Archive for February, 2012


February 29, 2012

I’ve been kind of quiet due to the dark valleys that several bloggers I follow have been going through, but here’s something light – an entry in Lori’s annual Limerick contest (and I thought of trying to link a bajillion people like Mel did, but I ended up going with the rhyme that emerged in my head as I walked home from work Monday):

She’s got Too Many Fish to Fry,

But Jjiraffe never says Die

She’s funny and smart

And full of heart

Writing the Faces of ALI

(Ok so ALI doesn’t necessarily rhyme with Fry and Die – but just go with it.)

And I hope the sidebar button thing works cause I’ve never done one before.



February 17, 2012

“You fall in love so easily,” he said, somewhat wistfully, the guy to whom I had just confessed my crush. He picked up the end of my long braid and brushed it against my cheek, and I thought for a second he was going to kiss me, but he didn’t. Maybe it was the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights overhead, or the clatter of dishes in the communal kitchen beyond the lobby area where we sat. Most likely he was – to crib the infamous phrase – just not that into me.

Sometimes I think he was right; it’s easy for me to gloss over flaws, to give my heart over despite misgivings.

Early yesterday evening I walked across the main square in Tirana, where I could see an enormous red flag unfurling the two-headed black eagle across a backdrop of snow-covered mountains, and I felt that familiar romantic pang of affection I get for a place. It’s like a pre-nostalgia, anticipating leaving. Gimli calls it the “smell the loons” mood. I have loved and left so many, many places. Pieces of my heart are scattered around the globe – South Africa, Bolivia, of course Peru, New York state, Virginia (oddly enough, I can’t seem to form an attachment to the US as a whole, just parts of it), and now Shqiperia.

I’m glad we came to Albania (so far). The aspect I’ve enjoyed more than any other, by far, has been learning the language.  I’ve learned that I really am good at learning languages. I never actually had to learn a language from scratch like this before; I studied Quechua, and did very well, but I grew up hearing it spoken and the rhythms and a lot of words were familiar, so I attributed my rapid learning to that familiarity instead of innate ability. It’s been really flattering, I guess, to hear from so many people so many times that I speak Shqip really well. I’ve certainly nailed the Motherese register, anyway. Gimli’s vocabulary and grasp of grammar is better than mine, since he actually studies and reads every night, but my accent and ear are far better than his since I actually talk to people.

But I don’t think we’ll be staying on. The implications for Gimli at the university in the US are not favorable for staying on here, and I think he feels just enough ambivalence that it precludes him from taking a drastic, proactive measure – which is what it would take for us to stay. Staying another year would be nice – but in the end, we’d still be leaving, and dealing with all the same issues and questions as we are now, just a year later.

I think the hardest part about leaving will be saying goodbye to Dhurata. She pours love on my kids, and Oscar especially is attached to her. I feel incredibly bad about leaving her, actually – just as I felt incredibly bad about leaving my BFF in the US when we came here. I know Dhurata is my employee, but she’s also a friend. We borrow each other’s clothes, we gossip about people we both know from church, we do “troubles talk” (which, according to Deborah Tannen, is a primary way women bond with each other). I don’t think I could find a better nanny anywhere in the world, and I’ve told her so. She in turn has thanked me again and again for the employment we give her. I know our leaving will not only be personally hard, but economically hard for her family as she is the primary wage-earner (her husband has been unemployed for six years now), cleaning house and babysitting for missionaries and Christian expatriates. Our departure will leave a big hole in her roster and budget.

So I feel bad. I wish we were staying another year, just for her sake. But then… a year from now, what would be different? We’d be having the same tensions, sadness, anxieties, and fears anyway. Just a year later.

So yeah, I feel myself shifting – with a mere six months ahead of us here – into early departure planning: mentally sorting out the toys and books – what to take, what to leave; mentally marking small items to gift to Dhurata and her family (a sweater for her, a backpack for her older son); thinking about whom to contact in the US about preschool recommendations, thinking about how to organize our home back in the States. We’re toying with the idea of moving to a bigger house, maybe somewhere in the county, although if we stay in the city we might be able to get Illyria into a dual-immersion bilingual kindergarten program the year after next which would be FABULOUS (English/Spanish).

And this is familiar too; this living with one foot in either world, neither entirely here nor entirely there. I have to be careful not to do it so much because then I’m never really present where I am.


