Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Macedonia and a Four Day Weekend

We had a lovely four day weekend. I'm actually ready to return to the five-year-olds tomorrow (Wednesday)! The good news is, I was able to go to and return from Macedonia legally, without spending anytime in jail. It ended up being a really quick trip to Macedonia (Saturday-Sunday) because the driver had to be back by Monday. Here are a few highlights from the Lake Orhid region!
Tracey and Sarah pointing to Albania. Entela told us that the Albanian side of the lake is polluted and there is trash everywhere. So sad!!
We took a walk up to three beautiful churches that border the lake in Macedonia. Here we are on the steps of one of the churches. I don't quite remember the names of the churches, but I do know that they are old! Fifteenth of sixteenth century, I think. It really was a perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.
Here we are along the park area with all the sail boats and fishing boats. I'm sort of regretting that we didn't take a water taxi out to the churches because it would have been such fun to have been on the water. Unfortunately, our common sense kicked in and we didn't do it. It was tooooo cold. I think I'll come back in the summer.
We were trying to figure out how much we all owed for the driver, hotel and dinner. It shouldn't have been that complicated except we were dealing with four different currencies.
Ahh, the last roses of summer. Macedonia is so clean compared to Albania. It has a certain charm about it too.
Just a cute shot of my friends. Albania (or Macedonia) wouldn't be as fun without them!
We went into a paper making place. It made me think of the Creative Juices (see Michelle's blog). They would have been inspired there.
This was one of the paths to a church. I think that if I was an ancient Macedonian, I would have a super hard time concentrating on a service in a setting like this.
We also went to an old monastery farther along the lake. This was the lagoon that had me at "hello." I think this was about the moment that I began thinking ahead two years. There is a QSI school in Macedonia. I think I could suffer the change.
See the bridge? It says Anne and Gilbert all over it doesn't it, April? Sigh. Anyhow, Fabian, our German friend, has been like a younger cousin and leaves on Wednesday to go back to school. The man behind Fabian is Hasan, the best driver in all of Albania. He navigated the twisty mountain passes...in the rain...and we all lived to tell the tale. He said we were the best group ever (I think he wants our business) and is ready to take us to Montenegro the next 4 day weekend.

We were home late on Sunday night and have had two full days here in Tirana. Yesterday, we went to a shopping mall and stocked up on sale items. I got a killer pair of jeans on sale for around $18. Yay! We also had dance class. My dance buddy from the first night was back. We discovered that we're colleagues. He teaches Roma children in Tirana. No wonder he has the patience of a saint when it comes to dancing. We met some friends at Artist for dessert. I love, love, love their chocolate cake. Last night it gave me an instant headache, so maybe I'll just get the crepes next time. Annd! I'm very happy to report that after a long a desperate search, I finally got a comforter at the Chinese/Turkish market for 24 bucks!!! It seems to already be falling apart, but it will keep me warm for now. By the way, I HATE the Chinese/Turkish market. It's way too crowed and confusing.

All you travelers out there, just tell me when you're coming and I'll be ready for you! I miss you all and wouldn't mind an e-mail :).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What on Earth...

