It might be because I’ve been listening to Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs on repeat. Or, maybe it’s because I’ve been getting to know my neighbors a bit more lately. Then again, it could be because I’ve been spending a lot more time at home now that it’s no longer summer.
Whatever the reason, I’ve been reflecting on the nature of the Albanian neighborhood a lot recently.
It seems these days that the kids across the road from me are always out in the pomegranate trees making forts and fighting in the dirt. In the evening they play soccer on the sidewalk at the bottom of my hill and no one seems to care where they are and what they are doing. Nearby, a group of ladies sits around on the steps of their apartment building and spends the evening talking, but they’re not concerned about the kids. It’s a very Jane Jacobs eyse-on-the-street atmosphere. As long as the kids are home for dinner, everything is fine. After all, because the community is so interconnected a family would know in five minutes if something happened to their son or daughter.
In Lezhe, a dense city of mostly apartment buildings that is also small and contained, everyone knows everyone else. This, along with the value of family in Albania and a lack of after school extra-curricular activities, lends itself to a kid-friendly street and neighborhood culture very different than that in the US. Maybe my parents’ generation could run around the neighborhood until the dinner bell rang, but I doubt that many people my age had that experience. Maybe it’s just me having grown up in a rural area, but somehow I feel like I am more of a participant in a neighborhood now than I have ever been. Even in college I didn’t know the people in my apartment building at all. Here, I get stopped daily by the ladies who live down the street from me while they sit out knitting and chatting on the stoop. It’s a very social culture.
I went for a hike last week with a few of my Outdoor Ambassadors club members. After I said hello to a few people that we passed on the road one of the girls in my group exclaimed that I was really nice to people I didn’t know. I responded by observing that in Albania, most people say hello, regardless of who they are greeting/passing on the road. This interaction is a large part of my experience here, of my feeling at home in Lezhe. It brings me into the “neighborhood,” makes me a part of the daily experience of those around me, and it is something I hope I can bring back to wherever I find myself in the future.