Tag Archives: Albania

A Year in Photos- 2015 #sol16 20 of 31

Last year, I wrote a post sharing my favorite photos from 2014. This was a really great way to reflect on my year, and to relive some of my favorite moments. So here goes 2015’s year in photos (in chronological order). I hope you enjoy! 🙂

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All photos copyright of Jennifer Kesler. Please do not use without permission.

Trouble at the Border #sol16 12 of 31

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Travel can be glamorous, whimsical, magical, eye-opening, fun, adventurous, exciting, and life-changing. These are the parts of travel most people see. We lust after our friend’s Instagram posts of selfies they take in front of the Eiffel Tower, Facebook posts about the adventures they had while zip-lining through the rainforests of Thailand, and blog posts of meeting sweet, Italian men who take them on a private tour of Rome. And while travel is all of these things (and more!), travel can be frustrating, scary, overwhelming, uncomfortable, and awkward. These are the parts of travel most people don’t see. Your friends don’t want to hear about how you walked two hours in the freezing cold, your feet in extreme pain, just to take that selfie at the Eiffel Tower, that you got sick to your stomach while in Thailand and spent part of your holiday cooped up in your hotel, or that prior to meeting the man in Rome, you were ripped off by a taxi driver and had to pay three times the price you should have.

Yesterday, Celeste and I took off after work in our little rental car bound for Thessaloniki, Greece, anticipating our 3-day weekend of shopping, eating, and sight-seeing. Tired and stressed after driving through Albania at night, on two-lane roads, through mountains, dodging the potholes in the roads, hair-pin turn after hair-pin turn, and nearly getting in a head-on collision because of a maniac who passed a vehicle on a curve, we arrived at the Greek border. Passing through the Albanian border patrol with ease, we get to the Greek border patrol booth. Readying the car documents, and our passports, I went up to to the agent. Handing over our passports, she asks for the car documents. I pass over the envelope the rental car company told me I would need to show at the border.

“I asked for the documents. You gave me an envelope,” she says, her tone bordering on rude.

“I don’t read Albanian, so I’m not–” I begin.

“I don’t read Albanian either. I’m Greek,” she spouts.

“No, no, what I’m trying to say is that since I don’t read Albanian, I don’t know what the documents are. I was just told to give this to the border patrol,” I explain, trying to remain calm.

“I don’t care. As the driver of the car, you should be responsible and know which documents I need,” she says, while snatching the envelope out of my hand. She begins rifling through it and pulls out two documents, questioning why the names on the documents don’t match up.

“Ma’am, I’m not sure, as I don’t own the car. I’m happy to call the rental company, and I’m sure they can explain.”

“How do I know who you are calling? You could be calling anyone. I’m not talking to anyone on the phone. And where’s your green card insurance?”

“OK, so what should I do? This is what I was told to do by the rental car company. I was told in Albania that I can buy it at the border for 40 Euros,” I reply.

“Albanians don’t know what they are talking about. They are stupid! You have to have the green card, or I can’t let you pass into Greece. You should have it already. If we are willing to sell you one, which I can’t guarantee, it would be 180 Euros. Are you willing to pay 180 Euros?” she rudely shouts at me.

“Well, if I don’t, what’s the alternative?”

“Go back to Tirana.”

Frustrated beyond belief, I call the rental car company. The woman on the phone is helpful and willing to speak to the agent on my behalf. The Greek woman refuses, saying, “I’m dealing with you, not whoever’s on the phone.” Celeste decides to walk to the Albanian office to see if she can buy a green card there. I continue to be yelled at by this Greek woman, who is so obviously prejudiced against Albania (as many are unfortunately). I try to remain calm, worried that if I put her in her place, as I so desperately want to do, she’ll deny our entry completely. Deciding to go find Celeste, I ask for my documents back, and she doesn’t seem interested in giving them to me. After some cajoling, I get my passport and car documents back.

Documents, phone, keys, and wallet in hand, I begin trying to find out how Celeste is doing. Thinking she’s at the office 100 meters away, I am worried when I can’t find her there. Walking into the dark, silhouettes of men in the distance, smoking and standing in a huddle, I am worried. I call out “CELESTE!!!” My voice is swallowed up by the darkness and the music blaring from the open cabs of 18-wheelers. “CELESTE!!!” Nothing. Phoning her, I get some message in Albanian, meaning that her phone is either off or out of service. “CELESTE!!!” By now, as I continue to walk in the darkness, freezing cold from wearing too few layers, worry begins to really set in. I get to the Albanian side and the man doesn’t let me cross. “CELESTE!!!” I call again. At this point, a huge, aggressive guard dog, who is likely startled by my yelling, begins barking loudly, his leash taut as he lunges toward me.