Have you ever just had a day?? I have! Today, in fact. Actually, it began last night.... Before, we left for dance class (which was fun, by the way), I got the "bright" (ha,ha) idea of changing three of my light bulbs. I can hear the dumb light bulb jokes now... I successfully changed one out. Then, I attempted the next. I got the bulb out, but the base was still attached. I carefully managed that one... Onto the third! I noticed that I was going to have the same issue as the second, and since I was in a precarious position (on top of the washing machine), I decided to leave that bulb alone. I climbed down (carefully) and reached for the light switch... after the explosion and shattered glass, I realized that I had blown that fuse. Grrrr. I didn't have any lights in my hallway, which is actually really long. I cleaned up my mess and left. On the way home from class, I stepped in a mud puddle about a mile deep. Another Grrr. So, that was my night...
This morning, I woke up and went to take my shower. You guessed it. I didn't have ANY water. I couldn't even take a icy shower. I warmed up some water on the stove and used that to at least wash my face. Amazing the many compliments I received on my hair today! It was pulled back and up... Grrrr.
I was officially initiated into kindergarten today. One of my cute little girls held my hand all recess long. I thought, "Oh, how sweet, she just wants to be near her fabulous, amazing teacher!" Wrong. Right before we were headed to P.E., I hear her cry one word, "Mom!!!" I asked her what was wrong, but she was crying. So, I did what we all do in this country. I picked her up and gave her a hug. She started coughing. Deeply. Then I felt something warm and oozy glide down my shoulder leaving a puddle on the floor. I raced her to the trash can and cleaned up the floor. Miss Egla walked the others to P.E. and I walked my sick one to the office. Then, I scurried home to change my shirt! That's the best thing about living on the edge of the school! I am now officially a kindergarten teacher...I've been barfed on. The funny thing is, it actually made me want to be a mother. I think I need therapy.
I've had other random occurrences that are noteworthy. I almost forgot to get my money that I wanted for this weekend, before our office closed. My classroom keys got stuck in my door when I was leaving and the nice cleaning lady got them out for me. I found out that I probably can't leave the country like I wanted to because the idiots who let me into the country didn't stamp my passport...and our Visas haven't come through!!! Grrr.
On the flip side, our fix-it man for the school changed my light bulbs and fixed my fuse, the water's back on, and I can laugh about the barfing situation! Honestly, I've learned more humility today than I care to admit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Step Out of Character

I'm sitting in my living room watching clouds drifting by, drinking tea and eating apple strudel. It's autumn in Albania! Ilir, the cafeteria manager, gave me free apple strudel today. I exercised enormous restraint and saved it for an after school snack. Egla and I are making applesauce tomorrow with our class. Egla's never made applesauce so I'm really excited to teacher her one of the few things that I can successfully prepare! I love this time of year!

Now on to the real reason for this post. This past Saturday, I was exhausted so I left my friends around 11:00 ish and they continued on to a Salsa dancing bar (they got the information from one of our colleagues.) There, they learned about a beginners Latin dance course that runs for four weeks, two classes a week. Of course, I didn't want to miss out on the fun, but I was a little hesitant about taking Latin dance lessons. If anyone has been my friend or relation for a while, they will know how accident prone and uncoordinated I am. (In fact, I stumbled 4 times yesterday, but didn't fall....which is a miracle.) Really, that's why I swim. I know I won't fall. Back to the story. I decided to throw caution to the wind and at least try one class. That's why I'm here, right? To try new things! All afternoon, I attempted positive self-talk. "Be a swan Holly!" "Laugh and be silly." "Get into it even if you feel and look ridiculous!" "Your in a foreign country for heaven's sake." "What do you have to loose?"

I think that this approach helped. We got to the class and lined up for the basics. I was of course laughing, but I also wanted to take it semi-seriously. After the basics, our instructor said, in Albanian (she was switching back and forth between Albanian and English for us), "Find a partner." Sarah, Tracey and I stood there, completely lost. Thankfully, a guy came right up to me and asked me to dance. Willingly. That part still surprises me. No one had to twist his arm. Or pull him by the ear. Shocking. He (Geani) was an awesome dancer! He wasn't very tall (about 5'7"), but he was incredibly good at leading and counting off (in English for me). Luckily, he had a good sense of humor and when I went back instead of going right he said, "It's no problem." He probably said that phrase close to 10 times. He danced with me the entire hour and a half, even when the instructor asked him to rotate. Now for the amazing part.... I'm actually not bad, when I have a good lead! Hopefully, it's not just beginners lucky (I'm praying that it wasn't a fluke). Needless to say, the three of us signed up for the classes. Monday and Wednesday nights. I am looking forward to it! This is the first place in Albania where the men have been complete gentlemen, which is refreshing. I've decided that I love living the life of an adventurer and I never want to give it up (even when moving back to North America...someday).

