Monday, October 19, 2009

A Nessesary Weekend

I love how one weekend can completely change someones perspective. This was just such a weekend. The plan was to take a van to an old Ottoman town, Gjiokaster, and spend the Mother Theresa three day weekend exploring an old castle. Well, some people were sick, others tired and the plan changed. It became a Tirana weekend.

Perhaps the catalyst of my attitude change came Friday evening. What a way to begin three days of bliss! I made my Christmas plans. Three days in Prague, twelve days in Santa Maria, back to Prague for a day, and then home to Tirana in time for the New Year! These travel plans may seem ordinary, but it took about two months of soul searching to arrive at this decision. I felt an instant peace when I acknowledged that I would rather go home for Christmas than spend two weeks soaking up the sun somewhere along the Indian Ocean. How many days until Christmas?

Saturday, Entela, Tracey and I set out to the the Chinese Turkish Market to find material for this year's Halloween costumes (which will be revealed in a later post, I'm sure). We found the perfect fabric and bought enough for four dresses (for Sarah too, of course). The shop keeper actually had a little shop, as opposed to a stand. He was quite friendly and took a great deal of money off of our purchases. At one point, I started laughing. The man, who is in his late 50s, looked at me and very seriously said, "You are very beautiful." That made my day! I'm not naive; I know it was just flattery, but it's not everyday a girl is called beautiful.

We had such a lovely walk all around Tirana. It was cool, but not cold, the sun was shining, and the Lana River was not smelly. The sky was intensely blue and clear. Autumn days like this past Saturday do not come around too often. The three of us stopped for Albanian fast food: suflaqe. It's pita bread stuffed with chicken, yogurt, onions, cucumbers and tomatoes. I highly recommend it. Our dining experience didn't end with the suflaque. Motla, and later Violeta, joined Entela, Tracey and me at Ferdinand's, my second favorite Italian restaurant in the city, for a late dinner. A good meal, followed by a relaxed drink, is always appreciated.

Sunday, I went to church, then went to lunch after. It seemed like such an American thing to do. Sometimes, I just love American customs. Especially, if it is dining with a family with two adorable boys. Then, I came home and Tracey and I baked cookies and walked to the produce market. While we were at the market, we heard the sunset call to prayer. It honestly is so haunting; I get chills every time I hear it.

The evening ended with Tracey, Entela and I having an impromptu dance party in my living room. We had had a movie/dessert night. Really, you can't watch Hairspray without feeling a bit inspired.

Today, was another good day. I did a bit of school work and then joined Stephen and Valbona for Transformers, at the Sheraton movie theater. Sarah, Tracey and Landi (our taxi driver) picked me up. We drove across town to the indoor swimming pool. It was a tough swim, but just what the doctor ordered. Tonight's excitement was Chinese food in the Vanest's living room.

Reading over this post, I realized how this sounds more like a journal entry than a normal post. Oh well. I needed a weekend like this. I needed to start seeing the good in Tirana. Finally, I looked past the crazy traffic, stray dogs, trashy streets and disorderly conduct. Rediscovering home is the ultimate adventure.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dusty the Dog

I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted so warmly by Drita, the matriarch of the landlord family, when I returned to Albania this past August. For as nice as she is, she always seemed so serious. I watched Drita for three days before realizing, she was pretty much alone. Her family, including her eldest son and his family (Vladimir, technically, is our landlord) and Abdula, our legendary drunk landlord (Drita's husband), were vacationing. She was happy! Friends were stopping by and sitting on the patio, she was walking with a spring in her step; I even heard her singing as she was cooking. Only days later, the entire family descended on our happy Utopian apartment building. Peace vanished. Not only did we welcome back Abdula, but his 5 screaming grandchildren, and (gulp) a brand new dog.

