A few weeks ago I was meeting with a few of the girls from the Lezhe Outdoor Ambassadors club about a new project we are taking on (promoting reusable grocery bags!). We were speaking in English and one of the girls was talking about her summer, how some of her family who live in Italy were back staying with her for a few weeks, and about how all the “refugees” were back in town….
I gave her a puzzled face, then we laughed at her accidental substitution for the word “emigrant” and she realized the implications of what she had said. It was a moment of language-gaff bonding for us….something that rarely happens with these girls as they are some of the best English speaking Albanians I know.
In the days that followed, I reflected on her comment and thought that with the number of people coming into town, sometimes refugee seems like the appropriate term.
As family returns for the summer from Crete, Athens, Florence, Rome and other points in the Albanian diaspora, it seems as if Lezhe has almost doubled in size over the last few weeks. With this influx, the amount of English spoken around town is also increasing. After hanging up the phone from having a work conversation with another PCV in English, people ask me on the street in English if I am lost. No, thank you. I’m not lost. I live here, believe it or not. While events like these are frustrating to get used to, the sudden rise in population reflects on one of the things I love most about Albania – the importance of spending time with family. July and August are not only vacation – their time for reunions, for big family meals and for spending time with those who normally live outside the country.
I know I’ve talked before about the odd in-between consciousness that comes from being an expat living in an adopted community, but it’s something I am really noticing here this summer. I have been mistaken more and more often recently for a tourist, something that always takes me by surprise and prompts a knee-jerk reaction in my adopted “hometown.” I finally feel like I have a chameleon-level of language proficiency and am a part of my community, but the call outs in English just remind me that I am still, and will always be, an outsider. Sometimes it seems that I have “tourist” tattooed on my forehead.
Maybe it’s because I am the only American in town this summer, but last year I don’t remember noticing this influx of Albanian “tourists” quite as much. I think I accepted the fact that I was, in effect, a tourist here myself. But now, who is the tourist in this situation? Me, or the Lezhjane who wants to help me out but has, in fact, not been in Lezhe for the past 5 years because they have been working in Bologna/New York/Detroit/Athens/Frankfurt….? In a way we both are.
Later this week I am escaping to be a “real” tourist in Bosnia and Croatia with one of my close friends from the states (and our mutual good friend who is my fellow PCV). It will feel refreshing to be outside the dual life of tourist/resident and be able to break out my camera and accept my lack of linguistic skills and just get lost in a city. More to report when I return!