Friday, June 24, 2011

It's the Final Countdown

Only 48 more hours.

That's what I have to keep reminding myself as I wait (somewhat) patiently for my 2:15AM flight from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to Cairo, Egypt. A quick jump over the small body of water some like to call the Atlantic to the city that never sleeps, the big apple, or in the words of Alicia Keys "NeW YOOOOOOOOORRRRK!" before heading back HOME.

Now it's time for reflection. I know I'm supposed to say something truly profound about my new perspective of the world and while, yes, I am changed, I'm sorry to disappoint but I just don't think I have it in me to produce any sort of profound statement quite yet. Why? Because I'm exhausted.

Please don't think that this statement is anyway a negative reflection on the past eight months. On the contrary, I am thrilled to be exhausted. Being exhausted means that for the past eight months I've been living. Everyday a new experience, a new adventure, something to do, somewhere to go, new people to meet, new things to see. It's been incredible.

Before this trip I was a happily devoted student. I put all my time and energy into my studies and I have no regrets (it's part of the reason I ended up on this trip in the first place). However, putting all of my energy into studying meant that my focus was narrow and self serving. I ended up missing out on what was happening in the world around me. To make up for lost time I dove into new cultures, new experiences, head first and sometimes without thinking. I will admit for the first few months I hesitated quite a bit. I played it safe and decided not to push myself. It was, after all, my first time out in to the big wide world and I'll be honest, I was afraid. Yes, you heard it straight from the source, the world and traveling in it alone scared me.

People often ask me if I've been afraid or nervous as a woman traveling alone. My initial reaction (my inner feminist) is determined to reply "HELL NO!" while the realist inside of me is screaming "YES, ALL THE TIME, YES!" I usually come up with a response that sounds like, "mehhmmm well, yes but no." It's frightening. I learned quickly to put my faith in the universe and I forced myself sometimes to see the best in the situation. Most often this involves seeing the humor in a terrible, or unfortunate event and just rolling with it. I am thankful for my sense of humor, without it I don't think I could have lasted eight months. I can't imagine how I would have reacted to the first meeting of the pigeon lady in Bangkok, being saved from an insane tuk-tuk driver, or being asked if I wanted to "make boom-boom" without it.

One thing I have done continuously for the past eight months is saying goodbye. It all started at the airport when I had to say goodby to my parents. My Dad thought he could go through security and was then reprimanded by a tiny, yet intimidating, security woman. In every country, every city, I've met fellow travelers or locals who would make life just a little less lonely for a short time. Then I had to say goodbye. I'm no good at good byes. I find them uncomfortable and never quite "complete." Yet here I am, ready for my final few hours of travel, and once again I'm finding it difficult to say good bye.

Good bye Tanzania, Good bye Africa, Good bye relaxation, Good bye travel, Good bye swim suit (I left it behind), Good bye sunscreen, Good bye chipati, Good bye buses (I won't miss you), Good bye to all the people I've met along the way (for some of you it's only a brief good bye, more of a "see ya later") and finally

HELLO HOME!

Monday, June 13, 2011

From Nairobi to Moshi

And people say travel in Africa is difficult. Psht. My bus was only two and a half hours late leaving Nairobi and we only slightly broke down once. Only one of the panels on the floor broke loose and slammed into my shin. The person I sat by had a lovely child with a lovely cold who gently stroked my arm for the six hours it took to get from Nairobi to Moshi. No one stole anything and my bag made it all the way so I consider it a successful and trip.

Moshi is worlds different from Nairobi. There are no large supermarkets or modern anythings, really. Internet works when the power is on (so every other day if you're lucky). And yet, it's the most enjoyable place I've been in Africa. The people are friendlier, I'm not being followed everywhere I go, I only hear Mzungu every now and again and since English is not one of their national languages I am slowly learning more and more Swahili! Well, I've got the basic greeting down anyway, and numbers, "Mambo" Response, "Poa!" Translation: Hey, how are you? - Cool!

The Matatu's aren't matatus in Tanzania. Instead they are Dala Dala's and the Dala Dala's have this "Sardine in a Can" Policy. If you can fit more in, then do it.

