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jeto ne paqe = live in peace

I’ve discussed my New Year’s celebration in Ohrid, Macedonia….but if you checked out my photos from the newest album you may have noticed that I also went to Kosovo recently.

After spending time in Macedonia, I headed up to Prizren and Prishtina in Kosovë for a whirlwind two day tour. As volunteers we weren’t allowed to go to Kosovo until this past June – it was off limits because it was still on some “list” that meant Peace Corps didn’t want to be responsible for our travel there.

"I vote, you vote, they vote, we vote, you vote....they win" Eulex is the EU interim government.

Now that travel to the rest of “Shqiperia e madhe” is officially allowed, it’s surprising I haven’t made it up there until now. In fact, the best road in the whole country connects Lezhe with the border and I could be there in under 3 hours (speedy by Albanian transit standards). Kosovo is also the only other country in the world whose majority population speaks Albanian, yet the ethnically Albanian population (like those Albanians in Macedonia and Montenegro as well) was cut off from Albania itself for 50 years during the 20th century. I’ve been eager to test my language skills in another country and to see just what makes Kosovo different/the same for some time now.

Anti Serbian graffiti mixed in with pro-Albanian: Blej Shqip = Buy Albanian

While I didn’t come away after such a short visit with any great insight, a few things did really strike me as different from Albania while I was there. The most impressive of which was the diversity – of cultural heritage, of language, of religious traditions- that I found in Kosove.

In Prizren I learned that the city has a large Turkish minority. That, in addition to a significant Serbian population means that at any time one of about five languages could be being spoken around town. And all of this just across the border from Kukes in Albania – a comparatively homogenous region. So much for being able to use my language skills! I understood Kosovar Albanians less than I understood Macedonian Albanians, as it turned out.

"What meaning does independence hold when serbia returns to Prizren?"

Unfortunately, in recent history this diversity in Kosovo has been a source of tension in the wake of the conflict surrounding the country’s independence. Evidence of the past war is everywhere. Under interim EU governments, Kosovo and its citizens are still working out what it means to be Kosovo. Throughout Prizren and Prishtina the walls are covered in political grafitti. I came away from the short visit with a camera full of slogans of just how difficult the struggles for identity in this new country have been.

No caption necessary...

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I’ve been hearing the phrase “Ku e ke humbur?” a lot over the past few days. It literally means “where did you lost?,” and is one of those Albanianisms that is funny in literal translation but actually makes a strange amount of sense. Plus, it’s true – I have been a bit lost lately. At least from Lezhe and my Peace Corps life.

After two weeks with my parents traveling all over Albania and in Germany, I’m finally home and am picking up the pieces of past projects and making the to-do lists for new ones. Also, It’s as if summer suddenly began while I was gone. Everything is open later and it’s a bit more festive feeling around Lezhe. The new PC group is at site and done with training and there’s a lot of new energy among the volunteers. Now that it’s officially summer, there are new plans and travels to think about, as well as the return of time spent at the beach nearby. More stories from my travels and photos to come soon!

As the end of training approaches, so does our language proficiency interview. This spoken interview is required of all PC trainees worldwide, and here in Albania we are all preparing. We’ve covered most of the grammar we are going to get to and now need to review tenses, cases and practice speaking about the Peace Corps, our daily routines, what we do for work, etc.

It’s odd that once you learn the more complex parts of Albanian grammar (they have these personal pronoun abbreviations called clitics that are wicked confusing) the more dumb I feel. It’s supposed to make more sense as we go along, right? Wrong. Though I know I am making great progress, I think I have more of a knowledge of what I have been doing wrong all along and that stresses me out a little.

Thinking back to the few weeks before I left for Albania (now seems like so long ago!), I know many of you asked me about the language. At the time I didn’t have any real answers because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Yes – Albanian is its own strain of the indo-european language group. No – I don’t know anything else about it. No – I probably won’t use it after the peace corps because only about 5million people in Kosovo, Albania, Greece and the US speak it.

