of Tirana. I plan on posting an "Untitled Blog" every few months. Enjoy!

September 14th 2012
Tonight we went out to celebrate the first week of school being finished!!! So we headed to a local microbrewery. The microbreweries are nothing like they are in the states. You are lucky if they have 3 options of beer. The first one had 2 options, but one was out so I ended up drinking bionde (blonde beer).) Those of you who know me know that I like dark beer. Then darkest you can find. After we finished our 2 liters of beer we decided to head to another brewery.

Shakesbeer was fantasmic. Seriously. Of all the places I’ve been so far I’d have to say that Shakesbeer felt like home. They had Korca dark, and who knew that Albania could make such a delicious beer? And why isn’t it sold in more places? This was also one of the only places I’ve been here where I’ve seen other girls drinking beer. Plus towards the end of our time there we were all sharing stories about our past lives and suddenly Cortney said the most obvious, and yet most necessary thing. She said “Clearly we all came here for a reason, and that is what unites us all.” (or something like that.. I don’t remember the exact words.) Then we all said “Gazuar” and drank away.

Adam and Kevin started drinking Raki, and shortly after decided they needed a whole bottle, so we headed to a store to pick some up and then went straight to the pyramid. The pyramid was originally built as a grave/museum to honor Enver Hoxha (well known for creating the isolation of Albainia), but once he died it became first a nightclub and now  is the home of a radio station.  According to our principal tradition has it that foreign MIST staff like to get a bit of liquid courage and climb to the top. With a few beers in me, and a couple little sips of raki I decided there was no time like the present. So wearing a skirt I began to climb. About 2/3rds of the way up I remembered how scared heights I was and looked down. Woops. I started freaking out about how I was going to get down in a skirt and so I decided that my major concern was no longer getting to the top, but getting down safely without sliding. After we all safely arrived at the bottom we decided to call it a night.

I’d call it a celebration success!

September 15th 2012

Today I finally thought about that thing I told myself I wouldn’t think about.  But, I’m thankful, because it wasn’t a terrible thought. For the first time it was an “I’m all done” thought, and it made me so incredibly free. But, on the other hand I thought to myself that even though I’m done, from thousands of miles away, my love is still strong. And that right there is something even more incredible.

September 29th 2012

This weekend has been fantastic. I spent most of it at the Human Rights film festival watching movies with my friends. Today we headed to the Stephen’s center for lunch and I had chimicangas. Mmmmm…..there isn’t much Mexican here, so this rocked my world.
Also I have officially decided that I would never be able to marry an Albanian man for the following reasons:
1)    I need my freedom, and from what I’ve seen they are pretty strict with their wives. We’ve all seen me in a smothered relationship before, and we all know how it ended.
2)    The dating culture is so different from that of America that I would be completely lost and confused as to how to approach any part of the relationship.
3)    I could not live here for the rest of my life. Don’t get me wrong Tirana is great and I love living here, but I think 2 years will be the max I can take before moving on. I’m not sure how visas and all that work, but I ‘m not sure I want to find out.
So, for everyone who said immediately when I told them I was moving, that I would find a man and live here forever, you can re assured that will not be the case.

October 2nd 2012
Never speak too soon. Just went you start to least expect things to happen they start to happen. Also…why is Diamonds café having any sort of a celebration on Tuesday night. And especially when my throat is killing me an I’m starting to feel quite sick. I need sleep, .not blaring loud Albanian pop music at 11:00pm.

October 30th 2012
It’s official. I started applying for jobs for next school year. I haven’t officially decided whether I want to stay or not, but I want all my options to be open to me. Today was a rough day. Not because it was a bad day, it just felt long. All the vacation has made me exhausted and made me homesick…somehow.

Also, I have mumps. Not fun at all, and I’m exhausted. All I want to do is sleep. Actually all I want to do right now is cry. I just feel as thought nothing is going right in my life, even the little things. I keep reminding myself of the lessons I’m teaching my first graders: that of patience. I have about as much as they do when it comes to planning my life.

But for now it is time to take a hot shower and get a move on it to go hang out with my friends. Also I think a few minutes of forced tears are necessary. But after a couple minutes of crying it will be time to throw myself back into life. I find that anytime I’m feeling down here it is usually because I’m not busy enough.  I’ll finish off this longer than expected blog post with a quote I found today.

