Old Lekë


Let me just preface this story with the fact that I have never bought propane, filled up a propane tank or really had anything to do with gas in general before this winter. Now I am the proud owner (well, borrower) of a Peace Corps issue gas space heater. It has a 10 kilo tank of gas behind it that, even when empty, weighs a ton.

Back in December when it was -10 degrees Celsius outside, I quickly realized that what I thought would be my main source of heat, my fireplace, was actually pretty worthless at heating anything except the space one foot infront of the fire itself. And, it was actually pretty great at filling up my kitchen/living room with acrid smoke. So, after a week or so of sitting huddled by the fire with my feet barely warmed by basically sticking them into the fire, I turned to my space heater that was sitting unused in the corner (I am now a pretty miserly person and embrace any attempt to save resources and save utilities money…thus I thought I was being pretty clever by not using my gas heater). I thought I knew how to work it, but no matter what trick I tried it would not light. I even risked losing my arm and held a match up to the contraption. Not smart. And, I felt sure that the tank was full of gas, because why would Peace Corps give it to me empty? Plus, it was soooo heavy. Anyway, I solicited a guy friend from the group ahead of me to take a look when he was visiting, and turns out I am an idiot and yes, the gas tank was empty. Gabim #1.*

So now I had to fill up the gas tank. Thankfully my friend helped me find the special sized wrench that would detach the tank from the heater. He also told me that he only used a little gas each winter, and that I would probably only need to fill it up about halfway (saving money, ka-ching ka-ching). He told me to talk to my landlord because he had a car and could probably help me out with filling it up. Soo…. I talked to my landlady (all in Shqip) – How much does gas cost? Where should I take it to fill it up?, etc. etc. Is it possible to only fill my tank up halfway?

She was very confused as to why I would only want half a tank. Then I explained that I was trying to cut costs. But she was still confused when she quoted me what a tank of gas usually costs: “only 16 thousand lekë!”

WHAT? I balked. Just to give you some context, the conversion right now is about 104 lekë to the dollar, so this works out to more than my monthly rent for 10 kilos of gas. I quickly explained that I could in no way afford this, and asked if my landlord could drive me and the tank down the hill to the gas station to fill it up with only a kilo or two. She confusedly agreed – he’d come get me later on.

So, that night I took the tank and we went down the hill….my landlord still didn’t understand why I only wanted a kilo or two, and he even offered to pay for me to fill up the whole tank and I could pay them back gradually over time. No, no, I said…it’s okay….

Then I remembered….

Here in Albania there is old lekë and new lekë….Sometime in the last 20 years someone fighting inflation took a zero off the end of everything, but the country’s psyche has yet to catch up. When you arrive in Albania they warn you about this – and I am really used to seeing the price of sugar in one dyqan be 120 lekë while in another it’s quoted as 1200 lekë when they actually mean only 120 lekë. People speak in terms of both old and new lekë interchangeably all the time, and after 10 months here I am pretty used to dividing everything by ten before paying. Or so I thought. Like I said, I had never bought propane gas before.

In the car with my landlord I quickly realized that my two days of fear about going into debt because I filled up my gas tank were totally silly and that I had been confused all along about the price (thinking it was ten times what it actually is – 1600 lekë). Gabim #2. My landlord and I had a good laugh about it on the way back home. Just another reason for him to think I am the silly American. And now I have a wonderful alternate heat source….at least until I have to fill up the tank again.


*Gabim = mistake (one of my favorite Shqip words)

  1. Meg pierce said:

    LM – thoroughly enjoying reading about your adventures! Yes, the news about strife in Tirana is unnerving. Interesting to have your reports
    X auntie m!

  2. Bill said:

    Excellent story, LM. During my first month settled in my village in Haiti, I waved away my “mother’s” concern for my safety as I told her I was going on a hike. She warned me about the little cows that bite. I thought then, oh my what voodoo silliness! She actually was referring to ti-bets (bees, wasps, hornets) not ti-befs (small cows). Everyone had a good laugh when I returned from my adventure with more than a half dozen “bites”!

  3. Jim Littlefield said:

    When my wife and I lived in Tirana, we spent many confusing times deciding whether we were being quoted old or new Leke. Glad to see not too much has changed in modern Albania.

    Thanks for the great post. Jim Littlefield

  4. Susan said:

    an honest “mistake” – good gas doesn’t cost that much! be warm! love your posts!

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