That was it. The last straw. I crumble. Ugly-crying sets in. Between my tears and sobs, I tell the man who can’t understand me, “I can’t find my friend. I’m worried. The Greek lady is so mean. She’s not going to let us into Greece. I need to find Celeste.” Seeing this outburst of emotions, the kind Albanian border patrol agent, who speaks a bit of English, comes to my rescue. She pulls me into her booth, which is warm and toasty, and assures me it will be OK. She knows where my friend is, and she will take me to her.

Reunited with Celeste, we figure out how to buy a green card for 40 Euros. With the documents in hand, shivering, Celeste and I make our way back to the Greek border. I fill her in on what she missed, and we are both stressed about whether we will be let in. We make a plan. Celeste will do all the talking, since the woman and I are not on good terms. We arrive back to our car and the woman is not there. After much searching, another agent comes to help us. Whew! He lets us in. Beginning the two and a half hour drive to Thessaloniki, Celeste and I try to make sense of what just happened. The only thing we can figure is that the apparent tension between Greece and Albania, and the subsequent prejudice, is what drove her to behave this way. We felt caught in the middle, as Americans who work in Albania. After talking it out, we went back to listening to music and telling each other stories. We are determined not to let this taint our trip to Greece. Today is a new day.

Travel isn’t always easy. It’s messy sometimes, but the challenges you encounter when traveling, especially abroad, are worth it. They stretch you, and make you a better person in the end. Even though I was frustrated, it’s all of my travel experiences that make me love traveling across this big, vast world we all share.

A Glimpse of My Place #sol16 3 of 31

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You know how Facebook has those reminders of ‘things that happened on this day’? They’re always fun to look at and let you take a little stroll down memory lane. Today’s inspiration comes from a Facebook memory. I was reminded that 2 years in a row I wrote about my apartments in Shanghai for my third slice of life, so I figured, why not write about my place in Albania for slice number three?

Prior to moving to Albania, my school sent us some pictures of several apartments to choose from, but we were also given the option of waiting until we arrived to find a place, but places would be on a first-come, first-served basis. Most of the options were not great in my opinion, so I was nervous about waiting to look for a place until I came for fear that there would be even fewer options available. One place seemed like it would work, so I timidly accepted it. I was cautious because if we claimed a place before arriving and didn’t like it when we looked at it, we couldn’t change our minds.

All my fears were assuaged when I arrived on that hot, sticky day in August. My landlords met me at my new place at 10:00pm, after my delayed flight, and showed me around my flat. I fell in love with my landlords straight away, since they were so welcoming and sweet. I quickly fell in love with my place, too, as it definitely looked better in person than it did in the pictures. The first thing that I noticed was just how big it was! It’s a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom flat that’s 1700 square feet…and I live alone! All of my apartments in Shanghai were much smaller, and double the price. I also loved that it was furnished, and I mean fully furnished! The kitchen was stocked with all the dishes, pots and pans, and serving dishes I could ever need. All the beds (4) had two sets of bedding each and loads of blankets. I even had lots of rugs to use on marble floor when the cold winter arrived. This was a completely foreign concept to me as an expat, as I’m used to dropping a lot of money in the first month buying all the essentials I need. The thing I love most about my place is that it feels like home. It’s comfortable, and I’m able to host parties and gatherings with large numbers of people, which is something I value very much.

It looks a little differently today, as I’ve added my personal touches, but here are the pictures from when I first moved in. Take a tour of my place with me…

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The living and dining rooms

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Another view of the living room

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The kitchen…notice the dishwasher?!? I haven’t had one of these in 5 years!

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The balcony…now much more inviting, as it’s filled with plants 🙂

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My bedroom…the dark picture has since been replaced with a map of the world 🙂

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Another view of my bedroom…the furniture is a little over the top, don’t you think? 😉

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My bathroom…yep, that’s a bidet! I use it to wash my feet. hehe

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My ‘spaceship’ shower…seriously this thing is amazing! It lights up, plays music, has jets in the tub and on the side, has a rain shower, and apparently has the capability of taking phone calls, but I’ve yet to try out that feature! 🙂

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I have a washer AND a dryer…something almost completely unheard of! While I still hang my clothes most of the time, it’s nice to have for those cold, wet, dark days of winter.

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Guest room #1, bed #1

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Guest room #1, bed #2

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Guest room #2

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Guest bathroom

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View from my bedroom

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View from the kitchen

Thanks for taking a tour of my place…hope you enjoyed it! I have plenty of room if you ever fancy a visit to Tirana, Albania!

