This is our first official blog and and i’m sure our novices will show. Greenies as they call them in the mission field. We decided to attempt to do this blog instead of emailing everyone so that you can come and go at your leisure and it provides for us a type of journal of our mission. We welcome your expertise and advise.
MTC bound: July 16th Sunday (Flight about 12 noon)
It was amazing that no matter how prepared you thought you were, last minute packing with the knowledge “you an’t coming back”, was remarkably stressful to say the least. I got about 2 hours sleep, Wendy got none, despite being aided by her sister all night long and into the morning hours. Did we really complete all our many tasks? Did we leave instructions to those left behind ? Was it the right instructions ? Was PGE, AT&T, Trash, Insurance, Cars (sold or stored properly), Will Documents up to date, Alarm Co., Propane, Pest Control, Bank, Credit Cards, Property Taxes, Internet, TV, Phones, Prescriptions, Doctors, Dentists (teeth all there, check) Etc. Etc., Etc….. Oh yeah and little things like Passports & Visas requirements, with all punctuations and periods, exact!! Pets! Yikes. No worries, right. It’s time to go!! No we can’t!! Yes we can (cry, cry…). We will!!
Some inkling of reality was felt when emotions ran high at the airport saying goodbye to all. Not sure if it is possible to comprehend what we are about to do. Preparations do allow some semblance of reality but too many unknowns keep it ever at bay. It is however with surety that we know we are doing as the Lord wants us to do at this time.
MTC (Missionary Training Center) bound with luggage in tow, under weight limit (barely) and clearing customs (soon not to be the case). We were off? Not without incident as we were in the boarding area and got a call that our truck which we brought to the airport to accommodate our luggage and Tyson was to bring back, was not going anywhere with the keys still in my pocket. Oh well a shipped box from Provo and a two day fee at the airport would of solved the mess but alas, a quick run back, due to my superior shape i was in and a quick throw over security, voila.
Everything about the MTC was amazing and just as described. It challenged us and moved us at the same time. Highlights were- working with other senior couples and becoming friends, Preach My Gospel lessons, the atmosphere (electrifying), walking amongst young missionaries everywhere (surrounded by beautiful flowered gardens), cafeteria eating with this group of 2800, and then of course seeing Jessica everyday. Oh, and of course being with my sweetheart! So my “not without a incident episode” was, I forgot my travel razor bag! Don’t you guys dare ask how. After three days and a slight more than grubbing looking character appeared, everyone was asking “How”? Fed Ex to the rescue.
Just to inform you that the reason we are seeing Jessica at MTC is because she received her mission call at the same time that we did and she is going to the Fort Collins, Colorado Mission.
Sunday before we left, we decided it would be nice to go to Salt Lake and the Spoken Word. Our good friends Steve and Kip Cleveland (pictured below) to our quandary and lent us their car for the day. Spoken Word was awe inspiring to be there in person and see and witness something so iconic and historical. Many were in attendance and therefore it was held in the Conference Center not the usually historic tabernacle on Temple Square. This was partly due to the fact that it was the day before Pioneer Day (official holiday) which marks the day when the first group of pioneers being forced to leave Navoo, Illinois (where the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred) made their arduous journey across the plains where many died in hopes of a better life without persecution, and entered the great Salt Lake valley and then Pres. Brigham Young made his famous declaration “This is the place “, July 24th 1847. Also in attendance was Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf second counselor in the first presidency seated in front row and us just 6 rows behind him and of course Wendy thinks she is going to try to shake his hand when it’s all over and I just grinned at her desire and naiveness with security and all. As he departed with his family and wife near his side Wendy tries to follow weaving in and out of the rows and chairs in front of us and all of a sudden he sees a friend i’m supposing and comes over to the crowd who also thinks like Wendy and I’ll be darn if he doesn’t reach out and shake her hand!!! That hand was to touch nothing else that afternoon, ha. Just so you know of the non-members who are following us that it is a great honor and very rare that one would ever be able to even get a chance to get close to these men of the hierarchy of the church because they are so busy and travel so much and carry such a strong spirit with them, that we are blessed to even be in the vicinity with them. They have dedicated so much of their personal lives that they truly help us to understand what sacrifice means.