At first, I was only genuinely annoyed at the new dog's nonstop barking. Then I had a hair-raising experience. Amy and I were coming home late one evening, after a particularly exciting book club (but that's another story) and ended up staring into the eyes of a big black dog. The dog was in our stairwell, just waiting for us. It was a Little House on the Prairie moment. If you know the books, you'll remember Laura and Carrie were out on the icy lake sliding along, only to come face to face with a wolf. Carrie froze, unable to move, but Laura luckily kept her head and saved herself and her younger sister from certain death. Well, at that moment, I was Carrie and Amy was Laura. I froze with one foot on the stair. The dog was baring its teeth and then began barking. Amy pulled me away and hurried us to Abdula's door. She began knocking fiercely. I think I still was stunned. Abdula came to the door and Amy pointed to the dog and said, "Get him!" I think said something like, "He tried to kill us!" Of course, Abdula can only understand gestures and irate facial expressions, but he did get the idea. Slowly he wandered over and grabbed the dog by the collar.

The next day, we quickly made our director aware of the situation. All of the residents of the apartment had complaints. Sarah and Anne were especially disgruntled because the dog liked to hang out below their side of the building and bark while they were planning and grading. I talked to Alma, the daughter in law who speaks English. She was the one who told me the dog's name...Dusty. She also told me that the dog was just a puppy and it wouldn't hurt anyone. Ha. Abdula tried to convince me on many occasions that all I had to do was pat my leg and say, "Dusty" in a sugary sweet voice and he would let me pass. All the while, I was afraid to go home by myself at night. Dusty wouldn't lunge at Sarah (she's the dog whisperer), but it often snapped at me, Amy and even Tracey.

Meanwhile, the barking and the territorial advances continued. I talked to Alma a second time. This time Abdula insisted on butting in. He began speaking Albanian and pointing at me. Foolishly I asked, "Alma, what is he saying." She looked me straight in the eye and said, "He says that you just need to bring a piece of bread with you and feed it to him when you get home at night." I started furiously laughing. "You have got to be kidding me! So I'm suppose to walk around Tirana with a slice of bread in my back pocket?" I left without another word.

The next confrontation (I mean conversation) about the dog occurred with Natasha, the daughter. Four of us ganged up on her and told her of our displeasure. Natasha reiterated the family line, "Dusty is a good dog. He won't hurt you." She told us that they bought Dusty for our protection. (Yes, I laughed furiously again). The real issue is that our apartment building is on illegal ground and they feel like they have to "defend" it.

Last weekend, Tracey, Anne and I were coming back from dinner. Dusty was there, of course, barking his head off. I decided to use sarcasm. "Dusty! Who's a good boy, oh yes, you are a good dog. Oh yes you are!" Dogs don't get sarcasm, but it was a good coping mechanism. Unfortunately I think Abdula took it as my final acceptance of Dusty.

Two nights ago Dusty barked from 9:00 pm until 11:00 pm and then from 4:30 am to 6:20 am. Our director had a line of angry sleep deprived teachers outside his door. I was close to tears. He assured us that the dog was going to be gone.

Well, two nights ago, I was walking home from the Film Festival. Thank God I was with a parent from the school. This parent has to walk through our property to get to her house. She usually takes a road and a car when coming home late at night, so I quickly filled her in on the Dusty situation. I said that hopefully, the dog was gone, but be on guard. Sure enough, Dusty began barking. I decided to walk my friend to the gate so she wouldn't have to face Dusty alone. As we were walking by, Dusty came behind me. If I hadn't turned around when I did, I doubt I would be in Tirana typing this post. He was poised to bite. Abdula nonchalantly walked out of the house about that time, Amy came flying to her window, and Tracey to her door. I started yelling at Abdula. "Get him! Now!!!!!!" I've never been angrier at another human, not to mention a stupid dog.

Friday night, it was official. "Ding dong the dog is gone." Unfortunately, our good fortune sent Abdula on a drinking binge. He really liked that crazy mutt. On the flip side, Amy and I walked up our stairs last night without fearing for our lives and I had a wonderful uninterrupted sleep. Sorry Dusty. Teacher victory.