“And never have I felt so deeply at one and the same time so detached from myself and so present in the world.”- Albert Camus

Exactly true of my life right now. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Syri i Kalter

The Saturday of vacation was a rain day. We have been overall very lucky to have sunny and perfect weather on all of our vacation days. Our plans to head to Girokaster were changed by the terrible rain and coldish weather. We spent our morning in reading Ismail Kadare**, making lesson plans and drinking Nescafe, beer, and tea.

Around 10:00 Cortney and I headed out to the market to get some pasta for lunch and some snacky food. However we returned and around noon our power went out. It was our first true Albanian power outage experience, but we remembered to immediately eat our ice cream. At 2 we were getting pretty hungry and were unable to cook our pasta, so we headed out to our pizza place from 2 nights before. However we ran into Argosto (a restaurant Cortney read about online) and after looking at the prices, decided to try it out. The reviews stated that a main course about 1200 pounds (really expensive) so we had decided not to go. The thing I love about Cortney is that she is so willing to check things out for herself rather than taking other’s opinions. So we stopped quickly for her to look at the menu. Overall the meal for the 4 of us (including a salad, appetizer, drinks, main meal and desert) cost us 4250 lek (about 40 dollars.) I was amazed at how good the food tasted and would rate it as the best resturant I’ve eaten at in Albania so far. I had two glasses of the cheapest wine (which still tasted fantastic to me) part of a Greek Salad, some exquisite fried octopus (never thought I’d eat octopus and be craving more and unable to quit eating it) half a salmon (the worst part) and some delicious mushroom and cream sauce on some fettuccine (so incredible) and a piece of baklava-like desert all for about $11. What?!?! Later that night we went back to Argosta, because it was so incredible and shared the following items:
1)    Arrugola Parmesan and Tomato Salad with parmesan
2)    Prongs in delicious sauce (tasted like an incredible smoky sauce)
3)    Grilled Sea Bream
4)    The same Fettuccine Mushroom deliciousness we had in the afternoon.
Fried Octopus!
After the first meal out Scott and I were feeling pretty full and in need of some exercise after our afternoon off, so we went for a walk to Saranda proper. It took us about 25 minutes to get there. We stopped in a tourist shop and took some great pictures of some older ladies trying to figure out their umbrella. We decided to sit down for a quick coffee break and had some great talks, while being stared at by old Albanian men and women. These talks continued later over wine and candlelight at the apartment with Cortney. (Blog post on this subject to come later.)
Rainy Day walk
The following morning we woke up with no power, and so we packed in the dark and headed out of Saranda. We made one very important stop on the way home. The Blue Eye (Syri i Kalter) is one of the most gorgeous things I have seen in my life. This is a natural spring that flows up with water from the mountainside. Because the water is fresh it is clean and clear and Albania has been able to keep it that way. Apparently you can jump in the spring (It goes at the very least 50 meters,) although it is always cold. I wanted to, but decided not to because I wasn’t feeling particularly well and the rainy day made it feel colder than it probably was.
The Blue Eye. The little railing shows were you can jump in.

We also made a stop in Telepene to go to the bathroom and the restaurant we stopped at was beautiful. We wanted some coffee, but their power was out. Oh Albania….so Scott bought some honey and we were on our way.
Naturally flowing water

After a very interesting experience on the new “safe” inland road, and our chance to be part of an Albanian wedding recession we made it back to Tirana. Once we pulled into the car rental place they saw how dirty our car was (due to mudslides and rain) and demanded we clean it. Oh Albania….