Now it’s goodbye once again. As the three of us did our group family hug (x3) it became more real than ever, that we weren’t going to see Jessica nor was she going to see us for 18 mos. Heart breaking but a wonderful spirit was felt. We all knew that we had higher callings.
Some say 450,000 others say up to 750,000, needless to say, they are ubiquitous and they’re not going anywhere fast. BUNKERS, BUNKERS, BUNKERS and more BUNKERS…., made of concrete steel and rebar, built mostly from 1960 to 1980. More were built for 2 to 3 individuals, some were built for 7 people, and then there were large ones, built for 200 plus individuals (which we visited, pictures enclosed), mostly for the government and leadership of Albania. This was the paranoid communist dictator’s idea for war and the survival of his people. Stagnate civilian targets or “tombs:”, as I call them. Building them, crippled the already failing economy, which needed food, housing and infrastructure more than anything else. Enver Hoxha, Stalinist, communist dictator from 1944 to 1985, has got to be remembered for the worst ideas ever. Not only was he crippling the country but was set on a course to create the first only Atheist Country in the world, which he proudly proclaimed he accomplished. Before his reign of tyranny, the country was 70% religious. Can you Imagine the deaths, tortures and imprisonment that took place, in a country of 2 million people to achieve this goal? After his death in 1985 Communism lasted but a few short years and was ousted in 1991. It is hard to believe that most of this was happening while I was of age serving my mission. UNBELIEVABLE !
And then, came our visitors from Mars, well they might as well have been from Mars, as no one else has visited us since our arrival in Albania, it’s not exactly around the corner. So who would? Who else, but the world-famous travelers, Bryant and Karen Jolley. My wife and I, who are homebodies generally, got the see the famous travelers in action and the kind of things they do when traveling. Never a dull moment, their visit was a delight. We ate ice-cream (Bryant), visited the bunkers, called Bunk’Art, had some ice-cream (Bryant), rode the gondola up the mountain, had lunch and some ice-cream (Bryant), toured our little town, had some ice-cream (Bryant), and who would have known that Albania had their own Elderberry’s house. We sat down for a 3 hour, 7 course dinner, and we’re hungry afterwards, no ice-cream unfortunately. If you know Bryant, you’ll understand his unique philosophizing, when he says, “I can tell the economy or pricing structure of any country, by its pricing of ice-cream and Coke”, lol. They no sooner got here and they were gone…….leaving us with two large bags of Pistachios and great memories. Long live Bryant and Karen!!!
Since I know you guys obviously like contest, I’m enclosing this last picture in hopes that you don’t have nightmares about it. Tell me what it is or represents and what is it being used for?
Ok, as promised, the answer to our cardboard quiz. They use cardboard sometimes to act like a buffer from sitting on cold moist tile or cement benches (no frozen buns!). HOWEVER, with that being said, it’s main use is found in all it’s glory as a cushion or game-board for “dominoes”. On any given day sometimes hundreds of older men gather in the park to display their skills in dominoes. No women whatsoever. This buffer or cushion, not only acts as a scorecard, with which they can write on, but with occasionally arguing and vocal outburst, the winner, emphatically SLAPS, his victory domino onto the cardboard and declares himself supreme !!! The last piece played.
Our Home Street – From our apartment balcony, if you listened carefully, off in the distance, you can hear the sound of an ambulance, though faint, but knowingly, it will get progressively louder and louder, until it rings in our ears. If you remember, we live next door from the only hospitals in the city. The 4 different types of sirens always end on our street, as well as the occasional emergency car who is acting like a ambulance (perfectly acceptable here), honking their horn all the way to the entrance, usually with some kind of family emergency.
