So Many Chickens

Okay, I swear, Shickens are like the rats (or maybe squirrels?) of Albania. They are legitimately everywhere. I’ll be eating lunch or having a coffee at a nice little cafe, and all of the sudden a chicken will run across the patio in front of my chair. In the middle of town! Or I’ll be walking down the street as chickens scamper away from my footsteps just like the freaking rats in DC. Cracks me up everytime I draw the comparision. And if you see a pile of trash, there will actually be a million chicken picking at it in the gutter. Every time I wonder if they’ve escaped from someone’s farm or if someone is out looking for th em. But I actually think they just live in the streets? So Albania has street chickens instead of street rats (shout out to all the Alaadin lovers lol). It brings a wholenew meaning to “free range” chicken that’s for sure.

 

“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”

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Fiks Fare

Being in Albania I have definitely been missing my nightly dose of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, but luckily they have their own version here- Fiks Fare. It’s this nightly newscast style show that talks about national politics infused with humor…aka just like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. So if you thought the U.S. had a lot of foder for political satire, try being in a post-communist, developing country. Dear god in heaven, it’s hystercial.

 

“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”

Looking good

One thing I definitely love about Albanian culture is their unwillingness to sacrifice looking good at all time. While walking to class today I saw my neighbor out working on the farm, looking quite styling in his sport coat and dress pants. I swear, Albanians do not sacrifice appearances for anything. In a country with so little resources sometimes, they still take such pride in what they do have. Even if you are a farmer or handyman, you are still expected to look your best at all times. 

So much of Albania is steeped with tradition and following the ways of the older generation In the small towns people still cook the same food; the women still stay in the home, and the farmers still harvest crops in the same way as their parents’ parents’ did. The only difference is that now they do it in style. They make their Turkish coffees over little Bunsen burners; women clean their houses while blasting American pop music on MTV; and the farmers wear full suits while tilling the land.Image

The fact that Albanians still hold fast to traditions and cultures of their ancestors makes this country beautiful inside and out. It’s what gives it character and flavor and makes me realize I will definitely miss their way of life when I return to the U.S. Life is much simpler, much healthier, and much slower here. 

The Albanian Lifestyle

For some reason all of my greatest stories seem to occur while running. That may have something to do with the fact that I spend most of my free time working out instead of drinking (if only I was a guy…). So today I was running through a small mountain village near Bishqem, alongside of blooming cherry tree farms and groves of orange trees (you can be jealous now). It was such an upgrade from staring at the same spot on the wall while jogging on a treadmill in the U.S., let me tell you. As I jogged by each house, it occured to me– these people have never had to work a 9-5 job in their lives. They have never had to spend 2 hours stuck in traffic commuting to a job they hate. They’ve never sat in a cubicle behind a computer screen working tirelessly for a boss they can’t stand. And what’s more, it’s never even crossed their minds as a possibility. There is no stress over paying bills or mortgagesl; no student loands to repay, and no fear of how y o ur children are going to make a living after you’re gone. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to wake up everyday and do exactly what you want, when you want to. In these small Albanian towns if you you want a day off, you take it. And if you want to sleep in, then the chickens will just have to wait for their breakfast.

Life here is just a little bit slower and lot less stressful. You work until there is enough food on the table, and then you call it a day– you go grab a bear or a shot of raki (Albania’s answer to Moonshine), site on the porch, and enjoy the company of your friends and family. Now that’s a life I could get used to. It’s amazing how much you don’t miss all of the “things” that come with an American-city lifestyle when you are surrounded by such sublime simplicity.

 

“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”            – Peace Corps Staff 2012 (probably said 10-20 times daily)

Posh Corps Albania

I think I’ve discovered the perfect analogy for development in Albania. It dawned on me while sitting at the café this afternoon (well, more like it appeared in front of my eyes while I was sitting at the café this afternoon, but whatever). As I was ordering my espresso I noticed a man driving his donkey cart down the only road in town. Now, this is not an atypical occurrence in Bishqem. The thing that caught my eye was as he passed in front of the cafe was that he was legitimately texting while driving…his donkey cart. I almost peed myself laughing. Apparently texting and driving isn’t as big of an issue here in Albania as it is in the U.S.

To the naked eye Albania looks like any other European country. Certain aspects of modernity have trickled down to the small towns like Bishqem (i.e. cell phones and ipods), but not necessarily in the order you would expect…or want. In the hope of meeting EU entry requirements in the future, development has skipped a few steps here. While there are now solar water heaters in every home and cell phones in every pocket, there is still no plumbing in most public buildings and the electricity goes off for random intervals throughout the day. The end result is that you end up using a Turkish toilet (aka hole in the ground) at the same restaurant where you can get wireless on your laptop.

We joke all the time that Peace Corps in Albania is more like “Posh Corps” because of the modern conveniences available here. Even though we may not be building bathrooms or schools houses for tiny villages, living in mud huts, or eating gruel, the obstacles we do face are even more difficult to trudge through sometimes. We can’t provide band-aid fixes like volunteers in other countries often do with new blackboards, books, and pencils. Instead, we have to work every day to chip away at the gap between the backwards ways of doing business and the modern conveniences here. So every time I get caught up in the American-like amenities around me and think that “Posh Corps Albania” is going to be easy, I’m slapped back to reality by a man on a driving a donkey cart down the road to bring his produce to market…while texting on his cell phone.