**Ismail Kadare is a famous Albanian author. I highly suggest his books as I was able to read over half of one on this particular morning. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Butrint National Park

At the entrance and super excited about our day

We woke up this morning and spent some time relaxing before heading to Butrint National park for some hiking. Oh my god!!! It was beautiful and incredible in so many ways. It wasn’t like I thought it would be. I knew there were some very ancient buildings, but I thought we would have to hike through some wilderness to reach them. Cortney compared the whole experience to that of Machu Picchu, only with less hiking. The buildings in Butrint are actually older than those of Machu Picchu, and after hiking through it we decided that in 10 years it will be a way different experience than we had, because it will be much more valued, and therefore more roped up. The way we were able to explore it and touch things was incredible.
Pretty View of the sun coming up and the ruins.
We walked into the park after paying less than expected (apparently 3 people count as the group rate) and were able to walk right up to the door of a Venetian Tower. I mean I literally walked up the steps to the door and tugged to see if it was open. The trail continued next to some partially broke down walls, which I walked on top of just because I could.
Walking on top of the wall
The wall took us to a Roman town house, and then to a fountain followed by the 2nd largest basilica in the world. The basilica was gorgeous (probably my favorite part,) especially with the shadows in the background. It seemed like around every corner there was another beautiful ancient building to see. The land was so beautiful and we felt free to explore as we wanted. 
check out those shadows!
So, we took a very random pathway to the Lake Gate to reach some giant walls, rather than the path they had created for tourists. The back path had some very old stairs and we couldn’t help relating ourselves to Indiana Jones. The great big walls led us to the Lions Gate, where we were forced to listen to some kids as we took pictures. Eventually they passed us and we stopped to take a snickers snack break.
The carving shows a lion eating a boar. - at Lions Gate
The Venetian castle followed, including a museum that contained pottery from 14th century BC. That is some old pottery!! We were so intrigued that we were able to touch old sculptures without being yelled out or getting nervous about getting kicked out. There was also a lot of interesting pictures to look at and information to read. I mean, who knew Cesar was in charge of Butrint and treated it like his adopted son for a portion of time? So Interesting!
Touching the sculptures

looking out at the top of the Venetian castle onto the Albania flag.
Next on the list was the famous theatre, built in the 3rd Century BC. We goofed off on the stage performing some tap dancing and hand stands, and took some contemplative pictures in the stands. Apparently they still do performances on the stage, but usually these take place during the tourist season. On the way to the theater you can see Greek inscriptions on the wall, which apparently are indicative of the release of slaves.
hanging out in the theatre

The final thing on the map was by far the most interesting. Not because of the beauty(because we were unable to see it,) but because of the history behind it and the relation it has to my life. The baptistery was built in the 6th century and contains a mosaic representing Christian Salvation. Unfortunately the mosaic is so incredible that they want to preserve it, (imagine that!) therefore they have used some sort of blue plastic and sand to cover it and keep it safe. Apparently the rising and falling of the water ruins it, so they open it only once every few years, and only for a few days. I wish we could have seen it, but it is also sweet that Albanians are preserving this history.
Baptistery- in the middle is where they do the baptizing. This sand is coving the actual mosaic to protect it. 
Pretty much my only compliant about the park was that there was still trash (minimal) in some areas and that the mosquitoes were awful. If you go I recommend bringing a trash bag (do your part) and some bug spray (so you don’t get malaria.)
At the Monastery
On the way to Butrint we noticed a sign for a monastery and promised ourselves we would check it out on the way back, so we did. The hike was covered with huge random rocks, but we managed to walk our way around them and up the large hill. The rocks were super interesting to look at and I’m hoping that my soils friend Erika Wertz might be able to tell me something about how they were formed and why they are like this. The monastery made me feel like I was home. Mostly because there was a basketball court next to it, a couple of cows, and a large cross overlooking the mountains. It reminded me of church in Wisconsin. We happened to notice a deserted beach below, and vowed to come back to go for an afternoon swim since our morning had been so productive. 

I'd say it was a gorgeous day!
It was only about 1:00 when we got back to the apartment to grab Scott (who stayed home to work) and head back to the beach for some swimming and a bottle of wine. I had probably my most hippie like experience ever. I skinny dipped in the Ionian Sea (because why not?) and then proceeded to put on my pants (sans underwear) with my new hippie-like scarf, and to drink a bottle of cheap wine directly out of the bottle. 
Monastery beach from up top

