You know how you have those friends that when they get in a new relationship, it seems that every single conversation turns to that person? You could be talking about textbooks or sunshine or the price of rice in China and somehow they manage to spin the conversation to their significant other. I hate that person so much. We’ve all had a friend like that. And we’ve all probably been that person (whether we want to admit it or not).
Unfortunately, now I’m that person. It dawned on me the other day. I’ve fallen in love with Albania. Worst boyfriend ever by the way.
Cliche of all cliches, I know. But hear me out. Recently I’ve been catching myself comparing everything to Albania. And bringing up Shkoder, my school, my students, this country, my counterpart, etc. in every single conversation. Regardless of where the conversation initially started (this is as close to a formal apology as you’re going to get, so take it and like it). It’s like word vomit. I can’t hold it back. I just feel the need to shout from the rooftops about this love-hate relationship I’m in with Albania.
Like the tortured female in love that I am, I drive you all crazy by talking about Albania to an uncomfortable extent. And worse than that, I’m also that friend who complains and complains about how her boyfriend did this, and can you believe he said that, and then he did this. You know how it goes. To quote myself on many occasions “It’s so backwards..It’s too cold in the winter…It’s too hot in the summer. I feel like I can’t get anything done…It’s so haaarrrdd…” On and on they tell you only the bad things. So that you end up hating this guy before you’ve ever even met him.
And then you suggest she break up with him if he’s really that bad (logical conclusion based on the information you’ve been given). To which she freaks out and adamantly refuses. “Okay it’s not really thaaat bad…And I’ve made so many good friend…But I love the people it’s just the system that’s broken…And it’s so beautiful…” Because there’s more to her crazy boyfriend that just the annoying and frustrating things he does. She just neglected to tell you all the really good and kind and sweet things he does too. And because those bad days are so bad, the good days feels so much better. We’re all been there, right? But she loves him, she promises. So you can’t do anything but sigh and throw up your hands in defeat. Love makes people do crazy things. Like move halfway across the world to a tiny little country in the Balkans and never want to leave.
It’s so easy for a PCV to complain to people back home about the struggles of life in a developing country and the hardships of day-to-day living. We can spend hours telling horror stories that make you shake your head and question why we’re hear. But when you tell us just to come home, we freak out. Never! I could never leave now! I love this place too much and my students mean the world to me and my community needs me and I’d miss everything about it. I can’t even imagine going home.
So keep in mind your high school boyfriend or college sweetheart the next time you talk to a PCV friend of yours. Remember all the butterflies in your stomach, that goofy smile on your face, and those moments that sent you to cloud 9. And take what we say with a grain of salt because it’s all true.
I’m that girl. And this is my love letter to Albania.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”