It’s official – I have been a California resident for over a year. I never thought it would go by this fast.

One thing’s for certain – this year has been an adjustment full of firsts. I’ve found out that living in a city, having a full-time job, and trying to simultaneously maintain social life, exercise routine, cultural currency, hygiene, and sanity can be very exhausting. For a while an entire year I’ve been meaning to keep up with and transition my blog into a visual and verbal journal full of observations/commentary on this city, its surroundings, and a life spent occupying both worlds.

Enter culturalecology.wordpress.com – an old project I’m resurrecting for the fall. I’ll be slowly building up this site, and hope to help it evolve with me in the coming months. Take a look for photos and ruminations on city life and country adventures. Enjoy!

I’m excited to join the masses tomorrow hitting the road to go visit friends and family for Thanksgiving. However, though I’m feeling the burn of the 9-5 grind and am seriously ready for the time off, the ads everywhere for black friday deals (I forgot about this awful phenomenon) and the traffic we’ll inevitably encounter on our way south to LA are both just some of the ways that this Thanksgiving makes me nostalgic for Thanksgivings past.

There’s nothing quite like a Peace Corps Thanksgiving. I don’t know what it was about killing and gutting our own turkey, huddling around space heaters with 200 leke wine and blankets, scouring shelves of the “big” grocery stores in Tirana for ingredients, using every dish in the house because the water was off until midnight and we had to save it in case someone needed to flush, explaining Dita e Falenderimeve to countless colleagues, sleeping two or three to a couch, playing American football and being followed around by curious schoolgirls on the field, dressing up like pilgrims and indians, and splurging for a taxi just because it’s the holidays that suddenly feels more patriotic and truly Thanksgiving than any “tradition” I’ve had here in the US.

I think you’ve never really truly experienced Thanksgiving until you go abroad with a group of other Americans. The extra effort required to celebrate makes it that much more special and the hardships of the day-to-day as a PCV make such a celebration truly live up to its name.

At this moment, pondering my plans for the upcoming weekend, I miss the camaraderie of a Peace Corps Thanksgiving. The energy we put in to get together and uphold/make new/share our own individual traditions was inspiring and a bonding experience like few I’ve had before or since. Plus, the turkey was the best I’ve ever had (thank you, Brea!).

I’m thankful that this year I get to share my first major holiday back in the States with two of my Peace Corps friends. I miss sharing it with my own family, but being with this second “family” will let me relive a bit of my experience abroad and celebrate old and new traditions all over again. And, we don’t have to kill the turkey :)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Since coming back to the States, I have been overwhelmed by the exciting change of transition. I’ve reunited with friends and family, spent a month reveling in the green gorgeous Virginia summertime, and, most recently, made a cross-country move to the great metropolis known as the Bay Area.

This most recent life path twist, while premeditated, was not for any particular reason besides the fact that I felt the call of the west. “A few friends (and my beau) live there, I’ve always liked the area, there’s a lot going on in my field, I’ll make it work,” were the answers I routinely gave out to the overwhelming wave of questions I encountered themed “why California?”

While the transition is fresh and I’m still wondering if this was the right move for me, I do know that I’ve found myself thinking back to the good ole days of Peace Corps Pre-Service Training sessions in Elbasan more frequently than usual recently – mainly those (at the time, doze-worthy) sessions about IRB-ing, or intentional relationship building.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but IRB-ing is just a sneaky fancy-speak term for networking. In the Peace Corps, you have to get to know your community to be successful, and we were encouraged, as volunteers, to reach out and intentionally approach people we did not know in order to make connections and establish our cache of community contacts. Through living and working in Lezhe, I had the “I don’t know you, so I won’t talk to you” beaten out of me, and it’s served me well during the trial of recreating my professional network in yet another “foreign” community. Though people are not as interested in me just because I am American anymore, I’m meeting so many creative, interesting people, and look forward to continuing to create a community for myself here. It’s not home yet, but I’m getting there.

Many thanks to all the friends and family who have helped me start out here by introducing me to people and showing me where and how to start off. I look forward to updating you as things roll along!

I’ve now been stateside for about two weeks, and I’m getting used to it. I think. 

Today, however, I realized just how used to certain aspects of Albanian life I had become. 