 

Through Another’s Eyes #sol16 2 of 31

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You know how excited you get when you move to (or visit) a new place? Everything is different, therefore new and exciting! You almost bounce down the street, giddy with anticipation over what you will see next. Your camera takes pictures of everyday, ordinary things, but to you, they are extraordinary. But the newness fades…it always does. The things you once found exciting are eventually normal. Novelty becomes commonplace.

But then someone else arrives, and you, as the seasoned veteran, have the privilege of showing them around, and suddenly you are experiencing the newness all over again through another’s eyes. That’s what happened today. I picked up Dana, our school’s new Mandarin teacher, from the airport this morning. Dana, who was moving to a new country for the first time, brought me back to how I felt in August, when I first experienced life in Albania. As we walked down the street, I noticed how she kept stopping, and when I turned around, I’d find her with her iPhone out snapping pictures of the colorful buildings, the street vendors, the blue sky. My first thought was “why is she taking a picture of that?”, before I realized, “duh…this is all new to her! of course she’d take a picture of that!” I did the same when I first arrived, too.

I remember riding my bike through the streets of Tirana, orienting myself to my new city, stopping randomly to take a photo of this or that. I’m the same way when I visit a new city. I enjoy wandering around, getting to know a new place by feeling the heartbeat of the city. Here’s Tirana through my eyes, back when it was all new to me.

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A New Adventure

Moving abroad was the single best decision I have ever made. Five years ago, in 2010, I made the decision to live and teach in Shanghai, China, packing up my life and moving literally halfway across the world. It definitely hasn’t always been easy, and I’m not without my scars, but the benefits of this expat life far outweigh any setback I’ve encountered. I have met some amazing people who will forever be in my life. I’ve experienced life in another culture, challenging my beliefs and giving me a broader perspective on life. And I’ve had the opportunity to travel to incredible places I never would have otherwise. I am a different person, a better person, because of my experiences in China, and I will forever hold this place close to my heart. But my time in China is quickly coming to an end. After five years, and three positions at my school, I have decided to try something different.

This fall, I’m off on a new adventure! Beginning in August 2015, I will move to Tirana, Albania! I am really jazzed by this move, as it provides me with opportunities to challenge myself in many ways. As part of the leadership team, I’ll be opening a new school, Albanian College, which will open its doors to students for the first time on September 1st of this year. I’m the Deputy Head of School/PYP Coordinator, a dual position that will split once enrollment increases. In addition to the excitement of opening a brand-new school, I’m looking forward to the challenge of taking the school through the PYP authorization process.

So, you might be asking yourself….where exactly is Albania? I know I did! 🙂 Albania is in Eastern Europe, near Greece and Italy. It’s not officially part of the EU yet, although they are a candidate. Albania is a small country, roughly the size of Maryland, USA.

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I’ve been doing a lot of research to find out as much as I can about my new country. Here are a few facts I’ve learned. I’m looking forward to learning lots more once I arrive!

  • Size= 28,000 sq. km. or 11,000 sq. miles
  • Total population of Albania is about 3,000,000.
  • Tirana, where I will be, is the capital. Tirana’s population is about 1,000,000. Shanghai is roughly 24,000,000, so it’s going to feel so tiny in comparison! There are about 1 million people living in my neighborhood here! :O
  • Albanian is the official language, and while it’s probably easier to learn than Chinese, it’s a pretty difficult language. English is not widely spoken, so I’ll be taking lessons! I’ve already picked up a few words and phrases.
  • The official currency is Lek. $1 USD= 123 Lek
  • The cost of living is extremely low since Albania is a very poor country.
  • There is only one American chain in the entire country, and it’s not McDonald’s or Starbucks. It’s….Cinnabon! I kinda love this! 🙂
  • Food is a mix of Greek, Turkish, and Italian. Yumm!!
  • The climate is a typical Mediterranean climate. They have heavy annual rainfall. This isn’t my favorite thing, but you can’t win ’em all, right?
  • Apparently they don’t drive well there, but they don’t in China either, so I think I’m ready.
  • They shake their head for yes (‘po’) and nod their head for no (‘jo’). My brain is seriously going to have a hard time with this one. Try it- say “no” while nodding your head. It’s freaking hard!

In addition to finding out random facts about Albania, I’ve been researching pictures…and I must say, Albania is a gorgeous country I cannot wait to explore! Check it out for yourself…

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I’m soooo excited!! 🙂 I suspect I’ll have quite a few visitors in the three years I’ll be living there.

Here’s a video of Tirana, where I will live. Check it out!