Thursday, June 23, 2011

Goodbye Albania. Mirupafshim Shqiperi

Today is the day we bring 3 ½ years of our lives to a close as we leave Albania. Inevitably we have very mixed feelings. A blogging friend has said on several occasions “I bet you can't wait to be out of there.” This is a misunderstanding of how we feel about living in Albania & probably my fault for blogging too much about the exigencies of life here. But much like literature, when everything's happy & jolly, you don't need the catharsis or 'sense-making' process of writing, quite so much. It's what I tell my students when they ask why so much poetry & literature is depressing or gloomy & unhappy.
Perhaps if this was more of a travelogue it would be more upbeat & merely descriptive. However it is about everyday life bringing up a family abroad, which is why I am seriously considering winding it up & closing this (blogging) chapter of my life.

The main frustrations of living here have been developing country issues: infrastructure (power cuts/shoddy workmanship, sewage problems) or bureaucracy & corruption issues. Those aside there is much that I love about Albania, Albanians & our life here. My husband always says that I am a slow starter. It takes me about a year to adjust, settle, & make a life but then I get stuck in & enjoy it.

Leaving in the summer is doubly difficult because the weather is just so....fabulous & I am definitely a summer girl. It's in the summer that you realise that we are living in the Mediterranean. In the winter, it's definitely the Balkans. As I leave, I must remember the flat's winter temperature of 12 degrees & the frequent power cuts & our landlord frustrations.

But I have decided to correct the balance & tell you what I love about living here:

I love...
  • The blue skied days, even in winter. Albanian skies are Georgian ceilings compared to English low-ceilinged cottages. The sky always seems so high. You don't get that too frequent British grey blanket hanging just above you.
  • The café culture
  • The weather.
  • The aroma of coffee in the streets as you whizz past the multitudinous cafés on your bike
  • The fact that you can buy fresh flowers SO cheaply on the streets as villagers come into Tirana to sell their garden produce in buckets on the pavements.
  • Waiters walking through the streets balancing a tray of tiny espresso cups delivering to local shops their 1st 'quick coffee' of the day.
  • The mountains. How I love the mountains
  • The many, many hours of sunshine.
  • The wonderful (mostly organic) fruit & veg, the food markets & the fact that young & old,men & women are interested in good food & press, prod & test the fruit before buying.
  • The way fruit sellers always tell you what part of the country the fruit has come from.
  • The beautiful gorge where we go swimming.
  • The greetings routine, where you stop & greet even if you are in a car with a queue behind you & the person is walking past.
  • The way Albanians put their hand on their heart when thanking you sincerely for something.
  • The still present feeling of community. People have time for each other.
  • The amazing culture of hospitality.
  • The lack of health & safety restraints or a nanny state. And I love the slightly anarchic, fiercely independent Albanian spirit, as well as a generally easy going attitude to things.
  • My classes: multi-cultural, lively, amusing, intelligent, engaged, surprising, appreciative & great fun. And best of all the fact that they laugh at my jokes.
  • The dedicated missionaries who have given up their comfortable, suburban live s back home, & made Albania their long-term home, learning the language, integrating into the culture & giving so much to their communities & to the country as a whole. Did you know that it was the Christian community, 0.5% of the population, who were responsible for 80% of the aid to Kosovan Albanian refugees in Albania, many taking refugees into their homes to live with them until they could safely return? They were given a public vote of thanks on TV by the president of Albania after the crisis.
  • Finally I love the untamed, wildness that is Albania. Raw, beautiful & wild. Called by many Europe's last true wilderness. There are still bears & wolves in the mountains, many roads are untarmaced, people still ride on donkeys, till the fields by hand,shepherds graze their flocks, families harvest the olives. It really is a 'Bible-lands' landscape.

We have made good & often unexpected friendships here. My children have spent significant childhood years here & our daughter, in particular, passed through many miles stones; lost first teeth, learnt to ride a bike, to read, to swim. And both have made friends, gained awards, and scars, said many goodbyes. We have made a life here and we will miss it.

Goodbye Albania.