I'm not volunteering because the border control people were confused and became slightly irritated when I tried to explain to them that would probably be volunteering but I wasn't sure how or where. They seemed to think this was a stupid idea and gave me a tourist Visa instead. In Tanzania it is both more expensive to buy a volunteer visa and punishable by law if you do not have one and are found to be volunteering. So, instead, I've found a school and have decided to work behind the scenes just "helping" not volunteering just offering expertise and support where they need. The name of the school is Second Chance and I've helped set up a blog for it (it isn't public yet but when it is you can find it here: secondchanceeducationcentre.blogspot.com).
When the clouds clear and the sun comes out I have a terrific view of Mt. Kilimanjaro from the garden of the lodge I'm staying at. The surrounding fields of maze have sunflowers planted on the edges for good luck (and for oil) which makes for a picturesque view when you walk from the lodge to the road.

I'm running out of time but hopefully next time I'm on a computer I'll be able to upload a few photos.  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

When technology fails

So here I sit in the cafe just down the road from KT's (my new friend from Colorado who is kindly letting me crash until I leave for Tanzania tomorrow morning). Sadly I lost my travel companion Mr. Eee (my netbook) yesterday. I went to turn it on just hours after having last used it and ... Nothing. Nothing but an error message saying there is a disk reader fail (or something). I believe this is a sign that the last month of my journey should not be spent online but out enjoying the last little bit of adventure before returning to reality.
Just wanted to let you all know on case there is any concern. I probably won't be able to blog or e-mail quite so often. Wish me luck in this new strange world of no technology.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I Pet A Cheetah Yesterday

At Nairobi National Park- Thanks to Wesley (the best tour guide in the world) we went into the Cheetah area and PET THEM. And then it licked my hand. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Yoo Hoo, Mzungu!


I believe I mentioned in a previous post that in Swahili the word Mzungu means “foreigner.”
The etymology of the word stems from a contraction of words meaning "one who wanders aimlessly" (from swahili words zunguzunguzungu,zungukazungushamzungukaji-meaning to go round and round; from Luganda okuzunga which means to wander aimlessly ) and was coined to describe European explorers, missionaries and slave traders who traveled through East African countries in the 18th century. (I "borrowed" that from Wikipedia. I thought it was interesting because I am one who wanders aimlessly most of the time).  It’s most often used when referring to a white foreigner but, according to my home-stay mom, it isn’t meant as an insult, it just exists as a way to point out an “other.” The first few days I was here I didn't really notice if anyone was using this word, I just went a long with business as usual, la-la-la. It wasn't until a couple of days ago when Ashleigh and I were walking to Hamomi that I really took notice of it. It must have been point out a Mzungu day, or something, because every single child we passed called out, “Mzungu! Mzungu!” the most memorable being a child, no more than four or five, looking up at me and whispering, in awe, “Mzungu,” as I passed. After this, I began to notice how much this word was being used around me. It wasn’t being used very often in English and most of the time I could just barely pick it out from a nearby conversation.


Suddenly I had a flashback to my Bonderman interview. I vaguely remember being asked about how I would handle being in a different country and standing out (obviously the interviewers were more eloquent but that was the general idea). I remember not so subtly looking down at my freckled skin, taking a quick look at my red hair, laughing and saying something like, “I’m going to stand out, there’s just no way around it.” The question of course was: how would I handle it? In other words, what would I do once I became the minority, the “other” in society? In Thailand the situation was similar, instead of Mzungu I was a “Falang” (Farang?). In Thailand, and all through South East Asia, I found ways to ignore my foreigner status; my otherness took a backseat to my backpacker identity. Here, there is no way around it. Every day I walk through an area that houses no Mzungu. My presence is odd and disruptive. To some my walking to Hamomi everyday is nothing out of the ordinary, something to take note of but nothing of great importance. To others, like the old man we passed last week, my presence is unsettling and because of it I was on the receiving end of what I’m sure was some pretty harsh sentiments (all in Swahili so I don’t know what was actually said, but tone is a pretty good indicator that it wasn’t a good thing). Luckily I remembered a piece of advice given to me before I left and have been following it pretty religiously; that advice goes a little something like this, “follow the mamas” (mama meaning older, and obviously, wiser women). Upon hearing the older gentlemen’s speech, these two awesome women turned around and told him off on our behalf. It was a beautiful thing and even though I’m sure he was fairly harmless, I felt safe walking beside these women.

This incident made me realize, as much as I want to live among and learn from the cultures I’m seeing there are just some things that I will never be able to be a part of.  This was something I was willing to deal with until Friday.

