Friday, December 4, 2015

The lady who invited me into her home

I've arrived in Berat and am looking (once again) for the hostel. I've heard a certain one is really great and am on the street where it should be but it's nowhere to be found.

Finally a girl walks by and I ask her. She points me in the direction of a lady standing in her doorway. "Is this Berat Backpacker's Hostel?" She doesn't speak English... I eventually make out that the hostel is closed for the off season, but that I could sleep here, at her house. I ask how much but she dismisses the question with "baggage here. Later, sleeping upstairs." Well alright! She fixes me up a large salad and some eggs and bread and a large chunk of feta-like cheese and begins telling me, in a mixture of Albanian with some English words, about her family that is dispersed throughout Europe (I think that's what she was talking about...?!), and about some other tourists who drew her a picture. Later that evening, we watch the lotto- she's got 2 of the numbers. "Mirë?" I ask, holding up my hands to signify a question. "Mirë, mirë!" she confirms, shaking her head. I'm left wondering if mirë means what I thought it meant. Over dinner - a gigantic bowl of pasta with meat sauce - I ask her if she's religious. She says she's Muslim and holds her hands up as she looks to the sky and says, "Allah." And then, "it's no problem... Same," she points to the sky, "for everyone. Only one." Then she shows me some photos and tells me more stories about a girl who volunteered at the hostel, where she works. She keeps saying "shume mirë," while shaking her head, but she looks approvingly, not upset. That's when I recall a conversation with Alexandra: The Albanians traditionally shake their heads for yes and nod for no, but the younger generations have been influenced by the media, that it's been fazed out. This woman must be old enough to still shake her head for yes! Mirë means good after all.
After dinner she says the water is hot now and I can take a shower. She shows me to the bathroom where there's a bucket of steaming hot water being filled with a hose. There's no shower curtain or tub, just a drain in the middle of the room. I stand there for a while, unsure of what to do... Was I supposed to stand in the bucket? Or just splash myself with the water? Or use the hose? At least it was hot - it's been hard to find nice hot water in Albania.
When I go back up the very uneven, tall, wooden stairs, she's converted the couch into a pull out bed and made it up with 2 thick fleece blankets. The house is so cold I can see my breath.
I wake up to the sound of the front door being unlocked and the rustling of plastic bags - she's already been shopping.
I spend the day exploring the city. At the Berat Castle, a girl is selling fruit and strikes up a conversation. Her house is within the castle walls so she's very accustomed to tourists. She's just finished 3 years of a bachelors in nursing and is now working on her practicum and jobing before se can do her masters... But it's very expensive. I'm curious what expensive means. She says the public university in Gjirocastër costs 2000Lek (less than 20€) a year, but the one here in Berat is a private university and the annual fee is 40 000€ and that she has to go there to do her masters. I'm shocked! With an average monthly Albanian salary lying at about 250€, there's no way anyone can afford to get an education!

The Castle of Berat. Kids are playing a scrimmage game as if it's totally normal to live in a castle...

Later I walk by the soccer field in front of the university - which is the most beautiful building in town. All the players are entirely caked in the mud they are running and slipping around in.

Downtown Berat.

I've decided to get the lady a bouquet of flowers to say Falemenderit, as I'm quite sure she won't accept cash. It's quite the ordeal choosing flowers, as the florist doesn't speak anything but Albanian. Back at the house, Shaqa is delighted and won't stop saying "Falemenderit, shume shume falemenderit!" Then she wants me to take a photo, walk back into town, find wifi and send it to all her friends through Facebook. She writes down 4 or 5 different names and it's very difficult explaining that first of all, I'm not using Facebook right now and also, there are many, many people on Facebook, I would never find the right Bili, Suzan, Emili... Finally she finds a piece of paper where, presumably a granddaughter, has written in neat printing: " email: ... pass: ... " "Yes, yes!" I say, "in two weeks, when I'm home, I'll send you the photos!" She lets it be then. Thank goodness.
At a loss for what else to do, we go upstairs to watch TV, but the satellite isn't working. I'm comfortably reading my book when suddenly everything is pitch black - power's out. There isn't even the thought of checking the fuze box or of getting a candle... Instead she just curls up on the couch and a few moments later is soundly snoring. The power comes back on about 15 minutes later.
Dinner is a mound of protein - chicken, sausage, and eggs - with a green salad. She brings out her homemade red wine in a plastic bottle and we say "Gazuar" before every sip. She's telling me about her family for the 3rd time. I'm starting to understand a little. She's been divorced for 18 years and has 5 children, 2 of which she had after the divorce... I don't ask questions. My brain is beginning to feel really fuzzy from all this concentration on what to me is just plain sounds, and I excuse myself to bed.
The next morning, as I'm about to leave, she asks me to pay. I'm surprised, but reminding myself of her freezing house, give her the 3000Lek she asks for and hit the road. (except I DO come back...)

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