Friday, January 30, 2015

A Weekend in Albania

I found this tonight in my journals from Albania. I had almost forgotten about this weekend. This is why I write things down...

Dec 2012

Last night there was a get together at my apartment (actually, our apartment, now that my roommate, Malwine, has moved in). A handful of us gathered together around some homemade cookies- Bobby’s recipe, so he was there in spirit. Malwine had made them earlier, with us watching through the oven glass and curled up against it for the warmth. I’m not ashamed to admit that we meowed like cats at one point, mocking the fact that we were this excited to feel warmth. Drinks and an electric heater rounded out the amenities, and soon friends were trickling in out of the cold.

We lounged on the couches, leaning in close towards the heater and talking about pointless things, unwinding from the week, eating cookies and crackers and swapping drinks to taste. A two liter Coke bottle filled with raki sat in the middle of the coffee table: from the contents to the recycled receptacle, it was truly a perfect centerpiece for a gathering in Albania. Tiara and Joe eventually headed out with Malwine and her friend, Katarina, to scope out the live music on hand at Tirana Ekspres. Kevin, Scott, Robert, and I stayed together for a bit longer, discussing the inadvertently political work landscape in which we found ourselves, and considering the merits of a local blog consisting of pictures of Tirana's dumpsters.

Once the cookies had been eaten down into a shape occupying less space, a candle was added to the baking sheet, allowed to drip onto the parchment paper.  It was far from late but had been dark for hours, and between the wine and the cold and the rain we found ourselves dozing. Kevin drained his last glass of wine- from a peanut butter jar, repurposed, like the Coke bottle- and headed out for home, leaving just us neighbors. Scott wasn’t long for this world, and somehow summoned the fortitude to walk the 6 steps from my door to his with Robert’s help. I stayed up a bit longer, curled up by the heater, and Skyped with Bobby before taking my turn to crawl in to bed.

This morning, Scott woke me up with a knock on the door. He was fully dressed and ready for the day, and I was bedheaded and bleary eyed. This is a common theme. We had decided last night over cookies and raki that a full on pancake breakfast was in order, and prep work was already in full swing.


Tiara soon came up the stairs, bearing ingredients for pancakes, and Scott and Robert drifted off to New Grocery Store to procure a bottle of Bailey’s for the coffee. Malwine was showering, I was googling pancake recipes, and Tiara was scoping out pots and pans and mixing bowls. The boys came back bearing bacon, Bailey’s, eggs, and fresh bread- still warm, and wrapped in brown wax paper. Music playing, with our apartment doors open to our short bridge of a hallway, we cooked on both stoves so that we could enjoy having everything finished and hot at the same time. Malwine set the table while I sliced bananas, and Tiara continued to pour and flip and plate pancake after chocolate chip pancake. 

The internet predictably went out at this point, so I switched over from 8tracks to iTunes and queued up Radiohead as we all sat down to eat. The bowls and pans were passed, our plates were filled, and the food was thoroughly enjoyed. 

Tiara said that it felt like Christmas morning. I looked at everyone around me and couldn’t believe that I was lucky enough to be at a table with them.

I’m filled with gratitude for the freedom I have in my day to day life, and all the things that make it possible. I live in a place where I can nonchalantly and realistically say things like “If I’m not in Kosovo this weekend….” or “Should we go to Greece or Montenegro for winter break?” or “That weekend in Macedonia was amazing”. 

Despite my short time here, impromptu social gatherings easily materialize, with little planning or effort. The pace of my evenings and weekends is exactly what I choose to make of it, from laid back naps and books after work to dinner and dancing or weekend road trips. I sleep in as I choose, I stay up late when I want, I go out to eat or cook elaborate meals, and I get to do it all while traveling and teaching and spending time with amazing people. 

I like living organically, with the ability to say yes when I want to do something and no when I don’t want to, with the flexibility to change my mind at the last minute for a new plan. It seems so simple, but that’s a luxury many people don’t have. I’m trying not to take it for granted. I’m trying to be aware of what a privilege it is.

It’s cold and rainy, and my bed is warm, and I’m going to sleep without setting an alarm so I can enjoy a morning of sleeping in. Nothing I just wrote really captures what I want to say, but it comes close to catching the sides of this feeling I can’t wrap my hands around.

Life is good.

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