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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.

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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

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…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!

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view from the apartment of the port in Ohrid

To ring in 2012 I traveled to Ohrid, Macedonia with a few friends. I was there in October, 2010 briefly, but this time I had a chance to explore a bit more. We had a great time eating lots of delicious grilled meat, setting off firecrackers in questionable locations and dancing to Serbian music at a bar/club on the water on NYE. Here are a few photos from the experience. To see the full album, click here.

FOUND - the church that Adam and I searched for last year but could not find!

Ohrid is full of many generations of old Yugos, mostly yellow for some reason

Sun setting on 2011....and Albania across the lake

And another year begins….

I’m home this first weekend in January. Un-decorating. Being alone. Soaking up my house by myself and catching up on all the things I didn’t do over the last few weeks between Christmas and New Years. Or avoiding them all the same by finding new distractions.

It’s hard to believe the passing of 2011 marks the first full calendar year of my life spent entirely outside the US of A. It was a whirlwind and went by faster than expected, but was a wonderful year full of memorable projects, successes and failures, relationship building and travels around the Balkans with friends.

I spent a few days in Ohrid, Macedonia to celebrate the arrival of the new year with a few close friends. It was a wonderful trip, one of the shortest but best I’ve had since being in Albania. I think it was so nice because it was not only a chance to spend time with people I love and am completely comfortable with in a beautiful place, but also to have a great time dancing and being slightly ridiculous to celebrate the new year in style.

However comfortable and steady I may feel with my life and work and friends here now, the passing of 2011 brings into full light the new year – one that will be so full of unknowns and changes for all of us PCVs in my group as our service comes to a close. Over our Ohrid trip and throughout the past few months I’ve been a part of a lot of conversations about time and the future, it seems.

My Peace Corps experience, with its high highs and low lows and all the time inbetween where I’m just curled up at home by myself doing an inordinate amount of knitting brings to mind a quote from Steinbeck’s East of Eden. The following was once shown to me by a friend at another point in my life that felt equally as transitional, and I’ve enjoyed sharing these words with friends now:

“Time interval is a strange and contradictory matter in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the dull eventless times that have no duration whatever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy – that’s the time that seems long in the memory. And this is right when you think about it. Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all.”

And it’s true. It’s getting taken out to lunch to celebrate a grant proposal on a whim and making a total mess with firecrackers by the port in Ohrid on New Years Day and sweating up the hill to Lura and boating around to beaches by Himare and laughing at my students comedy performances and finally getting my own desk after 18 months that I will and do remember most. Not the weeks and cold nights by myself in between. They seem long at the time, but actually fly by.

Best wishes for a happy and memorable new year!

See y’all sooner than you may think. I hope!

This past weekend nine of us PCVs celebrated the holidays here at my house in Lezhe. After two days without power, the lights came back on on Christmas Eve and we were able to cook good food and make merry. The weather was wonderful, and we played football one day and then hiked to the Castle above my house.

It’s interesting to be in a country for the holidays that celebrates New Years more than Christmas. The entire city of Lezhe is decked out in festive lights of bright colors and there is a big tree downtown, but people decorate with trees for New Years instead of Christmas, so there was no real attention to the tree/lights this weekend. Meanwhile, kids everywhere are preparing for New Year’s by blowing up M80s constantly on the street corners. Fireworks are cheap and abundant this time of year, and we bought some ourselves and shot them off infront of my house in the wee hours of Christmas Day.

This is what a Peace Corps Christmas looks like

I hope all of your holidays were just as jolly as ours here in Albania! I’m thinking of everyone back home a lot these days and sending lots of love from afar.

Gezuar Krishtlindje dhe vitin e ri!  Qoftë një vit i mbarë dhe i suksesshëm!

Happy International Volunteer Day, everyone!

This post is a bit overdue, but I thought I’d give an update on what Thanksgiving was like for me here in Albania.

A day of great weather and football and cooking plus 16ish PCVs all contributing dishes = a whole lot of great food and merriment. Made-from-scratch green bean casserole (complete with homemade deep fried onions) and a bacon blue cheese apple pie were hits along with all the normal Turkey day trimmings. Finding enough glasses/jars for us all to drink out of was the biggest problem.

I have loved my two Thanksgivings in Albania. They’ve been so different from holidays at home, but just as wonderful. The pot luck style really reminds me of the 100-mile Thanksgivings I used to celebrate with the urban planning department at UVA. I think that as Americans living abroad, we try extra hard at Thanksgiving and the Fourth. One of the things I enjoy about Turkey Day here is that everyone is American, but has a different tradition to share/recreate the best they can. And the result is overwhelming. It really goes to show that the holidays can be merry wherever you are as long as you’re with the people you love. And, because we celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday and Albanians had that Monday and Tuesday off for national holidays (Independence Day and the day celebrating their release from Nazi power), the holiday was stretched over 6 days….which made it all even better.

Today I miss home. Albanians I know keep coming up to me today and saying “happy birthday,” but it’s just not the same. Nothing can beat the Fourth of July in Monteagle or Maine with my real family and real barbecue. But, I get to continue to enjoy the summer on the Adriatic with some wonderful friends and have plenty to do at work, so I can’t complain.

For example, check out what the NYT Frugal Traveler has to say about Himare, where my friend Meredith lives.

Wishing you all a great holiday from Albania!