We live on the 6th floor, the top floor of our particular apartment building. Some nights you could hear all the city sounds, as they echo off the different buildings surrounding us. The city lights add quite a beautiful site in the evenings and add a touch of romanticism. This small 300-yard street which we live on, offers quite a life of hustle and bustle. This little street is on a gradual slope ascending as it makes it’s way upwards past our apartment and to the the top where the two separate hospitals are located, general and maturity. The slope provides just enough cardio that we feel we are keeping the exercise requirements of missionaries. On our street are three small vegetable fruit stands, one displaying assorted toys hanging from strings, that brings character and life to the lives of many who walk up and down, on their way to one of the hospitals, and with whom we conveniently and frequently purchase our sometimes-daily supply of fruits and vegies. On our street is one restaurant, that proudly displays the fact that they have air-conditioning, one hotel (Hotel International), about 5 or 6 other apartment buildings, two funeral shops, an eye clinic (of which our own Steven Fogg had donated some eye examination equipment, of all places and which if you wear the missionary badge, eye examination is free), six dentists and twelve, yes twelve pharmacies, with their flashing lights of advertisement, lined up almost one after the other. Then there is the occasional street vendor spreading their wears of clothing, sun glasses, cellular phones, etc. on a blanket and the often present one to two gypsy, Roma beggars. From our apartment with an extended balcony you can hear 5x daily, chanting of the nearby muslin mosque, which competes with the loud orthodox bells, echoing from their tower and edifice just at the bottom of the street. Around 9pm at night we will occasionally run into an older man who lives near the top of the hill, on his way back home from selling his small assortment of of items, mounted on a aging wheel chair, whose wobbling wheels are now starting to lose their rubber. It is rather a hefty incline for such an elderly man. We can’t help to stop and help him push his cart up the incline until we feel he can better make it on his own.
The experiences that have molded our hearts to love this place are indeed memorable. When it all just boiled down to making such a simple decision, to just say “yes” to going on a mission, and then to realize it could have so easily gone the other direction, by just staying home, are decisions we are all faced with. In time, we will have the pleasure of looking back at this brief moment and not regret a single memory. Much was required, but much was gained. Listening and then obeying the inner spirit we call the Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead, helps us realize that which the Lord has said, “My work and my glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (woman)”. Moses 1:39
This is our HOME. We love our little 300 yard street and all that it offers.
This little Cafe is located on the daily path to the church and we thoroughly enjoy it’s seasonal change of decor. Good memories and a lovely part of our Home here.
Enjoying our Anniversary –
Gifted Elders (Elder Schneider, Idaho and Elder Ward, Michigan) made us two little cakes, (amazing, one gluten free), girls in our english class announcing our anniversary on the chalk board and sporting the the anniversary gift (new boots). Very memorable …… and then some.
As it turns out, one of our english class students turns out to be one of the local TV and radio celebrities and wanted us to come on his show and present our message. So if you are so inclined to see us nervously in action on the local TV show here. Tune in.
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.
Mobile fish market
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. The final interesting thing is the “timing of the visit to the beach”. When school is out, as in our areas, business and beach enthusiasts are fewer in number, but here when school is out, beach is thriving, but when school is back in, no one, and I mean no one is at the beach. It could be the same temperature in late august as you got in earlier august, but it doesn’t matter. Your are considered strange to go to the beach after school starts. Beaches are deserted. No one goes to the beach!!
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?
Addresses – 90% of all Albanians, DO NOT have addresses. No mail delivery. Mostly you go to the post office. However with that being said, most people don’t get mail or send mail. A pizza delivery guy, which are used big time, usually is told by some landmark or building, and you meet him at the street level, to get your delivery.
Clothing – One thing we enjoy throughly, is the clothing worn by the people. Usually very conservative, with the older generation men wearing 3 piece suits and women wearing dresses.
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. As in most European countries all prices shown in stores include the tax and here in Albanian, the tax is 20%.
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. It is very rare to see pumpkins (I have only seen one), as well as are type of persimmons.
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. (This my latest update as of 9-11-2018, I now have 4 and my wife has 1). 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, is 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.
