"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.