February 13, 2012

Today in Tirana it’s pouring rain; dignified old men walk under black umbrellas, and chattering schoolgirls cluster under flower-colored ones. Here in our little Balkan hinterland unprecedented quantities of snow are falling on the high mountains in the north; it’s almost a Grimm cliche, but wolves have even been coming into the villages in advance of the ten feet of snow that hit this weekend. Corruption having siphoned off the diesel for the snowplows, people are homebound and without electricity. But here in the capital it’s just rivers of rain and more rain.
My mom left in the pre-dawn hours five days ago, and I miss her. But I’m also trying to tease out why her visit was somewhat disappointing. It was good to see her, to hear her voice, to hug her closely. But I didn’t feel the joyful contentment I imagined that I would. She seemed low-energy and tentative, on unfamiliar ground, and spent a lot of time reading novels. I couldn’t help but compare her to my MIL who was a bundle of non-stop energy playing with the kids. And my mom did play with the kids, but it seemed like she would usually wait until I asked her to. And while I appreciated her help with little household tasks I also felt bad when she did things like wash the dishes – I felt like I should be waiting on her instead.

She had an awkward experience in the grocery store early on, when she went by herself to look for chicken breasts and left without buying anything when she discovered they didn’t carry fresh meat there; two men followed her across the street and one came with her all the way up to the door of our apartment – it scared and upset her – when I opened the door, the man said he was looking for the dentist. So strange. She said she thought they suspected her of shoplifting. So I went back with her a little later to buy something or other we needed, and to gauge the owner’s reaction to me (they know us well there) – sure enough, he looked at my mom, looked at me, and got this “oh shit oh shit oh shit” look on his face. Then he said “Excuse me for the men following her, they just wanted to offer to help her if she needed anything.” Right.

It doesn’t matter that she has a US passport, she is small and dark and speaks English with an accent and will never be treated – save by family and close friends – the way someone would be who looks the way people expect an American to look, to sound, to move.

After some thought, she said of the incident “well, it’s right that they should be careful and should check on people who come in and out without buying anything.” And she had no more problem with it. But I still kind of do.

Ugh, I don’t want this blog to just be gloomy and negative. Although it is kind of my repository for those moods, a place I can put all that dark stuff and feel the release of getting it out of my head.


We had a lovely mother-daughter lunch out one day, just the two of us. I took her to a nice place that serves “typical” Albanian food as well as the Greek and Italian fare that has become standard on most menus here. It was so relaxing to be out without the kids, to actually be able to have a conversation. I realized that I’d been spending a lot of my time with her here trying to gauge her evaluation of my parenting and wifing and life in general here, but that judgment was the farthest thing from her mind. A lot of her thoughts were with my dad, back in Peru by himself. He is not well, and hasn’t been well for over 20 years, and it’s hard on them both to be apart. They’re hoping to come together in April, hoping he will be strong enough for the trip. And one evening, late, as she hugged me goodnight, she said “tu eres una buena mamita.” And that – such simple words – made such a big difference to me.


A commenter suggested some time ago that one reason I’m perhaps more tense when Gimli is around is that I’m looking to him for approval, especially of my parenting. I’ve been watching this, sort of monitoring my inner state, and I think it is to a large extent true. His default mode of conversation and interaction is teasing banter, largely of the insult genre, and I know, I know that it is his way of showing affection. But it can be hard for me, when it comes to something that consumes me 18 hours a day and that I take extremely seriously, to respond in the same vein. I think I was looking to my mom for the same thing.


In the “perfect moment Mondays” vein, I’ve been trying to pay attention to the small perfect moments with the kids as they come. Like when Oz pointed at the red circle of light on the ceiling from my headlamp one night and said “sun.” Or the way he throws his arms around my neck, leans back and kisses me, then lunges in again for a surprisingly strong squeeze. And the way he’ll – how can I describe this? – he’ll see something that charms him, and he’ll go into this little crouch with his hands in front of his mouth, squirrel-like, smiling squint-eyed and wrinkled nose, fingers out like little birds’ beaks, and chirp.

Illyria’s favorite game is “boing-boing” – she jumps on the bed holding dad’s hands, then he’ll give her a little push and she’ll fall back shrieking in laughter. She also likes to play “try again” – dad will lie on his side on the bed, and she’ll jump up, kick both her feet into his butt, and then bounce down again. Three year old exuberance. She has mastered a 100-piece puzzle, and is actually learning to read – around 40 words she knows by sight, and can spell out with blocks. I was astonished yesterday to look at her magnetic drawing pad and see that she had written the word “fox,” completely without prompting or guidance whatsoever. When I lie down with her at bedtime she’ll throw an arm around my neck and say “awwww.”

So there’s my Monday morning brain-dump. To those of you still reading – a heartfelt thanks for sticking around. I’m so behind on commenting it’s not even worth commenting on (ha ha). There’s been so much really good, thought-provoking stuff coming through my reader in the past couple of weeks, I have a bunch of posts marked to respond to more thoughtfully, soon, I hope. Now tell me, if you’re still here – just as a way of saying “hi, I’m here” –

Salty or sweet?