Now that we are almost real time on the blog, I have to update you on our progress and responsibilities in this small branch in Fier, Albania. When we arrived there were 9 people in church that Sunday, not including the missionaries and us. There were more attending church a few years back but do to internal strife, they experienced difficulties which lead to many becoming inactive or falling away. Many of the situations and problems we encounter here, I can only imagine, are like many of the situations encountered in the early days of the church in America. The church is located on the second floor (picture shown) of an office/ apartment building. It has been here for approximately 16 years. Currently through our presence, activation, and persistent love, we have about 20 to 30 coming to church.
In our home ward with it’s membership, if you can’t fulfill a particular calling (responsibility) you call someone else, if they can’t do it, then, you just call someone else, and so on. There is usually a long line of people willing and able to take your place. Here, if you look behind you, there is NO ONE ELSE, YOU ARE IT. There is some wonderful aspects that go with being needed. You really feel wanted and needed on a whole different level and that you have something to contribute. It is a special feeling. I personally think it creates a spark within you that can’t be felt any other way. Back home you kind of blend in and are one in a number of many. Here you are the number. No one else is going to do it. So the blessing of being needed has it’s counterpart, and that is, you MUST fulfill your responsibility, because there an’t no one else going to do it for you.
The mission does about 200 baptisms per year here in Albania and there are approximately 3000 members. The Church created the first Stake in Albania in 2014 which consisted of 6 Wards and 4 Branches. Much of the leadership of the church is placed on the shoulders of men and women who have very little understanding of the gospel, especially the ecclesiastical aspects, but try their best. You just have to help them and LOVE them a lot, and then look the other way as they do things sometimes that make you cringe and laugh at the same time, much of which disseminates through their cultural background, both Muslim and Orthodox, and then the Communist influence.
You can’t help but love these members and investigators, especially as you get to know their individual personalities, which we would love to share with you but just too much to write, as we could not leave anyone out of the picture. These are the things for which you receive as a rich reward for serving in your designated areas of mission life.
This is Xhoni (pronounced Johnny) our first baptism, since we came to Fier. He is a young man with lots of joy and creativity. His understanding of things in life is quite good and he enjoys learning. He came to the church through english class and once he began learning about the gospel through the missionaries, he never stopped. I gave him the priesthood and ordained him a deacon a few Sundays ago and last Sunday was the first time he passed the sacrament. He was so anxious and proud to do so. I gave him his “silver dollar” in sacrament meeting. Something we do in the states to help young men start thinking and saving for a mission. As you can see he loves to imitate the missionaries and is wearing their coat and name tag. The other week at school was kind of “show and tell”. He brought the BofM (Book of Mormon) to school and told the class it was his favorite book.
About 98% of the membership of the church here, do not have cars, despite the fact there are so many cars that it leads to congested traffic. A few members could afford a car but choose not to have one simply because there is no need. They generally live their lives in small cities and everything is within walking distances. Here in Fier where we live, as mentioned before, there is not one traffic light in the city and by in large we walk to most all places ourselves. When you might need to travel to the capital, Tirana, or other greater distances you hop a ride on a van, bus, or Taxi or someone using their car as a taxi service.
Video of father and daughter having a raw egg sucking contest. (“Teeth” in next blog)
So this is Fjona (13), same girl sucking eggs and front girl in seminary photo, who is performing in our one and only mall with a group of other performers. This is a popular Abanian song as you can hear the crowd join in on the singing.
We won’t list all the responsibilities we have nor what a Branch President does, but here is some of the things we do.
Monday- Is P day (preparation day) doing odds and ends, cleaning, shopping, laundry, washing car, etc. Every other Monday we do FHE (family home evening) with the YSA (young single adults) group in our home. (Church has it’s fair share of acronyms !!)
Tues.- Wendy teaches seminary class and we teach english class in the afternoons
Weds – We have DL mtg. (district leader meeting) in another city and sometimes our YSA Advisory board mtg.