Saturday, September 20, 2008


So we went to Kruja today. It's a town that is up in the hills about an hour's drive north of Tirana. Skanderbeg, the National Hero, (no one ever says his name without adding the "National Hero" bit) used Kruja as one of the major defenses against the Ottoman Turks. We saw the castle ruins, but there were no labels in English. We also went the the ethnographic museum and had an English speaking tour guide. The museum is in a "rich man's" home built in the 18oos. The rich man was a general and a Muslim, so the house is set up to reflect that culture. There were also original fresco and textiles. I am kind of nerdy when it comes to cultural things like that, so I enjoyed myself. Perhaps the biggest pull to Kruja is the bazaar. I plan on doing some intense Christmas shopping there in the future! There was an amazing antique store that deals mainly with wood products, so you know I felt at home. There were dowry chests, Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox and Jewish, and all sorts of curiosities. Oh! And Amy took us to a man who sells silver that his father makes and designs. Beautiful! I was a little overwhelmed, so I didn't buy any, but next time. It was art and the shop owner was so passionate about his father's creations. I could identify. Anyhow, I kept thinking how I'll have to take Lora Carter to that store when she comes in the spring!
Our transportation to Kruja. We had a fancier minibus on the drive home...but this one was an adventure!
The bazaar and Demetra standing in the street. The shops were lined up and down and most of the shopkeepers spoke English. You can get almost any Albanian (and otherwise) craft.
A weaver at work! There were a ton of rug shops like this one. I didn't buy any rugs. It's funny how I'm controlling my shop-o-holic tendencies!
Travis, working on talking turkey, at the museum. He actually has a great gobbling call. It cracked me up so I'm including this picture with this post!
Our tour guide demonstrating an olive oil press that "rich people" would have used....he also showed us the one the lowly masses would have used. It involved fancy foot work.
Tracey and our friend Fabian, from Germany, in front of the tower remains. The three of us poked around exploring.
Now these are the rocky mountains! Can't wait to visit again!
Here's what I brought home with me. It's a tray made of olive wood. I liked it. It spoke to me. I bought it for roughly $15. Oh, and my table cloth is a Danish import from our imitation Ikea store!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Out of Touch

The sky TWO days after the storm! It was so beautiful, but I'm still shocked at the change drastic change from summer to fall.
View from my apartment. You can see the school and the enormous mud puddle underneath.
It's going on four days without Internet access. Funny how dependent I've become on this modern convenience. We a huge storm on Sunday morning. Guess what? It is totally possible to jump straight up when your body is completely flat. Nothing like the rumbling of thunder to get a girl up at six! I'm counting my blessings because 3 of the 5 of us who live in my apartment building experienced major flooding, but not me...this time. The playground was eroded and there is still a mud puddle the size of a great lake in front of our building. It's partially sunny today. Pray for this California girl! I need to realize that life goes on regardless of the weather, and if I never Skype or Blog again, I'll survive.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


My paraprofessional (teacher's aid), Egla, is a fabulous person. She is also magical person, I swear. Today, one of our students was showing his stubborn side (rolling on the floor then refusing to participate) and she gave him a hug. What to my wondering eyes should appear, but a happy student with a great big smile on his face. See. Magic. This afternoon, Egla's friend, Oyliana, came over to see what the "girls" were doing after school in the 5 year old classroom. The three of us ended up talking for a while. It made me think of Katie and Kandace back at Berkshire. Anyhow, they shared how Albanian girls live at home until they get married. Then, it's usually an arranged marriage. They both had boys knocking at their parents' doors when they were 16 years old. And it wasn't to ask for a date. Now that they are 24, they are determined to get married when they are good and ready to the man of their choice. I sat thinking for awhile and said, "I don't know if I'm completely against arranged marriages." They both simultaneously said, "What?!" "Well, said I, It's such a pain looking and it would be far easier to have someone else do the work for you." Egla said, "Holly, just go and talk to Oyliana's mother and you'll be married in no time." She is so funny! They agreed that they might be more open to an arranged marriage if they were creeping closer to 30 too. I asked the girls if their parents would limit the arranged marriage to only people who share their religious beliefs. "Oh, no. That doesn't matter, as long as they have some belief, it's fine." Isn't that interesting? This is coming from girls who are currently fasting. They did say that their parents would have a problem with someone from Africa or Asia. Apparently, recently the first Albanian/Chinese wedding took place with a news crew on site. Their families don't want that for the girls. I think they are both eager to see Albania change. Anyhow, just something I wanted to share. But believe me, I don't think I'll be jumping on board the arranged marriage love boat any time soon!!!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

An Eventful Saturday

I survived the most eventful Saturday to date. And boy am I tired. But, take a look at this beautiful picture! We hiked straight up the side of a cliff for this view of the Adriatic Sea. The walk through the underbrush was too painful (scratched legs..I should have taken a picture), so we followed the road down and spent the rest of the time in the sea. It was warm and clear. I made a new Albanian friend who said that Durres beaches can't compare to the south. That's what I've been hearing for over 3 weeks and I'm very eager to go. Anyhow, I spent a ton of time swimming. We saw sea urchins. Mommy, will you send me my snorkeling gear please??? Before you do that, let me see how much it is around here...

