So I’m going to do that super cheesy thing where I start a blog post with song lyrics that are particularly apropos:

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home

I’ve had this song playing through my head for the past week or so, as I’ve walked the streets in Tirana, looked out the van window at the sheer drop of the mountainside directly beside us, or stood with my toes sinking slowly in the sand as the Adriatic ebbs and flows around my feet.

It’s a wee bit different than living behind Subway in the grand metropolis of Wilmore, Ky. But this, all of this, for the next several months, is home. Or, as they say here, Shtëpi. (Hence the title of this post. You didn’t know you were going to get a language lesson, did you?)

It’s been almost three weeks, so I figured it was probably time to do a blog post and write about a little of what’s happened in the last 20 days. To be honest, I haven’t posted anything yet because so much has happened, and it’s a little bit overwhelming even trying to start!

To make everything easier, here is a summary of the last few weeks in one sentence: After arriving safely in Tirana, Albania, Abby and I have completed a little over two weeks of class with the two Waggoner children; learned enough Shqip (the Albanian language) to tell people that we only speak a little Shqip; and spent our weekends in a village, where we have lots of entertaining experiences trying to communicate across a language barrier.

And here are three cultural observations:

1) Looks. Even though we live in a city, it’s normal to make eye contact with other people on the street. In fact, it’s normal to stare. I actually appreciate this, because if I see something I find unusual, it’s perfectly appropriate to look at it for a while, and I don’t need to go into super-secret-spy mode.

2) Coffee. All the time. Everywhere. You basically pass a coffee shop every other step. It’s pretty sweet. Any time I’m out in the city, if I get the slightest craving for some caffeine, I just have to look to the side, and bam! Coffee. And few things top sitting in the late afternoon sun, enjoying a cappuccino and observing everything that passes. Oh, and take your time. Did you get a single espresso shot? It should take at least an hour to finish it properly. Avash avash. (A phrase meaning “slowly slowly.” You’re welcome.)

3) Navigating. It’s a free-for-all. All the street-side parking spots are filled outside the restaurant you’re going to? No problem. Just start a new row. In the street. Blocking other cars in. I’ve seen cars triple parked like this. Traffic lights are usually obeyed to some extent, but crossing the street can turn into one big game of chicken. Also, it’s perfectly normal for a car on the far right of three lanes to turn left, crossing over all the other lanes in the middle of an intersection. Just in case you thought things were getting too boring.

And finally, some photographic examples of the scenery. These are from an excursion we made last week to Kruja, where there is a castle with a tower that was one in a chain of signal towers used to warn of an invading army.


Abby and Ellie sitting on the edge of the museum’s overlook

Overlook 2

The view of the mountains and city, with the Adriatic in the far background


A restaurant near the foot of the mountains

Castle ruins

Adjacent old and new architecture. The stone foundations are part of the original castle’s structure.


A view of the foothills approaching the mountains


Ellie enjoyed the view!


The castle tower. I was tempted to pull an Aragorn and run through the castle yelling, “The beacons are lit! The beacons are lit!!”


This not-so-ancient castle was a museum with some slightly terrifying murals and a lot of information about national hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg. Legend has it that Skenderbeg could slice a live cow in two with a single stroke of his sword. Like a boss.


This traditional Albanian house is older than the United States.


I love the red roofs!


On the other side of this arch was a super sheer drop down the mountainside. This was on the backside of the restaurant where we ate lunch.


A lovely old wall


Once you get away from some of the more touristy areas, there are some different views. This was near where we parked the van in order to walk to the castle.


At the restaurant where we ate lunch, there was a merry-go-round with “sleigh chairs,” as the children called them. Ellie and Reni loved it!


Lunch with a view


2 thoughts on “Shtëpi

  1. Super fantastic read! Albania’s stunning countryside and (sometimes) frustrating culture is what endears my heart to this tiny nation. Thanks for the blog!

  2. Hey girl! Sharon and I are so happy for you! Glad you are enjoying this “God” size adventure. Thanks for helping Ellie and Reni! Blessings. Frank Martin, WGM.

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