Fush Kruja and ice in the flower pots



Today is Monday, right? I was just up on the roof terrace painting the sunset. God is a better painter than I am- so every time I looked up from a hesitant brush stroke or attempting to mix the tint of the sky, he had added another flourish of cloud or drench of light and I just had to laugh at my attempt to keep up. Eventually I turned my back on the sunset and let Him enjoy that because the mountains are equally and epically beautiful. I painted until my toes were numb and then came back inside. I don’t know what these mountains are called- other than Kruja, the one right above us- but they could be the Grey Mountains and I can almost make out the beacons of Gondor on the snowy peaks in the distance. #nerd alert….
One week into outreach! We have established that today is a Monday. So this is my ninth day in ‘Shqipturia’, and my first afternoon off. I honestly don’t know where to start. Every time I eat, I think about blogging, and sometimes I seriously consider turning my blog into a food log. Maybe I should just move to the Mediterranean and eat olives and fresh apples and feta cheese for the rest of my life. Fear not, food will be mentioned. My two ‘responsibilities’ for our outreach phase are food- with Joshua and Marina- and ‘hospitality’, with Jenna and Marina. Hospitality involves buying gifts for people we go to visit, also toilet paper (for ourselves) and making thank you cards. But it’s food that really motivates me- especially the challenge of keeping our team happily lunched and breakfasted without a fridge or stove.
But I’m starting at the wrong end of the story! I didn’t mean to begin with talking about shopping in Albanian and how much I dread going back to England where the cucumbers and spinach won’t be freshly picked and the bread baked every day. (Is that pretentious of me- to enjoy real, fresh, quality food so much? Even those among us not of the vegetarian persuasion enjoy a sandwich of Albanian olives and ‘djathe’- feta-like sheep’s cheese-, garnished with oregano and perhaps a slice of pepper or a few young spinach leaves or red onion. ) I enjoy the shopping almost as much as the eating. Today Joshua and I headed out solo shopping for the first time as Marina isn’t well. We had to figure out how many sandwich and salad ingredients we could afford with 100 lek per person per meal (in Albania you use lek) and then buy bottles of ‘Kos’- lumpy natural yoghurt- cinnamon, oats and raisins per kilo for breakfast. Then, choosing which brands of mayonnaise and pesto to use for our pasta dinner on Wednesday before speed-walking home for lunch and team announcements. (We were only twenty minutes late. As you can tell my punctuality has improved. (No it actually has…))
Because I took the afternoon off today, I got to enjoy ‘tidying up’ therapy. Living in this house feels a lot like being a child in Mozambique. We used to build tiny huts or tepees of reeds, plaster them with mud, build little fires and cook in tin cans. I’m so glad to be living this way though. You appreciate a hot shower so much more, the little things like the ability to have a cup of tea in the morning, or to have dry socks. We live in comparative luxury because each of the three bedrooms has a heater and we have hot running water and a roof terrace to enjoy. My hands are cold as I type, because our living room isn’t heated, but that may have more to do with the fact that they are always cold- also we have been living in shorts and flip flops for three months and to go suddenly to 10 degrees, and having to wear shoes is upsetting. I almost wore my flip flops out today anyway. But then I remembered that from what I’ve seen, Albanians really don’t like bare feet! Which makes me giggle. It’s a good thing we’re not here in summer. It would be much more of a challenge to be culturally appropriate. Back to tidying up- being alone in the house meant I got to make despotic decisions like which corner to keep the washing up bucket in, what shelf the bread should live on and how many carrots we get to eat tomorrow. I made a menu because it makes life so much more classy.
Before I forget, I can’t wait to get back to England and learn more about nutrition and cooking. Helping with food is teaching me to budget and be resourceful and creative with meal plans- but I still want to have an allotment, learn to scavenge in hedgerows and make gluten free muffins. And never ever eat at MacDonald’s. Something I am increasingly passionate about- and would love to hear people’s views on- is the role of food in our lives and how it brings people together. I really love to make good food for people and I think we abuse our bodies and taste buds. We settle for filling our stomachs too often, or fall the other way and get addicted to chocolate and wine. I think balancing a respect for food with a willingness to eat anything that you have to, would be ideal. Also, if I ever have a chance to live in a van or some other tiny house, I would love to see how much you can get away with not buying. Live off chestnuts in the autumn and elderflower cordial in spring.
I have no idea what I was talking about before, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I should return to the beginning of the story. Which left off on the bus, in Malta, not that far away in miles but the whole sea away in culture.
Oddly enough, I had never flown with friends or had a layover in an airport before! Actually that’s not true. School trip to Iceland. But I can assure you that we didn’t sing ‘Start Wearing Purple’ on a travellator to an audience of air hostesses, in Manchester or Reykjavik. Along with smelling all the scents in Victoria’s Secret, having sliding and floor spinning competitions and trying to get let into the Emirates Lounge, we made ‘mother mix’- when you take a bag of peanuts and a bag of raisins and everyone else’s trail mix supplies (apart from the ones involving sesame because Sarah is allergic to sesame) and pour it into an empty yoghurt pot you brought with you and eat it sitting on the floor at 4 am for breakfast. Then we boarded another plane- bound for Tirana at last! I ate my vegetarian plane meal (which for some reason consisted of fish), threw away my once-more-empty yoghurt pot and then we were coasting down a rainy runway. Albania looked grey.
Half an hour later I was sitting in church, warming my hands at the wood stove when they weren’t being shaken by people. My memories are a little blurred. I was extremely tired. I remember eating ‘byrek’ and cheese and potato soup for lunch and going home and falling asleep. Then up at 5pm for the daily prayer and worship time at the church.
