Wednesday, July 9, 2008


To understand why I’m staying in Albania, I need to look back at how I got here. I won’t bore you with all the details of the events that brought me here. I reserve that particular brand of punishment for unsuspecting people who ask me “The Question.”

I had been working for the government for quite a few years and was getting a little bored with doing the same thing over and over. I needed a change and a change I got. A little exploration brought up an opportunity to work in ….. Africa! Yes! You can’t get much more change than that. I was psyched. I read up on my future home country, prepared to start learning the language, and had one foot in the jungle when the phone rang.

“Look,” they said, “We need someone to work in Albania immediately and we reasoned that if you would volunteer to go to Africa, you would go anywhere.” True enough. Encouraged by the thought of making the change quickly and earning an additional stipend for “dangerous duty”, I signed on. Then I ran down to Borders and tried to find a travelogue with a map so I could figure out where the heck Albania was. The Kosova war had just ended and the news channels were full of reporting about the area, but I didn’t really have a clue where the country was. The sum total of my knowledge about Albania came from The Animaniacs, The Simpsons, and John Belushi.

Fully briefed to expect rampant crime, violence, gunfire, and carjacking, I slinked off the plane ready to make a “Hillary-esque” dash under sniper fire to the terminal. Turns out the only thing I had to worry about was getting a good soaking in the rain as I walked from the plane to the terminal. Reality in Albania was something entirely different from my expectations… and not for the last time.

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