On Friday I had requested to teach in grade five/six. Since I didn’t feel like taking on the challenge of teaching Math I asked if I could do two periods of English instead. Sure no problem. I was to shadow the regular teacher for the first period, then teach the second. Once I was in the classroom I could tell the overall tone of the class shifted. The teacher obviously picked up on it. Instead of having me get to know the class better, or encourage them to relax he simply said, “Don’t be afraid of the Mzungu.” And then later, “Just because the Mzungu is here you are afraid to answer.” Not only did I feel like he was singling me out but also blaming me for the class’ lack of participation. Wow. I truly am different, I thought, because of me they don’t feel comfortable enough to speak in class. What am I doing here if my presence alone is making it difficult for them to learn? After going over his own class period by about fifteen minutes the teacher finally left me, the mzungu, to teach an entire class who I believed was terrified of me, for another thirty minutes. Timidly I picked up where he had left off. I asked for a volunteer to read and then wrote a question on the board for them to answer. I don’t mean to boast, but by the end of the class period I had almost every hand in class raised at least once. Later that day this happened:

video

Being a foreigner works to my advantage with the children. Children are so much more innocent and accepting than adults. I realized later that it wasn’t the children I was making nervous by being in the classroom, it was the teacher. No one likes being watched or evaluated while teaching. Anyone who has ever taught will testify to that. Having someone watch over your shoulder is unnerving. Instead of accepting that he was nervous because someone was there watching, he blamed my “otherness” for making his students unresponsive.

The redeeming Mzungu moment came yesterday during break time. As Ashleigh and I sat at the top of the hill, playing music for, and talking with some of the students a couple of the younger, first and second grade, girls were whispering Mzungu as they played with our hair. From somewhere in the distance I heard this, “That one is not a Mzungu, that one is called Brittany.” And my heart melted. One of the third grade girls, Jephries (Jeff-rees) had defended me. Wise little one that she is, she knew that Mzungu was not something you called someone who had an identity. To her I’m not just another white foreigner; I am Brittany, her teacher. Not an unknown, an “other,” or an aimless wanderer, but another human being.

Jephries

Monday, May 16, 2011

Photos from Kenya

For anyone who doesn't have facebook, click below to see pictures.

Photos from Kenya

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Singin’ in the Rain II: Kenya


Of course I’ve come to Kenya the only time in during the year when Kenyans see more rain than sunshine.No one told me the rainy season was like. Just to give you an idea of the amount, I walked for no more than ten minutes through a "normal" amount of rain and there was not a dry spot on me. I’ll just blame it on the curse of Washington: rain will find me wherever I may be. Although I’m usually thrilled to see the rain, on my first day here in Nairobi I was welcomed with a torrential downpour of biblical proportions. I half expected to see the animals pairing up while the streets quite literally became rivers.

Even Simon, the volunteer coordinator that met me at the airport, and Josef, the taxi driver, were shocked by the amount of rain. I apologized for bringing it with me. They laughed but I’m not quite sure they understood what I was saying. Side note about sarcasm: it doesn't always translate. Since then I have felt the full force of the sun and am relieved there are a few days of a rain per week.

My first day here was rather intimidating. I was alone at my home-stay, I hadn’t really met my host family, I was tired and I was shut in by the gates (yes, there are multiple gates).In spite of it all I wanted to venture out. It’s my first time in Africa I want to see as much as I can in the brief two months I have here. Thinking it wise not to walk about map-less and generally clueless, I sought the counsel of the maid/house keeper/nanny, Emily, about where I should go. She politely pointed to the left. Well, what she had meant was something like go down to the left then take a right. I missed the part about turning right and just kept walking straight into the slums. Yes, I am living on the outskirts of the “slums” of Nairobi. I knew this is where I would be teaching and living but the word “slum” has a different meaning for me. As I walked down the partial dirt, partial mud, and partial compost road I realized that although I have witnessed many different types and levels of poverty traveling (and at home) never, not even on this journey, have I seen anything of this magnitude. Small tin roofed houses with dirt floors double as home and business. Children run up and down streets littered with garbage and goat feces clothed with ragged t-shirts too big or too small, too many without shoes. Women carry small children swaddled in bright patterned fabric while simultaneously balancing enormous water jugs, bags of rice, etc. on their heads.

