Having been in this country for 5 months I am still blown away by the care and generosity that Albanians display to their guests. It’s everywhere. I walk down the street and people offer me coffee. If I’m walking with my site-mate they offer him Raki (free booze at 7 in the morning anyone?). I go to my favorite lokal and I am given ice cream (sometimes twice). I need help with directions in the capital, strangers take me to where I need to be without a second thought. It can be a life-saver and at other times overwhelming (sometimes you just want to go to the store and not speak to anyone or have to stop for a coffee). Most of the time it’s a strange combination of the two. It can be a lot for Americans, and it makes me realize how a little thoughtfulness can completely change a persons day. Most days one or two nice things happen to be related to Albanian hospitality, but today it felt like every time I turned around someone was going out of their way to be kind to me.
This morning I went for a run…well more of a brisk walk with a few stretches of sprinting. I should really get a better running playlist together; but that’s a matter I can discuss at another point in time. The route I took this morning is a new road a company is building to allow their trucks to more easily pass through Corovode. This means it’s not yet fully open to traffic and makes for a perfect early morning stroll. As I was attempting maintain some sort of a jog, I passed an old man who looked to be waiting to catch a ride into town to sell a milk crate filled with fresh peaches; being a volunteer I have made it a point to acknowledge everyone I pass and say hello. I nodded to him on my way to the bridge (my turning around point) and mumbled some poor excuse for ‘good morning’ in Shqip. I wondered after passing him if he had even understood me. on my way back he made eye contact with me and moved to his crate of Peaches and proceeded to hand me two! I thanked him in my breathless, surprised, and I’m sure, garbled Shqip. I ended up running home with two very light hand weights that I now could have for dinner! (they weren’t quite ripe yet). Who doesn’t like free fresh fruit? Only awful people.
I was just minding my own business and I got a message on my WhatsApp from my PST family. Sometimes I miss these messages or forget to respond because I get swept up in something else but today the planets had aligned and I was in the perfect mood to talk (thanks fruit guy) so I replied immediately. As soon as I did my host brother Kristi asked if I wanted to chat, I said yes and before I knew it I was video chatting with my whole PST family! including my host Aunt! Kristi informed me that Ervisa, my host mother missed me a ton and I could honestly tell him that I missed her just as much! These people are some of the finest I’ve ever met in the entire world and I hope to keep them in my life forever! Seriously, if you ever meet them you’ll understand! And for the lucky G21 volunteer who gets them as their host family has won the lottery!
Being able to speak to my host family a little better than before was so wonderful. And the fact that they always make an effort to keep in touch is so sweet. I can’t say enough kind things about these people.
Later I went for a post-pushim walk around town and found myself at a small garage sale-like pop up bazaar. It was just one vendor with two tables of clothing and home goods. As I walked by my neighbor waved me over. She asked me how I was and then proceeded to show me various items she thought I might like. She always does this when I end up at the same vendor at the bazaar, or really anywhere now it seems. She has been such a joy to have in my apartment complex and she’s definitely a reason I may stay in this apartment for 2 years.
Once I had found something I needed from the small Bazaar I moved on to find a few nails so that I could make my apartment feel a bit more like home. I walked to the part of town that I knew had a hardware shop. For whatever reason everything on this street was closed up; I’m still not certain if Pushim just lasts all afternoon or if everyone on this street went on vacation at the same time. Either way I ended up at a small shop that I knew had a few hardware store-like items so I figured I’d take the chance. After having to look up the word for nail in Shqip, the shop lady motioned that she did have nails and scurried into the back of her shop. she quickly resurfaced with two sizes of nails. I told her I’d take the smaller one and then she asked me how many I needed. I told her 6 and then asked how much that would be. She shook her head and refused to let me pay. I was so overcome with her gesture that I looked around her shop and found something to buy because I couldn’t let myself leave without giving her something.
And of course on the way home I was ushered over to have a coffee with a local I knew.
This is just one day. And while today was just one thing after another, this is the norm. Restaurants send over free desserts, shop owners try to give away small treats, neighbors offer to have you over to dinner, kids give you flowers, coffees are almost forcibly offered, and if you dare to go out alone to a coffee shop, you can be sure that they won’t let you drink alone. You can try but you will never be able to out-kind and Albanian. I am always trying though!