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:
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 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.