Monday, December 18, 2017


At the end of November, I went to DC for the annual anthropology conference; we also like to call it the nerd circus. I made incredible progress on my current sock project!
knitting + Star Wars = happy!
I also chaired a panel, that I was really proud of. We had 7 papers on reception of immigrants in rural US areas and there was really great synergy between the presentations, plus we had about 30 people show up to our 8 a.m. panel which is a really good showing (I have been at panels with 4 or 5 attendees, so that was what I was expecting). We didn't even have to add "in the age of Tr*mp" to the panel title (although that was kind of a secondary theme of the conference, so many talks had that as a reference point). So I'm looking at how to mobilize that energy and take it the next step (i.e. something published collectively). 

Ready to chair my panel
(75% repeat outfit from last time I presented)
I also had a couple days in Harrisonburg which was super helpful to start getting over the jet lag, connect with a bunch of people, update my ethnographic material, and pick up about 2/3 of our Lego collection to bring back to Tirana.

It's a lot more than it looks like
I've given the kids 3 of these bags and am holding back the rest for actual Christmas, along with a few other things. Legos are surprisingly heavy! But worth it - in addition to Lego Bethlehem, they've already created 4 or 5 different sets of their own, each with its own cast of characters and dramatic storylines. It's fun to be back.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas coming

Every afternoon on the way to pick up the kids from school, we pass by this man roasting chestnuts over a charcoal grill! He showed up when the weather started to get cold. He is very kind and always gives me about 50% extra when I buy from him. We have chatted a bit about his family living in New York City and he gladly let me take this picture. Someday I'll ask him his name :-) And hopefully someday the kids will agree to just try one of the chestnuts.

 Near where we live there is a market area called Pazari i Ri, or the New Market. It was recently renovated and fancied up and often there are special events happening there, like this little Christmas bazaar - can you tell what inside the cabin is real and what is fake? (The boy and his mischief are both real, that's a freebie)

And the malls look exactly like malls all over the world at Christmastime. This is Toptani, the newest mall and the only one located near the city center. We also walk past here on the way to and from school. 

So, we bought a little tree! And ornaments that are supposed to look old-fashioned. The kids made a Lego Bethlehem (pics on Facebook).

Today the kids had a make-up school day to replace a day missed a few weeks ago due to heavy rains. It's just a half day, and then in the afternoon they have rehearsal for the church Christmas pageant. So I spent the morning making gingersnaps and listening to Christmas music, so uncharacteristically festive of me!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Kruja tower
The weather this fall has been strangely warm, like everywhere else around the globe - though it's been nice to have some more rain this week. Well, nice except when we're walking to or from school. Building character! We have had some cold days, a couple weeks ago the nights were hovering around freezing - but this week has been Bogota-like weather: 16 degrees C and rainy. I'm trying not to use the space heater too much though to keep our electric bill down. 

A couple weekends ago I had the opportunity to play tour guide to a friend-of-a-friend who was wandering loose in Tirana, so we took a bus to Kruja - the stronghold of national hero Sk├źnderbeu. The sky was so blue and clear, it felt like you could cut your finger on the line of the mountain edge against the sky. It was fun to be the "local expert" even though the trip definitely gave me a sense of the many gaps in my knowledge - especially of Albanian history.  

Then on Sunday we took the kids to Dajti - they'd go every weekend if we'd pay for it, but we've made it a once-a-month treat. Even though we could see from below that the mountaintop was swathed in clouds, they still wanted to go. 

These photos do not nearly do justice to the intensity of the fall colors. So beautiful.

Just as we sat down to eat the clouds rolled in and it started to rain - Terry took Gabe outside to try to punch the fog, it was such a little-boy heaven out there climbing the rocks and fighting the elements. Val got into it a bit too.

I was happy to stay inside and enjoy our delicious meal! The waiter actually knows us now - I think we tip pretty well - and he brought us a carafe of fresh squeezed blackberry juice and a fruit plate of apple and orange slices sprinkled with blackberries, walnuts, and honey - on the house!

Thursday, November 02, 2017


Moving is such a process. This move has been so, so much easier than the last two, in that we were coming back to something beloved and familiar.

