Oh man! I am really lazy when it comes to updating the world (mom, dad) on my Thrilling Adventures. As you may have surmised – and that’s the wrong word to use, because anyone who might be thinking about this has been speaking to me, and doesn’t have to make guesses – I’ve COSed, I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I am in Albania starting Fulbright.
For COS volunteers have to go into Skopje for a few days. Peace Corps staff spent a lot of time “encouraging” us to schedule meetings and appointments before our actual COS date, so that by the time I arrived in Skopje I had maybe three hours of paperwork-ing and meeting-ing and two days of “I got a TB test and now I have to wait for the results.” Once I finished everything on Thursday, though, I took the kombi back to Debar for a final coffee with one of my friends, some time with Ava, dinner with my family, and some frantic last-minute packing and cleaning.
Friday morning I finished the cleaning and called up the taxi company. My travel down to Tirana reminded me of a lot of the things I’ve loved about Debar – the relationships I have with all the people who provide me with the basic services I use every day. My favorite taxi driver showed up and told me he had taken the fare because he realized it was me, his friend (my heart melted right then), talked up my work to the border police (who then wanted to know if I was of Albanian origin – touching his cheekbones to suggest, I don’t know, that I have Albanian cheekbones?), and put me on a furgon (see: kombi) that passed us just before we entered Maqellare.
I spent my ride south wedged between two older Albanian women who kept trying to feed me and give me gum, the grandma patting me on the leg every time I said something and donating part of her lap blanket to me. The furgon dropped us on the street and I took a taxi to the apartment of one of the other Fulbrighters. I was pretty happy because the driver told me his family was from the Dibër region of Albania (so, close to my Dibër) but I think sounded like an idiot to him – just stared out the window going, “Whoaaa! Kam qenë këtu një herë, por unë harrova sa i madh Tirana është! Whooaaaa! Sa makina ka! Whoaaa! Sa njerëz!” (This all translates to a bunch of pointless gushing about the number of people and cars in the city.)
I’ve spent the past two nights on a Fulbright sofa, but found my own apartment today and am planning to move my things over tomorrow. Being in Tirana, so far, feels like being on vacation. After my fantastic trip down, I’ve hardly spoken any Albanian; the second you walk into a store or restaurant, people speak English. The food is fantastic (all similar to what I got in Macedonia) but I can’t handle eating out anymore; I may be on a Fulbright budget now, but I still remember my Peace Corps one. It’s a great city for walking but I have no sense of direction here and keep finding myself thinking, “I wish I were in Skopje.” I’m finding it awkward, too, to negotiate host family things; I spoke on the phone with A. today, and she invited me back for Bajram. Of course I said yes – there’s no way to say no to a six-year-old who won’t talk about anything but you visiting – but the thought of figuring out a new relationship with my family is horrifying. (This would be easier except that a trip up there also means a night spent up there – and the only place I can stay is their house.) As much as I thought it would be a good thing to ease out of Macedonia by being in Tirana, I worry that not having a clean break from my life in Debar will just end up being awkward.
What everyone keeps saying, probably correctly, is that Tirana is a sort of halfway house between Debar and America. A big city, but not as big as the one I’ll live in in the States; an expensive city, but not as expensive as the one I’ll live in in the States.