Sunday, March 25, 2012

Being American in Albania

Many people around the world do not know where Albania is located or that Albania is a real place. To be completely frank, it is quite amazing that so many people are unaware of this small, but beautiful country. Albania, the Albanian people, Albanian culture, and the Albanian language have been around for centuries, yet due to the fact that it was a 'closed' and isolated country for so long many are unaware of it's existence. Since the fall of communism the United States has taken an interest in the development of Albania. Over the years the United States has shown it's support of Albania in many ways, aiding Kosovo, aiding in the transition from communism to a democracy, etc.

Being an American living in Albania is similar to what I think being a celebrity would be like. I, along with the other Americans I know who are living here, are treated with great respect and everyone wants to talk and spend time with us. Upon first arriving in Albania the constant stares, requests to meet for coffee, and the high frequency of random people wanting to know about my personal life seemed rude and nosey. However, now that I have lived here for 2 years I have learned that this attention is the way Albanians show that they care about you.

Living in Himare makes traveling a bit more difficult because of it's remote location. In order to get to Himare one has to consciously work to get here, there is no such thing as 'passing through' my town. Because of Himare's isolation, there really are only a few bus drivers that I into contact with when traveling to or from Himare. I have gotten to know them all quite well.

The way Albanians treat Americans is best exemplified by how I have been treated when traveling by bus to and from Himare. When I was traveling back to Himare from the COS Conference, which was held in Korça, it took me 2 days to get home. The second day of travel was from Fier to Himare. It was early in the morning and I was waiting alongside the national highway waiting for one of the only buses to Himare to pass through. After about 30 minuets of waiting the bus came flying around the round-about and stopped as I hailed it down. I boarded the bus and was immediately greeted by my bus driver friend. He then turned to the man sitting in the front seat and asked him to please move to the back of the bus (where there was the only seat left) so they (the people on the bus) could show some respect to this American girl. The bus driver proceeded to tell the man, who gladly gave his seat up for me, and the rest of the bus that I have been living in Albania for the past 2 years, live and work in Himare, and that I am a very good girl.

Yes, I have worked diligently to integrate into my community and abide by the Albanian code of conduct. And yes, I have tried to create a good reputation for myself, Peace Corps, and the US within Himare and Albania. The fact that I have put in the time to get to know locales and become part of 'my' Albania has allowed me not only to be respected because I am American, but I have also gained the trust of many people within my community.