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.
Today my six-month USAID Small Projects Assistance grant project came to an end with a grand celebration of reading, books, and community.
After purchasing needed books back in December with grant funds, I worked with Yllka and the library staff to implement the second phase of our project, a month-long book drive that ended today. All in all, we collected over 1,000 new and used books for the library, an outpouring that is amazing for the first book drive ever in the Lezhe community. Each book donated was given a stamp, specific to the project, with a place for the donator to sign their name.
Today, at the celebratory event, we had all the books on display. The library staff prepared a small program including a poem recitation, a musical interlude, the first showing of a brief documentary about the library’s programs (produced by the Bashkia), and a presentation by myself and my country director who came out from Tirana for the day. It was wonderful to see almost everyone I know in Lezhe in one room – Bashkia staff, school directors, students, friends – gathered together in support of this project that my counterpart and I have worked so hard on for so long. And, the soft-spoken yet eloquent Gjergj Shyti (library director) specifically made mention in his remarks of the fact that I was leaving soon and wished me luck with all future endeavors….and then everyone clapped. It was a memorable, fun and heartwarming end to one of my most successful projects during my time as a PCV.
Lori, one of my Outdoor Ambassadors students who also recited a poem at the event, came up to me afterwards and said “you know Laura, a lot of people will miss you when you leave.” I’ve been so fortunate to be part of such a vibrant community here in Lezhe…and I’m going to miss these people a lot, too.
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!
Here in Albania (well, at least in Lezhe) it finally feels like Spring. I’m sure there are cold snaps to come and much of the country is still melting out from the snow of three weeks ago, but, for me, life is comfortable again and I’m enjoying the change in the weather.
This photo is from the first real warm day, Feb. 28th, on a small beach north of Shengjin spending the day on the sand with friends. Thanks to Adam for passing it along!
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!
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!