It’s a running joke in PCV land (at least in Albania) that baby fever is contagious amongst some female volunteers. Living abroad by yourself makes your really lonely sometimes, you know. So when you see adorable little babies you get this “baby fever”, like ahh I wish I had a baby, and omg how cute is that little kid! And then this desire quickly spreads to your other females friends and before you know it everyone’s planning their dream wedding.
Okay I said this is common amongst some female volunteers. Key word being “some” because those of you who know me, know that I am not one of those “some”. Chalk it up to my stubborn career-driven self or whatever you like, but that feeling of oh I wish I had a baby, never really overwhelms me.
But I can’t say the same for Albanian men.
Sometimes it seems like this whole country has baby fever. It’s kind of precious and kind of annoying all at the same time. As a woman, I get ridiculed constantly when I’m honest and say I’m 24 and not looking for a husband and a family right now. Older women stare at my aghast and horrified that it’s not my deepest desire to be pregnant and married. It’s like I’ve rocked them to their core and insulted their reason for living (probably because I have). They take pity on me and say the greatest thing a woman can do is have a baby. And that’s where I let the conversation die because I just can’t argue anymore, so I smile and say some day, maybe some day.
The great thing about Albania is that this nurturing instinct isn’t really a division between the sexes. When I ask my students what they want in their future, equal numbers of men and women say they want the perfect marriage and children as say they want to be rich and famous. And I can honestly say it’s pretty refreshing to see so many men in touch with what we’d call “their feminine side”.
Point in case, the other day I was at the gym running on the treadmill surrounded by the macho-men of Shkoder lifting weights. Just a little backstory here, it’s the same guys there every Saturday morning so we’ve become “gym buddies” if you know what I mean. We smile, wave, say hello, and then put our headphones back in and continue our workouts. One of these guys is the owner and he’s about 6 ft. tall and solid as a bodybuilder (probably because he is one). He affectionately refers to me as Hussein Bolt and “the American”. So you could say we’re pretty close.
Yesterday was just like every other Saturday morning at the gym. But in the middle of my run, this little 2 year girl with pink bows in her hair and a matching pink frilly dress waddled through the door. Immediately all the big macho-weight lifters put down their weights, bent down, and said hello to this tiny little child. Each and every one of them grinning ear to hear. The owner (aforementioned bodybuilder) then proceeded to pick her up, twirl her around, get down on all fours and chase her around the gym as she squealed with pleasure for the next 10 minutes. It may have been the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
Who would’ve thought that these big manly-men grunting and sweating in the weight room would totally lose it over a little baby?! But that’s Albania for you. A country so focused on families that even the macho-est man in the room can’t contain himself in the face of an adorable child. And that’s what makes Albanian men such great dads (for the most part, because like every country and advertisement on tv “certain exceptions my able”). I can’t tell you how many men I’ve seen carrying their kids through grocery stores or walking hand-in-hand down the street. It melts my heart every time.
Probably because when I first came here I was warned about the treatment of women and how I’d feel frustrated by the traditional family roles in Albania. And it was true, for the most part. But the longer I’ve lived here the more I’ve gotten to see Albania for what it really is. And despite the gender roles and stereotypes so entrenched in this society, there seems to be one thing that brings the sexes together. And that’s baby fever. The family unit in Albania is that strong; which is just one more thing I love about this place.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”