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

Saturday, June 29, 2013

My Love Affair with 'Merica: Debriefing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Minneapolis: My true home

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

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

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

Song that describes my week there:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Back in the states: Mild Shopping

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

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

Oh America....

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, June 8, 2013

My favorite places in Tirana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 3, 2013

Madness. Melancholia. Panic and Fear.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 30, 2013

10 goals for next year

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 26, 2013

My 5 favorite untold stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Bubbles

In this day and age, it’s hard to believe there are some moments you can’t capture with a camera. On this trip there have been a few moments I have no picture of, but I will never forget, and I’d like to share them as best as possible.


One happened on my way from Switzerland to Milan. I said goodbye to my brother that morning for potentially 2 years (thank god it only ended up being 6 months.) As I hopped on the train by myself, I saw the most amazing sunset in the Alps through my window. There was no point in trying to get a picture. The beauty and emotion could not be shown through a picture.

A second happened as I jumped into the sea in the moonlight in Ulcinj, stark naked with Robert. On the same trip we got to drive through the snowy Balkan Alps, and I couldn’t believe the beauty around me. I knew the pictures just wouldn’t turn out.

Another happened tonight. I was feeling quite exhausted after a stressed out day due to the International Fair preparations at school, and an intense Insanity workout to follow it up. I was thinking to myself about how I just needed to get out of my house and spend some time with my friends, and at that precise moment one of my best friends called me on the phone.

“Hey, what’s up?”
“Nothing much, just got done working out. What’s happening?”
“Want to come over for dinner?”
“Sure, but I really stink, so I’ll have to go shower first.”
“No problem. What time do you think you’ll be over?”
“Well I think I can be pretty fast (in my head I thought a cold shower sounded fantastic.) So about 6:30?”
“Sounds great! See you then!”

I rushed home, showered and then realized my manners and quickly messaged Robert to see if I should bring anything. I packed up the random veggies I had in my house (my cooking has become atrocious) and headed out. On my way I passed a decent super market and ran inside to purchase 3 good beers (at about 2 dollars each) and continued on my way.


We spent the first hour or so just talking about life, looking up pictures of poisonous spiders in Indonesia, reading the itinerary for our potential winter break trip, and having a few drinks. While all this was going on, Robert managed to cook up a delicious meal of spicy chicken in a tomato cream sauce, served with rice, and a pepper salad. Yum!

We ate, and headed out to the balcony for post dinner beers, which is where the story gets to the good part. We saw a random bat flying around and marveled at how intriguing bats are. Then there was some screaming and some very loud thumping sounds, which I was informed were normal sounds, and were probably just from the kids downstairs running their scooter into things. About a minute later we saw the kids in the tiled area below the balcony, running around with their new dog on a leash. They were so happy and care free. Robert felt like blowing bubbles. I mean, who doesn’t? And as it turns out our German friend had brought some from Germany on her last visit to Tirana. Robert informed me that they were the best bubbles in the world, and boy, were they! He began blowing them and they slowly floated down toward the tile flow, and more importantly the kids. They began to chase them and pop them, dog in tow. They had no idea where the bubbles were coming from, and didn’t have any desire to know. The sight was something I will never forget: Those kids running around in the moonlight, chasing bubbles, their dog dragging behind them, and Robert, Scott, and I looking down at them, giggling, while we admired their free spirit and happiness. I’m not sure why, but in this moment I felt like I was right where I was meant to be. Life was everything it was supposed to be. Nothing more, and nothing less. I kept saying I wanted a picture, and yet I know that no picture could ever capture the way I felt.

Eventually, we ran out of bubbles and sat down to talk more about life. We looked at the stars, we saw a flying plane, we discussed our plans for our time home, talked about our hopes and fears for Indonesia ,and made plans for our last 3 weeks together in this country. As I left Robert said quite simply, “Love you!” And as I walked home, I thought once again about how lucky I am to have people that I love, and that love me so much in return.  