Street Art
Albeit we have been in the midst of a major decision just now, that brought me at least to face some of my lingering grief from leaving in 2012. We have the opportunity to move back to our old apartment, where we lived before, and in the beginning that was our plan. In fact when I inquired to find out if the apartment would be available for us this fall, it felt like a "sign" that the answer was "very likely."

So at first we thought we'd be in this villa for a few weeks, but as time dragged on regarding the other apartment we got more and more used to being here. We have our rhythms and routines organized, we know where to shop for everything, and people in the neighborhood are friendly. Our landlady is... very involved, with both the pros and cons that come with that, but on balance it's mostly great. But after two months in this home it has grown on us, and there are enough pros and cons both ways that it has been really, really hard to make a final decision.

Evening moonrise
But, I think we are going to stay here. There are so many things I love about this flat, and I've come to realize over the past couple of days that it's not about trying to recapture the past but about moving into and building something new.

Our life now is not what it was then, the kids are in school, far from the baby/toddler stage. So this is not the room where we celebrated Gabriel's first birthday or where Valerie taught herself to read, but it is the place where we can make new good memories.

Halloween Ninjas
 So we have a little time yet to make a sure decision but I feel a lot of peace and happiness about staying here.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Things We Do

Take a rest break in Pazari i Ri and do some homework 
Explore parks near the Pyramid

Do homework while dressed unconventionally

Spend Mother Teresa Day in the park

Stop and admire the flowers

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Central Africa

I got back about 10 days ago from a trip to central Africa, my fist time in that region. It was amazingly beautiful. I flew into Kigali, and spent the next 2 weeks traveling around Lake Kivu - first to Goma, then Bukavu, then back to Kigali via a retreat center called Kibogora.

Leaving Kigali
My experience of Rwanda, and what I heard from most other expats living there, is of a very orderly, clean place. Plastic bags are totally banned, so people either bring their own cloth bags or use paper. On the first Saturday of every month, one person from every family goes out for a neighborhood clean-up day. There are wide new boulevards throughout the city. Security going into any big building was like going into an airport - metal detectors and bags x-rayed - but the mood on the street was relaxed and felt very safe. 

Entering Goma
We ate out a lot, I had some really amazing Indian food one night; I only got sick because I foolishly used tap water for brushing my teeth - rookie mistake. I was really ill for about 2 days and then slowly got better.

We had a lovely 3-hour boat ride across this lake
If I had to be sick though, this view more than made up for it:
Yes, this lake - now seen from Bukavu

I'm leaving out photos of the many interviews and meetings, but I just could not get over the beauty of this spot specifically (below) - there was something so perfect about the precise temperature and humidity of the air that just felt delicious on the skin. Although I recognized most of the ornamental garden flowers and plants I saw, the birds were something else - I'm not a birder but even in my ignorance I could tell I had never seen or heard these particular species before.

Retreat center in Kibogora
Such a blessing and privilege to be able to travel to this area.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Warm October

I've been back from DR Congo for a couple of weeks now, and after a brief cold spell October has turned warm again which has been great for weekend family outings. 
Catch the rainbow!
The artificial lake and big park in the city are as much a bucolic haven as they ever were, with some cafes and restaurants much built up and improved, and the addition of a huge play area for kids of all ages - including a climbing wall! 

 The national park on Mt. Dajti is still a fun excursion, if Val had her way we would go every Sunday after church (we have been attending the International Protestant Assembly for the English-language Sunday School, and have also run into several friends there). They still have horse rides although they are shorter and more expensive than I remember, and have added new playground equipment and a bounce house (which is free). And instead of chickens in this hutch there are now rabbits! I'm not sure what they are fed because they went wild for the dandelion leaves we fed them:

Taking the cable car down the mountain
From the cable car, we can easily see how low the water levels are in ponds and reservoirs along this are. Apparently Tirana had a very dry summer - three or four months with zero rain - and even as we move into autumn there isn't as much rain as I remember from before.

But the days are just beautiful. Sunny and clear, with the lower angle of the sun lighting up the city so beautifully.

We are still staying at the flat we organized temporarily, while we decide whether or not to go back to the (more expensive but closer to school) apartment we lived in last time. This place is really nice too, it's just a full mile from school and the kids get tired of walking back and forth. It's probably good for them, I just get tired of hearing the complaining. They are enjoying school though. Writing and spelling in English is a new challenge now, but they really like their teachers. So far so good!
Arriving home from school