May 10, 2007
First a note on Albanian classes...
I've spent the past two weeks teaching English classes in the middle and high schools as part of my training practicum. Albanian classes are very different from any other class I have ever been in. The classrooms in my village are small, don't have electricity, and are packed full of 40 to 50 students. Some students share chairs or others sit on completely busted ones. As you might imagine, a class of 50 students is hard to manage. Many high school students talk the entire lesson and teachers have to talk over them or knock on the desks with their pens in order to get them to quiet down. In some English classes, only 4 or 5 students participate and follow along with the lesson. This is typical for most high school classes.
On the flip side, teaching Albanian middle school students could quite possibly be the greatest ego boosting experience ever. While observing classes, students with fight over who gets to give up their chair for you to sit in. I cannot count how many flowers I've received in the past two weeks. Spring time in Albania is very vibrant and dozens of varieties of roses grow in the village. Students bring roses to school and give them to their friends or teachers. While teaching at the middle school students gave me flowers everyday. In the afternoons after school children from the village that I've never seen before would rush up to me and give me more roses. Serveral classes lined up after their lessons in order to get my autograph and one girl even asked if she could kiss me. I've never felt so much like a rock star in my life.
May 14, 2006
Since I was in the mood to make some lists, here are several top tens:
Best of Albanian food:
1. gelato - my favorites are banana, pistachio, kiwi, coconut, and tiramisu... I eat gelato about 3 times a week
2. byreke - flaky pastry dough stuffed with cheese or spinach
3. patate - Albanian french fries served with cheese
4. fresh veggies - they have great cucumbers and tomatoes here
5. fast food sandwiches - stuffed with french fries, veggies, and cheese
6. cherries are in season and are incredibly red and delicious
7. fig jelly - I eat this with bread almost every morning
8. I can't think of ten... sheep brains next maybe?
Things I do in my spare time:
1. take walks in the village - you never know who will invite you over for coffee, when you will stumble upon fields of poppies, or when the wind will blow and send a snow storm of dandelion-esq fuzz.
2. drink turkish coffee - for women, most socializing is done over coffee in homes. Turkish coffee isn't filtered, is sweet, and almost tastes more spiced than regular coffee. Albanian women enjoy reading fortunes by looking at the coffee grinds at the bottom of the cup. Its almost like Harry Potter where they read the tea leaves. I got my fortune read and someone in my family is going to get married soon.
3. play cards with my hosts sisters - I taught Briselda how to play 'mano atazo' and she cheats big time. Byorna, the three year old, tries to play too but ends up just throwing cards everywhere.
4. read books.
5. eat gelato.
6. after dinner conversations with my host family that consist of "who is better, Bush or Clinton? Which is better, Albania or America?" and other equally silly questions.
7. make friends with local shopkeepers... sometimes they give me free chocolate, other times they warn me not too eat too much or else I'll get fat.
8. get mail! write letters, email, and hear news from home. Keep the letters and emails coming!
9. read books.
10. hang out with my site mates and have long conversations over coffee, walks, or while watching american t.v. series on laptops occasionally.
Observations on Albanian Culture:
1. Albanians love to dance. Sometimes to the same ten songs over and over. Most dancing consists of holding hands in a circle and doing the same steps for ever song. Its repetitive, but they do it well and sometimes they add in traces of belly dance moves.
2. Women enjoy watching spanish telenovelas which I can actually understand.
3. Every Sunday evening families watch Portokalli which is a quasi Saturday Night Live for Albanians.
4. Most families have a brother, aunt, father, or friend living in either Italy, Greece, Germany, or England who sends money home.
5. Its not normal for people, especially women, to go hiking or camping unless they are sheep herders. My host family was shocked when I returned the next morning after camping without any snake bites and in one piece.
6. It's normal to shower twice a week... which is rough since it is getting incredibly hot outside now and can be quite smelly in a crowded bus or furgon.
7. Albanians are quite frank. They are quick to tell you if you look fat and shouldn't be eating makarona.
8. Families get loud and shout at each other. At first it seems like they are having an intense argument but normally its just over what they should be watching on t.v. and who should hold the remote control.
9. Albanians are incredibly hospitable and will invite complete strangers into their homes for a coffee or raki.
10. When Albanians visit each other in their homes, everyone stands and either shakes hands or kisses. Women kiss each other on the cheek two or three times, old women kiss me up to six times on the cheek.
Strange sights and occurrences in Albania:
1. A white furgon, or van, that is parked on the side of the road by my house that has skinned animals hanging inside to sell. It's the mish furgon, and the reason I plan on becoming a vegetarian as soon as I control my own diet and cook on my own.
2. Small towns that consist entirely of cafes and hair stylist shops.
3. Herds of sheep blocking traffic on the roads.
4. Free range chickens and cows roaming the school yard.
5. bunkers. I still not used to seeing these concrete structures along the countryside.
6. People smoking at gas stations.
7. old women wear only black clothes and white head scarves. Sometimes they are hunched over in the fields or they carry huge loads of hay or greens balanced on their heads.
8. Mixing white wine with coke.
9. Schoolyard game that is like dodge ball except the kids in the middle can’t move and the other students pound them with balls… not quite sure how this game works yet.
10. Sheep head and brains as a delicacy, served to the guest of honor at big meals.