Monday, May 13, 2013

Berat

This post has been a long time coming. Partly because I didn't have the pictures I needed to complete it, and partly because I think I was putting off writing about my last weekend getaway. My time in the Balkans is sadly coming to a close :(  It was the perfect mixture of exercise, relaxation, city, and fresh air that we managed to fit into a regular weekend. The city of a thousand windows is an easy sell.
So many windows. We started counting and then we realized there were more on the side we were on!
We left for Berat right after school and drove the two hours there fairly easily. Finding our hostel was a bit more difficult since the directions led us on foot from the bus station, but we arrived in the car. (I'm one lucky girl, I know.) Once there I knew we were going to have a fantastic weekend. The staff at Berat backpackers hostel were kind and welcoming and immediately showed us a map, pointing out locations and restaurants we would want to visit. After claiming our beds and using the restroom we were off to see the castle. The hike up was exhausting enough, but short, and well worth the effort. The castle of Berat was one of the biggest I've seen in Albania, and the views of the mountains were perfect for the evening sunset. The lights came on halfway through our time exploring, and  though the trip down was a little scary and difficult, I was happy with our decision to visit that night. Post hike, we were feeling extremely famished, so we headed to the number one rated restaurant in Berat, Mengalemi. The food was disappointing, but satisfying enough. For about 10 dollars I was able to split a salad with Cortney, devour a main course of stuffed peppers and complete the meal with ice cream and 2 glasses of wine. Halfway through our meal, Cortney was kind enough to invite a woman dining alone to join us.
Castle
Sophie, from Switzerland, was visiting a friend in Berat and had spent many years back and forth watching Albania change. She had some very interesting views on all of the politics, and the development throughout those years. After saying goodbye, we stopped at the market to get some water and headed back to the hostel.

My night was filled with strange dreams of foam parties and rafting (don't ask), but overall I slept very well.

The following day was one of the most interesting I've had in Albania. We left at 8:30am after realizing our car was parked behind a weekend market. We had to ask a truck to move for us, and had quite the hassle getting on the road. The "very nice" road was one of the bumpiest I've ridden on, and there were several points where I thought I might throw up.

Eventually, after calling the man in charge and getting misinformed directions from him, we made it to where we needed to be. We snuffed down some byrek, put on our wet suits and hopped into a few jeeps to make the trek to where the rafting  trip would begin. This trip was also awful, but luckily the fact that I had just eaten helped a bit and we made it without problem. Once there, we still had to spend time waiting for another group to arrive. Shortly after their arrival our guide proceeded to give us our safety instructions, and to explain each of the 5 cues to us (forward, backward, left backward, right backward, and everyone inside.)
All ready to go!
Our group of 5 got placed with 2 random people even though the smaller rafts were clearly made for a group of 5. I was quite confused. I also received a broken paddle at first but ended up switching with Eva about 5 minutes down the rapids because otherwise the sides were uneven with 4 paddles on one side and 2 on the other (we were already a paddle short.) Luckily the man who was without a paddle had a waterproof camera with him. These are mostly his pictures.
Such a beautiful sight!

The nice thing about the trip was that it was just the right amount of difficulty that you were able to enjoy the beauty of the cliffs and enjoy the amount of exercise you were getting.  We were also lucky enough to stop several times to look around. At one point I had the privilege of a very safe cliff jump. It wasn't very high and I was wearing a life jacket and helmet.
Me, Eva, Bobby, and Gill in front of the first waterfall
We also got to walk under a waterfall back into a small cave. This was quite overwhelming and the water was very cold, so after this I wasn't able to warm up and the trip got to be a little much toward the end, as my hands were numb and white. Luckily the beauty around me was able to help me have strength for the last portion of the journey even though I was freezing cold.
Walking under the second waterfall. I'm pretty sure I'm the girl out swimming in the deep water. 

At one point, the canyon was so narrow that we had to push our boat through. It was amazing to me that the water was not flowing super fast at this point, and our guide explained to us that the water was extremely deep, and that if it wasn't the water would be flowing quickly and would be very dangerous.
Paddles up, time to push ourselves through the canyon.
We could tell we were getting close to the end of the journey when we started seeing trash all along the sides of the river. I was glad that further out there was no trash and that our guides were super knowledgeable about the preservation of nature(they went around several times to make sure they got all of the trash from our snack.) Leave no trace!
Beauty!

