Thursday, April 1, 2010

Culture Corner

One of the best parts about being in another country is having the opportunity to learn about a different culture. I am hoping to share some of the Albanian cultural traditions with you as I learn about them. When we arrived in Albania, many of us noticed there were dolls of various shapes and sizes hanging on most houses. For some, these dolls brought up thoughts of voodoo. For the rest of us, we were simply wondering what their purpose was.

I have learned these dolls are hanging on the house to ward off the evil eye given by a passerby. The evil eye could negatively impact the health and safety of the household. Some people also wear a distinct necklace to ward off the evil eye.

Some parts of adapting to Albanian culture have been confusing. One, which I knew of in advance, was that our shaking of the head ‘no’ is ‘yes’ here (as is a side-to-side motion) and our nodding of the head ‘yes’ is their ‘no.’ I have not been able to appropriately shake my head yes or nod my head no consistently, so my family always confirms with a 'po' (yes) or 'jo' (no). I tried to explain to my host sister that in the US, our meanings are the opposite. After this, I tried to be Albanian and she tried to be American and we were still confused!

The other confusing part has been using the local currency. Here, they use the lekë. The ratio is approximately 100 lekë to 1 US dollar. After communism, the lekë changed by a factor of ten. Despite the change, people still say the price in old lekë while actually meaning for you to pay in new lekë. For instance, a tea usually costs $50 new lekë. When you ask how much it costs, they will say $500 lekë. Therefore, not only do we have to think about the numbers in Albanian, but we have to always be cognizant of whether or not they are telling us the price in old lekë.

Everyday, I am so grateful to be in such a beautiful city. I came prepared to the Internet cafe today so I can share some pictures of my temporary home. This lake is just across the street from my house, which is great because I have always wanted to live near a lake.

Finally, all of the female trainees here in Belesh went for a walk around our village after class yesterday. We are always eager to get some form of exercise because we are in class during the day and then usually in the house from 5 pm and on.

This weekend I will be going to Kukes, Albania for a volunteer visit. There are four trainees going to Kukes to visit current volunteers that are assigned there. From what I know, Kukes is up north and is very mountainous. My family said it might take me 6 or 7 hours to get there. I am excited to see what a day in the life of a current Peace Corps volunteer is like and to see a new city. I am afraid I will ask too many questions of the current volunteers, but I will need to take advantage of the opportunity!

PS - there is a boy, maybe 10 years old, smoking next to me in the Internet cafe.

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