During Communism the only stable commodity besides depression was Albania’s bread. It seems around every corner one can find a bread store. Not only adding stability to the menu of its people, sixteen years ago it added some of the basic nutrition that people needed. We have one down the street that sells a very decent European style of bread, muffins, and rolls. One thing lacking in its bread is the Albanian preservatives. So you have to buy little and often. I stepped into a transaction with a gentleman who has obviously eaten more bread than I.Another aspect of Albanian advancing life, is of its health care. Sarah gets checked out by our village nurse, good friend Fatmira. Our supporters chipped in and enabled us to equip the village office, nuts to bolts, I should say needles to tongue depressors.The third leg of the new Albanian standard of living is the influx of capital. It comes in many ways but the most personal to us are the dollars carried over and exchanged into Albanian “leke” for our purchasing needs. Yesterday we had Mandi help us in the counting of the money for the downpayment for the latest property purchase in Vlashi.
Everybody in America is touched by the country of China. Indirectly, we come in contact with many goods the Chinese produce. A trip to Walmart can give the average American 29 products from China in his shopping cart. In fact, many of the essential facets of our daily life are satisfied by this country. We have come in contact with a direct link to China through our visit last night to a restaurant in our neighborhood and met a waitress from, you guessed it, China. Grace Wang had some extra time and was able to sit down with us and share a bit of her history. She is an exchange student who is studying the Albanian language and wants to become a librarian. We were impressed how well she can speak Albanian and then she mentioned she studied Albanian in China for 2 years. This fact really surprised us not knowing of any country in the world that offers Albanian as a language choice for study. The photo also includes our friend Vera, who was joining us for dinner.
Our day began with a stop at the paint store to take to the village for our painter named Schpot(what a great name for a painter)! He will be “sprucing” up our meeting room in the ministry center in Vlashi. While Schpot was working in the main room, we also had the cabinet workers installing the kitchen in the classroom that will be used in the cooking and nutrition classes. It was a busy place to be today. I can’t wait to get the water functioning and the supplies in place so that it will be ready for use next week when we have a guest demonstrator coming with the Florida team. I think we will be learning how to make Minestrone Soup, Moo Goo chicken, and Ranger Cookies. Be sure for plenty of pictures for this event.
Well, the travelers arrived safe and sound and were even a bit early. There was a big crowd at the airport and so our picture had to be taken on the run. It was one of those fortunate trips where all the bags arrived too!. The picture of the building is where we go to church when we are in Tirana. It has a bit of interesting history to it. This is where the former Communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, had his offices and claimed his country to be completely athestic. Now there is a computer and English school run at this facility as well as church offices and Sunday services. I was able to attend the early service before heading out to the airport. Today was a first for me…Mandi let me drive to the airport. It wasn’t too bad. Mandi gave me pointers on how to weave and wiggle through 4 lanes of merging cars and buses to get through the roundabouts. Anyway, there were not scraps or scratches and I just got honked at once! Oh, and by the way, it was around 70 degrees here today. For those who left in the snow, it was quite a change.
Saturday is always a busy day in the village. I will tell the story mainly through the photos. It was hard to decide which ones to choose and narrow down. I’m afraid there will be many and so I will try to just give captions for them.1. computer class with teacher Mersin2. Grammar II English class3. Grammar II English class (Anseida learning irregular verb endings)4. one of the little children coloring during the meeting today5. donkey traffic on main street in the village6. drawing up the sketch for cabinets for the sewing supplies with Freddie and Mandi at the cabinet store7. shoe store down the street
This best part of being in Albania is the privilege to talk with people and to encourage them and to share what Christ has been doing in our lives. This morning Eldina, one of our team leaders, and I took the time to have”a coffee” (tea in this case). Eldina has been part of Planters for around 10 years now. God has blessed Planters with individuals that have been committed to the work and have remained faithful. We praise God for this so much. Later today I was in the village and saw the Center alive with activites. There were English classes in session. They were taking a test on antonyms and so I didn’t interrupt the class with a picture. Volleyball games were playing in the front yard and a discipleship class was celebrating a birthday with some refreshments. I am including some pictures of the kids. What a wonderful feeling it is when we get to see the plan of God in action and His ministry being carried forth.