Upon arrival back they provided a small barbecue snack of french fries, veggies, and lamb. The lamb was particularly good, however after our hard workout we were still hungry. After driving back to Berat we headed to White House for a dinner of pizzas. The evening consisted of showers and an early bedtime.

We spent the following morning hanging out at the hostel. The rooftop porch was just what we needed to relax our muscles and soak up some sun. I was also lucky enough to get my hand on a guitar for a brief 5 minutes (after that they hurt.) I only remembered about 7 chords, but I was able to play and hum along to "Oh My Sweet Carolina." It felt great to hold an instrument. I may have to invest in one in Jakarta. We'll see.
This was our morning
A brief drive was followed by a tour of the Cobo Winery in Berat. This is a family owned business, and I was excited to finally go on a winery tour since I believe Europe is the place to do it. The man who did the tour was the same man who makes the wine today (his grandfather started the company) and he was very sweet and kind to us. As it turned out the same group we went rafting with was doing this tour as well. They, of course were in a hurry, so after sampling all the wines, eating some delicious homemade olives, bread, and cheese, they quickly left to go to Durres for lunch.
Storage
We took our time. I had 2 glasses of the most expensive wine (the reserve) and even enjoyed/purchased the walnut raki. During the last part of our time there we had a fantastic conversation with the man concerning his opinions about Albania, and their transition into freedom. I would describe him as a progressive, who had the right ideas about what Albania should be doing: perserving their heritage and culture. This country tries so hard to be European/American, but they aren't and that is what makes them special. You can go anywhere and find people walking in heels, shopping in malls, eating at expensive restaurants, and driving cars. But you can't go anywhere and almost get in a car accident with a donkey(did I forget to mention this?), or hike up to a castle, or sip on walnut raki.
Vineyards
Overall I'd say Berat was one of my favorite experiences in Albania, and was the perfect last Albanian trip before I head home.

Friday, May 3, 2013

I'm coming home!

I purchased a plane ticket home! So it is time to start preparing. I know I'm going to be shocked about a lot of different things, but if I prepare myself for at least some of them hopefully it will be easier. I will probably comment on these things a lot. I apologize in advance.

1. Being able to purchase something by swiping my card. The last time I used it (other than to purchase tickets/book hostels online) was my first week here at the "mall." I'm so used to just carrying the equivalent of 50 bucks on me all the time.
2. The beer selection. The largest amount of beers on tap I've seen here is 6 or 7, and most have only 1 or 2. This is like a minimum in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I'm going to be overwhelmed. Also, having to take my ID with me. You guys are going to have to remind me every time we leave the house.
3. Other girls drinking. Especially beer. As time has gone on I've founded the places where others girls drink, and thank god.
4. People with blond hair, that isn't a terrible bleach color.
5. People waiting patiently in a line.
6. People exercising/running and wearing exercise gear outside of the house.
7. Shopping, in general. I have a lot of things to get and I know this is going to be stressful. Any volunteers to go with me? I need to go to REI (backpack, clothes, hiking shoes), Victoria's Secret(underwear), Macy's(bras), Target (everything), Forever 21 (appropriate dresses/skirts/blouses), DSW (teaching shoes), and probably a sports store for new running shoes. I've read several blogs/books about people have nervous breakdowns in the middle of store because of all the options available to them. It sounds terrifying.
8. Music. Chances are I won't have heard any of the popular songs since they are about 6 months-1 year behind here. Is Gangam style still popular there? What about Adele Someone Like You? I hope not.
9. Smooth roads, with lines in the middle of them. I'm going to get car sick like no other.
10. How expensive food and drinks are.
11. The amount of cheddar cheese and fried food available.
12. The coffee. Filtered coffee is a delicacy here.
13.  Not having to ask for the bill, and having waiters and waitresses constantly ask me if I need anything. Oh, and tipping more than 10%.
14. Yards. They don't exist here. You are lucky if you can find some grass to lay on anywhere in this city.
15. Being able to machine dry clothes.
16. Being able to take a shower whenever I want and not having to wait for the water to heat up, and not having to mop the bathroom afterwards.
17. Not being able to walk around with a beer in my hands, and not being able to stop in any store and purchase a single cold beer on the fly (I'm going to miss this one like crazy!)
18. Being able to eavesdrop on conversations again, and the ease with which I will be able to walk into any store/restaurant and converse with others.
19. TV. I only watch shows when I download them. If I go somewhere with a TV on, I am drawn straight to it.
20. Bathrooms! With toilet paper! And real toilet seats!

