“Come to Albania, where you are a Guest not a Tourist!”
Despite increasing amounts of tourists each year, much of Albania remains a place that seldom sees foreigners. Due to a mix of old word hospitality and a curiosity after decades of isolation, Albanians will often make visitors to their country feel very welcome.
I have found this to be true more so in villages around my site in the forgotten mountain realm than anywhere else. Perhaps 80% of the time I visit a village, I am invited to have coffee with someone who lives there.
Now its true that Albanians are always inviting each other and foreigners to coffee, but what makes the experience different in the village is that there are no coffee shops. When someone invites you to have coffee in the village, they are inviting you to have coffee in their house where you will meet their family and you will all get to know each other.
You want to have a coffee? Ok, but there’s no coffee shop…
The first time I visited my favorite mountain village I was invited to coffee. I said “Yes” of course, as this is exactly how you learn language and culture and make friends in a place where everyone else seems to know each other. My next questions was “Is there a coffee shop here?” I asked because the village has maybe 30 people and is remote and partially abandoned.
“No there isn’t.” they told me. “He is inviting you to have coffee at his shpoia (house in the local dialect)”
I spent the next hour having coffee, raki, and snacks with his family as we pushed my language skills to the limit talking about our families and why I’ve come to Albania.
Every time I go back to that village I visit the family and ask how their kids are doing. Like I said before, a difficulty of this peace corps life is moving to a place where you know no one and everyone else there already knows each other. Experiences like having coffee with villagers makes me feel more connected and more cared about, even if only a little.