Talks in the Mountains
I believe mingling with the locals is the most prominent step when learning a new culture. I speak for the whole group when I say the Albanian people have welcomed us into their country with loving arms, and we’ve just continued to dive right into adventures that may seem a tad bit “odd” to us, only because it does not directly fit into our social norms. I myself, along with Jordan Healey had the opportunity to meet an elderly local woman in a northern Albanian village. As we walked up a mountain we fell behind the group a little when speaking with our Albanian guide Zeff, and our driver Jewel. Along behind us was an older woman walking with a cane up the hill to take care of her cattle (which we later found out she does 4 times a day). The woman was friendly, and clearly a native to the land because every single person we past acknowledged her and said hello. After awhile of walking in front of her, the two men we were with began to talk to her. She started to tell us her life story while adding in her own personal wisdom and guidance. The woman never told us her name but she said to us, “A mountain does not meet another mountain, but people meet each other,” in reference to how her lands and mine will never directly connect but there we were walking up this mountain and talking together. She went on to tell us she’s 64 years old with 4 children, and was born and raised in Albania. When her oldest kid was only 9 years old, her husband drowned leaving her to take care of her family alone. Also, during this period of time Albania was lead by a dictator, and it’s only been about 20 years since it discovered it’s new found freedom. Surprisingly, the woman explained to us how she does not like this “free” life. She said, “Everyone needs only one person to talk,” and she thought the old way of living was way better off. She also explained how hard it is for not only her, but people in general to find work now. While under the previous communist period everyone was forced to work, and if someone didn’t work they could be looked at as an enemy of their country. She never told us what her job entailed of back in the day, or how she managed to get through the daily struggles without working now… but she shared a lot of insight that only someone who has lived through could describe. Along with the economic structure she told us an old story, which started out by saying, “Life is like a shelf”. The story was about a poor man who worked his life away for a very wealthy man, and one day the wealthy man gave him a self as a gift, which was very underappreciated by him at first. However, the poor man told him, you are well off now but things could change and YOU could be the one receiving this shelf as a gift. This story just goes to show how appreciative and strong the woman we were walking with was. She told us she has worked hard her whole life for what she has and continues to live that lifestyle today. She is the ideal conservative Catholic woman, who continued to say, “May God bless you, and may you live to be 100 years old”. Since we couldn’t understand anything she was saying our guide was translating back and forth for us, and he later told us from the second we started talking to her all the way to the top of the hill she was blessing us the whole time. She told us a story that was a little unclear of how her family went to America for a better life but was deported and sent back here many years ago, however, her oldest daughter managed to stay and is currently living her life in America. While continuing to talk about her daughter she said I reminded her of her own, and I told her about how this was my first trip away from home and my mom was really nervous. She told me she knows exactly how it feels and my mom wouldn’t get one bit of sleep at night while I’m away because she still constantly thinks of her own daughter and knows from experience. As we approached the top and said our goodbyes she threw in her last minute advice, telling us to wait for boys and marriage… focus on school and create bright futures for ourselves. Before walking away she kissed us each twice on the cheek, and we told her, “You are an extremely respectable and strong woman and we’re very glad we have met you,” and she said back to us… “No no no… I’m just simple.” Sometimes people don’t realize how much they can affect someone, and whether she knows it or not… that woman has given me one of the best memories of my life.
GCP Albania 2014