Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Natural Beauty of Southern Albania

Last week we had the opportunity to explore a little bit of southern Albania and see ALL of it's beauty!! 

 The drive from Vlora to Saranda was windy through the mountains, but I love these little villages nestled into the mountainside.

 We explored Syri i Kalter (or the Blue Eye) just outside of Saranda.  Divers have explored the pool to about 165 feet deep, but it is still unsure just how deep the hole actually is.  They are unable to dive any further because of the pressure of the water that flows from the pool is so strong.

The colors of Syri i Kalter reminded me of the hot springs from Yellowstone.  However, instead of being searing hot, this pool is a chilly 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dinner was on the lake that is fed by the Blue Eye.  Reni, Ellie, and I enjoyed listening to the chorus of frogs that filled the area.

Our drive to Gjirokastra was stunning.  The mountains rose high and the sun poured in through the valley as we came up to the city. 

The sunset was unreal in Gjirokastra.  We only stayed one night, but I would definitely love to spend a full day or two here.  The castle was the largest I've seen in Albania!  

We had a LONG drive from Gjirokastra to Korça, and the road was rough!  However, we found out about a local hot spring just outside of the city of Permet.  

The waters are said to have healing qualities, but I think we just enjoyed the warm water, beautiful scenery behind us, and a chance to take a break from the car!

Like I said, the drive from Gjirokastra to Korça was so long with a really rough road!  But the views were so worth it... 

…like REALLY worth it. 

But I'm still convinced that it doesn't matter how incredible of a place that you're in, what matters the most is the people that you get to experience it with.

Monday, May 12, 2014

An Albanian Scavenger Hunt

Before leaving for Albania, we had an awesome going away party with some of our friends who joined us for coffee and dessert.  Each of us had a journal where our friends took time throughout the evening to write their own little entires to us.  This was wonderful to read throughout my time here in Albania, as most people wrote encouraging words that I could reflect on throughout the past few months.  However, one entry was titled: The Most Dangerous Game.  :)  After a quick Google search, my friends Seth and Erin gave me a few tasks to complete before returning to the States!

1. High-five a stranger (another culturally acceptable gesture may be substituted)
So I guess I'm off to a bad start, because I never really high-fived any strangers… However, I did KISS a lot of strangers! It's the common greeting in Albania to kiss each cheek of the women when you're saying hello.  So I definitely participated in that on an everyday basis!  In fact, it's such a common thing now, I have a feeling I may automatically do that when I get home to the States, which could definitely surprise a few people.  :)

2. Get a T-shirt of the Albanian flag

The Albanian flag is on almost every single souvenir you could want!  I decided not to buy a T-shirt, but I did pick up multiple other souvenirs that have the double headed eagle on it!  You can definitely say that Albanians are very patriotic!

3. Get a picture of yourself on-stage at the Ancient Amphitheater of Butrint

4. Don't get arrested doing this, maybe?
Check.  :)

5. Don't get involved in a blood feud (this is a Gimme.)
No worries here!

6. Learn an Albanian fold song AND SING IT TO US.  I'd prefer an epic.
This is an Albanian children's song that we often heard while working at the orphanage in Tirana.

 7. Learn how to make a delicious local food (gjellë?)

Instead of gjellë, I decided that I wanted to learn how to make one of my favorite desserts: baklava!! This is my dear friend Eda and the baklava she made us for New Years. She and her mother taught Anna and I how to make it ourselves!  Now we can't wait to try it when we're back home!

Seth, I hope this satisfies all of the scavenger hunt requirements!!  :)

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Creative Outlet

I'm a terrible photographer…it's a fact.  But it's great that I'm surrounded by them!  My mom and sister both love it and try to encourage me as well.  I get consistent reminders from them to make sure I 'm actually using the camera they gave me before coming to Albania. (And yes you two, I am.)  And I don't even have to go on about Cydil and Anna who take some of the most gorgeous pictures I have seen!  :)

Being a decent photographer would definitely come in handy as a traveler, but I'm a painter.  If you want to know the places that meant a lot to me, take a look at what I've painted.  Maybe taking a picture would be a little easier at times, but I love the intentional act of creating a painting.

What's your creative outlet?  And yes, I actually took these photos myself.  :)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Saying Goodbye...

This past weekend was our last in Vlashaj.  It was so difficult to say goodbye to some of our incredible friends (and many tears were shed), but I'm incredibly thankful for the people that God has placed in my life while living here.

