Monday, November 3, 2008


After 10 months here I am just beginning to feel part of the local community. Admittedly we live in an area where there isn't much 'community' at all. We live in one of five 3 storey villas, still standing, dwarfed by new and half built apartment blocks.. At night you look out of the window & you see only a very small handful of lights on in the blackened blocks.
It is still a ghost suburb; a suburb in waiting, empty shop fronts on the ground floors of every apartment block, a five a side football pitch, sitting areas, all planned in, amidst the builders' rubble. Waiting for a community to move in.

When we 1st moved here there was a little local corner shop & a new supermarket just opening (it still has very little on its shelves) That was it, but gradually a few cafes, a bakery, new shops are opening, even though it's a bit soon. No one really lives here.

We even now have a hair salon in our road, called "Glamour- Hair and Beaty are back" No that's not a typo, well not one of mine at least, (my Lynne Truss style son, is itching to creep out with a 'U' and correct it at dead of night, but I won't let him. Actually he's torn, part of him wants to add an 'S' instead) There's also a meat shop on the corner which is full of 'long life' salami at the moment. Not enough turn over for fresh meat.

I like it. Despite the relentless building, bulldozing, dust clouds & unmade up roads, it is actually quite quiet, compared to frenetic, traffic congested central Tirana. And we can see green spaces. The zoo, the lake, the mountains. It has more of a 'village' feel to it. Our next door neighbours keep chickens, grow all their own veg and have a very prolific vine for their wine brewing too.

Recently at the supermarket, my bill was 8000 lek. I tried to pay with my card but as is often the case the machines weren't working, so after two failed cards & a rummage in my purse, I only find 5000. I started to put things back, muttering under my breath about feeling like a student not having enough cash. The check out girl called a guy over, who I gathered was the manager but looked more like a drug dealer, and after she explained to him, she turned to me & said;

"It's fine just take the shopping and bring the other 3000 Lek in tomorrow (that's about £17 of stuff)

"After all", she said "you're always here."

I hope she meant that I lived round here and was a known face rather than , 'you're that scatty foreigner who pops back several times some days because you keep forgetting something'. (It IS only a 5 min walk away.)

In fact one of the shop assistants there always greets my daughter by name, not sure how she knows it, as my daughter resolutely refuses to give her name to anyone who asks. (& she gets kissed too, even less popular) and the lady in the tiny play area next to the shop, greets both my children by name, whenever we pass.

At the local corner shop when my bike fell over with my daughter strapped into the bike seat, causing her to hit her head, the shopkeeper & her daughter rushed out with ice for her head and for days afterwards they kept asking after my daughter's bump, and general health. I learnt some new vocabulary that week. And my daughter gained quite a few sweets.

Then there's the cleaner, who works downstairs for the landlord, & comes in every day. She is always trudging laboriously along the dam road when I'm returning from the school run, so I give her a lift. She's so overweight and puffed that I sometimes wonder if actually I'm doing her a disservice giving her a lift.

We do the greetings routine then having exhausted my repertoire of Albanian, we fall silent. Sometimes we have a sign language conversation about the weather or the traffic. I throw in a 'po' or a 'yo' (yes & no) and tut and shake my head, or look at the sky .

I also like seeing the two Roma teenagers who work the same spot by the traffic lights cleaning windscreens. It took me weeks to get them to actually notice my filthy windscreen and clean it, instead pursuing their unsolicited cleaning of an impatient driver's windscreen. They always grin & wave now, &, of course, if it's a red light, clean my windscreen. Perhaps I pay over the odds, or perhaps it's because I say 'thank you'. Who knows, but it makes me feel like I belong, this is my town.

Then there's the guy I see every single day pushing his cerebral palsy son in his wheelchair round the little zoo (next door to us), the park (over the road), or the local streets. He seems to be out and about most of the day.

It's a picture I find very moving every time I see them; they are out whatever the weather, the father's attention completely rapt in his son, pointing things out to him, talking to him, occasionally I have seen him help him out of the wheel chair in the park, and, holding his arms out wide to his son, encourages him to walk to him. He seems endlessly patient, endlessly attentive & kind. And he does this day in, day out.

Today I saw him in the park at one of the little informal rifle ranges old guys set up next to the path to earn a bit of money. There he was leaning cheek to cheek with his grinning son, as he held the arms of the wheelchair & manoeuvred it gently into position opposite the target for his son to shoot. Later, on my way back across the park from collecting my daughter I see them again. This time he is bumping him down a hilly off road path between the trees. The son is making a tremendous racket but, judging from his face, he's loving it. They stop at the bottom to chat to a vendor selling bottles of water out of his cool box. I smile, I feel I should greet them, I see them so much.

These are some of the people in my community. If only I could speak the language I would feel a much greater sense of belonging. I'm learning but it's a slow process. Still, you find it makes you smile a lot more, not having any words.


Potty Mummy said...

At least you ARE learning it Paradise - I see so many expats (world traveller, me) who just don't bother. So well done...

Iota said...

Yes, I'm sure they appreciate your efforts. It's not as if speaking Albanian is going to be a hugely useful life skill in other locations, so it shows a commitment to your local community that you are bothering to learn it.

Millennium Housewife said...

the guys with the guns and informal rifle range, just how do they make extra money? Is it like, hi, I just fell out with my neighbour can you have a crack at him? If so that's called a hitman...
Really enjoyed this piece especially the image of helping the woman out but wondering if actually you were doing her a disservice - ah such are life's dilemmas!

Anonymous said...

I agree with potty and iota: you're working to belong. lots of expats don't. the slide over the veneer of their different life and never bother to scratch the surface to reveal its true colours. that takes courage. well done.

ps i have a local shop, or ''duka'' rather like yours. if i can't come up with the necessary he lets me pay tomorrow. or next week. it's tempting then to buy more than i should, imported olives and doritos and the most expensive cornflakes in the world x