Swimming in the Ionian sea
Hanging out on Monastery Beach

Hippie experience.
Once again we were surprised by the time when we finished our swim, and managed to shower, change, and make it to dinner at a restaurant by Burtrint by only 5:30. Cortney and Bobby had some delicious fish and Scott and I shared the seafood risotto. It was actually quite a good meal, and we were proud of our ability to find a restaurant we enjoyed. The evening was once again relaxing and laid back and I felt like an old person when I went to bed at only 8:15. Right now it is 7:00 am, and I’ve been awake for an hour and a half. We were planning on heading to Girokaster, but it is raining pretty bad, and still a bit dark so we are going to wait to see what happens. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Vlore, the Costal Road and Ksamil Beach

I love long weekends. I also have to mention how much I love having friends who are morning people. We don’t stay out late, but we manage to get so much done during our day because we get a head start. Our work weekend ended at 2:15pm on Wednesday, and we were on the road by 3:00 pm, making it to Vlore by 5:30ish. Fun sights/occurrences along the way:

1) Scott nearly had a heart attack when a man tried to sell him a live rabbit by practically throwing it at our window.
2) The cops tried to pull us over, but we acted like we didn’t understand and kept going.
3) We saw some men running on the highway and thought to ourselves “what the hell are they doing?” And then we realized they were running after a sheep.

Vlore was terrible…or maybe we were just unwilling to search for the beauty and fun.

Upon arriving we found our apartment and after waiting 30 minutes for the guy to show up I was handed a phone with a woman to translate in English. Then we were shown to our room where a man was very insistent on taking some money (about 5 dollars) for security for our car. As in, he was going to be the security for our car and stay and watch it all night. I don’t think so buddy. We ended up eating at Kolanat (McDonalds) for dinner. Basically the burger I had tasted like a boca burger, and the fries tasted like McDonalds fries minus salt.

After dinner, we tired to find a beach to watch the sunset, but failed miserably, so we got some chocolate cake and ice cream for desert and headed back to the sketch apartment. The man then asked for our documents and spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out Cortney’s name. Eventually we figured out that he wanted us to write it down. Once we communicated the hour we were leaving to him we were able to head up for a night of working on lesson plans, which turned into a night of listening to music and talking about water polo, which Cortney thought was like real polo only in the water. Boy did that picture lead to some great laughs.
Mountain sunrise
We left at about 7:00am the next morning to take the “Costal Road” to Saranda. Apparently this road is way scarier than the one to Ohrid, but I was only “scared for my life” a total of two times, and only got car sick for about 5 minutes (Ohrid it was like an hour of sickness.) We stopped in one city so that I could pee on the beautiful beach and get some Nescafe to wake up. The second stop was the perfect time for a breakfast beer (Fishers, Greek) and a pomegranate picked directly off the tree.

Beer with a Mountain View :)

The apartment in Saranda was a little tricky to find, but Cortney was able to use her Spanish skills to talk with a lady who spoke Italian, and the apartment was perfect for the 4 us, and super duper cheap. We settled in and put on our swimsuits to head to what is known as the most beautiful beach, called Ksamil (pronounced like Samil.) This was also tricky to find since there weren’t any signs, other than one with an arrow pointing to the right, which we tried with failure. After a few more tries and a quick walk we made it and dove right in. The water felt great and after getting out to enjoy a late lunch and some drinks I was freezing. I kept reminding myself that it was late October, and I just went swimming in the sea, therefore I couldn’t complain about being cold. 
Ksamil Beach
After taking our naps in the sun we headed back to the apartment to change and head out for some dinner. The apartment didn’t have wi-fi (only complaint, and such a first world problem) so we stopped at a café to research some restaurants and prepare for our next 2 days. Scott and Cortney found a pizza place so we headed there and ordered just about the right amount of food, rather than way too much. We took a little walk on the boardwalk and found where the ferry leaves for Greece each day. Our plan was to go on the 3rd day here, but it turns out you are required to stay overnight, so we made some new plans and headed home for a relaxing evening of music, wine, and good conversation.

I’m currently sitting on our porch drinking a Nescafe and looking at the Ionian sea. Today we are heading to Butrint National Park for some hiking. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ohrid, Macednoia

I spent this weekend in beautiful Ohrid, Macedonia. It was such a fantastic weekend that I should warn you in advance that the length of this blog will be insane.