This evening is my first time not going, because I am actually super tired. 9 out of the 12 of us have been sick and taken time off, so this is my first chill time by myself. I love sharing a house together. But it does make it hard to find quiet times. On the boat we had quiet time from 8:15 to 9 every morning, so it was easy to climb out on the bowsprit or go for a walk to pray or swim or read. But here, it’s too cold to go on the roof in the morning, so even though I try to get up at 6:30 every morning, by the time I’ve warmed up and done some pushups (cos yeah) usually other people are up, boiling the kettle or getting breakfast or pretending everyone else isn’t there so they can be ‘quiet’. Then after breakfast we might have worship or intercession as a team- which is always really close and good- or we might have to head straight to the church to start our day. Every day has been different so far. We helped plan, and took part in, the first ever Christmas celebration in the square. We’ve been to different house groups and prayed with people in surrounding villages. We did maintenance (I have whitewashed trackies now) at the church. Today people went on house visits. We went to the Roma community to play football, dance to beatbox music and play games the children taught us. They are beautiful, so beautiful. But now I am deeply tired and it’s been good to have a quiet afternoon to process. I barely have enough time to journal… #nerd
The more we pray with Albanians, or for Albania, the more we have ideas of what to do here. I feel like I’m starting to understand how God can use us. People are so ready, so much fun to talk to and have dance parties with (yes, it was Ashley’s 19th yesterday and we did it Albanian style)- but it goes beyond that as God challenges us to share what we’ve learned, bring what He gives us to bring. The church here is amazing and incredibly passionate for God. Have you ever had an eight-year old tell you that before you came to his church, he felt God wanted to fill you more with the Holy Spirit- and come and pray for you? It’s so encouraging and astoundingly full of joy, this faith. And I can’t believe it’s only been a week because the people are so committed to relationships. They love to dance and play music and give hugs. I could live here. Apparently I am ‘Shqiptari’ now anyway, as I can introduce myself in ‘Shqip’ and I guess I have the right skin tone. I am about a foot too tall though. Anyway, it’s like starting to see in colour. One of the things we felt God told us before coming here was that we were meant to help ‘turn up the colour’, to bring the light that allows the rich colour and potential of this people to be seen. And I can see it happening. I generalise, so don’t be offended. But I wish that people in the West hadn’t sold their souls for the sake of comfort. It breaks my heart that this could be our obsession. That we could say with pride ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’ and tell ourselves we have no need for other people, pretend we’re not meant to be outside our homes and comfort zones. I believe we are called to live differently. For myself, I still don’t know where that’ll be- in Albania or Germany or England or the rainforest somewhere- but for the first time in my life I am excited to be alive now, in this decade and this generation. If God has ever been alive, He is alive for us as well and he’s just waiting for us to decide He is all we need. When we do that, things we have all been waiting for will happen. He says so- he promises that he will pour forth his spirit on us, that we will dream dreams and prophesy and see change in the world. And if there is a God, He must be one able to keep his promises.
Fundamentally, this is what gives me a reason for living and enjoying food and hugs and mountains and breathing. To be able to face the world with a reason for being alive seems like something worth living for, to me.
This is how I know it’s worth it- on our final sail, from Siracusa to Gozo, we anchored overnight in the Blue Lagoon on Comino, and went swimming in the morning. Now one of the things one is meant to do on Next Wave is jump off the bowsprit. But basically, I was terrified to. I knew it had to happen though. I desperately wanted to- and what better place to do it than the Blue Lagoon, in December, at the end of our lecture phase and sailing season? In spite of all this, I stood at the end of the bowsprit, holding onto the flying jib, for at least fifteen minutes trying to convince myself for or against. I don’t know if I would have done it if Kristin hadn’t come and jumped with me. Then, I don’t know if I would have done it if, at the end of the day, I want to live life to the full. I want to jump off high places and never be afraid and see the world in colour. I was terrified. I closed my eyes and opened them and realized I was in the water and full of adrenalin and it was a perfect finish to sailing. Riding the bowsprit into Mgarr Marina, I realized I was terrified to stand there three months ago.
It’s good to be alive. It’s so good.
I am essentially not using the interwebs for our seven weeks in Albania. So if you have any specific questions, do comment or email or whatever, and I’ll try and answer them in my next blog post- I just probably won’t be around to chat. Even though Mediterranean hot chocolate is very very good, and there is a café with internet just around the corner.
So, one week in! My high point was probably the ‘all night’ (aka six till midnight) prayer meeting two nights ago, where worship gradually became more and more Albanian-sounding, minor chords and claps, until De Na Da and Arti started circling, stamping and dancing to the rhythm, and I joined in and we danced and laughed and danced some more. Also praying for a woman whose knee was healed- she straightened it. Also watching Nacho Libre in ‘team time’, in sleeping bags all piled on a camp bed which is now bent in half because apparently you can’t put six people on camp beds, even if they are double.
Sailor is signing out. I guess I’m not a sailor any more. Nah, we’ll always be sailors, because we can….

We do still refer to our bedrooms as cabins and talk about going ‘on deck’. Note: our very first night was so strange. The five of us trainee girls lay on our mattresses and beds, without cosy curtains, and waited for the sound of the sea and the rocking of the boat to send us to sleep.

Fare thee well!

Only two days behind the date 😉

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