As I walked through the street I received a few different reactions; shock, laughter and utter confusion. Children, far braver than adults, welcomed me with, “How are you?” and answered my “hello” with “I’m fine.” For everyone else, I think seeing someone, not even a white someone, just someone who doesn’t live or work there, walking down this particular road was a bit of an oddity. I felt a little out of place and didn’t feel like being lost while jetlagged, so I turned back toward my home-stay.

First impressions are often cluttered by our preconceptions. I think Africa is the first place where I’ve experienced the least amount of preconception clutter. I truly had no idea what to expect arriving here. No concept of what Nairobi would look like or how anyone would react to my being here. I didn’t even know what to expect from the volunteer work I so eagerly signed up for. What began as a two week commitment to Hamomi has become a month long part-time teaching gig.

On the first day volunteering at Hamomi, I was told I would be teaching English and Math (gasp) for the third grade. What they meant by that was English, Math, Music, P.E. and Science (double gasp). English is a bit of a breeze (being my first language and all) and after teaching in Laos I was prepared to meet that challenge. Math, well, I’m just thankful we haven’t progressed beyond addition and subtraction of length. Multiplication is next so wish me luck I suppose. Music is the most enjoyable. We taught the kids “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and just recently Ashleigh (my volunteer/home-stay buddy) and I taught the fifth, sixth and some brave third grade girls “Aint No Mountain High Enough” and “Lean on Me.”

Science. I will never be a Science teacher. My science failure is something I’ve accepted and I am perfectly happy giving up the task of teaching it to someone far more qualified. A few days ago the third grade teacher who normally teaches Science was needed to take over watching the youngest children when their usual teacher went home sick. She gave me the Science book and, apparently not hearing my protests or pleading, left me high and dry, standing very much like a deer caught in the headlights, in front of the third grade. I nervously asked the children to take out their notebooks, looked down at the book to quickly prepare a lesson and in that instant realized, someone, somewhere, is certainly watching over me. I was given the lesson discussing the defense mechanisms of insects and other “small creatures.” Although creepy crawly things generally freak me out, this was the only part of high school Biology that I somewhat excelled in. Ask my Mom, she still (lovingly, I think) refers to me as “bug girl” after I spent the greater part of my sophomore year catching bugs for our (appropriately named) “Bug Collection.” Basically we talked about how flying, stinging, biting, coiling, retreating into a shell, or camouflaging saves the lives of wee little critters everywhere. SCIENCE.

Next on the agenda: Computer classes! Because I am so tech-savvy. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Istanbul not Constantinople

D
During my first stop in the Balkans: Zagreb, Croatia, I met two young lads from Istanbul who, more than encouraged, almost demanded that I visit Turkey if for no other reason than to eat "real Burek." They were convinced that no one else could do it like that the Turks. After that I was (almost) sold. From the moment I heard someone mention Istanbul this song popped into my head. Why? I have no idea. 'Cause it's an awesome song? And so educational. What else can I say about Istanbul? I think it was the most fitting place to end my trip around the Balkans. Initially coming here was no more than a cheap flight to Kenya but it just makes sense after seeing the influence it had on the rest of the area. The Ottoman Empire was all over the Balkans:


The tension that arose in the Balkan region (specifically between Ethnically Serbian Orthodox Christians and Bosniak/Albanian Muslims) can be traced back to Ottoman Empire's jaunt around the area. Since Turkey = Islam and back in the day Muslims = Christ-killers because... well shoot. I'm going to let Michael Sells explain this because I'm not doing it justice. The following is an exert from The Bridge Betrayed:


"In 1389, the Serb Prince Lazar was defeated and killed in a battle against Ottoman Turkish Sultan Murad on the plain of Kosovo (My note: I drove by the sight where all this went down when I was in Kosovo). While historians dispute the significance of the battle, in Serbian mythology it entailed the loss of Serb independence, a loss that was represented in cosmic terms. Lazar is portrayed as a Christ figure. He has a Last Supper with his nobles, one of whom, Vuk Brankovic, is a traitor and gives the battle plans to the Turks. During the battle, the Christ-Prince Lazar is slain and with him dies the Serb nation, to rise again only with the resurrection of Lazar. Turks are thus equated with Christ-Killers and Vuk Brankovic, the “Turk within,” becomes a symbol (and ancestral curse) of all slavic Muslims.

