Chris and I headed up to Tiranё again, for a farewell dinner with our friend Patricia. This month the G11ers are dropping like flies, each week it seems 2 or 3 complete their service, boarding flights back to America. Some weeks back I went to Delvine to see Monica off, and Alexi left shortly after. It’s very surreal.
We didn’t cry at our COS conference; the fact that my life as a PCV Albania volunteer is coming to an end hasn’t really hit me yet. I’ve really enjoyed the last two years here, the people I’ve grown close to, and the position I’m in. Yes there are frustrations, and I sometimes wake in the middle of the night suddenly anxious to be back at home with my family, but overall I love it here. I’m sure I’ll be back in Shqiperia someday, but it won’t be the same. I’ll be a tourist, not a banore. I won’t have my network of 70+ friends scattered around the country to drop in on. Someone else will be renting ‘my’ house, sleeping in ‘my’ bed…
Beautiful landscapes of Shqiperia, I will miss it
On Thursday, Chris, Stephanie, Becca, Alexi, and I met with Patricia, Karen, and their guys from Puke for a dinner in the Bloku. FYI: That’s the fancy-shmancy area of Tiranё, where the Albanian glitterati and expats go for late night drinking. We ate Mexican food at Serendipity, where they serve quesadillas and chimichangas, margaritas and daiquiris. There may have been a few farewell shots of Tequila. Afterward we rolled over to a quiet bar to meet with a few more people and to drag out our time together. Patricia would be leaving on a 3 am taxi to the airport, so falling asleep was out of the question.
Goodbye Gezuar! for Patricia at Serendipity
Food Porn, introduced to me by Patricia and Monica: Quesadilla entry
Food porn: Chris' chimichanga
Stephani, Paricia, Karen, and me at Moma Bar (in the Bloku)
'Gezuar'-ing at Moma Bar
The next day Chris met with some COD volunteers to give some of their program staff gifts. He contributed a beautiful pen and ink drawing, inspired by Gjirokastёr, on faux parchment (ie. tracing paper “aged” with coffee). It began raining as we left the PC office; we hurriedly crossed the entire length of the city and squeezed into a Vlore-bound furgon, headed for the coast. I have mentioned this is prime beach season, yes?
At the top of the Llogara Pass
Many of the remaining PCVs convened there for a final Dhermi camping trip, on our favorite beach, Drymades (which was warm and sunny). Still relatively untouched (though each month more enormous hotels and cafes pop up), we like to cross under the rock arch to an isolated cove, where we can swim out to a large rock perfect for jumping.
Hanging out on the sand, enjoying our Mediterranean paradise
We camped with a bunch of recently sworn-in G13 volunteers, their first weekend of freedom after PST. I like the group; new faces full of ambition, eager to learn about life in Albania, and still wearing impressively unsoiled clothing, not yet ravaged by months of handwashing and dirty furgons. That will change, as will their figures. We unanimously agree that guys lose about 15 pounds while girls gain at least that.
PCVs from groups 11, 12, and 13
In the morning the group dispersed, some up to Lezhe for Bethany’s birthday bash, others down the coast for “work” at various festivals. Meghan was obliged to help out at an olive oil festival in Butrint that evening, while I needed to get back to accompany some Intrepid Travelers to the annual Pagan Festival in Antigonea. Once again, Chris and I hitched rides from town to town, meeting with interesting drivers and stopping for various coffees. Love the beach, but love my own bed and good rest just as well.
Final coffee with Amy (at least while in Shqiperia)
Sunday morning I woke to a cloudy, drizzly day. So bizarre! I slipped on my raincoat (buried back in the closet in hopes of never needing it again) and took my new bike to the lake for an early run.
A few weeks back we met a tour guide in Gjirokastёr accompanying a group of tourist from Intrepid Travel, a company that dedicates itself to responsible travel with respect to the local people, their culture, and the environment. She was interested in arranging future groups to visit a village, an idea I had frivolously brainstormed with my neighbor, Athina, months back. Perfect! After some back and forth emails and phone calls, we were gati.
At 10 am I met the group of travelers outside Hotel Cajupi and, squeezed tightly into a furgon (we took on some extra çuna), our group took off toward the villages across the valley. Athina’s village is called Tranoshishte, it’s the 3rd of 4 on the road out from Asim Zaneli (village where Seth used to live). Her fshat is utterly charming; not more than 15 houses comprised of 4 or so families, a natural spring, a restored church, an abandoned school room. The “center” of the village is an enormous shady tree that has a spring built into its hollow center. Athina’s mom’s cousin takes care of bees; everyone pitches in to care for the cows, sheep, and goats, which supply them with enough milk to make cheese, yogurt, and butter. Fruit and nut trees are scattered throughout, so each household is stocked well with figs, walnuts, persimmons, grapes (raki and wine), cherries…
First we went to the annual Pagan Festival in Antigonea. That’s an unexcavated archaeological park up in the hills, dating back to circa 300 BC. During our initial site visit 2 years before Chris, Greg, Tara, and I hiked to the festival with staff from the GCDO-- it’s all coming full circle!
Awaiting the official start of the Pagan Festival
Having fun with costumes and grass huts...
Pushim in between performances
This year's fest was not as well organized, pretty underwhelming actually. Not nearly enough costumes, singing, and dancing like I expected. After walking around the park, admiring the views of the surrounding Drino Valley, we drove back to Tranoshishte and sat for lunch with Athina’s family. More than lunch, a feast! Her mom cooked various Albanian specialties, including qofte (meatballs), byrek (flaky pie), fresh salads from the garden, handmade dolma**, fresh cheese, urli (kind of dairy product), gjize (another dairy), kulaq (sweet bread), walnut cake… plus endless gezuars of raki, wine, and beer!
Athina loads up the plates with delicious foods
**side note: despite the melding of Greek words and culture in the southern region, they use the term sarma, which is actually Turkish for “wrapping”.
Athina's babai used to play the flute while tending his flock!
After our bellies were about to explode (or just before they exploded, rather), we took the group on a tour of the village, to meet the neighbors, see the bee boxes, and relax for a coffee in the front garden. The morning had been overcast and dreary, but by this point the sky had cleared for a beautiful, cool afternoon. Eventually we made our way back to the city and dropped them back at the hotel. I’m so glad it worked out! Everyone seemed pleased with the arrangement, so I hope Athina and IT continue to work together...
Drying nenexhik (mint) for tea