“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.