I feel that since I will only be home for a little over 2 weeks I won't really have time to get used to any of these before I move on to a new culture and get to be shocked again.

I also began a list of things I'm planning to do when I'm home and I'm trying to fit them all in (thought it is going to be rough, with my actual to-do list.) Let me know if you would like to participate in any of the following:
1. Roe Family on Monday nights
2. Happy hour at Republic bar
3. Bloody Mary's at Legends
4. Al's Breakfast
5. Running at Stone arch (must happen after shopping day because I don't have shoes :(  What?!?!)
6. Juicy Lucy
7. Mexican food of any sort.
8. The Butanes
9. Grilling in the afternoon/evening! (hopefully more than once if we can.)
10. Chilly Billy's
11. Shakes/Burgers from Annies.
12. Kitchen Table (In Marshfield)
13. Brew Pub (In Marshfield)
14. El Mezcal (In Marshfield)

I'd also be interested in meeting with anyone for coffee, a beer, or lunch. Just let me know ahead of time, because I won't have access to a phone. I'll be in Minneapolis from the 10th of June until the 19th and then back to Marshfield for about 5 days before heading to Milwaukee.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Untitled Blog Post #6

March 10th 2013

Today I listened to a song that has a lot of good memories behind it. Driving around in my car summer after freshman year with my 2 best friends listening to this album was the majority of what I did. I was filled with the freedom of being a single college girl about to embark on another year of studying. But for the summer I didn’t have a care in the world.

Today as I listened to this song I thought to myself that no summer could ever be as good as that one. Funny story: they have been. And they will be. The funny thing about life is that I keep thinking it can’t get any better, and it just keeps proving me wrong.

March 11th 2013
Sometimes when I think about you, I think to myself “I am meant to be with him, and someday I will be. We are perfect for each other.” Then I remember how much better my life is now and I think I must be completely crazy. Will I ever be able to just move completely on and forward with my life?

March 17th 2013

Holy mama! 4 months from today I’ll be living in Jakarta. I’m at the same point I was last year: Unsure of where to start. I have so much to prepare so that I will already have my visa when I get there, but I don’t know how to get things translated to Indonesian. And holy crap! I probably better learn some Indonesian.

All I’m interested in right now is planning my trip home. I have so much to do and so little time to do it in, that I’m not really sure how it is going to work. So for now I’ve just been spending my extra time doing the only logical thing I can. Hanging out with my friends, who I realize I’m never going to be able to replace. Let’s be honest, I have been insanely lucky to meet people I’m so compatible with.

To think, I thought moving would be easier this time around. What was I thinking??

April 3rd 2013

3 months from now I start a new job! I feel like I’m back to square one as far as preparations go. I’m starting to learn a bit of the language, and I keep looking at my clothes wondering what will go with me. Basically nothing. Goodbye sweaters, goodbye winter coats, and goodbye jeans. I’ve also made a list of things I need to buy when I’m home (waterproof gear, new running shoes, hiking boots, ect…) and a list of what I want to do while I’m there. I’ve turned in almost all of my documents, except for the testing I need to get done at the hospital (still waiting to hear back about setting up an appointment.)

In all honesty I’m getting sad about leaving Tirana, not because I like it, but just because it was a very important chapter of my life. But I’m sure the next one will be just as crazy, stressful, and life changing.

On another note today I felt like a great teacher, and we got to start preparing for the international week at our school. I may have volunteered to do a bit much considering I’ll be in the last 2 weeks of grad school when it happens, but I think I can take it. Hopefully by then I’ll have my trip home a bit figured out and all my documents for Jakarta ready to go J

April 7th 2013
Things I should have done today:
  1. Deep cleaned my house since I move out in about 2 months.
  2. Taught myself some Indonesian
  3. Researched Jakarta ex-pat life, and begin preparing myself for the culture shock.
  4. Researched IPC curriculum so I know a bit more about it before I start teaching it.