...
The drama opens with Bishop Danilo, the play's protagonist, brooding on the evil of Islam, the tragedy of Kosovo, and the treason of Vuk Brankovic. Danilo's warriors suggest celebrating the holy day (Pentecost) by “cleansing” (cistimo) the land of non-Christians (v. 95). The chorus chants: “the high mountains reek with the stench of non-Christians [v. 284].” One of Danilo's men proclaims that struggle won’t come to an end until “we or the Turks [slavic Muslims] are exterminated.” The reference to the slavic Muslims as “Turks” crystallizes the view that by converting to Islam the Muslims have changed their racial identity and have become the Turks who killed the Christ-Prince Lazar."

Obviously there is more than that but I think Sells did a great job of summarizing. Istanbul was the perfect conclusion to my Balkan tour. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Food Blog

A while ago I had a request for a post about food. So here is my food blog:

Bosnia and Herzegovina (and Serbia and Croatia)
This isn't my pic unfortunately: Picture
Cevapi roughly translates to meat fingers. Sarajevo had the best Cevapi by far: sausages in pita with raw onion. It sounds basic but it was actually quite delicious. This dish is common all over the Balkans. What else is a famous Balkan dish you ask? Meat. Just straight up meat on a plate is about as Balkany as it gets. 

Macedonia
Tovce Grovce in Macedonia
Tovce Grovce: seasoned beans baked in a clay pot and even though I didn't have this dish until Macedonia, it was also quite common in many other Balkan countries.

Albania
Albania: Chicken!
Half chicken or whole chicken? Served on a plate. The end.

Tave Dheu-Liver
Tave Dheu: Ever had Pâté? It's a little like that, I suppose... I don't think I've ever had pâté but I was told that it's very similar. It's liver. It was rich and creamy and meaty. Delicious once but definitely not one of those things you can eat all the time. I think you would have a heart attack if you did.  

Tres Leches
I had it in Albania and it had an Albanian name but it was Tres Leches. Three different kinds of milk topped with caramel. Delicious nonetheless. 

Never eat blueberry ice cream in Albania
This started out as a very delicious Crepe in Albania (weird I know, but go with it for a moment). And then came the ice cream. It was a combination of blueberry, strawberry and some sort of chemical component that I just can't put my finger on. Long story short: Gross.

Greece
Greek Salad and Souvlaki
Greek salad: cucumber, tomoato, feta and souvlaki. Souvlaki is meat on a stick. I think I had pork there. Very typical Greek dinner. 
Mosaka
Mosaka, Musaka, same, same. Meaty cheesy deliciousness. I don't think I really need to say more than that. 

Baklava
Okay, so I will admit that I am a bit confused about the food all over the region. From Croatia to Turkey there are so many overlapping dishes and everyone claims that it is an authentic dish to whatever country I am in at the time. Thus, for years, I have been lead to believe that Baklava (i.e. the greatest dessert ever) was Greek. Sigh, unfortunately, now that I'm in Istanbul it is fairly clear that it Turkish. There are so many Turkish dishes that are available all over the Balkan region that it's difficult to trace the origin of any of these dishes. I think the single greatest thing that the Ottoman Empire introduced to the areas it conquered was it's amazing cuisine. Bravo Ottomans. Any way, Baklava is pretty similar in Greece or Turkey; it's layers of filo pastry filled with nuts and honey (or syrup apparently). 

Baklava? I think not. FAIL.

"Greek" Coffee

Greek Wine

FETA and Tzatziki 
Tzatziki is the greatest thing. Yogurt with garlic and cucumbers: yes, please!

One things the Greeks do right, all the time: Salads.

Greek Salad

Pepper Salad

Turkey (well, Istanbul)


Fish Sandmich! Out of the water, onto a grill,
between two pieces of fresh bread. Delish.
Drum roll PLEASE! KABOB. Kabaps? Kobaps? Kebab? K-Bob.
proper K-Bob

Chef K-Bob

Turkish Pizza?

I can't remember the name: Lamb deconstructed K-bob with yogurt.

