September 28, 2006

albanian evening skies

additional (and sidetracked) thoughts!

I've been thinking... it's easy to say this or that about a culture and a people like said in the blog below- but goodness me - I know so little and only have a tiny tip of the iceberg idea of how things are. Just wanted to say that. Also - I need to add something else I have noticed about the Albanian people - they have such a humanity and want to help in anyway possible when approached. If they can't help they will search out someone who can. It's almost like a deep set ideology - because it's the natural response of almost everyone.

I love looking out at people here from the Landrover, because then I can look freely - the people live in humble and interesting surroundings - there is plenty plenty life to the way they are - and little privacy. (One example of little privacy is that buildings are close together. When I looked out at the apartments, bricks, stalls all interacted with each other, from my bathroom window this morning when it was still dark and there was a flickering light post - it all looked like a set from the "West Side Story"! Expected music and dance and gangs at any moment!) There are always many people out and about. Buses are packed like sardine tins. Outside there is lots of noise and voices and car horns tooting! People walking or zipping in and out on mopeds, bikes, cars, tractors, three wheels little trucks, donkey or horse and cart. I love getting out on my bike and facing the adventerous roads - gives me a sense of life, freedom and danger!! I really like it! I have to keep my eyes on the road ahead, and the side and behind cause any form of transport will come out from any angle at anytime! I keep my eyes on the road at the same time to meander around the pot holes and puddles and rocks! Sometimes its more like riding over the tops of the ocean waves!

And my other final thought to what I wrote yesterday is that though there are problems with the way women can be treated here - there are bound to be loving relationships between men and women - the men are husbands, fathers, gradfathers, uncles, brothers, friends. I don't understand all the ways - but there must be love and goodness in the culture of life here, even though women are made to work very very hard, men work hard too. When I was looking out this morning on a journey down from Shkodra to Tirana, I saw all the men - driving cars, working on building sights, in shops, cafes, walking out and about, smoking (so many smoke) calling out, meeting one another... I kept thinking different songs - like "this is a mans world, but it would be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl..." and the Johnny Cash song "Six foot six, he stood on the ground - weighed two hundered and forty five pounds - but I saw that giant of a man brought down - by a thing called love!" I'm still looking forward to knowing this place well and its people, that's my prayer - I don't want people here to be a mystery to me - only looked at through car and house windows. I want to be in the midst of the life I see - even though I'm a girl. And how good it will be to get to know the lives of the women and girls of this country. Wow - there is so much to learn. I know it's gonna change my life.

September 26, 2006

setting my face like flint

Every so often I get a slight surge of learning and finding myself really "here", adapting ever so slightly. It's not that I am distant wishing myself to be away from Albania - it's more that I am a stranger to this people and this land and its culture, identity and "being". The great thing is that I have a desire (sometimes stronger sometimes weaker) to understand, to know, to allow into my heart Albanians, Albania and its life, losses needs and strengths.

I've come to understand better the fear of me being out alone as the sun begins to set, and why and older lady in church would say - "don't speak to your neighbours". I just couldn't get it - what is up with people - will they attack me, will they be decietful to me? Why do people speak about their own people this way - are they not one of whom they speak? Will I ever be able to be "me" here? I met with another loving and wise woman from the church and she tried to explain things to me. I'm not sure that she told me any thing new - but somehow Gods Spirit gave me a flash of intuition or something registered in me, and I saw how I could adapt and begin to express myself in relation to these "rules"

It's about public opinion. There is such a strong sense of people needing to appear right in the sight of others. And this for may reasons... When it comes to girls they need to be so chaste. If there is a hint that a girl is seen with a boy or man alone - even out in a busy public place, then there is the insinuation that talks are being had and an engagement is being arranged. This girl would lose her chances of marriage with anyone else. Marriage is extremely important, and it is the desire of every family and even the neccessity that the daughters be married. If they reach the age of 23 without being married - then there is a lot of shame really and the girl is pitied. It's very difficult for Christian girls as there are not many young Christian men, so they end up marrying Muslims or unbelievers - through the demands of their families. It is unheard of for a single girl to live alone. I have alot to prove in regard to my reputation. Here in Albania - there is a great call to be respectable. (which is why it is so confusing with the western way of life pouring in to Albania - such strong deep traditions and consience with an exploding revolution of morals and thirst, hunger and greed for material bettering and gain)

