There’s a tradition in Albania surrounding eggs at Easter. After dyeing them, you give them to your friends and family. Then they hold onto them for a year and throw them in the river for good luck.
Yesterday I ceremoniously threw my two from last year in the river. Oddly they were very light, having lost all moisture sitting in my living room since last April. They floated away quickly – two red dots on the full and fast-flowing Drini.
Then, today, I was given six newly dyed eggs. Maybe this means my luck’s multiplying?
Despite it’s proud ancient history, Lezhe sometimes has the feel of being a new city.
This new-ness is largely due to the fact that the entire old city was destroyed in an earthquake in the 1970s. Since that time, several waves of new development have brought a hurried and varied selection of architectural styles to town, creating an eclectic mix of haphazard design. Somehow, it all works together.
Given this new development, Lezha has it all – from communist-block apartment buildings to Illyrian castles to 1970s cement sculptured façades to coffee bars with soccer ball themed entrances. In this first of a series of posts, I’ll give you a glimpse at my favorites from the architectural mix that I call home.
Brian’s Bar // This football-themed bar takes the sport and Brian (a soccer star) seriously. It has a soccer-ball entrance and peace-sign hand chairs inside, wallpaper that says “Brian’s” in every font and color imaginable, larger than life photos of Brian in action and even a trophy case displaying his shoes.
Shtëpia e Mlikajve // This Ottoman era home is the only remaining one in a neighborhood where they used to be common. It survived the earthquake and was briefly the city museum. Now it lies empty.
The Public Library (Biblioteka e Qytetit të Lezhës) // My home for my current SPA project, this 70s-era building is bright bright pink and has some wonderful geometric features. I used the line patterns around the windows on the second floor in the logo I designed for them (bottom right of this poster).
More to come!
Albania as a country takes their holidays seriously. I know I’ll never have as many days off as I have here in a country that observes Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox holidays as well as other state and international celebrations.
However, even for Albanians March is a holiday-heavy month. This year I had the advantage of knowing what to expect when, the day before women’s day, my counterpart said “Laura, you need to wear a dress tomorrow – we’re going to dance.” And, I had the opportunity to spend the days off with some of my favorite people here in Albania, enjoying the early spring weather.
Dita e Grave // International Women’s Day – March 8th // Celebrated with the women I work with at the Bashkia with a day dancing at a lokal by the beach and with a dinner with the women from the American School in Lezhe.
Dita e Veres // Summer Day – March 14th // Dita e Veres is a distinctly Albanian holiday, involving traditions of making sugar cookies and tying friendship bracelets around your friends’ wrists (why, I don’t know). It’s usually done up most in Elbasan, but I celebrated with some pals from work, again at the beach.
St. Patrick’s Day – March 17th // Ok. Not Albanian at all. But we Americans celebrated with a night out in Tirana and green dye for our brews
…and for this week’s Novruz – March 22nd, I will be at my counterpart Yllka’s house teaching her how to make brownies and eating lunch together.
All examples of cultural exchange at it’s best!
Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, which in Albania means an excuse for all the women in my office to get real dressed up, get their hair done, go out to lunch at a place by the beach and DANCE!
Naturally, I’m excited.
Last year I loved this opportunity to bond with the women I work with and celebrate our lives together, but this time around I see it more as the first (of many, I hope!) farewell fests for me in Albania. AND, this year I get to double dip, as I’ve been invited to an evening soiree at the new American School in town. They will be two very different parties, but both part of a tradition I love here that I hope to bring back and share with my friends and family at home.
So – gezuar dita e grave to all the lovely ladies in my life! I wish I could be with all of you tomorrow!
During the communist period in Albania, the government regularly published Pionieri, a magazine for all the “young pioneers” of Shqiperi. I had heard about this publication and it’s entertaining and enlightening view into what life during Zoti Enver’s reign was like for youngsters from other volunteers, but recently had a chance to get my hands on some copies from the 70s from the Lezhe library’s extensive archives.
So far, I’ve enjoyed looking at the articles and exploring what was deemed important to show/teach/tell the country’s youth during such a closed-off time. I like to think of Pionieri as a sort of communist version of Highlights. Most of the articles seem to be about national heroes, sports, school and ways to help out in your community. But, each issue has a feature on another foreign country and a decent selection of fiction and poetry in Shqip.
While I’ve enjoyed reading around, I think the best part for me….the most “translatable” per se….are the graphics. I love the style and the bright colors of the printed borders and backgrounds interspersed with the greys of the black and white photos….and I appreciate them all the more because they all pre-date computer layout programs by about 30 years.
Take a look:
I also was struck by the prominence of girls in the photos and contributions in this publication:
Today at work my colleague actually lit her scarf on fire. It was in flames and we had to stomp on it to put out the blaze. A scary thing in an office full of paper.
Though it’s shocking (and a little bit funny/ironic that this happened ), the fire is not surprising seeing as the Bashkia offices all use propane gas heaters with open flames that sit at ankle level on rickety wire tripods. They’re like the photo below only with the gas tank attachment sitting on the floor facing upwards without the guard screen. Yikes.
I knew that someday I would see something go up in flames due to one of these frightening contraptions. I’m just happy that when I did the story ended well!
Yes, I have lived in Albania for almost two years. While I feel “at home” here, everyday I am reminded that I am, most definitely, a foreigner.
Even though they remain strange or foreign to me, there are a few things that
no longer surprise me after so much time in Albania. I almost don’t notice when my coworkers paint their nails in the office or try and learn the lyrics and dance to Beyonce’s single ladies during work hours. I definitely don’t think twice when each morning and afternoon I interrupt the Bashkia cleaning lady mopping the carpets on the stairs as I walk to and from the office. I automatically factor in about a half hour of extra “go to all the coffee bars and try and find the person” time for each meeting I attempt to have. And, I certainly don’t find it wierd that my landlady’s answer to my house’s lack of electricity during Christmas was to get her husband to go up on a ladder with a screwdriver and split the electric line coming into their home so I could have (albeit weak) light to celebrate by until the electric company fixed it.
While all of these random events might be the day-to-day “normal” of my life these days, one normality that I am certainly not used to is the fact that the thermometer inside my house currently reads around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn’t surprise me, but it does not make me laugh out loud like most of the other facts of life në Shqiperi.
Thanks, Mom, for having the foresight to bring me my grandmother’s retired down dressing robe! I am “fashionably” sporting it more and more these days.