BAKLAVA: Turkish Baklava the original
 Turkish Coffee
Yes, I did just buy a Turkish Coffee pot and Turkish Coffee and a little Turkish coffee cup/saucer combo.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Greeking Out

"This is SPARTA!" (300 reference, anyone?). When I think of Greece I get this beautiful picture in my head of bare chested Olympians running to and fro between white houses towards the crystal clear blue Mediterranean sea. The reality is so disappointing. Somewhere in Belgrade I heard that Greece was, "as Balkan as it gets," or maybe I heard it was, a "Balkan place." Well shoot people, it's true. It is so Balkany up in here. They've tried to hide it with marble and the lack of communist architecture but I can see through the facade. You, dear Greece, are just as Balkany as the rest of 'em! Coffee bars everywhere, bad hair cuts (yes, there are mullets, too many mullets), the markets, the people, the fashion (acid wash jeans with tight shirts and gold chains), the stray dogs and cats roaming the streets, need I say more? I could but then I would bore you all to death and we wouldn't want that. 

In Athens I found myself wondering: "How the heck is Greece bankrupt?" Everything is so dern expensive. And then it hit me, again, like many of the Balkan countries, people are out drinking coffee all day long. What do they do for a living? Unemployment is just as big of an issue here as it is anywhere else in the world. And similar to the issues of those countries going through huge revolutions at the moment (Egypt specifically) Greece, too, has an entire generation of young people who are overeducated and unemployed. Fun fact: the city of Thessaloniki is in the running for "European Youth Capital 2014." 

I know Greece was never on the itinerary but here I am in Thessaloníki. Athens was almost exactly what I expected it to be: big ol' city, lots of cool history, and tour groups. I haven't heard that many American accents in one place since... the Portland Airport five-ish months ago. I visited the Parthenon (and didn't realize it), the Ancient Agora, the first Olympic Stadium, the museums, and ate some delicious Greek cuisine.

This place has so much history it was difficult to decide what to see for my brief stay. I couldn't go to any of the islands, I didn't get to see Meteroa or visit Mt. Olympus (or at least the peak that they named Mt. Olympus). I only had enough time to visit of Athens and Thessaloníki but it was certainly worth visiting even if it did rain the entire time. 

Parthenon

Olympic Stadium

National Library

Orange tree on the side of the street


Cute old men playing a tune!






I win!



Where? OH you mean that HUGE THING ON TOP OF THE HILL?


Acropi-dogs!

Athens = Big

Parthenon

Muses

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Albania: Return to Tirane (Tirana?)

or How My Final Day in Berat Turned into My Final Days in Berat


It all started with a Raki. Have I not yet explained what Raki is? Alright well, Raki is a traditional Albanian drink, enjoyed morning, noon and night by everyone. Funny story about Raki from my bus ride between Albania and Athens but that'll come later. Anyway, the best Raki comes in reused plastic water, coke, fanta, whatever-the-heck-soft-drink bottles. It is made from plums (traditionally, but as I learned later they make it from pretty much whatever fruit they feel like) and goes through a similar process as say, moonshine. Yes, Raki (or Rakija or Rakia depending on where you are in the Balkans) is the socially acceptable, Albanian version, of moonshine. Typically it is had in the morning (or whenever you wake up) with coffee. That's how the locals do it. So when I was offered some Raki the morning of the 12th I thought, "When in ... Albania?" I womaned up and had 2 sips (really that's all I could justify at 9 in the morning... it's also all I could get down. It burns).

As we sat and sipped our Raki the conversation turned to the Manu Chao concert that was to take place that night in Tirana. I had expressed earlier in the week, when I was in Tirana, how great it would be to go to the concert but I didn't actually think I would still be in the country at the time, and certainly not Tirana. The conversation moved so quickly I can't quite remember how it happened but everyone, myself excluded, had decided to go back to Tirana that afternoon to see Manu Chao. I left the room for a moment and when I returned it was suddenly decided that I was going. I insisted that I shouldn't that going back to Tirana would be a ridiculous even though I really, really wanted to see Manu (who wouldn't want to see them perform live? I mean honestly). And then Ashley (random Seattle connection working at the hostel) said the one thing I dread hearing, "What's stopping you?" Gawd. Here I am, traveling the world (or a portion of it), I'm young(ish), no solid commitments, what is stopping me? I couldn't think of anything, or I didn't want to think of anything, to argue with that. So I said, "Fine. Let's do it. Let's just do it." Twenty minutes later I was on a bus back to Tirana. We arrived with enough time to check in to the hostel and grab something to eat.

