April, 2014. Hiking in Narte just north of Zvernec island.
The Lezha Commune. Typically for Peace Corps housing in Albania, you get a communist-era pallati situated in the center of town, but I did not. I’m the only Volunteer with this kind of set-up and it’s not better or worse, it’s just different. I live in a big commune right next to a semi-functioning garden with chickens, plenty of cats, and my trusted guard dog Onyx. There are several things about this house that I will miss, simply because they provided me with a unique living experience for two years. I’ve never been as unbearably hot as I have in the summers here, thanks to the black tar that covers my roof, and I’ve never been so cold as I have in the winters here, thanks to my windows that blow open with the wind and cement walls. I can be in every room at once except for my bathroom, which is outside through a covered walkway. The clear plastic walkway helps with the rain, but not much else. Because my door does not fully reach the ground I get the garden critters, which I’ve come to handle with stride. Then there’s the electricity. I shower next to a bunch of wires taped to the wall; I’ve convinced myself it’s okay since the light bulb in my bathroom doesn’t actually work (thank heavens for Headlamp). Because my non-electrician landlord did all the electrical, my house has quirks, like my overhead light that flickers every time my fridge turns on, and my stove that likes to shock me. Now that I’m getting closer to going back to the States, I think more and more about the things I took for granted: dryers and insulation, clean running water and stable electricity among other things. But all the Lezha Commune quirks I’ve learned to deal with, and it’s the place I call my home.
While traveling around last weekend, I made a stop back in Librazhd to enjoy some home cooked meals with my family for the last time. After two afternoons of sitting, staring, and enjoying each other’s company it was time to say my last goodbye. Words could not do justice to the amount of gratitude I have for mama Xheni and the Blloshmi family. In a sad goodbye, we left with hope for my return in the future, for conversations left to be had, and with the promise that I will move on to bigger, brighter, and better things.
I took a short trip to Kosovo on the weekend; it’s only about two hours away on the autostrad through Kukes. Arriving in Prishtine, I was immediately greeted by a giant typographic monument ‘NEWBORN’ unveiled on the day of Kosovo’s Independence on February 17, 2008, signifying its status as one of the newest countries in the world. Unsurprisingly, there’s development all over the place. Similar to Albania, construction is everywhere but Kosovo remains far more organized (at least in the main cities). Wandering up and down the promenade and along Bill Clinton Blvd to eat more eclectic foods than we have in Albania was definitely a highlight.
On the way back to Albania, I stopped in Prizren, a much more elegant and visually pleasing town. It’s also only a half hour away from Kukes. It was remarkable to see how much Kosovo bounced back from having a war only a little over a decade ago in 1999. The graffiti still speaks volumes of what the Kosovar people have been through along with the memorials of people still missing or recently found, but the cities are on the rise with organized recycling campaigns, remodeling and a clear understanding of tourism and aesthetic, and above all some variety in the food and people and places.
Voskopoja, Albania. To many here, it’s called the place with a bunch of old churches, eight Orthodox churches to be exact. Although the town has been remodeled several times, the churches surrounding the town have never been touched (besides minor skeletal repairs). The most fascinating sights to see are the intact murals, in their original paint from the 1700s. Pure works of art.
To celebrate the beginning of spring, I took a trip down to the southeast of Albania to see some places I had never seen before and to hang out with some friends I may not see again for a very long time.
March, 2014. That time we all crammed ourselves in a high school classroom for nearly 8 hours to read a bunch of English essays.
Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet:
Most of the time I try to ignore the fact that I’m leaving in two months, but between the inevitability of COSing and starting school in the fall the countdown always finds a way back into my head. There are so many things I still want to do and so many places I still want to see and the time just keeps going faster and faster.
"The timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream."