Random musings on life in Albania- Month 3
It’s been a little over three months since we packed our lives into four shiny, oversized suitcases, and flew across the world from Utah to start a new chapter of our lives in Albania. A place we’d never been. A place completely foreign.
It seems so long ago now that we arrived at the Tirana Airport after a miserable journey of flight delays, night buses, airline drama, and sleep deprivation, to see the smiling faces of my husband’s boss and coworkers with big signs welcoming our tired, overwhelmed little family to this foreign land. I remember having to blink away tears as my slight panic gave way to comfort at their warmth and kindness. They’re veteran Expats. They’ve been in this very moment before. Have felt all we were feeling. They know what it is to move their family abroad, the responsibility of that choice heavy in the heart at all times.
In three months, the foreign has become more familiar. We now walk into our local grocery store and are greeted by Stella with her long, glossy black hair and warm, sincere smile which are always a welcome sight. “William”, she says, enunciating each syllable separately, “Si jeni? (How are you?)” “Mire (Good),” I whisper to him, though he already knows. “And Scarlett,” she’ll say, “Si jeni?” Then in English, “How’s school?” “Pershendetje (Hello),” Scarlett says shyly, “school is…mire,” she’ll say with a shrug.
We pick out our new favorite items and a few imported comfort foods like cereal, and walk home, stopping at the bakery to pick up our favorite Fshtati bread on the way.
“Faleminderit (Thank You),” the kids say as we leave. “Mire u Pafshim (Goodbye).”
Everyone loves when the kids speak Albanian. They squeal in delight, or pinch their cheeks every time.
The barista at one of the three coffee shops in our little circle knows my order and prepares it to go. That’s one of the many pieces of me that remains so American. I like to grab it to go and walk and sip as I take in the scenery that still takes my breath away. I’m still not good at sitting for hours in a cafe…not with William in tow anyway.
We’ve met so many wonderful friends here. It’s so nice to have Expat friends. No matter how different we may be, this experience binds us together. I also treasure the friendships I’ve made with a few Albanian women. There is an open, honest, genuine kindness in so many people here that I find so comforting, and refreshing. I hate small talk. I’m not good at it. I’ve always felt awkward making new friends. Albanians seem to skip the small talk and get right to the heart of things. I find myself opening up here, when so often, before, the precarious wall I had built around myself kept me closed off.
Daily we hear the call to prayer from the Mosque near our home. It’s beautiful. No longer strange or different, just part of the sounds of the city we’ve grown to love. It, too, has become familiar.
We’ve been able to travel a lot. We’re 1-5 hours away by car, plane, or ferry from any place in Europe. We bought a car and have seen so much. From the rocky beaches of Greece and Italy, to the beautiful villages that surround Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, to the ancient Byzantine castles and villages of Albania. The most wonderful thing that has happened lately is that when we return back from our travels, we all feel happy to be “home” to our house and our lives here. Our “purple door house” as William calls it. He longs for it now when we go, and rarely speaks of our “white house” (it was actually grey), back in Utah.
There are still moments when I hear an American song, or think of loved ones, or remember bits of our old life where I feel like a fist is squeezing my heart and won’t let go. Like my heart is broken and in two places at once. But, now it eases more quickly than before. We are just a plane ride away, I tell myself.
A waiter at a restaurant the other day asked where we were from and when we told him, he said, “Ah, another world”. I don’t know why, but it really stuck with me that evening. It really does feel like another world. Another life.
I have learned more than ever to live in the moment, because I truly don’t know what our future looks like. We have ideas, and we have some goals, but for now, we are here. And I don’t think too far ahead. I just breathe, explore, and focus on today. I’m taking a few online classes, and letting myself follow my curiosity. Focusing on today keeps me grounded. It helps me not to get knocked off my center.
I said to a friend here that I feel like I’m on a ship in the ocean, and its beautiful, and I’m happy to be on it, but I don’t know where the ship is going to land. It can’t go back to where it came from because everything we had there is literally gone. And so I just float. We float. Taking the storms in stride the best we can, enjoying the calm of the sea when it comes. Taking the time to enjoy the sunsets and sunrises and all the simple pleasures around us. It is a beautiful journey after all.