Happy belated Easter!! (Give us time to get our composure first)
This is our longest blog, but probably for some of you our most interesting…….? We would really love your comments on some of the things you might feel interesting. We put in a lot of time and effort into this one.
Also…..I’ve added a lot more videos and pictures to our previous blog posts. If you have time, ck them out, I think you’ll like them.
Here is OUR SECOND CONTEST. It had me baffled for awhile until I followed one of these men one day. Let’s see if you know. Pictured are these elderly men all over town, usually dressed quite nice with their suits, ties and vests, who are carrying a piece of cardboard in their hands. Where are they going and what are they doing with this piece of cardboard ? (Give your answers in comment section below or email us, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thought it might be interesting to give you an idea of some of the comparisons we have here in Albania. Food and Services are generally a great bargain here. When going out to eat you can get a nice meal between $10 to $20 dollars. A high end meal will usually be about $25 dollars. One of our favorite dinners is the Salmon dinner, that is only available at certain times and is as nice as any meal we buy in America. Two dinners that includes salmon, rice, bread, salad, bottled water, yogurt (served often) and side of fruit costs us about $26 total, and to boot, a great view overlooking the water. Which puts Carmel by the Sea to rival.
Slice of Pizza $1
Full Car Wash $3
Gents Haircut $2
Female- Wash & Blow Dry Hair $10
Nice fresh baked loaf of bread $.80
These vegetables (pictured) we picked up at the market for about $9 (Yes, we juice)
AND…..the charm of dealing with these wonderful people as they patiently try to teach us the pricing and what to buy, sometimes putting in our bags more than what we wanted is a hoot.
THE ULTIMATE COMPARISON……
Ok, this is going to blow your mind. My wife got sick and had to go the hospital to have some tests done. Being gluten free and not knowing a lot of the food preparation and other liquids, she contracted H. Pylori. We, she, were truly blessed and through prayers of the mission and seeing the correct doctors, she is presently doing better than ever. But while in the hospital for approximately 5 hours and treated very well, she had these test and procedures done. 1-Appointment with the Gastroenterologist, 2-Blood work up, 3-Endoscopy (Anesthesiologist), 4-Ultrasound, 5-Lab work and, 6-Four different kinds of prescriptions. AND……Stand Back…….This was all done without any prior appointment other than making sure the Gastroenterologist was going to be in for that day and that we knew to come fasting. The doctor made all this happen when we saw him at 11:30 that morning. He looked at his watch and said, “Yeah, we have time to do this”. FINALLY, to boot this was all done for $270!!!!!!
Interesting Facts and Things
Ethnicity – The ethnicity of Albania is Albanian. No Blacks, no Asians, no Mexicans, no Indians, etc. Other nationalities virtually non existent. Occasionally you will run across tourist from other countries and Canadians (who come here because of the oil business) and Romas. Romas are gypsies, however still Albanians, which you can spot by the way they dress, facial features and their darker skin. They make up the beggars and scavengers of Albania. They are pretty persistent and will keep knocking on your car window for example until you give or until you can drive away. Their way of begging is usually sending the younger ones out into the streets or the adults sitting on the sidewalks and walkways ALWAYS with a baby or a very young child lying on their lap or on the walk area, for greater emphasis.
Beach Weather – We decided to go for a drive and ck out the beach one day. It’s about a 20 mile drive, due west of Fier. I don’t know if this exist in other areas of the U.S. but we are only familiar with our coast. The closer you get to the coastline in the summer the cooler the weather becomes and the temperature drops significantly, sometimes from a 100 to 60 degrees in a matter of 20 to 25 miles. When we left Fier, it was about 90 degrees, as we got closer and closer, we kept expecting the temperature to drop, at least a little. Not one iota !!!! The water is warmer than ours as well. It was very interesting and STRANGE at the same time.
Abandoned Buildings – one of the things I noticed when we first got here were all the abandoned buildings in the city and more prominent in the country side. Local people give a few explanations for this. Poor planning was one. Not calculating costs to a finished project. The other was the plight and flight of the communist regime. When the communist were being ousted and they knew it, they wreaked havoc throughout the country, destroying factories, businesses, railways, etc. I believe, so that the country would fail and they would be back in power by default and choice. The country is still reeling from the devastation and it has been years to see progress finally coming about. Just this last month they have begun rebuilding the railway portion in our area, that once was a thriving business.
Ice-Cream – Albanians DO eat ice-cream but they DO NOT eat ice-cream in the WINTER, and when I say ice-cream it’s a type of ice-cream that could be called such. Some stores have the same ice-cream bars in their freezers that they had at the end of summer, other stores remove the ice-cream section all together and the ice-cream kiosks that you would see in the shopping areas, are all gone. Sometimes we feel weird and get strange looks in line at the market, buying ice-cream in the winter. They do have an ice-cream bar here called “Magnum” that is shipped in from outside Albania, that we have to control ourselves from eating everyday or else we would make Homer Simpson look thin. We call it, “Heaven on a stick”.