Thurs – English class again
Friday and Saturday – Usually some type of branch activity or project, and we clean chapel ready for Sunday
Sunday – Church services 10 to 12pm. Wendy teaches S.S. (Sunday School)
Other responsibilities include: Cooking occasionally for missionaries, inspecting 4 missionary apartments, going to zone mtgs every 6wks., visiting the homes of investigators and members, attending seminary and leadership mtgs, etc. Senior couples have a great amount of flexibility compared to the younger missionaries and their regimented schedules. So we enjoy time together and personal study both secular and religious, read, play games, work on the language, go out to dinner and take time to write or visit (Skype) with family and friends. We could watch tv but as yet we have not decided to buy one. It’s amazing that what once occupied a great portion of our time, we now find other avenues of enjoyment and use of our time.
AND FINALLY…………. a lot of “LORD, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE US DO?”, things.
So that you all don’t get too bored, we try to write but one blog a month. Sometimes more sometimes less. If your signed up and have entered your email, it will notify you automatically when we post. We really, really appreciate your comments both privately and on the blog. It’s important to know you guys are out there and we stay in contact.
We haven’t written much in the way of spiritualness but we WILL SO, ….hang tight. This is one.
One of the considerations that will come under your determination to serve a Senior Mission is the mental capacity that old age brings. For example, “What was the reason I came into this room?”……, “I promised so n so I would do this” ……..(and you didn’t),….. “What day is it?’……., “Did I take my medication or vitamins?”…….., “I know I left it somewhere”…….., “Where are my glasses?”……… (on top of your head). You eventually get to the point of wondering or jokingly say, “Do I have dementia or Alzheimers?” Not that Senior Missionaries are called to learn new languages where you would need all your mental capacities, but it does make you consider just how inept you will be serving a mission. The language is coming slow, no….way slow, snail slow. Some days reverse, progress. It’s different because of the lack of contact we get with the people in day to day conversations. Not like the missionaries who are teaching and conversing in the language. We on the other hand don’t get the training nor do we get the practice, and many whom we come across, want to try out their english on US!! We want just the opposite. So some days we learn about 10 words and the next day forget 12. I have enclosed a video of that which I can say without looking and pronouncing well enough to be understood.
The day we moved from the “hotel room” to the palace, was the day we were also scheduled to be back in Tirana, the capital. After about ten trips hauling all our stuff (including those items we took from an apartment that the mission closed down), which included down 3 floors and up 5, it was none the less frantic and exhausting. The very first trip I removed my laptop from the ‘hotel room’ and hid it high above a book case in the new apartment so I would not forget it by accident. The day was long and after traveling, we ended up staying the night in Tirana. It wasn’t until two days later that panic struck me knowing that I couldn’t find my laptop and realized I must of left it in the “hotel room”. Racing back and checking the hidden area where I kept my laptop, panic really set in as it was not there. After inquiring around and checking with hotel staff and maids, all was fruitless. Stolen!!! I even looked through hotel security videos. I didn’t discover the laptop in our new apartment till almost two months later and after much duress and consternation.
Many times I considered not relating this story to you all. Some I’m sure will empathize and others of you will say, “Maybe I shouldn’t of come on this mission”, and some of you will just say, knowing me, “That sounds like Bob”, but all in all, I must be honest and expose my inner frailties of the mind and be embarrassed. This of course won’t be my last opportunity of embarrassing myself but don’t count on my telling you any more of those Senior Missionary Moments!!!
With all that being said, my wife would not let me send this blog out without letting you know about the spiritual aspect of my forgetfulness.
At the time I thought my laptop was stolen, we were a week away from conducting a virtual Pathway class on line with 5 students from Russia. This being the option for us, not having a “live” class here in Albania. Losing my laptop meant we could not conduct this “on line class” on Thursday evenings. We immediately told our area supervisor and explained that we had no means to conduct this class without a laptop or computer, and that he would have to get someone else to conduct the class. We then apologized to him for this last minute cancellation on our part. I swallowed my pride and frustration, and moved on. Therefore, with Thursday evening being available, we volunteered to help the missionaries out and teach an Advanced English class, which is usually is not available because the missionaries are busy teaching “Beginners class” using the Albanian language. These english classes are very successful in acquiring investigators and taught by every set of missionaries here in Albania. These classes are only conducted on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in conjunction with the entire mission. To make a long story short, we taught the english class with 7 special students from age 14 to 43. We grew to love and immensely enjoyed our time with them. We now have 3 investigators!!! Two have been to church already and one (pictured below on the left) invited us into her home to share a beautiful dinner with her family. Another (pictured below on the right) is actually taking the discussions presently and in her own personal xmas card to us she wrote, “Elder and Sister Lewis, you are the best present of 2017. Thank you for being a part of my life.”
