Albania is an odd yet delightful and fantastic country! Since I am of Greek descent, the transition to this Mediterranean country was relatively easy- however, the language has proven to be a challenge- see below. Yes, my story of how I decided on Albania as a new home does have bands of Covid-19 woven through it! I had known since the young age of 13, that someday I wanted to live in the Mediterranean. When the time was right, I was actually headed to Greece, but then there were border closings because of the pandemic. ‘Surely, I thought, this “flu” would run its course in a month or two!’ Now, 2 1/2 years later we know how flawed that thinking was! Of course, I re-scheduled my move to Greece and of course, it was canceled again. I began looking for a Plan B and Albania ended up dead center on my radar. It is a neighboring country to Greece, 3 hours by car to family, lots of sunshine (300 days per year in the south), very inexpensive cost of living, and the borders were open! Plan B quickly became Plan A and here I am! And what’s strange about this whole Expat thing is one would think it’s a scary thing to embark on a new life, as a middle-aged (God, I hate that term!) woman during an unprecedented pandemic. But, looking back, I had no fear, no anxiety about a country I knew basically nothing about; I just felt ready and that sense of adventure became like an adrenaline rush. I didn’t really throw caution to the wind- I had done the research and knew the country was safe, had an idea of the cost of living, the culture, but research is just that; it’s research- it’s not real life. I’ve always had an adventuresome spirit so, again, looking back, I’m confident that was the driving force. Instincts can be powerful and I’m pleased with myself that I listened to mine.
Over the course of the year and a half that I have been here, I’ve accomplished many things. I am learning the language, I have bought and sold property, obtained a 5 year, renewable residency and I work on learning the customs/culture. I’ve learned that shopping is more of a scavenger hunt than just a trip to the market, sometimes requiring a visit to more than one store or another city such as Tirana OR another country to complete my list, that plain white fitted sheets only exist in my imagination ( but an update to this even before I publish this article- I asked a friend today about sheets and apparently they are real and can be handmade for a more than reasonable price! Ordered- Done Deal!) and geographically, I’m in the best and easiest place to facilitate future travel. Lots of lessons! One thing that I do find strange, is that in most cases, without speaking, I am detected as a foreigner and I can’t figure out why! Is it my clothes, my gait, my stance? I don’t know what it is but I can assure you that I am on the hunt for an answer! Let’s get back to the fitted sheets for a minute….. Another lesson is in Albania, nothing is cut in stone. If you need/want something, then ask! For God’s sake, just ask! There is always someone who “knows a guy”! It’s almost magical when you are about to give up on something (like sheets) and you put the question out there, how many people are willing to step up and point you in the right direction! And that, my friends, is the culture here- Besa(Keep reading- it will become clear to you)!
When I had made up my mind that Albania was “the place”, many of my friends were perplexed! Is it a country? An island? Where the hell is Albania? I have to admit, I was a bit perplexed at my decision as well but when my feet hit the ground here, something just “felt right”. I really didn’t know anything about Albania except that it was close to Greece, the borders were open, and as an American, I could stay a year without having to obtain residency or leave and come back. There have been times since I have arrived that I have been overwhelmed wondering if I made the right choice. The bureaucracy (mainly buying and selling property) and my limited language skills have thrown me into a spiral a couple of times but all in all, Albania is a fabulous country and I know I made the right choice- the people here are wonderful and gracious, welcoming and willing to do anything they can to make an American gal feel like she is home! I frequent many of the same places on a regular basis, knowing that I am working hard to learn the language, the shop clerks and restaurant workers are not only patient but helpful, and finally have stopped being shy and actually correct my words. There is a cafe I often go to in the afternoon and after being gone in Paris, my first time back, the owner seemed genuinely happy to see me. My Language teacher, Sadeta, has been invaluable in her assistance! What I am trying to say is, I have found a home and I am beginning to fit in perfectly. With this article and over the next few articles, I would love for you, my readers- my friends, to get to know my new country!
I hope I have whetted your appetite to learn more about my new country, and who knows, maybe you will come and check it out for yourself!
Until next time, friends, remember: “To Travel is to Live!”