Thursday, October 30, 2008

Normal Days

I have been in this country for a few weeks over 2 months. It's funny how quickly a routine has been established, with room for unpredictable events. I don't really have a free weekday evening, but that's how I like it! Dance class is still going on Monday and Wednesdays. No, I'll never be a star dancer, but I have improved and enjoy learning new moves! We are working on the Cha-Cha-Cha (fun, fun, fun). Tuesday night is Bible study, which I find myself eagerly anticipating. Thursday nights are open for dinners out with friends or occasional meetings for hot beverages. Friday and Saturday nights are social too (dinners, drinks, a night on the town). Saturday, if we're free, is Hash which is becoming routine too. (Last Hash was in Kruja up to a Muslim shrine. I didn't take pictures, but Tracey did!) Sunday is sometimes church and usually a catch up day. This is a pretty boring post, but I wanted to give interested parties a look into a teacher's social life. It's home here and as such, life is usually predictable, but active. (Then there are the surprising aspects which are more fun to blog about!)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

First Impressions

Do you ever get the sensation of being at home, even when you might be far away? Sarah calls it nostalgia. I get it often. Sometimes it's a California smell or someone on the street who looks familiar. This weekend it was a place. My first impression of Montenegro moved me to tears. Literally. I was sitting in the middle of the backseat with eyes spilling over. Have you ever driven north on the 101 between Ventura and Santa Barbara and then past Santa Barbara toward Santa Maria? Imagine that with the charm and seduction of Eastern Europe (or just subtract the Spanish influence). I'm in love with Montenegro. In fact, it seems like a good place to make a real estate investment.

Our driver stopped the car because we were all jumping up and down in the back seat. (Different driver than Hassan. We met this one close to the border when we got off the minibus. He was EXCELLENT and hooked us up with his friends who rent rooms. Only 10 euros a night!) Anyhow, he has a daughter around our age and was completely fatherly.
I was getting kind of giddy. You can tell by my overly excited smile. Have I mentioned how much I love Montenegro? Anyhow, we were thrilled about a girls weekend and decided to give out Sex in the City name assignments. I'm now officially the Charlotte of the bunch.
We arrived in Budva which is a town on the coast. It was quiet because we came in the off season. Our "hotel" was an apartment attached to a house. Most families have rooms or apartments to rent. It was very adequate. Of course, the room doesn't matter when you're in a place like this! What do you think of the boats Dad? You can see the yachts in the background too. We stood on the dock looking longingly at a yacht hoping some nice boy would get the idea and invite us up for a drink...didn't happen but girls can dream. What did happen was actually very interesting. We had a delicious night filled with delicious food. The last stop of the evening was at an outdoor bar that played loud, but good music. We were there maybe 30 minutes when this English speaking guy came up to us and said, "Excuse me, but you don't happen to be Irish?" Since he was addressing Tracey she said, "No, Canadian." The guy's response was "Oh thank God you're not Irish or worse, American." Then he and his buddy came and joined us. There names are Will (Scottish) and Tom (English). I was completely not amused by them and didn't honor them with any conversation. (Other than letting them clearly know that I AM an American, thank you very much!) They found out that we were headed the same direction as they were and offered us a ride the next day. I could care less and the other girls didn't think they would follow through, so they accepted the offer.... (remember this post is called first impressions).
So Will and Tom did follow through on their offer and squeezed the four of us into their rental car. We headed off to Kotor. Along the way, we missed the turn off. We all agreed that we wouldn't mind seeing some of the country so we took the long way around the bay. It was a beautiful misadventure. Tom ended up being a very safe and considerate driver who made plenty of sight seeing stops for us. Isn't this stunning?
Here we are! We continued on to Kotor which has a million steps leading up the side of a mountain. Entela told us that the view was amazing so we were eager to go. Our two new friends hadn't been doing much hiking and were glad that Entela knew what to do in Kotor.
High fives at the top. I had totally forgiven the guys for being British snobs and completely enjoyed their company. Tom expressed his concern for the impression that they had given me about detesting American girls, but pointed out that he didn't think I'd be much fun (really, what did he expect? Silent treatments should speak volumes).Here's where we relaxed with fruit and pleasant conversation. The guys gave us riddles and I was able to get 3 of the 5 correct. I missed the math one and the double negative riddle. The riddle Will gave was that biologically he has two birthdays, but he doesn't know one of them....If I got it, I'm sure you can too! It was so nice being with men who speak English and who have a quick sense of humor.

We continued up the bay and found a little fishing village. It was near sunset and the water was striking!The next day, we met the boys for breakfast and then spent some time on the beach. Here is a picture of the Budva water. I'm still a bit disapointed that we didn't have time for swimming. Next time... because there will be a next time.
You can see the walled castle behind us as well as a fabulous cafe where we had drinks both nights. This was an amazing weekend. I was a little sad to leave and head back to Tirana. BUT, Tirana is home and I'm happy to be here too.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dajti Part Dy

I really don't know what made me think that this was a good idea. We took a 5, turned 7 hour, hike over a ridge to Mount Dajti. It was by far the most intense hike that I have ever done. It wasn't a walk in the park. One of our friends, Berti, assured me that I could do it and that it was mainly flat. I've decided not to trust him, actually. The good news is, I didn't hurt myself too badly. I did fall on my bum and have two nice size matching bruises. I also ripped my pants and broke a few finger nails. The Albanian mountains are beautiful and I'm so glad that I participated. However, I think I'll stick with Hash hikes in the future!

