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.


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.