Life in Albania as a Peace Corps Volunteer certainly has its ups and downs. Here are 6 of the”ups” in no particular order
1. Natural beauty of Albania
Albania is hella mountainous and also has a beautiful Mediterranean coast line. The mountains make travel times ridiculous and the beaches near major cities (like Durres) should be avoided due to sewage problems but overall the coast and the mountains make Albania a super bukur (beautiful) place where even mundane places have incredible vistas.
2. Summer vacation
It’s hot here in the summer. Crazy hot. And air conditioning is still rare. the Solution? Pushim! (vacation). Even if you try to work in the summer, you’ll be hampered by the fact that at any point half of your colleagues are on vacation or will be. So, when life gives you lemons, take a pushim yourself for a few weeks (with all vacation days in accordance with Peace Corps policy of course).
3. Learning an obscure and difficult language
the Albanian Language, Shqip, is 1. heavily inflected 2. exists on its own family within the indoeuropean languages 3. is spoken by only 7.3 million people in the world. the ratio of Usefulness to Difficulty of Albanian must be one of the smallest ratios in the world of tongues, up there with the Basque language which is a pre-indoeuropean linguistic isolate.
So why is this one of the best parts, besides to impress people at future American parties? Because the flipside of that usefulness to difficulty ratio is that to learn and speak their language is a great way to show respect for the people and the culture . Albanians are often shocked to hear a foreigner speak Shqip and they love it.
4. All the free coffee
When Americans split up a bill at a restaurant, they each try to pay for their share. In Albania, this concept does not exist. The most angry and violent I have seen Albanians act in public was when a member of my table tried to pay for the coffees of the guys at an adjacent table. Why would people become so upset over free coffee? Because in Albanian culture, to pay is to have the honor and to show respect to the other folks. For someone else to pay is to lose the opportunity to show respect.
What this means for Peace Corps Volunteers in Albania is that you’ll probably hardly ever have to pay for coffee with colleagues because they want to show respect to the foreigner who is a guest in their country. I have however learned how to pay for coffee by using this simple tool: Invite the people and when it comes time to pay, simply start saying “I invited you!” over and over, louder each time.
5. Everyone here loves America
If there is a country that rivals America in how much they love America, it has to be Albania. Going back to 1912 when President Wilson prevented Albania from being split up and then in modern times when the USA joined the side of the Ethnic Albanians of Kosovo in their war against Serbia in the 1990’s, Albania has legitimate reasons to like America. As a van driver once told me, America is like a “big friend” of Albania.
In addition, basically every Albanian you meet will have relatives that live in America which makes us all compatriots of sorts.
They do take it a little too far, perhaps. Note there is a George W Bush street in Tirana, the Capital city. there is also a statue of George W Bush here. OK, so Albania joined NATO with W’s help but damn, read his wikipedia page before building a statue to him, for christ’s sake!
6. Cherry month
Do you like cherries? Of course you do. Imagine a forgotten mountainous corner of Europe that has so many cherries they named the month June “Cherry Month” or “Qershor.” That place you just imagined is actual Albania. And its not just cherries that make Albania delicious but also the apples, grapes, and other foods that you’ll find growing in your neighborhood. Almost all the food here is fresh and local, its just too bad its not also organic.
There are other great things here but I feel like this is a good sampling. Please leave your questions and comments below!