What I did instead:
Walked around in the rain wondering how on earth I got here, who I’ve become, and how I became so selfish. And wishing I had a coffee to carry around with me. I have nothing to complain about.

Aril 10th 2013

Some days I can’t help but think that at this point in my life I should be spending my nights planning my wedding, or how I’m going to decorate my first home. Instead I’m spending my nights making lists of places I want to travel to while I’m in Jakarta. Remind me how I got here again?

April 23rd 2013
Sometimes when I listen to depressing music I wonder why I’m doing it. I think I may be just a little bit addicted to emotional pain. Maybe that is why I can’t just let go. So close, and yet so far away…..

April 28th 2013
I met a group of very insightful high schoolers last night, who managed to teach me something very important. They said that in Tirana, having fun isn’t about what you are doing, because there isn’t much to do. It’s all about the company that you keep. I love it when somehow students manage to teach you something.  They also said they were in very good company (they were with a bunch of teachers.)

I spent my day today watching documentaries about Indonesia with Scott and Robert. The place is so intriguing and the more I find out about it, the more interested I become. Some things make me scared as hell to live there, while others just make me eager to get there and explore. I have a feeling it will be similar to Tirana because I think I’m going to hate the city but love the nature near me. I can’t wait! 2 months from now I’ll be on my way :)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Friends

So I’m currently supposed to be editing my final paper for college. Maybe the final one ever. But I just can’t focus on that. I had a great day and finally got a chance to work out, and my energy levels have skyrocketed. I’m dancing around the house listening to the Roe Family Singers and sipping on a new kind of beer, which is pretty delicious considering it is a wheat.

I have to admit that I’ve been having a lot of mood swings recently. I’m so happy about going to Jakarta, and with having the opportunity to visit home (even if briefly.) But I’m getting very sad about leaving my friends. I’ve started realizing that I’m going to miss certain things about Albania, but by far, the thing I will miss the most is the awesome friends I have gained.

One of my friends back home suggested, awhile ago, that I write a blog post about the people that matter the most to me. I told him this was impossible, because I didn’t want to describe them in an inaccurate way. The time has come, however, to try and explain what these people mean to me. Where to begin?

Scott: Dependent. From the very time we met I knew we would get along. You kept asking Jeff questions (that I had) and agreed to explore the city with me. You encouraged me with stories of your past experiences abroad and your support has continued to this very point. The fun only continued when we began our road trips together and you suggested we get a beer with our coffee. This is when I fell in love with you. Our explorations of the city continued and have left me with great memories, and better viewpoints on the culture of this city. The explorations even collided into our teaching careers as we took on photography club, football club, and science club together. Thank you for introducing me to, possibly, the best book ever, and for always being willing to get a beer and quofte with me. I can’t wait for our adventures to continue in Southeast Asia J Ermagherd Indernesher!

Cortney: Thank you for suggesting we teach first grade together! I was so thankful to have the support and encouragement during my first year. All those times laying on the carpet and sorting out our classroom issues were what kept me sane. Also, I have managed to learn a lot about classroom management from you. If it weren’t for you I’m not sure that I would be moving to Jakarta. You planted this seed of knowledge about what existed in the world, and gave me the advice on how I could see it all. Also thanks for being a girl and having serious girl talks with me. I love the boys to death, but sometimes girls have to talk out their girl issues. You got me out of my shell, dancing, and goofing off when needed. We will keep in touch for sure.

Robert: Where do I begin with you? When you first arrived in Tirana I thought that I was going to lose a very good friend, and as it would turn out I was about to gain one of the best friends ever. We needed a young soul in the group. Thank you for supporting me through the pain of my tattoo, and day drinking with me on several occasions, and just for doing things with me in general."Hey Robert! You do stuff with me..." I’ll never forget jumping into the freezing cold water with you in Bosnia, and our talks on the porch will remain my favorite memories of this city for forever. I'm so proud of who you are becoming. Fucking zeros and goddamn ones!

