So I’ve been running in Bishqem every other day now, and I’ve earned the title of “the American volunteer who is always running.” Even though I got a lot of inquisitive looks along as I go, it’s always worth it. I just smile, wave, and shout “Miredtia!” (“Good day”) as I pass and suddenly everyone is waving and smiling back…at least on the third day in a row that I’ve run by that is. I think that may have something to do with the word on the street about “that American girl who is always running,” but whatever. But today was a little different. I came across what I can only describe as the West Side Story of Bishqem. Halfway up the hill there was a mob of children blocking the road. They couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, but suddenly I was terrified. The ring leader was holding their soccer ball under his arm and holding out his hand for me to stop. With a smile I tried out my best Albanian and asked their names, where they were from, and how they were doing. In return I got a million questions (of which I understood none), lots of laughter, and probably so obscene Albanian guestures I should’ve remembered from class. After a few moments I put my headphones back in and tried to keep running. But, when I turned around I saw they were chasing my all the way up the hill trying to talk to me. I felt like I had my own personal parade guiding me through Bishqem- awesome. Eventually they turned around and went back…that is, until I had to about face and head down the mountain to go home.
The best part of the whole run was on my way back home when I passed an old married couple riding their donkey cart down the street. They gave me the strangest look the first time I passed them, but I smiled and shouted Good Evening. I got nothing in return, just most stares. But then I guess it dawned on them who I was (aka I haaaad to be American because there’s no way an Albanian woman would be jogging down the street in the middle of the workday). So they stopped their cart, asked me my name, and begged me to get in the cart. Over and over they kept asking if I wanted a ride. I kept trying to explain that I was exercising and lived close by, but they wouldn’t accept it. Clearly, I must be in need of a ride back home. Why would you waaant to run down the street? I guess if you work in a field all day, there’s no need to go for a run to get exercise. After turning down the offer for a donkey ride back to my house for the fifth time, they finally smiled and continued on their way. Me, I made it safely home and decided that it was just the first of many runs through Bishqem to come.