Not something I've seen in Albania until yesterday. We made our curriculum director slow down for this shot! If you look to the left you might see the chicken in the trash too. Ha! We raced back to Tirana (which is about 1:30 away from Durres with Saturday traffic) to prepare for the soccer match...Albania vs. Sweden! My friend Entela got us tickets from the Swedish embassy because she used to work for them as a translator. Normally, it's difficult for Westerners to find tickets!
We sat in the Sweden section (I swear I never have felt more like a girl without a country) but secretly cheered for Albania. The Albanians were very spirited in their sea of red and black. The Swedes were too. I don't have a picture of the man dressed up in a yellow chicken suit. Imagine Big Bird.
I tried to get a good shot of number 11. He looked about 12 years old, but boy could he kick! The Swedish players towered over him. Tracey, who knows and plays soccer, said he was the star of the game. I just wanted to give him a hug. Anyhow, the final score was 0-0. I really wanted to see Albania score to witness the craziness! They had drummers and fireworks on standby.
Here we are! Stephen, our friend from work, took the picture. It's Sarah, me (obviously), Entela, and Tracey. Afterward, the four of us went for crepes...yum! I totally enjoy my new friends' humor. Then, I went with Sarah and Tracey to the Block which is where the nightlife happens. Needless to say, I'm having an easy-peasey Sunday! After church, I did hang out with a pal, and tonight we're going to a new-for-us restaurant. It has a flaming cheese dish. I wonder if it comes with a fire extinguisher?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Big City, Small Town

I used to think that Bakersfield was the biggest small town in the world. Usually, upon leaving the house, I would run into someone at the grocery store or mall or gym (if I chose to go!). I wasn't prepared for that same experience here in Tirana. Maybe this means that Tirana is starting to feel like home! Yesterday, I went to Big Market. Seriously. That's what it is called. On my way there I passed the chicken lady. She's the owner of my favorite place for roast chicken. Her family has a restaurant out of their house. I love sitting on their back patio under the grape vines eating moist chicken and refreshing salad... Think I'll go there tomorrow. Sarah and I went on Saturday with hilarious results. Our chicken lady's son was covering for his mother. He doesn't speak a word of English and my Albanian is laughable. We managed to order a chicken and a salad (though we had know idea what kind we were getting). Normally, we also get bread with the meal. For the life of me, I couldn't think of the word for bread. Then I blurted out "beke." The sixteen year old son stared at me and then repeated what I said. "Po!" I shouted (which means yes). I got a completely blank look again. Two minutes later, he stands up, because of course he was sitting in his backyard, and says something like "Ahhhh, beke!" He came back with bread and sweetly reminded me that it's buke. Dang it. Off by a vowel. His mother and younger sister returned shortly there after. The son lit up his cigarette (which still shocks me) and explained to his mother our mutual confusion. Before we knew it, we had a free beer. So of course when I saw the chicken lady yesterday there was a great deal of waving and Mire Pacums (see you later!). I love that I recognize people!
I continued on my way to Big Market. I headed to the back where all the fresh cheese is and who should I see but my friend from work! Love it!
Then, when I was checking out, I ran into a father of a student. It was so bizarre. I'm starting to think I'd better be on guard whenever I go anywhere.
A student and her family sat by me in church. I absolutely love community. I've also run into this guy from church (no, I'm not interested in him for multiple reasons) twice around Tirana. We actually hung out with him and his friend at the pool on Sunday. Randomly.
So. The point of this post. For a capital city, Tirana is freakishly small. I enjoy that, though. There is a connection here that I wasn't expecting, but have found it a happy surprise.