We woke up early on Friday morning and were out of Tirana before 7am. We headed up in the mountains for the ride or our lives. Scott was a great driver, however the other people were not the best drivers in the world and there were a few times I was worried we would be run off the road and die falling down the mountainside. The car cost us only 21 Euros person, including insurance in 2 countries, so it was quite the deal. We stopped twice to take some pictures, and once to pee.
First view of Ohrid just before the boarder crossing
Cortney did some research about things to do while we were there and discovered a great hike to a 14th century church in Vishni, called the cave of St. Spas. Apparently single girls would pilgrimage there to be blessed to find a husband (I wasn't blessed, so I don't think I'll find one.) Once we got across the boarder we tried to navigate our way with Bobby's trusty GPS. Unfortunately it doesn't really recognize roads, so we got a bit lost. We stopped to ask several people "Vishni?" with a puzzled look on our faces. Luckily on the back of a mud road in the middle of some farms we ran into a man who spoke German and one of our 5-person crowd was able to speak to him. We eventually arrived in Vishni and found a parking spot. The hike was one of the most beautiful short hikes I've ever been on. I don't think we went far, but it felt like something out of Lord of the Rings. After living in a city that hardly has grass and trees for the last 2 months this hike was heaven. We spent about 20 minutes at the church (we needed a breather after the steps) and headed back to drive into Ohrid.
Such a pretty deserted building.

At the beginning of the hike. Check out how happy I am about the grass!

Check out the amazingly clear water
and mountain view!
Our hostel was located in Old Town, which we hardly left all weekend. There were beautiful cobblestone, curvy roads, old looking houses, fresh vegetation, and beautiful view of Lake Ohrid. We arrived and immediately had some delicious food at Sveta Sofia, including trout, stuffed peppers, Macedonian salad, and creamy chicken. The restaurant was located right next to the church of St. Sophia. Our hostel was inexpensive and comfortable for the 5 of us. It included a balcony with a view overlooking the lake. We ventured off to find the beach and watch the sunset. This of course included a  coffee and a bottle of wine. After we had finished our bottle of wine we ended up in the slightly touristy area to purchase some postcards and simply walk around. We became a bit famished and stop at a restaurant to split some pizza and dessert, which ended our first night in Macedonia.

Macedonian flag and a view from the Fortress

The second day began with a hike to find some breakfast. We ended up at Sveta Sofia again, for salty pancakes, fruit salad, and some eggs and bacon. After filling up we were ready for our day of sight seeing. Our hike began at the upper gate and headed to the King Samoil Fortress. We paid a whopping 60 cents to get in and saw some spectacular views. We spent a bit hiking on the top of the Fortress and taking pictures of all the views. I purchased myself a Ohrid Pearl necklace with matching earrings for 20 Euro.
St. George church
We continued on a beautiful hiking trail with plenty of trees and grass to St. George Church. Hiking felt so fantastic that we just kept exploring paths until we ran into St. Clements University. Here, they have dug up some very old archways, have preserved them, and are currently building a University around them. We were able to enter the church for a few minutes of silence. At this point, we were quite warm and decided to test out the water at the beach. It was too cold for our bodies, but sticking my feet in felt quite refreshing. We had a late lunch of salads, honey pork, lamb in a pot, and a veggie dish at Damar.

Walls around Old Town
We still hadn't found the wall that was built around the city. Rumor had it that you could hike on top of it around the whole city. After a bit of searching we found it and began hiking. Part way through it became just woods, and there wasn't much to see, so we turned around and headed back to the hostel to change into our warmer clothes. The temperature difference between the day and the night was quite large, and pants and a jacket were necessary after the sun set.The first night of sunset watching was so good that we headed to the beach to do the same thing. Unfortunately the service was so terrible that by the time the sun was down we had been served so we just left to go to Sveta Sofia for dessert and wine. I highly recommend their sexy salad. It was incredible. Malwine had visited a traditional Macedonian store and we thought we should have a quick look in the touristy part of the city one more time. Afterward we headed to the Jazz club for some fancy drinks and delightful music. The live music didn't start until midnight and we were too tired to last until then, so we headed home for bed.

