Friday, May 20, 2011

Elbasan: The Village

This is a post I've been sitting on for months!

In early March we went to Elbasan, a city not too far from Tirana. One day while we were there, the kids and I went with Terry and his evaluation team to visit a nearby fshati, or village. Neither of the village photos on this page is of the actual place we visited; they're what I imagined it would be like!
I was picturing something truly remote, with lots of sheep and olive trees, but it was really more like a suburb of Elbasan, literally 10 minutes' drive from the WV office. Our destination was a school where the team met with project administrators and sponsored children. (The only pictures I actually took were of the kids who mobbed us in the schoolyard but I don't feel comfortable posting pictures of them here since they're not my kids.)

While the interviews were taking place, Valerie cuddled on Daddy's lap in the principal's office and I went out with Gabriel for a little walk. We made it about two blocks on a dirt road before a light drizzle drove us into a little shop right next to the school. There was a woman there holding a toddler and talking with the proprietress, and I waited while scanning the shelves for something to buy Valerie for a snack. But they were very curious about me and gushed over Gabriel, so we actually got to chatting. Pretty soon Gabriel fell asleep, and the shop-owner urged me to come into her house and lay him down. I looked out the side door where she gestured, and felt a bit dubious as all I could see was part of a roof and wall that looked like a shack, but after the third invite I agreed, and her husband came to walk me over to their home.

As we walked out the door I was hit with the strong smell of sheep - and realized oh! that's not their house, it's a stable! Sure enough, we walked past the shed and up a stone walkway to a lovely villa with a wide front porch shaded by a grapevine. Just inside was a highly decorated living room with lots of comfortable furniture. I sat on the couch and visited with the husband for a good hour - all in Shqip! It helped a lot that he'd lived in Italy for five years and had a meta-linguistic awareness of how to talk to somebody who is just learning the language: slow, repetitive, and with lots of hand gestures.

I just let Gabriel sleep in the bjorn during the visit, and after a while Terry called me on my cell and said the were getting ready to leave. So I took my leave and dashed off feeling more like myself than I have in a long time... it was such a gift to be able to connect with some ordinary people, across gaps of language and culture, but finding common ground and making a connection through conversation, human beings all.

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