Thursday is the day for the team to have the children’s meeting in Kasalle. The pictures should tell the story of several of the activites. For the younger children’s meeting there must have been around 50 little ones all crammed body to body sitting on a wooden bench turned on its side. The room is just ruff cement and there are no closed in windows. They meet in an unfinished building every week. The older children (the group picture) had their Bible study in the book of Matthew, chapter 26, which tells the story of Jesus’ betrayal and trial, and the younger ones learned about the cloud of fire over the tabernacle for the Israelites in the desert. The village where the children live(as you can see in the pictures) is sparse and rather primitive. God really warms my heart when I hear them singing, “Our God is an Awesome God” with smiles on their faces.
It never ceases to amaze me how sharp the contrast is from rural Green Valley to life here in the big city of Tirana. Even though Tirana doesn’t claim to be Singapore, New York City, or even Rome, nonetheless, living in an apartment building with people watching every move we make going here and there and just walking to buy milk and bread is a novelty for the old country girl. Today Vera and I made plans to go to the newest place of business in our neighborhood. I will have to say it was way over the top for Tirana, let alone for something like this to be in our quiet neighborhood. We now have a carry-out “restaurant” just at the end of our parking area that has prepared food entrees for customers to come and pick out for carry-out. I would compare it to a “Boston Market” type of food service. It is fantastic! The owners have been living in Italy for 15 years and have learned this kind of food service and are now bringing it to Albania. We have come a long way. We still are waiting for the first American fast food chain to come and when that happens we probably will say it is time to leave. Albania is no fun anymore.The other photo is of one of our grocers in the neighborhood. We generally buy our milk, water, eggs and small things here.Yesterday I mentioned that I would comment on a bit of my conversation with Genti and Shpresa. Just a quick highlight with the girls in the village… One of the girls just left for Italy this week rather suddenly. Bruna, had been engaged for 5 years and her fiance was in Italy for all of this time and never seemed to follow through with his desire to get the papers for her to join him. But this week he showed up and she was gone! Shpresa was so surprised. This is very common with many of these girls. They get engaged and then sit and wait at home for years. The classes are going well and the girls are asking for another session of English each week. It is not a problem for the teacher. Just to increase another class it takes over 50% of the monthly budget just for the English teacher. We will need to do some more figuring to see what our decision will be. Tonight was going to be another class for cooking and then when they are sampling the treat for the class, Shpresa focuses their discussion on matters of the heart. These discussions have been very nice for the girls to open up and to share their concerns and life issues. Praise God for these opportunities that are paving the way for open doors.
It goes without saying, “Albania is the land of hospitality.” So it would be fitting to start off the week’s work with some good tea and cookies with our great sister in Christ and best neighbor of all, Vera. No one leaves Vera’s apartment without having to eat something and so this picture of Vera is not an exception…it is the rule. Then, this afternoon another opportunity came to entertain Genti and Shpresa and heat up the tea pot and crank out a batch of brownies. Of course, this makes catching up on the latest news from the village an absolute pleasure. In tomorrow’s blog I’ll share with you some of this news.In between tea and cookies, I managed to get in some housekeeping duties. We started a project on our first floor ministry center last November. We decided to make our office area more efficient and condense our 3 room office into a 2 room office. With the extra room that we now have available, we are making another guest suite for visitors to use. This area has a bedroom with a king bed, a bathroom, a sitting room with table and chairs, pull out sofa and a mini-sized kitchen for quickie meals. My job was to get the floors clean, things put away, hang the curtains, put the furniture in order and to put down the rugs. There is nothing better than the satisfaction of seeing chaos turn into an orderly living space.
Right now, I’ve been up for 30 straight hours and so it is probably not recommended that I should being writing a blog entry. Nevertheless, I thought it would be a great way to let everyone know that I arrived safely, back here in Albania. David and Hannah will be joining me in a week. After packing the last couple of days all of the supplies that have been requested, watching the radar screens of all of the bad weather going on in Chicago, and wondering if we would make it without getting stuck somewhere between here and the airport, we decided to leave early Sunday morning and see what would happen. No we didn’t end up in a snow bank on the side of the road but after watching them de-icing the plane I was greatly relieved when we pushed away from the jetway and made our way out to the runways and finally off the ground. We were a bit delayed but I made it just fine to Milan (mind you without any in-service entertainment features working) with 10 minutes to spare before boarding the next flight bound for Tirana. It was good to see all of the bags going around on the carousel, to get them loaded up and out the door, and to see Mandi waiting to take me on in to Tirana. At the moment my head is feeling like it is floating unattached to the rest of my body. If only I can make it just 2 more hours, maybe the jet lag will work itself out and tomorrow I can operate close to a regular scheduled day.