Hello again. Its been over a year since I last posted here. I want to say something like “I can’t believe its been so long” but really I can believe it. I’m a terrible procrastinator and I get caught up taking and hoarding photos instead of sharing them.
Hopefully I can make this become part of my routine again and share some great thoughts, stories and images from my time abroad in a totally different culture. I still have lots of amazing photos from Japan and maybe I will write and share some more of those, but for now I will just try to get you caught up on my last year.
I moved back to Portland in August 2016 with the general idea that I would be moving to Albania in March 2017 to teach English. Leaving Japan was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do emotionally. Just looking back through the pictures of the weeks leading up to me leaving trying to decide which to post on here, brings me to the verge of tears. When I got back to Portland, I got a part time job at a high end Japanese restaurant in business district of downtown. Since I speak decent Japanese, I was the first non-Japanese waiter they had hired in their 30 years of business, something that their long time regulars awkwardly commented on constantly. It was a great experience with lots of tasty perks and a nice way to ease back into America. It also reminded me of why I left Japan and what I truly did not like about Japanese work culture. I was ready to move on. I love Japan and will always have a huge place for it in my heart, but I was excited to Try something new.
So in March, after eating my way through Portland and spending time with family and friends, I set off to Albania. I knew little to nothing about this country and its language and I was excited to get started learning all about it. I was also terrified, nervous and felt like I was moving farther away from Japan and the home I had spent three years making, which terrified me the most.
My first two months were spent living with a host family in a little town called Belsh. It is a beautiful town and was great for adjusting to life in Albania. There were nine other Americans training in Belsh with me. We grew together quickly like you usually do when you’re shipped off to a foreign country with a bunch of strangers who also speak the same language as you. We spent hours each day in intensive language and culture training courses and spent our afternoons and evening adjusting to the Albanian lifestyle. Whether we did so successfully or not is beside the point. We sat at cafes, drank coffee and raki, and played dominoes.
Raki is the traditional alcohol of Albania. It is a hard liquor distilled from various fruits such as grapes, strawberries and plums. I had heard a little bit about it before coming to Albania and assumed it might taste something like plum wine in Japan. I was terribly mistaken. It takes like vodka or some other strong, clear hard liquor whose only flavor is alcohol. It is very strong and is usually sipped not taken as a shot. I don’t really enjoy casually sipping on glasses of hard liquor but it was cheap and it came with a glass of water. To me this meant it was cheaper to buy a shot of raki and get a glass of water than to pay for a bottle of water. And so the raki flowed.
Fast forward ten weeks of daily language class and hour long furgon (minibus) trips to Elbasan for technical training and we arrive at site placement day. The cities we would be moving to and living in for the next two years were presented to us in envelopes. Everyone was very nervous and excited. I was really looking forward to finally getting to my destination and being able to start. I opened up my envelope and saw “Berat” on the top of the page.
Berat was one of the only places in Albania that I had come to know in my two months of training. We had watched a communist era movie called “Tomka and his friends” in our culture class that was filmed in the old town of Berat. I knew some friends who had traveled there and had told people how much I really wanted to visit. I was so happy when I saw that this amazingly beautiful and historic city would be my home for the next two years. A few days later we were shipped off to our new sites. I arrived at my host families house and immediately felt more comfortable than I had all throughout training. The house was warm, inviting and spacious while my host family was shy and wanted to do everything they could to make me feel comfortable.
Berat is a great city and I am so happy to be here and to explore and get to know it. It feels like a city but isn’t too big or overwhelming and has lots of history and culture that keeps it from being just a “city”. There is a lot of potential here and I cant wait to see what happens.
Overall I am very happy to be here in Albania so far and it has been a great adventure. Before coming here, all I had to compare it to was moving from Oregon to Japan. So I assumed that the first 6 months in Albania would be the most difficult, like they were for me in Japan. That hasn’t been the case so far which has been great but also makes me nervous that things could get bad later. But if everything continues to go as its been so far I think I will like it here very much.
I have so many stories to tell from my time here so far but those will have to wait for another post. Hopefully coming with a much shorter break from this one than with my one year break before this post.