Bobby: Though I don’t know you as well as I’d like to, I do have a few things to thank you for. The cookies and cupcakes you make are incredible! Thank you for purchasing and allowing me to use your scanner on several occasions. Also, thank you for setting a good example of what a nice respectable man should be. It has been awhile since I’ve met a gentleman like you.

Adam: You rock! Thanks for introducing me to several places with good beer(not sure how I would have survived otherwise), and for always translating for my lazy language learning skills. You taught me a lot about this country that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Jeff: You deserve a shout out for being an incredible boss. I’ve had my fair share of good bosses, but the light you bring to our school is incredible. You were always there to sort out the messes and make sure we all had smiles on our faces. Thank you for organizing all the trips, making sure everything ran smoothly, and doing twice the work of all of us combined. 

Thank you, to all of you for being part of this adventure and making sure I had the time of my life. I'm sure this isn't the end of any of our relationships. Cortney would agree that it is time for an inspirational song:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A home away from home, away I went

First off, welcome to spring. I’m sitting on my balcony, in a skirt and a tank top, sipping on coffee with Jameson in it. As my brother says, “you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning.” I just got back from a quick run at the lake (1 mile walk there, 2 mile run, and 1 mile walk home.) Needless to say, running again is taking a lot out of me. I just ate a delicious veggie omelet, and I’m starving.


I haven’t written much about life recently, since I’ve been writing a lot about my travels. I have a whole set of short blog posts ready to copy and paste, but I think there is something more important I need to write about. Mostly for me, but also for the people I love. I haven’t been honest with most of you, because my selfishness makes me feel like a terrible horrible human being.

I admit it. I’m extremely selfish. For so many reasons, but mainly because I won’t give up my dreams for anyone, even those I love the most. When I came to Tirana the dream was to travel around Europe for 2 years and head home, to start my “real life.” But plans change, and maybe it’s stupid that we make long-term plans at all. I’ll give you a million bucks if you are someone who has followed a basic 5-year plan, without changing anything. The problem is I have to find a way to tell those I love about my plans, because I hate leaving them in the dark. And though I’ve hinted at these plans I haven’t told very many people about them. So here goes, my 5 year plan:

Year 1: Teach my ass off in Jakarta. Learn Indonesian enough to have some conversations, meet some wonderful friends, travel around Southeast Asia as much as possible. Adjust to the culture and find some thing I love to eat, drink, and do. Basically find my niche. And send home as much as possible to pay off student loans with.

Year 2: Grow as a teacher in Indonesia. 2 years in a row at the same school will be a great benefit to my professional growth, and I’m looking pretty forward to not having to move for a few years. Immerse myself in the culture. Try more new things, and finish traveling around Southeast Asia. Maybe go home for Christmas to see my wonderful family. Pay off more loans.

Year 3-4: Dubai. Sign a 2 year contract and make a ton of money. Put it all towards loans, and save some of it for a few big trips. I need an African Safari in my life, and I’d like to see a bit of the Middle East. This was never officially on my list, but let’s be realistic, neither was the Balkans. Hopefully at the end of this I’ll have my loans either paid off, or be pretty damn close.

Year 5: Teach in South America. I’m dying to go here! The issue is that as a teacher you usually only make a local teacher’s salary plus accommodation. With my loans as high as they are this is just not an option, but if I’ve spent 4 years teaching and paying as much as I can on them I think it will be doable. Travel all over South America!

Then it will be time to go home. For real. I can get settled into a real job in MN, and hopefully continue to save money for more traveling. I still have almost all of the US left and I need to spend another month in Western Europe, and another month in the Balkans.

So there you have it. I came to Albania with the intention of traveling around Europe and I’m leaving it with the intention of traveling the world. My original plan didn’t work out and I doubt this one will either.