The following morning we ate some more delicious breakfast at Sveta Sofia and then headed home in our car. The trip home consisted of a stop to look at the bomb shelters, a stop for some ice cream, and a whole lot of car sickness.
Sunset on the first night
Overall I would say that this was one of the best vacations of my life. Especially considering the time (3 days, the company (4 wonderful people,) the weather, and the cost (only about 120 Euro including souvenirs.) It was relaxing and the perfect amount of time to spend in one place.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Meridian and my typical weekend in Tirana

I started a second job this week. I work for Meridian language center teaching English to other teachers. I work 1 night a week for 90 minutes and don't have to do any prep for the class. It is a TEFL course (or they use TEFL methods) and they were so desperate for teachers that even though I'm not certified to teach they asked me. I teach 10 females, who are all Turkish or Albanian and are older than me. The youngest is 23.

Basically I go into the class and we practice school phrases such as "please have a seat" and "why are you late." They repeat after me and I correct any pronunciation errors. They I read a passage out loud to them stopped at the end of each sentence to answer vocabulary questions. This weeks questions were about words like implicit, rebellious, and notoriously to name a few.Then they each read a few sentences of the passage stopping to clarify pronunciations. Then I read the passage through one more time. We also take a 10 minute break.

I think it is a fairly easy job and it pays well enough to cover my water, beer, ice cream, and machiato consumption each week. I think the thing that makes it so easy is that they are all so eager to learn. I mean they know enough to understand these long passages, and yet they still feel it is necessary to learn words like notorious. When I tell them the meaning/give them examples, they all talk until they find the turkish and albanian precise words to match it. I'm glad they are able to help me out in this way. At the end of the class I told them to please bring me and questions they had next week, on either pronunciation or vocabulary.

During break time they were nice and sat and talked to me about my move here. Jeff (my principal) said I should prepare myself to be invited out to a lot of coffee meetings and dinners with them. He said they are very cliquy  but also really want to practice english as much as they can.

I feel like my first graders are finally starting to learn :) they are getting incredible at addition. Also, they are starting to recognize sight words when they see them on worksheets. I taught them all how to spell/read more and less through a game (these words show up in our math books a lot.) One of the kids had a girl in our class translate for him about two weeks ago. This week he translated for another boy in my class. I'm also enjoying my new social studies time with the kids and used it to teach them manners this week. English is improving :D On Friday our word of the day was "whine" and I told them if they didn't whine all day i'd bring them a treat. I only had to give 2 reminders, so the kids are getting chocolate tomorrow. This week we are going to start nutrition lessons during my social studies time. Eating habits are terrible.

I spent my weekend hanging out with my co-workers in Tirana. Friday night we headed to Hostel Tirana to hang out with our friend Joe (he works there.) I had a great walk in the pouring rain (wet season is here!) had a few beers, and got a nice leg massage from Joe (he is also a certified masseuse.) Typically the weekends here consist of us searching for food that isn't Italian or Qhofte. This weekend we headed to the Stephen Center (missionary based restaurant) for burgers and Dr. Pepper. They also have Mexican food (2 weeks ago I had chimicangas) and America breakfast (last week I had pancakes and eggs benedict.) It's wonderful except for the service. They are very busy and we often feel ignored.

In the afternoon we hiked to the American favorites food store, which really isn't a store, but a room in a christian home stocked with processed American food. I purchased some Ramen (in case I get sick) some tomato juice (for bloodies) taco seasoning, taco shells, maple syrup, wild rice, and Reeses.
The store wasn't at all what I expected it to be. I thought it would be on a major road. We headed out for the 6KM walk and ended up on some curvy, muddy, hilly, back roads. By the river (still on the main road) Cortney was taking some pictures of building and some men thought we were taking their picture. They started shooing us away and came aggressively after us a bit, trying to get us to leave. I yelled at Cortney that we needed to go but she didn't even notice. I was seriously nervous one was gonna whip out a gun and start shooting us. Some sort of illegal something was going on. A little further on we past some sheep and wild chickens on our way. At one point we thought we were definitely lost, but they we spotted a ginger girl with a disney princess shirt on. He mother kindly pointed us in the right direction and then an old Albanian man did the same. We shopped and on our trip home we ran into the couple who run the market and printing press (that is why they originally moved here) and gave them our e-mails.