In the spirit of sharing what we are all going through, I’d like to point out a few of the oddities of learning Shqip (or “languages shqip” as my host sister calls it) as an English speaker:

1. Many words are the same but mean different things.

  • For example: pullë (postage stamp), pulë (hen), and pyll (forest) are all pronounced exactly the same. An ë on the end of a word is usually silent.
  • Djath= both cheese and left
  • Qep = to sew and onion
  • Vesh = to get dressed and ear
  • Qai (to cry) and çai (tea) are pronounced exactly the same
  • Pres= both to cut and to wait
  • The word for foot and leg are the same, the words for fingers and toes are the same, the word for niece/nephew and grandchild are the same. On the other hand, Shqip has two words for Aunt and two words for Uncle – distinguishing between the mothers and the fathers side.

2. There are many many short words in Albanian. You can form entire sentences with two letter words. These don’t make any sense, but just for example: Unë do të ha me ty dhe do të lë me të. (I am going to eat with you and leave with him). Ai ka një dhi të re që ka një sy të zi. (he has a new goat with one black eye). If you haven’t already noticed, the word të can be a personal pronoun, an article for an adjective (depending on the case), an article for possession, and is part of any future tense or subjunctive tense verb. These can all occur in the same sentence.

3. Cases. Clitics. Cases. Albanian has five cases. This means nouns can potentially have 10 different endings. Clitics are these short forms of accusative and dative pronouns that are really unique but very annoying. For example: “e di” means “I know it.” It is the short form of “Unë e di atë.” The little “e” is a short form of “atë” and must go before the verb – it’s a clitic! Surprise, you can say the pronoun twice at once, but don’t need to except sometimes….if you are confused, so am I.

4. Plurals are so confusing….when I am listening to people speak it is very difficult to pick out what is plural and what isn’t. Most of the time it seems like words are made plural by adding an “ë” to the end. To review: when ë is added to the end of a word it is silent. Sweet.

5. Some favorite words:

bubullimë = thunder
xizëlloj = lightning bug
udhëkryq = crossroads
byrzylyk = bracelet
buzëkuqi = lipstick
shkëlqyeshem = great!
shumëngjureshë = mulitcolored
kikirik = peanut

On the up side, I met my Albanian counterpart yesterday and we were able to communicate almost entirely in Shqip for about an hour about work and life. I think we exhausted my vocabulary in that time, but at least we understood each other okay. I am off to Lezhe for a 3 day visit today to meet people and check out the city before I move for real in about 2.5 weeks.

Downtown Elbasan

We arrived in sunny Albania around noon yesterday and immediately fell asleep on the two hour van ride from Tirane to Elbasan. Elbasan reminds me of Pokhara, Nepal in so many ways – orange trees and palms all around and then a view of snowy mountains above, trash everywhere and lots of dogs and multipurpose mechanical repair shops and restaurants. Full of juxtaposition. Except for the fact that there’s a big castle downtown, wireless internet in our hotel and a fancy italian grocery store across the street, this could be somewhere in asia.

Elbasan will be the “hub site” for our training period of 10 weeks. My group of COD (community an organizational development) volunteers who will live in the same village of Bishqem with our host families and do daily language training together will come into Elbasan twice a week to have cultural and logistical training sessions with the whole group. The weather is wonderful (for now) – sunny and dry and cold at night but warm during the day much like spring in VA. We’re all staying in a hotel in the city together where we’ve rapidly been learning the answers to all of those “I don’t know” questions – how we get paid, who our host families will be, etc. etc. etc. It’s a bit overwhelming, but in a way that’s full of nervous laughter and lots of coffee breaks – a wonderful part of Albanian culture. Saturday the camp-like fun will end and we’ll go off to our host families and begin the awkward language learning adventure.

Today was our first language crash course….and it’s not as difficult as I thought it would be (yet). Because Albanian is full of odd combinations of letters I have a lot of trouble guessing the spelling of words I hear aloud, but I can actually get the pronunciation of written words I read pretty well. Seems like Albanian would be great for scrabble – lots of q, z, k….36 letters in all (if double letters like dz and zh count as individual letters). The thing I will have a lot of trouble with is the fact that the yes/no head nod is completely opposite from the US up-down for no and side to side for yes…could be interesting. However, when in doubt, Albanians say mirë…an all-encompassing word for how nice it will be to get a full night’s sleep tonight.