Learning about Albania

4 Oct

The results of the vote are in, and it was unanimous – all three of my readers want to hear about my summer in Albania rather than my adorable budgie or the wonders of digestive enzymes.

I’ve written about Albania before, more than once, and I don’t want to repeat myself or bore you, so I’ll break this down into things you see in Albania that you don’t see in Britain; things you don’t see in Albania that you do see in Britain; and things you, perhaps surprisingly, see in both. The summer feels like a long time ago now, but luckily for you, I kept notes 😉

Things you see in Albania20160812_084248

Goat droppings on the pavement. Our neighbour keeps goats, and walks them out to pasture every morning, and back every evening. They try to eat everything en route, but unfortunately their owner doesn’t take them close enough to our gate to eat the weeds growing there.

Kids out late. I may have mentioned this before, but Albanian children stay up very late. Finding a babysitter is a complete non-issue because the kids just come out with you, even in their buggies. They do take naps during the day, but I can’t help thinking that, cultural diversity aside, keeping kids up as long as adults is not an entirely good thing: they often look tired and act crabby. The idea of “Are all the bairnies in their beds? It’s past eight o’ clock” is just totally alien in Albania, however.

Mobile phone shops running out of sims. This one was quite annoying. All the mobile phone shops are company-specific – you don’t have the likes or Carphone Warehouse or Fones4U – but even so, you’d expect them to have sim cards at all times, right? Or at least to be quite embarrassed about not having any. But no: “We don’t have any sim cards just now. Come back on Monday.” Fortunately, all the mobile phone companies were doing a big push to sell sims to the emigrants returned for the holidays, so there were plenty of other companies to get a sim from. One company even had a buy one, get one free offer on every sim purchase (why?) so I ended up with a surfeit of sims.

Things you don’t see in Albania

Dogs being walked. This isn’t because there aren’t any dogs in Albania, but because the three types you generally see are stray dogs (far fewer than there used to be), guard dogs, which are usually chained up and always stay in the grounds of the house they are protecting, and – a new addition – handbag dogs, which are carried around in people’s arms. I don’t believe I have ever seen a dog out for a walk in Albania, on a lead or just at heel. I have been rather too close for comfort to a guard dog, though. Our relatives’ dog, Çufi, dreams of sinking his teeth into my sweet flesh, and this time he almost managed it, before my mother-in-law slammed the gate shut. My scream could be heard throughout the neighbourhood.

20160814_114233

Drunk people at beer festivals. I didn’t even notice this until the third or fourth day of the beer festival in Lushnje. There was only one type of beer (it was really a “friendship festival” sponsored by Elbar beer) and everyone just got a pint, or a soft drink for the kids, and maybe something to eat, and sat listening to the music and chatting. No one got drunk. No one. There’s not a lot of public drunkenness in Albania anyway, except at weddings, but it was strange to be at an alcohol festival where no one was drinking to excess. Imagine that in Glasgow!

(Personally I’m not a fan of beer, so I took the opportunity to introduce Albania to the concept of shandy. I don’t think it’s going to take off.)

Things you, surprisingly, do see in Albania

Cycle lanes. I remember while I was preparing for my DPSI exam a couple of years ago discussing the best way to say ‘cycle lane’, as it was something I had never come across in Albania. Now the centre of Lushnje has a cycle lane running right through it and, what is more, people were using it! In fact the whole of the central square has been made a no-car zone, and it’s lovely. (You can spot the red cycle lane in the photo above.)

Toffee apples. I associate these with frosty nights, Hallowe’en and bonfires, rather than with sultry Mediterranean evenings, but I don’t suppose there’s any good reason why Albania shouldn’t enjoy them just as much as we do. (I use ‘we’ in a generic sense – I hate fruit.)

Fried pizza. I thought this was purely a Scottish institution (served with chips, of course, because a deep-fried pizza doesn’t contain enough grease), but I suppose I shouldn’t really be surprised that such a delicacy also exists in Albania; they are awfully fond of frying things, often in gallons of oil.

I always seem to learn something new when I go to Albania, and usually not just about the cuisine. The rigmarole over the water supply in our house in Lushnje (two pumps in two different, locked locations, a valve on the roof and a stopcock half-buried in the yard – not fun) gave me a greater appreciation of the running water system we have here. In fact, our street might get proper running water before next summer, which would be wonderful!

I also learned to hold my possessions a bit more lightly. That’s already wearing off, since I live in a society where ownership is very clearly demarcated and closely guarded, but I do appreciate the Albanian willingness to lend and share, and not to care too much when something is lost or broken.

I was also reminded of the value of boredom. There’s a lot of waiting around in Albania; it’s just part of life. In the summer there are also times when it’s too hot to do anything, too hot even to sleep, so you just lie around. After a while, a bit of boredom opens up areas of your mind that lie dormant when you’re constantly busy or entertained, and that’s a good thing, especially if you work in a creative field. As well as getting on with the novel I’m working on (The Gates of Janus), I polished off a wee short story while I was there as well, which might not have happened if I didn’t have a lot of time just staring into the distance and dreaming.

So there’s your annual report on Albania. I can’t promise not to bore you about my budgie in future, but if you’re lucky something might occur to me that is interesting to a slightly wider audience 😉

A new decoration in Lushnje's park

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2 Responses to “Learning about Albania”

  1. Karen Murdarasi October 4, 2016 at 7:08 pm #

    The holding possessions lightly thing has definitely worn off 😦 Today I went into full meltdown because my husband had ruined my best tupperware box!

  2. thedailyam March 9, 2017 at 10:08 am #

    I’ve always found it weird when people put their children to bed early. When one of us goes to sleep at eight o’clock we worry if they’re sad or sick, lol.

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