Today I did some lesson planning, and we out for Pizza and brownies/a machiato. Now I'm gonna veg out and relax before the week starts. Next week we have Friday off for Mother Teresa day (god bless her) so we are heading to a new country. We will be spending the weekend at Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. Hiking, biking, and fresh air here I come. Whole weekend should cost about 100-120 dollars, including hotel, car rental, entertainment and food. It will be fantastic! Also...they are playing oldies instead of pop today :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Things I took for granted

Some might be silly, but also very true. I'll preface this by saying that I know there are things I'm taking for granted in Albania. I'm going to try my best not to do that.

10. Cheddar Cheese/Cooking- Seriously. $12 for a block! I don't know how to cook anything here, and I'm not sure why. My meals are the following: Pasta with red sauces, pasta with white sauce, Risotto, and potatoes and eggs. For breakfast yogurt, granola, oatmeal, and fruit.

9. Stone Arch Bridge- I miss running. I think I'll break down soon, but there just isn't anywhere beautiful to go here. In MN I could run in my neighborhood and still see beautiful plants and houses. Here just about everything looks like garbage.

8. Beer/football- I really miss IPA's and I really miss Stout. But by far the worst days are those when I should be watching the packers with a beer in my hand. I also just realized I haven't had a Bloody Mary since my last week in MN, which involved daily trips to get my favorite from Legends.

7. Super Targets- How nice it was to go to one store (sometimes 2) to get everything I needed. Now if I need ziploc bags I go one place, for storage bins I go to another. If you want food you have to search to find gingerale at one store, greek yogurt at another. It is so complicated.....

6. Clean Air- pollution everywhere. and no escape. So many cars for such a small area, and so many people.

5. Living with others- Never thought I'd miss this but I do. I just wish I could hang out in my living room and have someone walk down the steps to watch TV with me or cook dinner at the same time as me.

4. Teaching Resources- People in America complain that their aren't enough resources. Be thankful for your tag board and laminators. I spent 4 hours making 6 copies of one game yesterday. First you print (If there is paper and toner) then you glue two pages together so the kids can't see through, then you cut, then you tape, and then you cut again. Finally, 6 copies of a memory game that has only 20 cards.

3. Live Music- I've had 2 music experiences here and neither have been bad, but I think the cheap beer is what salvaged them. I miss having choices of where to go for GOOD free music every night of the week.

2. Having Family so close by- This is one of the biggest. Never thought I'd ever say this, but I really miss home. Both Minneapolis and Marshfield. Mostly just because it was so nice to know that if I ever really needed someone, out of the many people nearby, at least one would be able to come. I could call anytime I wanted. If something happens here I just have to deal with it. Granted I'm one lucky girl who was blessed with a ton of incredible, close to family, friends. But there is something to be said for knowing someone your whole life versus knowing them for less than 2 months. Last weekend when I was homesick Cortney gave me a hug and it was really helpful, but part of me really, deeply wished it was my mom or my brother.

1. Having English as my first language- Oh wow. As I watch my kids try to learn English, and as I try to learn very minimal Albanian I realize how privileged and lucky I am to have grown up in an English speaking country. English is quite the universal language. I know that not everyone speaks it, but even in a country like Albania (a bit behind) the majority of people know enough to communicate with me. I just started teaching a second job. The job is focused on teaching teachers the pronunciation of English words. They are so complicated. I even catch myself saying them wrong. They are all perfectly able to communicate, but they want to know bigger vocabulary words such as notoriously, and solely. I think i'll have to write a whole blog post about it after I teach a bit more.There is so much more I want to say about this issue, but I think I'll let my good friend and co-worker Cortney tell you a bit more about it, since she did such a fantastic job. Here is the link to her blog post:

Friday, October 5, 2012


I want to go home. Everything is finally really catching up with me. This isn’t a vacation, this is life. I hate my apartment and up until this point I thought it was temporary. I thought I’d be able to move out in 2 months. Now I see that somehow I am roped into staying for the whole year, if I want my work and residency permit. And I’m dying. I don’t sleep well in my purple, ultra loud, room. And I can’t stand listening to anymore terrible music. I hate that my toilet doesn’t flush and my washer leaks. Every time I do laundry I have to mop the whole house. And all I really want is hug from someone who is in my family, who I know loves me. I just need someone (other than myself) to tell me everything will be alright.