If I had not forgotten where my laptop was, we would have never taught this class and would never have had these investigators. My wife calls my forgetfulness a “veil from God”.
Judge me not so harshly. We believe in “divine intervention”!!
Two of the english class students mentioned above
Two pictures taken from our balcony same mountain different days
School performing in public square (sorry for camera rotation)
To a confine hotel room to now a mansion, or at least it seems to us, we are definitely “moving on up to the east side…to a deluxe apartment in the sky” as the Jeffersons would say. Lets just say we now can take more than 3 steps in several directions and it is glorious. We absolutely love are apartment and the decor and color scheme suits us. One bathroom, one bedroom, one office/storage room, and one living area. So i’ll include photos but you must know that we are on the 5th floor which is the top floor of this building and have one of the largest balconies that I’ve seen in this area, so we have amazing views of the city. Something like “after the trial of your faith… then comes the blessings”. To boot we are the only persons living on this floor and so far we have our own private mini elevator that even plays music!! Very rare.
Speaking of elevators, which are ubiquitous here in Albania, because of the city life style of 90% of the people, we hear a lot of stories about Elders being trapped for different periods of time, including a Senior couple for almost an hour. Oh, did I forget to mention that since being in this area that the electricity has gone out on us almost every single day!! Sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours and one time for the entire day. Albanian luck I suppose, but we do remember the previous couple telling us to bring a flashlight and not saying why. With that being said, my wife has this fear of being stuck in an elevator even before coming to Albania and so has elected to take the stairs our first day here in our palace. Try as I may on convincing her that won’t happen, she, as wives sometimes do, just gives me one of those looks that says, “right”. So of course, as our Albania luck would have it, after a combo of persuasion and exhaustion, she relents and gives in. Her VERY FIRST!! trip together in our elevator the electricity goes out!!! If looks could kill I would have been dead, but alas, it is pitch dark in the elevator, yeah! Wait!! My ears are exposed, dang!! mormon slang. Then after singing a hymn and praying……, on her own, she starts prying on the doors and low and behold they open. Whew….., and we were able to exit. So…… you would think, that’s it, no more elevator, from now on calves of steel from the stairs or bust, but for some reason prying on those doors herself, gave her a new found confidence that even if this happens again, she would be alright. Hiroshima here we come.
(So I’ll announce the winners of the contest at the end of this blog.)
So, yeah…. I think the Lord can be quite tricky at times. He can fool you into thinking you are accepting a call to do one thing and then………… We were the first full-time missionaries called on a Pathway mission. (So for those of you who do not know what Pathway is, it is a special church online education program to integrate institute and secular learning, to primarily get you back to school for what ever reason you stopped, or to get you reinvested into schooling, and then to build your testimony of Christ). We were specifically called to head this program up here in Albania. After arriving here the Mission President pulled us into his office and said they urgently needed a Branch President in a small city called Fier and that the Pathway program has been temporally closed off, due to some conflicts with Albanians leaving the country through the Pathway program. Wow. Not what we wanted or had in mind, and if we had know in advance, it might have been a whole different decision. No use in arguing or feeling sorry for ourselves, as I could see by the expression on President Anderson’s face, he was in a tight spot, and we were here to serve.
So we back up our bags again and headed south for approx. two hours and arrived in FIER, a city of approximately 100,000. It has no claim to fame but is a 20 minute ride to the ocean and it has a small oil supply with oil production. It is a small city but it is still city life and 90% of the people live in high rises, sort of.