I will admit I am not a spontaneous person usually. I like plans, outlines, lists, guides, etc. Spontaneously deciding to spontaneously take a spontaneous trip to Tirana to spontaneously see Manu Chao play was ... well it was Spontaneous. And totally outside my comfort zone. And totally AWESOME.

Don't know who Manu Chao is? What, have you been living under a rock? No, it's fine mis amigos Americanos that's what I'm here for.


Like it? This video is how I learned "Gustar" in Espanol:


Adding to the list of things I learned in Albania: Spontaneity can be enjoyable if it involves dancing. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Albania: Berat

Deciding to leave Tirana took far too much effort. Where to go next? Bulgaria? Greece? Back to Ohrid? Stay in Albania? My mind was made up by Malvina who told me Berat was quieter than Tirana but still beautiful. Plus it only takes 3 hours by bus whereas getting from Tirana to any other country is a hassle-and-a-half. So I was sold. When I arrived in Berat this is what I found: First I found a great hostel, then I found out that everyone staying there that night had one thing in common: they had all met me at some point during my 4 night stay in Tirana (yes I was there for quite a while trying to make up my mind). In fact, some of them had made it through 2 other cities before arriving in Berat.

View from the top

The Citadel and the town below

A trip through the Balkans just isn't complete without Albania and it isn't fair to base one's opinion of a country on one city. Especially the capital city. So here I am in Berat and it's been a busy few days. In the first two days here I climbed to the top of both hills (mini-mountains sounded like too much of an exaggeration), made it to a waterfall, and saw a different side to Albania than I had seen in Tirana.

The Citadel in Berat sits at the top of the hill and surrounds what remains of the castle. Have I mentioned how GORGEOUS it is here? Yeah? Well, in case I have some non-believers.




Cooooold water
On my second day in Berat I went on an adventure with two boys from England (Tom Sawyer and Justin Beiber) to a smaller town called Bogove. In Bogove there is a gorgeous, freezing cold, water fall. I'll give you an idea of how cold the water was: jump in, the shock of the cold paralyzes you for a moment, when you finally get out everything is numb and you turn bright red. The water is literally melting off of a mountain, literally. The ride up to Bogove was interesting. The first bus we boarded apparently didn't go all the way to Bogove so we were motioned to get off at a smaller town and ushered into a smaller mini-van whilst being introduced to the locals in the bus (yes the driver actually said this) as, "One American and two English." It made me feel important for 2.5 seconds. Then this cute old woman motioned for me to sit by her. And then she started asking me questions... in Albanian. So I answered her in English. Languages collide!

Jesus tattoo

Beiber and Tom Sawyer

You wanted a pony? Well, how about a donkey instead?


Things I've learned in Berat

1. Technically I knew this before coming here but it still confuses the heck out of me. Po means yes Yo means no, shaking one's head side to side means yes and shaking one's head up and down means no. Why? Just, why.

2. People, mostly older women, don't care that you don't speak Albanian, they will talk to you regardless of any language barrier. They will speak only in Albanian and expect you to know what the hell they are saying. So I've gotten really good at just pretending I know what the hell they are saying and replying in English. It's actually quite interesting. I'm sure they think we're talking about the same thing but I could literally be saying, "Today I saw pigs flying and I am going to the moon tomorrow morning." And they would shake their heads and keep saying whatever the heck they're saying. 

3. Hitch-hiking is completely normal and people do it all the time. The American in me keeps saying, "you will be robbed, or murdered if you get into a car with a complete stranger." I just can't bring myself to do it. 

4. There is this awesome thing called a Giro or Xhiro in Albanian. Basically at about 6pm every night (every night) the entire city walks from one end of the street to the other. The pros are usually old men, looking very dapper, crossing their hands behind their backs. They stay until about 9pm or so while women generally head back before 8pm.
Xhiro

5. Don't drink the Raki. Just don't do it. Unless you put in coffee like the locals.

6. You should never be bored. Nothing to do? Water the pavement. Everyone here waters the pavement.


7. If invited to a Manu Chao concert... GO. 

Number 7 brings me to my next post...
After I left Tirana the first time I was certain I would never see it again... at least not for a while. Two days later I found myself on a bus heading back to Tirana to see a Manu Chao concert. We arrived an hour before the concert began, just enough time to settle into the hostel, find tickets, eat and find the stadium.

To be continued...