I could go on and write a lot more - but I better not. But I have found that I need to be respectable by Albanian standards to be respected - and that will take a good year or two to prove. I am being watched constantly, I have been told. I need to be serious and show that I have purpose - I am not here to play around and be frivilous, so therefore I greet my neighbours and interact respectfully with them, but I don't extend my own conversations, smiles, laughing and extra's. I go out on my bike and no meandering here and there - I don't make myself look out of place. Women here don't go to cafes alone, and there are only certain cafes a woman can go. Women don't do anything out in public except walk with sisters, mothers, aunts or male family members, buy the shopping and return home. A woman should never be out alone after the sun sets. I think women have few rights here - though they are not always under the heavy hand of the patriarch as once all were, they still have far less rights or value or freedoms. I don't talk to men at all - though I can extend a greeting like good morning to those who I see often - like my neighbours. I can respond - but very sensibly and courteously. So no great smiles and hand waves and conversations with the people out on the streets. I love to smile and say hello to people! But this "setting my face like flint" is really good for me here. It's good to be direct and sure and be done away with what I have known as just being friendly. In this context it is good. And I will abide with what is right here. I can be respectable to others, and I can show that I am respectable, and to be respected too. And when the time comes for people to trust and really connect genuinely - they can come to see that I am warm hearted with Gods love! And I do still smile, when I can... and I make it as warm as I can.

I want to understand much deeper - who and why the Albanians are.

It was funny last night. I left my bycicle locked up at the bottom of the pallati (apartment block) and I forgot it. My neighbours on the fifth floor had packed up there little market stall where they sit each day and they - husband and wife made their way home. I really like this couple - I greet them each day and have had very small conversations. They are Muslim. Well the wife knocked on my door - it was unusual as it was dark and getting late. She quickly said - "Quick - go down and get your bike. Quick! Quick!" She did me a good favor. She told me off a little - but she did from a point of my interest. I felt that I could trust her a bit more because of that, and I felt a little Albanian too! Getting a telling off from an elder!

I'm going to find my place in Albania - unique land of the eagles.

September 19, 2006

its raining its pouring!

The rains are coming! It's been amazing listening to the rains pour down for hours each night over the last few nights. The thunder crashes and the neon lighting lights up the skies showing the prominent Albanian mountains. Last night the streets were flooded. I went out on the balcony to see the storm - couldn't believe how much water was swirling around, but this morning there was only puddles left in the potholes!

September 18, 2006

stirrings and small steps

There is a stirring within me, to look outward here in Shkodra. That is such a good stirring to have! But its strange when it seems so limited. I have so much to learn - language and cultural things about Albania - but I want to make small steps at being like Jesus. All I can do is have little conversations. I want to invite some friends I have made at church round to dinner - but I can't cook Albanian style yet, I don't know the hospitality rules, don't know if I would eat late at 9pm or 10pm with people if they come round to dinner, I can't even speak the same language! It kind of puts me off! But there's a stirring in me! The idea of having people round is working and I hope I just do it some time. I stand and pray or sing looking out of my window sometimes - I feel like Daniel in Babylon! But its good to have these Old Testament feelings - that I am a Chrisitian in a city that is far from God and I can be here to stand up for the things of God - to persevere, to shine, to pray and seek God on behalf of the people, and that can start with a simple visit to a neighbours house or stopping to talk with the lady who sits at the foot of the apartment everyday selling goods. I want to be stirred - in simple small ways. It's the whole point of being here. I am a bit impatient with myself - so I need God to stir within me his gentle will each day. I want great things - but my friend once quoted Mother Teresa to me - "we can't all do great things but we can do small things with great love". Oh to have that great love. How glad I am that I can spend time with the Greatest of all Love, and He can show me how.

