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Monthly Archives: May 2012

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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Change is not something new in my Peace Corps service.

Albania is a dynamic place – and it seems like Lezhe especially is different every time I turn around. The  lack of a credit culture or necessity for a business to be registered means that small businesses open and close with lightning speed. The main street here has a newly opened or closed business almost every time I return from being away for a few days. And, across the country, there are already new hotels and buildings occupying places I visited a year or two ago and they were pristine (like Dhermi beach). Albania is building, growing and evolving at a rapid pace…

My own moving on has meant I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting lately. Thinking about changes I have seen here in Albania in such a short time and what kinds of changes will happen in one, two, five or ten years before I am able to come back for a visit is pretty overwhelming.

I thought a lot about this on our recent hike through the area near Gjirokaster. It’s hard to avoid the evidence of dramatic chance in abandoned villages like Kaparjel (above) and not think about what might happen elsewhere as Albania evolves. For example, will the mass migration that emptied Kaparjel be the fate of villages I know and have visited that are thriving? Or, with the advent of new roads and tourism business opportunities, will people start to come back?

I would love to come back eventually and see what has changed, but, until then, I guess I have to focus on the changes on my own life….and on making sense of what the 2010 – 2012 Albania has meant to me.

Today it really hit me. This leaving thing is hard.

The beautiful weather broke and it started pouring rain…..and I started saying goodbye to people. It’s hard to do when you don’t know if you’ll ever see someone again and when you know you can’t/won’t keep in touch with most of them.

In the afternoon the entire female staff of the Bashkia went out together for lunch and dancing. When we arrived – in between trying to fix my computer so we could listen to music, struggle with the speakers (when did tech guru become my job??) and eat my lunch, Yllka stopped everyone from talking, looked at me, and asked me if I was ready….For what? I said, looking up from the speakers. To give a speech, she answered…

I stood up and blubbered something out in broken shqip that does not come close to expressing how I feel and we all gezuared and danced and then I started tearing up a bit. I suddenly felt very far away inside my head…but was still able to have a great time with all the ladies – some of whom are my best friends here, but some of whom I have hardly worked with at all. I felt so honored to be the subject of such celebration, though I know it was fun for them, too. The ladies even all went in together and bought me a painted plaque of the view of the Bashkia from the park, a tablecloth (that became a headdress at one point) and a Lezha recycling t-shirt signed by most of the staff. What a wonderful wonderful afternoon. I am truly blessed to have been able to be here for two years with such lovely people.

 

Tomorrow I’ll hopefully finish all the goodbyes and details….and then it’s off on the next adventure on Wednesday.

 

This past Friday I hosted a small goodbye “koktejl” at my house. It was a hot afternoon, but everyone enjoyed themselves and made the most of the view and the company. It made me so happy to see so many of my friends together in one place outside of work and to finally have them to my house, but it was a bit bittersweet because I may not see many of them again. So odd and sad to think about!

We danced, a few people gave me gifts, but mainly we just all caught up and had a great time enjoying each other. I will miss this city, this country and its culture of family and making time to be together.

4 days left in Lezhe….

This past weekend I explored the Sheher neighborhood on the city’s periphery. The neighborhood of mostly stone homes and small farms sits on a small saddle behind the castle, up above the road out of town to Kallmet. The view of the surrounding landscape is a startling green and blue in the late Spring sun, and the surrounding pastoral fields made me feel far from the bustle of downtown below.

While exploring, I discovered an abandoned Ottoman era home in the midst of the winding paths of Lagja Sheher. As far as I know, it’s the only house of its age and quality in Lezhe and would have been the home for the large family of a pasha or other dignitary during the 18th and 19th centuries. While it is unfortunate that it is falling in today, the entropic state of the house has a mysterious charm, recalling scenes from the Secret Garden and inspiring the series of photos that follows.

Each outgoing volunteer since way back when has had the opportunity to paint a tile to decorate the office walls in Tirana. Here is mine – beach, mountains, castle, river, ocean, city….I tried to incorporate it all.


This past weekend I traveled south for a last jaunt in the Albanian wilds before closing my service. Chris, Adam, Casey, Ryan and I aimed to head from Gjirokaster to the beach town of Borsh just south of my friend Meredith’s house in Himare….but instead we got a bit turned around in a few canyons and ended up in Kuq, the town we camped in last April (see this post).

The weather broke just as we were leaving Tirana to go south, and the weekend was clear, sunny and wonderful – a warm respite after all the rain we had in April. As usual at this time of year, the hillsides were carpeted with flowers…..making all the bushwhacking we did a bit more pleasant.

We hiked from the village of Zhulat north to the nearly abandoned hamlet of Kaparjel. After asking the two villagers we could find the way to the coast, we followed a wash north on the second day, finally popping out on top of a ridge above the tree line after several hours bouldering without any evidence of humans at all. And all we saw from the top were more mountains….

Thinking we might be in trouble, we headed down towards the only road we could see (road = civilization), traversing until we arrived at the dirt track in the valley. At that point, a few of us who were on the hike last April recognized where we were, and, feeling a whole lot better, we all headed downstream to the village of Kuq.

Ironically in Kuq there had just been a celebratory ceremony with the PRESIDENT of Albania….so there were plenty of people around leaving town to give us a ride out to Meredith’s house in Himare. Even after all the natural diversity we had just hiked through, the ride out was comparatively gorgeous – we caught the sun going down over the Ali Pasha castle in porto palermo and the ocean beyond.

In all it was the most adventurous of all the multi-day hikes I’ve completed in Albania. But, there isn’t much that a few days at the beach in Himare can’t heal, and I’m feeling very recovered after a few refreshing jumps from this cliff:

More of my photos from the excursion are here. Adam’s are here.