Who says change doesn’t happen! I’m telling you, there’s big moves happening up in Albania. Shkoder took part in the world’s celebration of Carnival, Mardi Gras,etc. (or whatever you want to call it) this weekend…and with a beautiful Shqiptare twist I might add.
In a country so steeped in tradition, it can sometimes seem difficult for us mere Peace Corps Volunteers to make change happen. Let’s say, for example, to introduce modern and progressive teaching methods into the classroom. No? I didn’t think so. I often find myself chanting the Peace Corps mantra – “You plant the seeds for trees whose shade you will never stand under”- but sometimes that just doesn’t feel satisfying enough.
And then Karnaval comes to Shkoder. This wonderful holiday is full of sin, vice, indulgence, public drunkenness, day-after embarrassment, and all the other gems of youth. So how does that work in a country that is still stuck in the 1950s you might ask? Good question. Every school dresses up in a different themed costume and takes part in a giant parade around the city. Then we all gather in the center of the city to dance and sing…for an hour. Aaannd then we go for coffee. Not quite what you expected? Me neither. But, “avash, avash” as they Albanians say. Change comes slowly. Personally, I was overwhelmed with enthusiasm just to see this great international tradition of Karnaval making its way to my little old city in the north of Albania.
Of course Albanians make Karnaval their own by adding in some fun superstitions. Like burning a scarecrow…and no, not a normal sized scarecrow used in the fields and farms, but a gigantic scarecrow the size of a tractor-trailer. Just when I thought Karnaval was over, day 2 happened. Again, another parade but this time with acrobatics and gymnasts doing flips and tricks on the asphalt streets (my American self was thinking “lawsuit waiting to happen”). At the end of the parade, we can upon the aforementioned scarecrow where the mayor proceded to light it in fire as everyone cheered. Personally, I backed away slowly trying to avoid getting trampled by the crowds because I have a secret for you…there are no firetrucks in Albania. And we only have 2 ambulances. So thanks but no thanks, I will watch you burn things from afar.
All in all, a wonderful experience that I hope continues to spread throughout the country and show people the beautiful of globalization (oh and making a fool of yourself in public by eating too many doughnuts and drinking too much alcohol!). But in all seriousness, any kind of opening of this country to new ideas and new customs can only bring good things. So raise your glasses and cheers to a bright future Albania, may it be full of sexual freedom, women drinking beer in public, kissing in the streets, and dropping it like its hot for everyone!
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”