We began the adventure by walking through a rock quarry. You can see it at the bottom. Tracey and I entertained ourselves by singing the sound track to Sound of Music. It seemed fitting since we were "high on a hill" and acting like goats. One of the Albanian boys didn't appreciate our singing and started playing Albanian music. (We actually know this kid from dance class. Sarah has christened him "Mr. Cool Guy." ) I think the Germans loved our yodeling, though.
Awe, autumn color. So pretty! Actually, I got a little color myself. It's been really warm. If it had been raining, we wouldn't have attempted this hike. I shudder to think of the outcomes. At one point we literally climbed down the side of the mountain hand over hand. The German guy answered his cell phone just after I had climbed down. Sarah had to ask him to get off the phone before he helped her. Ridiculous.
Tracey and Florian are back wearing red. Florian was helping Tracey find specimen for her biology class. Plenty of flora and fauna!
We ended up at the same place we had started hiking the week before. This time, we took the cable car down, just in time for sunset. (This picture turned out rather well considering the plexi glass wasn't that clean.) Really, it was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday. I think I have a better appreciation of God's greatness and my human weakness.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

You Choose the Title

I'm struggling with what to call this post. At this point, it has no name. Not that I don't have ideas! Here are a few: "I Loathe Laundry", "Drunks are People Too," "Community in Action," "Disgruntled and Discouraged," "Go with the Flow," "What on Earth Part 2."

Story time! Yesterday (Friday) afternoon, I was coming home from school, only to be greeted by our landlord. He, Adula, had clearly been drinking, which he does from time to time. (More often than not). He leaves everyone else alone, except for me. Normally, I can just walk away, as he jabbers to me in Albanian, and it doesn't bother me. Yesterday, however, he started following me up the stairs just talking away. His daughter in law was there but she didn't say anything to him. I had to get in his face and get my angry eyes out. Then, I marched off. Now for something entirely different (yet related).

Entela, Tracey and I took dinner to our friend, Mira, who is on bed-rest. We had a pleasant visit, enjoying Chinese food from one of my student's restaurants. Amy, my friend and downstairs neighbor, called as we were ending our visit. "Holly, she said, there's a leak in my apartment. It's coming from your place. Did you happen to leave your laundry running? I think you should come home now." Mira called her husband, who was out with friends, to take us home. I was anxiously waiting when Amy phoned again. "Holly, I'm outside your door and it sounds as if there is a cascading river inside your apartment." I said one word and I'm afraid it isn't repeatable on a family friendly blog.

Luckily, Mira's husband arrived and drove us back home. Tracey and I raced up to my apartment, followed closely by Natasha, the landlord's daughter (she also happens to be a judge). Amy and Travis came running up too. Everyone had their squeegees, mops, and buckets. Sure enough, my entire apartment was flooded. We're talking an inch and a half of water. The door of my washer had burst open during the rinse cycle. As far as we can tell, the water kept flowing (get it, go with the flow...that was Tracey's joke) because it never sensed that it was full.

Literally, it was all hands on deck. We rolled up my sopping rugs and started to fling them out to the balcony. The super heavy ones we left in the bathroom rolled up. There is a drain in the middle of the bathroom. Our goal was to get the sea of water down that singular drain. I decided to mop up the kitchen and quickly filled a bucket.

Now here's the amazing part. Adula walks in. My first reaction was, "Get that drunk man out of my house!" He was holding one lonely towel. Ha. Much good that would do! That's when he did the smartest thing of the evening. Using the towel, he captured water and pulled it to the drain. The other instruments were futile compared to this method. Quickly, we rustled up beach towels. My resentment toward Adula quickly turned to major appreciation. The six of us, working, had it mopped up in one hour. Travis was telling everyone today that my water broke. Very funny.

I was reflecting this morning on this hilarious experience. It occurred to me that if this had happened in Bakersfield, I would have first called my parents. They would have said, "Holly, we live two hours away, call a plumber and a flood service." I would have called those services. Funny, but I don't think I would have called my friends and neighbors. Community is mandatory here. I literally wouldn't survive without it. Sure I learned some lessons (major one: never leave laundry unattended), but I also experienced love in action. This is what I'll take back with me.... that and a love for American washers and dryers.

P.S. My computer power cord is out and the apartment Internet connection is down. I'm charging my computer with Stephen's cord since he has a Mac too and getting Internet in my classroom. Community!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Mount Dajti

Time for the weekend report! We went on Hash today and hiked a mountain. At first, I thought I was going to die. Then, I found my stride and totally enjoyed myself. As usual, I met interesting people. (Have I mentioned that the most common age for an Albanian man is 23? It's sort of frustrating.) It began to rain as we reached the top, so the pictures are incredibly blurry. Still, it's worth seeing the mountain I can see from my classroom window!
This is the view from our starting location. Yes, I made it to the top. I'm really considering joining the Half Dome First Christian hike if I'm ever around for it. Two of these hikes a month will definitely train me! Marcy, I thought of you and Renato. There was a family from our school with their 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son. The kids did so great and didn't complain at all!
Another cute shot of Holly, Tracey and Sarah! These girls (meaning my friends, not me) are so fit. Sarah pretty much led the group the entire time!
Mount Dajti is known for its cable car. We parked at the top of the cable car (I can't WAIT to ride it!) and had "coffee" after the hike at the cafe connected to the cable car. (Of course, I had tea.)
You can sort of see the cable car in the trees. I had imagined a really rickety contraption so seeing the actual car got me really excited. Oh, and that's Tirana in the background.