September 16, 2006

Painting in Albania!

Here are some amusing photos of me painting my room! It's funny getting used to taking pictures of myself! I spent two late nights painting away. I had to get a certain paint for white washed walls and mix in a small pot of colour and two liters of water. All I had to mix with was an old metal soup ladle that I found and I mixed it all in a bucket and used a plastic tub to put paint in to roll the roller onto and a little jug to ladle paint into to use my paintbrush with. When I went to buy the paint the man in the shop who remained unmarried even though he was well into his thirties, was so impressed that I was doing all the paint work without a husband that he wanted to get engaged! I said no thanks with a smile and rode off on my bycicle! I liked painting my room as a project - listening to music and getting a job completed. I was given a set of curtains - so I got the yellow to match - it looked like it was going on a yucky kind of colour - but turned out to be a nice yellow.

September 06, 2006

lime trees and lemon lights

I was suprised to see lime trees in Albania. It turns out that they are a rare but seen thing! I remeber lime trees in the back yard of our Sierra Leonean, West African home years ago. I love limes, so when I saw them in Albania my prayer was - "oh Lord let me live in a home that has lime trees in its yard!" After the first visit to Shkodra to find a house I was extrememly despondant - never imagined finding anywhere that would come close to being livable - the communist era apartments where way too out of my world for me to cope with. I never expected such emotions - me raised on the mission field - me ready to go to the poorest of the poor! The second trip to Shkodra was on my birthday - and if possible - it was a worse experience than the first!

But - the first house we saw was lovely... It was old - artistic, no doubt falling down, but full of character and had a wonderful garden - roses, little ponds and walls, iron cast table and chairs, abundance of grapes and fig trees and an orchard of lime trees! Joy filled my heart - could God be granting me a dream come true? It was never in question whether or not I would live there - Judith who was certainly my senior and the one who could care for such a garden, and who needed two rooms, not just one - the whole question was - would she have this house? I prayed - "Lord if its not for Judith - then let it be for me!" And kept it close to my heart for the day.

We searched on - and had a nice stop at a traditional restraunt for my birthday meal - though I found myself at the verge of tears every moment! Eventually at the end of a long day we came to an apartment that was thought to be ideal for me. It was fine - but it wasn't nice - it had Muslim things up on the wall, old cigarette ends lying around and it was enclosed with a big iron door - I felt locked away and awful. Everyone was saying - "oh you must decide - is it for you?" and the owner was pressing me for an answer. I had no idea, Judith still hadn't decided on the dream home and I had lessons to learn in standing up for myself. I said okay - "I'll take it - just lets get out of here!" I thought - there will never be a place I want to call home - so this is it - I will make do. That night however I was far from at peace and I talked to my parents on the phone who insited I make the choice I wanted for myself. I talked and prayed with Judith and Sonya - whose house I was staying over at. They pressed me to be wise - not to back out of an arrangement, to realise it was close to the church, but I could not bear the thought of living there. As I prayed and fell asleep I asked God for his choice and abundant wisdom and courage to stand up for what I needed. Then drifting off to sleep I remembered the other apartment I had seen...

It was in the communist apartment block that surrounded the statue of Isa Bolentini. It was a mess, but it was simple and it was out in the open - central to the city and authentic - had an old belfast sink in the kitchen and when I had sat out on the balcony to breathe in the feel of the place there was a string of lemon lights that light up at night time, and I laughed with God - "is this the closest to lime trees that I'm going to get?" I watched all the people and traffic and thought - yeah - maybe... but like always nothing seemed good to me and my unsettled heart. The next morning all I wanted to do was go to the Isa Bolentini apartment! I shared my decision, faced the consequences and all was approved and encouraged and put into place. Isa Bolentini house was not the lovely grand garden home which would have been a haven hideaway - but it was an apartment in the midst of the life and problems and noise and dust - but it was a place I could call and make home - and it was my choice and my commitment - and I believe Gods placing of me in this town. By God's enablingI stood up for myself and claimed my lemon lights home!