The necessity of a Branch President in this city was due to the fact that the only other qualified Priesthood holder, who was actually the Branch President at the time, was leaving the country and going to Italy in two weeks. Because of the quickness of the need here there was not enough time to prepare any accommodations for us and so we were put up in a hotel room, while they worked on our apartment which was a newly constructed place. “Hotel Internacional” Shoot, that’s not too bad, we can handle that sacrifice. Maid service! So up we went, 3 flights of stairs and 3 trips with our luggage and stuff, no elevator. What’s all this huffing and puffing. How old are we again? Unlock the door to a somewhat decent room but…….15 X 15 is not the royale suite. No chairs and just big enough for a queen Albanian bed size mattress. What awaited us in the room was a full size lovely painting of a scantly dressed woman lying on her side overhanging the head board. Not that I minded, lol. Just maybe a little difficult to do scripture study hour with her looking down on us. I asked if they would remove their Mona Lisa for us and the bellhop had to go check with the boss. It was ok, phew…… start unpacking.
It wasn’t long before we started listing the pros and cons of hotel living. Who won??? Well you decide. We had a very small fridge but no hot plate and no microwave. Nuts, bread and cereal was the diet of no-choice. By the way, did I mention my wife is “gluten intolerant”. So despite the fresh bread being baked almost on every corner and living in what seemed to be the bread capital of the world, she could only look and touch, not partake. Not me. Ok, I did feel guilty at times. “Man shall not live by bread alone”….. oh yeah, what else was there! Pizza!!! Sorry Honey, Sweetie pie. Pizza in great abundance and clogged arteries. We did find that on Sunday not being able to go out to shop, that we could buy a can of tuna and rice cakes, and “whola” a meal fit for a King, Albanian King that is. We ate out a lot, a whole lot. By the end of the week, I felt done with this. Not to mention that laying on the bed was ok for the first day or so, but then comes the back aches and rump soreness, and when it was time to go to bed I felt like that position was old hat. Also, the 3 flights of stairs (min. 3x daily) and the constant dog barking in the middle of the night, made us feel older and crankier, not to mention doing laundry at the other missionaries apartment across town. Now times that by not 1 week, not 2 weeks but 4, now long….. weeks. Well, i’m not sure what YOU would decide but “as for me and my house……”, get me out of here!…… Despite the maid service, we were ready to vamoose.
Eating out presented it’s own challenges and google translate has much to be desired. Some days we did ok, we manage to get most of what we wanted and could eat, but most of the time we just had to laugh (not aloud) at the things we thought we ordered and what we ended up getting. Once you got it, you could not return it, not gonna happen. We had no way of explaining what was wrong with the food, (YOU try explaining that to your waiter with sign language. The laughable part is we tried). Breakfast food does not exist in Albania. Once I found a lady who was going to scramble me some eggs. I even brought in a picture off my phone. “See this? This is what I want”, pointing at the picture. She shakes her head side to side (which means yes). Boy was I excited, rubbing my hands together in great anticipation. I WANTED BREAKFAST FOOD.!! To this day, I still don’t know how in the heck you could do what she did to those simple eggs!!! I couldn’t even eat them. I could go on and on about the food but it’s a good thing that we like salads and 50% of the time we got the salad we wanted. There were those times, I have to admit, when the food was very good, and we also learned a lot of Albanian food names, so our trials were not in vain. The Bread was incredible, sorry Honey, Love ya.
Ok, so the winners of the contest pictures were Steve Strong, Kathy Layne and Talia Lewis combined. In the first example of the white Mercedes, you can barely see, even when I was standing on top of it, the faint white lines of an absolutely faded non-existing cross-walk markings, that you can’t park in it’s line of direction. (Talia) The second example that some others came close to saying was parking beyond the “Stop” sign. It didn’t matter if you could park three more cars in that space beyond the “stop” sign, as you could see, that was aggravatingly illegal. The completely outrageous thing about that “Stop” sign, is that it has no meaning what so ever as a “Stop” sign. Nobody cares, nobody looks, and NOBODY STOPS. Go figure. And of course as in the picture with cars parked in the exact same positions as I was, probably none else got tickets that month in those places but me!!!! Totally based on the mood of the officer and who you were.
Urime!! Congrats!! to the winners. The prize – Albanian scrambled eggs!!!