Last week I shelled out for some new running shoes, and today I took them out for a spin on a local trail with my sister (running on a trail again is amazing, but oddly boring – no animals to avoid). At each family, runner or cyclist we passed I had to choke back the words “Si e kalove?” or “‘tjeta” in Albanian. I realized that I had/have become so used to everyone I see while running staring at me wide-eyed that my instinctual defense mechanism of a greeting and a smile is literally a part of my DNA. 

Over the course of today’s run, I managed to fool my brain back into greeting people in English. Even though I didn’t receive many greetings in return, I can’t yet tell if it’s just the American way or if I look that scary when huffing and red faced and dripping sweat.

I don’t think I’ll give up the habit, though. 

Last night I arrived back in beautiful Blacksburg after more than two months on the road. Everything seems so green, seeing as the last time I was here was after a major blizzard and at the tail end of winter. It feels good to be back and to finally put down my suitcase and unpack. However, I didn’t realize how relaxed I had become on my trip until I arrived back in the busy paced life of home. Deep breaths…

Over the next few weeks I’m looking forward to catching up with family and friends (here AND in Albania), reconnecting with my bicycle, and writing a few more posts to fill in the cracks about my travels.

Out here in northeastern Turkey, life has a different pace. On the high plains surrounding remote Lake Çıldır on the border wıth Georgia near the city of Kars, June days cater to the cycle of the livestock’s needs, wıth time for a few çay in between.

Adam is patiently teaching me to drive our manual rental car, but I’m still learning the art of idling in first without stalling – a feat which almost failed me while working our way around the lake and stopping for the many herds of cattle that crossed our path. While spluttering through the hamlet of Çanaksu in the early evening, we stopped to observe almost the entire village out in the road herding and slapping the cows in every which way between the drying piles of peat and earthen-roofed homes. Definitely a team sport – even the toddlers were involved.

While we were stopped, one of the locals came up to our window, gesturing that he wanted to invite us into his earthen home for çay, or tea – the Turkish equivalent of the omnipresent Albanian coffee. We pulled over and sat for a while in his sittıng room as his wife prepared tea and even a fried egg or two. Knowing about ten words of Turkish combined, Adam and I weren’t able to communicate much, but enjoyed the conversation nonetheless and, in a moment highly reminiscent of Albania, were shown all the family wedding photos by beaming hosts.

After a while (and when the cows were finally under control, I’m sure), a few curious neighbors came over to try their hand at communicating with us….and, before long we looked up and two French long-distance bikers en route from France to Nepal had also been invited in to tea. With their skills at both English and Turkish, we were finally able to talk a bit with our hosts in a roundabout way….but still managed to miscommunicate the fact that no, we did not need two liters of milk freshly milked for us, but yes, we’d love to watch you milk the cows. We came away from the experience a bit more caffienated from all the tea, with way more fresh milk than we knew what to do with, and with wonderful memories of a boundless hospitality and the unique mix of cultures that can come if you take the time to stall out behind a herd of cattle.

Enjoying the mountains in Valbona (northern Albania) on the way out of the country

As of last Friday my stint with Peace Corps Albania is over, whıch ıs dıffıcult to understand. I found that the leavıng and endıng was a lot more personal for me than the comıng and arrıvıng. Sayıng goodbye was hard and fast and full of fest-ıng, but the actual border crossıng certaınly carrıed a bıt less fanfare along wıth ıt. In fact, ın many ways, the day I left Albanıa felt lıke just another day.

When I fırst came to Albania it was with a group of 49 other excited trainees all carryıng our nervous energy and 100 pounds of possesıons together on one plane. When I left thıs past weekend, it was in a nearly-empty furgon over one of the least frequented border crossings in the northern mountains to Kosovo. Comparably, it felt a little like I was sneaking out the back door.

Now Adam and I are ın Turkey suddenly feelıng the culture shock of not knowıng the language or what the money ıs worth. I feel a bıt lıke a fısh out of water, but I thınk ı wıll feel even more odd when the home I go back to ıs not Albanıa.

Sınce I’ve left, I wıll try to transıtıon thıs ınto a travel blog. We’ll be on the road a lot, but I hope to be able to post a photo or two and a reflectıon every now and then.

 

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