And to my dear, dear mother and family, and friends, if you get to the end of reading this and are sobbing, know that I love you so very much. I’ll try to make it home at least once a year, and I’ll be there for you through everything as best as my selfish-self can. And after typing that I’m sobbing, because that doesn’t seem like enough after all you’ve given me. So I’ll give you a song as well. Thanks for being my solid ground. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Kosovo

I knew that Kosovo would be an interesting cultural experience. Firstly, Albania claims that Kosovo is actually part of Albania, and secondly Serbia claims that Kosovo is actually part of Kosovo. Confused yet? I know I was. In reality Kosovo is a country all of it's own, but when I visited Prizren this is not how I felt. I felt as though I was in a slightly cleaner version of Albania.

The road to Kosovo was probably the safest road I've been on since I arrived in the Balkans. It included  a 5km tunnel, filled with lights and signs, as well as actual road markings. Though it was the same distance to Prizren as it was to Saranda it took about half the time because the highway is fully paved.

After arriving, I was in pretty bad need of a coffee, and Prince Coffee was able to deliver with several options for iced, milky, sugary coffee drinks. I had a delicious Iced Almond Latte. If I was in America chances are I wouldn't have ordered this in a million years, but as time would tell I ended up getting a second one before we left. It's amazing how much not having something makes you want it.

Post coffee and baked items we hiked up to the fortress, which was only about 10-15 minutes up. There were plenty of breathtaking views, and a very nice cannon which we used as a prop for picture taking.

After we felt we had explore the entire fortress we headed back down into the city for a relaxing lunch of fish, chicken, pasta, and vegetable stew pot at one of the higher rated restaurants. I found the food to be adequate  but nothing spectacular. The next hour or so was spent just walking around and looking at the artwork along the river. Shortly thereafter, we decided we had seen what there was to see and were ready to go home.

The thing I found interesting about Kosovo was that for a country that has worked so hard to be independent, I saw more Albanian flags there than Kosovarian flags. Overall a day was perfectly adequate to see the whole city, and we were lucky to have a very sunny day. Kosovo was a very small step up from Albania, mostly because there was less pollution.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring Break Day 9 and 10: Sarajevo, and the trip home

I woke up feeling like absolute crap. We wanted to see the city, so even though we were tired and hung-over, we forced ourselves out of bed and to breakfast. After this we ended up moving hostel rooms, and then wandering around old town as I tried my best not to puke everywhere. The first stop was at the corner where Franz Ferdinand was shot, and the second stop was in the Bazaar, which we quickly walked through to look at various items.

Then we stopped for lunch, but I was still unable to eat. I did sip on some sparkling water, which seemed to calm my stomach pretty well. I ended up purchasing a sandwich pretty close after this, as we stopped at the market to look at the delicious fresh fruit and veggies that were for sale. This stop made me excited to head back home and start eating healthy again.


We walked on, to the twisty tower to head to the top floor and have a coffee. I was lucky enough to get mocha (they never have it in Albania) and to get some pretty great pictures of the view. On the way back home we stopped to look at the memorial for all the children that died in the war. As I spun the memorial (it revolved) there were several chimes inside that made it sound as though children were playing. I almost began to cry at this sound, as Robert pointed out one of the dates said that the child was only alive for a year. 

We also stopped to look at the eternal flame. At this point we were already hungry and ready for some serious food. I had found a Moroccan restaurant online and was intrigued enough to try it out. There was beautiful scenery inside, but the food was very disappointing and average. I still stuffed myself full, mostly because I was still hungry from not being able to eat all morning. Walking home, we stopped briefly in a few stores in old town to do a little bit more shopping, and stopped to get some desert to top off the unhealthy eating. We called it an early night because we knew the last day would involve a very long and obnoxious drive.


We woke up early enough and after dealing with some annoyances from our hostel we got on the road only an hour past when we were supposed to be. We were fully ready, but the hostel was not prepared to help us that early in the morning.


The drive home was very long with few stops. We ended up stopping to get "to-go" breakfast at McDonalds, once to get gas and beer, once to pee after crossing the first boarder, once for lunch, and once to pee after crossing the Albanian boarder. I feel like we did pretty well considering there were 6 of us in the van. Of course once getting home, I had the difficulty of finding my key, and I had to basically take apart my whole bag to find it. It was a pretty stressful 20 minutes while it was lost. And now it is back to the reality of Grad school, getting stuff ready for my job next year, and preparing for my vacation home.