That’s right. Today is my one-year anniversary of being a PCV in Albania. And I don’t know exactly how to feel about that, but ready or not, here it is. To use the word bittersweet to describe this day seems to cliché, but it’s true. I guess it’s a cliché for a reason, right?
There are so many things I absolutely love of living in the country, but at the same time there are so many things that drive me insane. Which I think is pretty normal. And as is only natural on such momentous occasions, I can’t help but think of all the things I’ve done here and all the things I’ve missed out on back home and all the things I have left to do in Albania and all the things I can’t wait to do when I go home…and the list goes on. So to honor this occasion, I’ve compiled a list of things I miss (both positive and negative). Some of these things may seem strange, funny, absurd, or whathaveyou to those of you who haven’t heard all the dirty little details about my life in Albania, so enjoy!
- Dryers. Like most places in Europe, the people of Albania do not own, sell, or know about the beauty of drying your clothes in a machine rather than allowing all your neighbors to star at your underwear for hours on end as they hang over your balcony to dry.
- Central heat and AC. Flat out does not exist in this country. Okay that’s a lie. You can find it some places like fancy restaurants or hotels but it’s not nearly as functional as the beautiful American kind. For the most part we use woodstoves and space-heaters.
- Taking a shower without flooding the bathroom. In case you haven’t heard, Albanian showers do not have shower curtains. So after every shower you have to mop the floor (two-in-one forced cleaning?).
- Taking a shower on a whim. In order to have hot water, I have to turn on my water heater and it takes about 2 hours to get the water hot enough to take a shower. So there’s no waking up and showering before work or hoping in the shower after at the gym. You have to sit there and wait it out.
- Drano. This wonder of the modern world cannot be purchased in Albania so when all of my drains are clogged from the above showering fiascos, there is no way to unclog them. Needless to say, the act of showering takes half my life.
- Sensible power outages. On a perfectly sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, I often walk home to find my house without power. For hours. No explanation. Yet on days with torrential downpours, hail, and 40 mph winds I will have power all day without a problem. Mind-boggling.
- Flushing toilet paper. Like most developing countries, the plumbing system in Albania isn’t good enough to handle toilet paper so you have to put it in a little bin next to the toilet and take it out with the trash every day.
- One-stop-shop grocery shopping. When I need to get food for dinner, it’s an hour long ordeal. There is no grocery store in Albania where you can get everything you need. Instead you have to go to the cheese shop, meat shop, vegetable/fruit stand, bakery, and market before heading home to cook. Thinking about giving up and ordering a pizza instead? Wrong.
- Delivery food. There is fast food in Albania, but it’s not really fast food like you’d imagine in the U.S. There are byrek stands (Albania’s answer to Greek spanekopita) and there are sufllaqe stands where you can get a sandwich. But ordering Chinese takeout or delivery pizza is non-existent. You’ll have to sit down and wait 40 mins for the water to take your order and another 30 for the chef to make the pizza before you can take it home with you (if they even let you do that). And Chinese? Never.
- Driving a car. Peace Corps doesn’t allow us to drive so instead I’m subjected to the maniacal maneuvering skills of the bus and furgon drivers in Albania. Sometimes terrifying, but think about it like an amusement park ride or a virtual simulation of Mario Cart and all of the sudden it’s a lot easier to breathe.
- Happy hour. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a glass of wine or a cocktail after a long day of teaching sometimes. Unfortunately this wonderful concept doesn’t exist in Albania. So I’m stuck with espresso shots, which is pretty much the only thing I can order at a bar without getting strange longs anyway (women really shouldn’t drink in public unless they want to be the topic of conversation for weeks to come).
- Jogging. I’ve pretty much limited myself to Insanity workouts in my living room so as to avoid the unwanted stares of Albanians. No only is exercising in public taboo, but women exercising is even more unheard of. I could go to a gym of course, but that costs money and also brings a lot of attention since I’m the only woman there who is actually sweating and not trying to find a husband.
- Vacuuming. Probably not what you expected, but it’s true. Albanians don’t have vacuums and it’s almost impossible to find one at a store. So I’m limited to sweeping and mopping and using these strange little hand-held contraptions for the rugs.
- Airplanes flying overhead. It took me awhile to realize it, but in all honesty I haven’t seen or heard and airplane in the sky since I’ve been to Albania. And I live an hour outside the airport. Tourism is not our biggest industry if you hadn’t guessed.
- Melting cheese. Albania has two kinds of cheese- kaçkavall and djathë e bardhë. Both are delicious, but with no remarkable flavor characteristics, besides the fact that you cannot in fact melt them. And a world without melted cheese is just not the same.
- Commercials. Never thought I’d say that, but it’s true. I don’t have a television so I have to download or stream all of the tv shows I want to watch. And none of those have commercials. So who knows what the latest products to hit the shelves are!
- Baking at 350º. My beautiful Albanian “furre” does not have a temperature gauge. It’s just on or off. Needless to say I burn a lot of food.
- Ben & Jerry’s, frosting from a jar, chocolate chips, dill pickles, olives without pits, cheddar cheese, maple syrup. No explanation necessary.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”