I just want to sleep at night. I want to be able to run to relieve my stress. And to be able to go and buy cheddar cheese at a reasonable price. And I want to go dance at Roe Family Singers on Monday night and head to the Republic for $3 happy hour beers with my best friends.

I just keep reminding myself that I didn’t like Minneapolis at first, and when I left there I loved it. I keep trying to convince myself that there will come a point where I will love it here too. So when people ask me if I have decided if I’m going to stay 2 years or not I say I haven’t. But really I have. I will stay two years because that was the plan, and I’m not a woman who changes her plans easily. I know I need to stay for 2 years, for my own professional and self-development. Let’s just hope that in the 2nd year I can get more than 4 hours of sleep a night and I’m not ill the whole time. 

Pay Day :)

It has been quite awhile since my last blog post, so I figured it is time to write an update.

Today was payday! It felt great to hold more than the equivalent of $10 in my hand, however, because I took out an advance to pay for rent when I got here, I'm still going to have to be a bit careful about my spending. Ska probleme (no worries) I'll be back on my feet in a month or two and ready to pay those school loans.
Me and Scott enjoying some beers in Korca (aka a photo area at the film festival)
I have had a fantastic/inexpensive weekend in Tirana last weekend. I went to the film festival both Friday and Saturday night and saw a ton of awesome Human Rights films.  On Saturday night they had a celebration dinner, which involved a ton of free food and free drinks. Overall transportation, beer, movies, and snacks for both nights at the film festival cost me about $11. Pretty sweet deal. I also went to the Stephen center (Christian missionary restaurant) and had some chimicangas. Mexican is pretty hard to find here, so I was one happy camper. We plan on making the Stephen center a weekly ritual. They have American breakfasts, burgers, mexican food, and shakes/smoothies, so it is a win all around.
Free food and beverages at the film festival. Also, concert with saxophone player on the stage!
My week of teaching was pretty spectacular other than the fact that my voice has been sore all week. My kids were very nice to me, but the 4th and 5th graders killed me. I found out that next week my schedule will be changing yet again, but I will be done teaching 5th grade and will instead get to teach my 1st graders some social studies lessons. (3 go to Albanian class and I will have the rest.) I plan on covering manners, nutrition, and then hopefully I can teach some culture/history/geography lessons. I'm actually really excited about this time because I've been given the go ahead to do whatever I want. It'll be a bit stressful, but also very beneficial to my planning. 

In other news: I found cheddar cheese! The German store here is awesome! The cheese cost $12 for a regular sized block, but the Wisconsin in me is willing to pay that much. The german store also has some delicious beer (very expensive) several asian sauces, lots of wild rices, and coconut milk. I will probably be going there very soon. Don't worry I'll try to be thrifty. No promises.
The real initial reaction was even crazier than this one.
I've made several new friends since the last blog post. Thank god for couchsurfing. I met my new german friend Malwine (pronounced malvina) last friday. She responded to my post about wanting to go to the film festival, and it was instant friendship. She is volunteering at a public school helping with classes that are in German, and (hopefully) starting an art program. She is also working on her portfolio so that she can apply to school. Since we (me, Scott, Cortney, and Bobby) have met her we have spent a lot of time with her. This weekend we are having a baking party. She has never had pie so I will be making pie, and she will be making german cake or some other tasty treat. Very excited. Scott also met a cool dude (Joe) from England who is working at a hostel and is a masseuse. I will be getting massages very soon. We have also made a few Albanian friends via couch-surfing rendezvous. 

This weekend is Octoberfest so we are going to head to a rock concert and then hopefully out dancing tomorrow night. In other news we are planning some trips for the near future. Work is going to Kosovo next weekend. I still haven't decided if I'm going. We are also planning a trip to Lake Ohrid for the 3rd weekend in October (we have friday off) and a trip to southern Albania (Saranda) for our 4 day weekend. Super duper excited!!!