Fire Department- There is no Fire Department in Albania. No reason, Cement doesn’t burn.
Kissing – Albanians, like some of the other European countries are affectionate and love to kiss. Women and girls kissing other women and girls, men kissing women, men kissing men, and even young men and boys kissing each other. One side of the cheek (left side first) to the other, and sometimes multiply times. Girls and women hold hands all the time, and even the younger boys and men are sometimes arm in arm.
Teeth – You’ll notice that teeth are an issue here. We tried to find out why but still alludes our knowledge for fact. Part is the water, part is hygiene and lack of failure to have regular check-ups and the ability to pay for them. When I first got here I wanted to fix all of the teeth of the members. I soon discovered I would have soon been broke, as almost everyone has some issue or other.
Hallmark-Dead– Hallmark is a lost cause for some reason here. There is not a greeting card to be found anywhere. No birthday cards, no xmas cards, nothing. Strange or interesting?
Candy – For some reason only the company “Mars” is allowed in the country. So you can get everything Mars produces. M & M peanuts and plain, snickers, bounty, skittles, mars, three musketeers, orbit gum, and twixt, that’s it.
Cafe’s- There are lots and lots of little outdoor cafe’s, or as they call them “Bars”. Mostly to drink water, coffee (which is a tiny cup with a thick pasty like substance) or liquor and not much else, NO FOOD, oh…. and socialize. There are just everywhere. Interesting thing is that it is almost like they had a sign up that says “No women allowed”. Usually all men. (Pictured) Also the names on these establishments are usually American names. You would think to attract Albanian customers you would use Albanian names, but no. (pictured) Also pictured below are 99% men waiting at the airport for a flight arrival.
Dogs– Pets are not a big thing here, mostly I think it is because of the city life with apartment living. They DO like canaries BIG TIME, but usually at places of business, not so much in the homes, sometimes with 6 and 8 cages of canaries hanging on the wall. What’s interesting is that canneries are trainable! While cutting my hair my barber will let his cannery out of it’s cage and fly around the shop and onto his finger AND even let it outside and it will come back.
Dogs are plentiful, not so much as pets but STRAY DOGS! They roam usually in packs on the streets and scrap for food, and don’t have any interaction with the people. By and large they are pretty mangy looking. You do not approach them and if they have a big round colored tag pierced on their ear, then you know that they have been caught and vaccinated, so they are not as dangerous or problematic. They never seem to be a threat and predominately seem gentle, however when it comes to each other, I’ve seen some serious interaction. Trash areas and grass areas are where they generally eat and sleep, but cement will work as well. (pictured)
Wiring– Who needs American codes? That’s for wimps. What happened to the lost art of wiring? If you don’t pay your bill and you get cut off, just run your own wire and whoala your back in business. (pictured)
Litter– Generally speaking the Albanians we have seen and know are very clean people and are always sweeping and moping. When it comes to litter it is a bit baffling. Many people just throw their papers and trash to the ground and it just builds up in different like repositories around neighborhoods. This despite that they hire many workers who sweep the streets during the day and night, and pick up the trash in areas of the city. We’ve asked why the people do this and many tell us it is left over from the communist era, where many people in defiance of control would just throw their litter into the streets in protest. (pictured)
Doors – Interesting fact about doors in Albania. You will never find a door that needs to be locked, with a locking mechanism on it, push button, turn mechanism, etc.. All doors will have a key in the keyhole on the side of the door that needs to be locked. Whether in a hall way, or a building, or a bathroom, or a bedroom door, all doors have the keys just in the locking device.
Sanitation – Usually you will not find paper towels or toilet paper in public restrooms. It seems like they just don’t care. If you’re particular about that sort of thing especially women, then you just bring your own, especially when you travel. Last time we stopped at a gas station my wife faced this lovely abode. It flushes, what more do you want? You know that there are some pretty nasty ones in America as well.
Shops and vendors of food products always hand you the food with one hand and handle the money with the same hand. No separation of personnel duties (one for taking monies and orders vs. the one handling the food or handing it to you). It does exist but very rare to find plastic food gloves used.
Money – Their denomination of bills are slightly easier. There are no $1 bills just coins. Coins are $.01, .05 .10, .20, .50 and then the 1.00. Even though their money is called “leke”, we can compare the same to the dollar or very close equivalency. They have $2, $5, $10, $20 and $50 in paper. No $1 or $100. One of the unique problems when dealing with money is where they put the decimal. If you’re dealing with vendors on the street or older people, they deal with, let’s say thousand’s (old leke), but if you are in most stores, especially newer stores and or younger people they use hundreds as their decimal placement. So you always have to try to figure out when someone quotes you something or someone is talking about a price of something, just which lek form they are using. It would mean the difference of $10 vs. $1. Usually you just drop two placements and you got it. So when you see this Leke – 112.00, it means $1.12.
