Euro Cup

Albania has a bass beat these days. It’s thumping to the beat of a million cheering fans from across Europe as they cheer on their national futbol teams in the Euro Cup. I don’t have to miss a second of the game as I walk down the street back to my house at night because its playing in the living room and storefront of every building in Shkoder, and around the country. It’s inescapable, not that you’d want to. 

It’s pretty cool actually, to feel like you are inside the game itself because it literally surrounds you from all side. You can hear the fans cheering from the stands, the announcers shouting the plays, and the locals cheering after each shot on goal. You can see the green glow of the futbol field coming from the television and shining shining every window in town. The world seems to stop promptly at 8:45 as everyone finds there spot around the screen to watch the game. Not a single person dares to miss it. Around 11:00 when it’s over, flags are flying from windows showing which team won, and the victors and running through the streets screaming and chanting.

Me, I just sit back and observe; mesmerized by the passion for futbol in Albania. It’s going to be a rough day when Italy plays Spain the semifinals. I may just have to hide out and home and secretly cheer for Spain while the rest of Shkoder roots for the Italy so I don’t make any enemies!

 

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

Making Granola

Back home in the U.S. I was quite a granola-making fiend. When I got to Albania and realized that oatmeal was hard to come by, I was crushed. Luckily I found some here in Shkoder and have restarted my granola-making craze! Here’s the simple recipe I use with ingredients I was able to scrounge up at my local supermarket.

3 cups oats

1/2 cup nuts (optional)

1/2 cup dried fruit (optional)

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

1 cup juice

3 tbsp honey

2 tbsp peanut butter

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the wet ingredients together in a pot over the stove. Heat until the peanut butter melts into the fruit juice and forms a kind of slurry. No need to boil or simmer or anything. Then pour the liquids over the oats and stir until well combined. Spread it into a baking pan or onto a cookie sheet. Make sure there is only a thin layer otherwise you won’t get the nice big crunchy pieces you’re looking for. Bake at 225 degrees for about 35 minutes. Check it halfway through and rotate your pan and stir the granola so that it cooks evenly. Make sure to let it cool for about 30 minutes before eating it (this helps it dry out and get crunchy). Enjoy! 

Avash avash

In Shqip (Albanian for those of you who haven’t caught on yet), this phrase means “slowly slowly.” Supposedly, that is how business is done in Albania. Avash, avash. The Peace Corps warns us to adjust our American standards of the workday and workplace environment, because here in Albania things are done at a…shall we just say, slower pace. Your office may open at 8am, but if you stroll in at 9am no one thinks twice. Mostly because by 10am everyone has left for a coffee break. They may stumble back into the office around 11am, or they may not. Then everyone goes home for lunch from noon to about 2 or 3pm. By 4pm everyone who actually came back to the office after lunch has gone home for the day. If only, if only that was how things worked in the U.S. 

Sadly, I think I’m one of the only volunteers in Albania who is not getting to benefit from this avash, avash lifestyle. From my very first day in Shkodra, I have been slaving away and enjoying every minute of it. Three times a week I teach a summer school course at one of my schools. Then in the afternoons I work with my debate team to prepare them for their competition in Tirana. On the days when we don’t have debate club, I’m helping the Model UN team prepare for this conference this fall. And in the evenings I meet with a book club once a week to talk about American literature and films. Somewhere in between all of that I squeeze in two Shqip tutoring sessions a week so that I don’t lose my language skills and a few hours at the gym so I don’t waste my month-long membership. I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it all.

But for those of you who have ever had a class with me or seen my school life in the U.S., you know that this is my ideal atmosphere. I love being busy. Maybe not so much when its 95 degrees in the shade and no air conditioners in sight though. Days feel so much longer here because it takes so long to do such simple things. I have to leave an extra 30 minutes to get to work each morning because I always run into a friend on the way and am suckered into sitting down for a coffee. God forbid I run into 2 friends. Plus things have a way of never turning out how you expect…the bartender who keeps the key to the school in the summer may have gone to the beach the day before and not left the key with anyone and you have to hold class in the hallway. Or the cellphone company’s store may be closed for no apparent reason and you need to add money to your phone to let your students know what time book club is. There is always something. Good thing I have 2 years to figure it all out.

 

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

To travel or not to travel

This last weekend I went to Berat for a few days, just to check it out. I’d heard amazing things about the city and wanted to see it for myself. Most of the city is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, which means it should be well preserved and clean and stunningly beautiful. At least that’s what I’d read and been told. 

Don’t get me wrong, Berat is a beautiful place. It has an amazing castle that sits on top of a hill overlooking the valley. The old historic town is kind of breathtaking in its own way. But the thing that throws me everytime I see a new in Albania, is just how similar they all are to each other. When you travel or go on vacation, you expect something different. You want to be awed and amazed. You want to eat new food, go new places, try new things. But in this country, every city is kind of the same. The only thing to do all day is drink coffee and the only thing to do all night is drink beer. There are very few restaurants even, and the ones that do exist are nothing special. It’s not like cities in the US or even in Europe where there are movie theatres and clubs and arcades and museums and tourist sites to see. Within a few hours of arriving we had pretty much seen all there was to see and done all there was to do.

It’s a bizarre experience to have your vacation feel the same as you everyday life. Especially since the schools are closed for summer vacation here. That means even when I’m in Shkoder there isn’t exactly a “working day” that I adhere too. That’s where my tough question comes in- to travel or not to travel? Maybe I’ll just save my money for a trip outside the country instead. 

 

 

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