Eda and Xhesika

Anna and I with Eta

Albania is in my heart now, there's no doubt about that.  I am already anticipating the day when I can return here.  :)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Spirit Week!!

If you grew up in the public school system, like me, you probably got to experience a few Spirit Weeks during your time!  This may have included Tall Socks and Ties Tuesday, Western Wednesday, or School Spirit Friday.  It was always a fun time when our entire student body would participate, building up our excitement during the week for a big homecoming football game.  

Today is our last Friday of school!!  Hard to believe that the time has flown by so quickly, but these kids have done such an incredible job!!   Ellie has one of the most incredible memories of any child I have ever met!  She has learned all of her states this year and could probably tell you what most state birds are as well as an assortment of random facts about each!  Her comprehension and abstract thinking in our science lessons astounds me most days.  She is incredibly creative and I have enjoyed her story telling and advanced drawing techniques (a lot of cockatiels).  This year, Reni has learned to read on a first grade level, and he also began writing just this year and can write without always being prompted.  He can also add, subtract, and count to 100 by his 1s, 2s, 5s, and 10s.  He is my little aspiring artist too.  Have I mentioned he's only 4?!

Monday: Pajama Day
It's only appropriate to take a nap since we already have our comfy clothes on, right?

Tuesday: Superhero Day
Our superheroes are Mrs. Frizle, The Hulk, Earth Girl, and The Black Widow.

Wednesday: Backwards Day
Everyone wore their clothes backwards and our schedule was in reverse.  I'm pretty sure the kids found our classes more exciting, even though they were the same thing, just at different times of the day.  :)

Thursday: History Day
Blast from the Past!  We have Frida Kahlo, a Pirate, Betsy Ross, and Julius Caesar.

Friday: Albania Spirit Day!
I wish I had a cool Albanian jersey like the kids were sporting, but we wore our red and black colors for the day, listened to the Albanian National Anthem, and had the Albanian music radio station on.  One of our friends suggested that we should teach in Shqip for the day…  :)

I'm glad I have been able to learn more about the homeschool system, and it was a great stretch on my educational career while teaching more than just my field I studied in.  This year has been such an incredible blessing with these kiddos! 

Thursday, April 24, 2014


In Albania, there are words for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but when most Albanians are speaking to each other they usually just say that they will meet for "bukë" or bread.  This is because bread has always been the most common staple of every meal.

My first homemade bread actually turned out as a success!  However, I got a little too cocky when I tried to make my second one just a few days later.  I set the bowl on top of the radiator in our apartment to speed up the process a little bit, only to find out that it had actually cooked on the bottom of the bowl it was in… :)  But for now I'll show you the one that actually looked and tasted good!

There is a saying we were just recently introduced to in Shqip, while at a friends house for breakfast, that said: "Ne kemi ngrënë bukë së bashku" translating into: we have eaten bread together.  This is a beautiful phrase that is only used when speaking of a very close or special friend, and it is used to show just how strong that relationship is.  

Anna and I have told the Koni family that they feel like our adoptive Albanian family.  We have always felt so welcomed and loved by them since the moment we first came to Vlashaj.  They invited us to this beautiful dinner we shared together in their home.

As I approach my final weeks living here, there is no doubt in my mind that I will have to return to Albania to be reunited with my now life-long friends that are here.  They are so close to me, and there have already been tears that have been shed as we've discussed job opportunities that will lead me away from Albania.  In this moment, I thank God for the blessing of incredible friends that have so warmly invited me to eat bread with them.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Little Things

Sometimes it's the little things that can bring us inexplicable joy.  For me, joy lies in moments like: sitting in the sun with a really good book that I just seem to get lost in, getting (or giving) a really big hug that can only be described as a "bear squeeze", and riding bikes on a warm day with a cool breeze with friends who have some of the best smiles that you have seen in a while.

To be honest, it is breaking my heart every time I think about leaving.  Not because I'm not looking forward to being back in the United States and seeing all the people that I care so deeply for, but because I will have to leave the amazing people that have become my family here in Albania.  These girls here: Eda, Xheni, and Xhesika are my incredible sisters in Christ, and I thank God for getting the chance to meet them.  They have encouraged me in so many ways and made me feel loved every moment while living here.  I only hope that I have returned those feelings.

It's hard to imagine that Anna and I have been living in Albania for 7 months now.  However, everything just seems so natural here.  To simply put it, we're happy.  We love the city where we live, the friends that we have met, and all the coffee that is always available.  :)

Only three more weeks to relish in these little moments and find the joy that lies in them, and I'm looking forward to all of them.