Gas Stations-Gas stations are quite the deal here. Whereas in America, they are making them smaller and smaller, here the bigger the better. They are quite large and usually have some type of Cafe or bar or restaurant or hotel, connected to them. What is interesting is, that because there are virtually no overhead passes on the highway, you do have to pay a attention to the signs and bumps placed on the highway to slow down when cross traffic is available. However because they are few and far between, you sometimes will see a gas station on one side of the highway, with an exact duplicate on the other side of the highway to service both traffic directions.
Competition – It is an interesting thing the way competition displays itself here. For instance, if you are selling bananas on the street, you could have 2 or 3 or 6 banana stands right next to each other. The veggie market we usually try to go to, has about 30 veggie and fruit stands on a second floor building all lined up as you go down the isle. (pictured) One right after another virtually selling the same produce. They seem to take pride in their produce, but they also seem to get along with one another and talk to each other all the time with no fighting, yet they are all competing for the same client. It also seems to filter out into the broader market and consumer. For instance on our block of just approximately 300 yards, there are 12, yes 12 pharmacies. Granted we are near the hospital but these pharmacies are lined up practically all together. Even some outdoor cafe and restaurants are so very close to each other that you can not tell where one restaurant begins and the other leaves off. You have to look closely for a change of umbrella or chair style or table decor. How they all seem to survive as competitors, I don’t know how, yet they do.
24Hr. Clock-When we first got here it was an adjustment to see all the clocks set at a 24hr system (military time). When you saw 15hrs you had to figure in your mind ok, that is 12 + 3 = 15 or 3 o’clock. It is interesting that the next progression, the longer we are here, was seeing 3 o’clock as 15hrs, not figuring. Now we are starting to look at 15hrs as 15hrs, because that is what time it is.
Policia and Cars -Police are an interesting group. I just got my 3rd ticket for a parking violation. First two were $6 ea., this one is $20. So I know it is not a big deal, none the less, I thought I had it all figured out, and snap, they got me again!! Lek by lek it’s annoying. The interesting thing is we usually travel along a fairly nice 4 lane highway. You have to keep your wits about you at all times, as pedestrians, cows, sheep, hay wagons and mopeds usually going the opposite direction, use the same highway. Night time can be significantly more treacherous, as the highways are not lit and pedestrians are very hard to see. One of the things you have to be most vigilant about, is the fact that you could look in your rear view mirror and see no-one behind you what so ever, and if your in the left hand lane, which is usually the lane of choice (better condition), all of a sudden, wham!!! you’ve got a Mercedes barreling down your throat at times over 100 miles an hour. Quite nerve racking.
There is no highway patrol in Albania. You will never be pulled over by any type of police car. Just not done. However, you WILL see plenty of officers all over town and sometimes on the highways. They will use radar sometimes as you might come around a corner to catch you off guard or post a century and he’ll radio ahead. They usually stand out in the street with these long handle red reflectors and wave you off the road to pull you over.
I have been pulled over 3 times. Twice for speeding and once because my lights were not on, as that is the law. However, in complete frustration and to my defense, NO ONE or very few drive the speed limit and less than half of the drivers have their lights on. It is just on a whim if you are the one they pick to pull over and because I don’t speak Shqip (Albanian) and my drivers license is from California, they just let me go. SO FAR SO GOOD. Let me say that some of these missionaries think they are driving a Mercedes and go far greater speeds that I attempt.
We had to buy a larger kitchen table for our apartment one day and after some sign language I understood the van was coming right then and there to deliver our table. What pulled up was a guy in a Mercedes. Took foam from his truck and bam!…… you got a delivery truck by mounting the table on the top. Easy – pezzy. and his partner with mattresses (pictured). Here is the amazing thing that I wish I had a picture of. This guy arrives at the hotel and I thought I was going to have to help him hall the table up the 5 flights of stairs, because it wouldn’t fit in the small elevator. NOT…….He put the table (solid wood Not particle board) on his back and I had to struggle to keep up with him as he scaled those 5 flights without stopping to rest. Interesting…? or amazing!!
There is a joke in the mission among missionaries, that it doesn’t matter how many lanes you have on any given road there will only be two! Any typical two lane road always turns into one lane because of the double parking. It was funny to hear Nancy Harline (fellow senior couple in Africa) mention it in her blog and how annoying it is. Now I will admit it can be annoying and at first it was for me, now however, I use it and it serves it’s purpose at times. You just have to park, turn on your emergency blinker to let people know you won’t be toooo long and it works. The interesting part of parking illegally and including double parking that evidently the police will come around, walking the streets as they always do, all day and evening. As they approach the area of cars being parked illegal, they will start blowing their whistles to let you know they are in the vicinity, and if you don’t come out and move your car, wherever you are, they will ticket you. So it’s not like they are sneaking up on you, nor not giving you the chance to avoid a ticket, however, neither does it illuminate the double parking problem.
Sometimes all you need is to stick your nose in.
And then there is just pure “Intelligence”.