Monthly Archives: May 2013

Window Talk

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We greet each other through the window.  In the beginning the act was unconscious but soon we became aware that we were becoming locals.

We started to ride the motorcycle with things in hand; laundry, large bags, homemade take away dinners, and the garbage for the dumpster that is up the hill.

Instead of walking a block to our destination, without discussion, we jump on the motorcycle and enjoy the 10 second thrill ride.

We try to be Greek and find that we like it.  It seems to come naturally.

Nothing is too serious and when it is we laugh harder.  No conversation is beyond our creative jest.

We gossip with kind words.  We make plans for the day.DSC_3882

Intentionally, and with justified voices, we strive to sound like the islanders.  Without effort, our plans specifically include facts about what we will eat, drink, and where we will sit on the beach that day.

Our only hindrance is our innocence because in many moments we acknowledge our awesomeness and exclaim our gratitude for this charmed life.  This is something our neighbors would not do.

We are envious of how they continue in an existence of the present moment, with no need to certify every minute’s sublimity.  This practice we attempt to execute but our ecstasies and excitement overflow and to process this reality we have to accredit its greatness.

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We repeat each others words to give them more meaning.  Or simply to restate the agreed opinion.

Let’s make coffee

Yes, coffee.

Coffee.  Mmmm.

Yeah.  Let’s do it.

At night we dance and in the day we rest.

In the mornings we chat through the windows.

Consciously playing our favorite game;

“Let’s Be Like the Greeks”

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Get Lucky

Megan’s awesome video of our Corfu family and adventures.

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In The Black

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The past month I have met so many incredible strangers.  I’ve written about the  “kindness of strangers” many times and I have yet to meet someone while traveling who doesn’t bend over backwards for me.

My pedicab coworker from New Orleans, Mark Orfila, had arranged for me to stay with the Iberhysajs.  Imer Iberhysaj is Mark’s old landlord when he lived in Decan, Kosova.

Stop right there and imagine sending a friend to stay with your landlord’s family.  Not very common right?

As promised, I arrived at the bus stop to find Imer waiting to greet me.  We walked together across the street to his conveniently located shop and waited for his daughter, Qendresa, who spoke English.

Language barriers have never been an issue for me.  When I travel, there are numerous times where I have to pronounce something several times, usually names of places I’m going or words I memorize of something I need.

Ultimately, not speaking the same language is more fun in many ways.  You are forced out of your comfort zone to communicate.  You have to use your hands, facial expressions, and move your body.  When it is all over, or there is a break, it can feel like a mental and physical work out!  Difficult in action but the rewards are immense.

So, Imer and I waited in the shop and he showed me all the things he sold.  We said things to each other in English and Albanian knowing that the other didn’t understand the words but we understood the meanings.

A few minutes later, Qendresa walked in with her sister, Manjolla.  Qendresa’s English is great and it was quickly resolved that I would leave my bags at the shop and her brother would bring them to the house later.  The girls and I said goodbye to Imer and we began to walk home.

“Is there anything you’d like to do?  Are you hungry?  Thirsty?  Tired?”

“Well, I could always go for a coffee.”

The girls looked at each other to think of a place to stop in and once decided we walked only a few blocks where we reached a small café.

Once inside, what Manjolla and Qendresa had been speaking about in Albanian that I couldn’t understand, became obviously clear to me.  The minute we walked in, it felt as if we had hit a wall.  I looked around and realized there were only men, and they were all staring at us.

Now this is something that I have grown used to from the countries I have travelled in.  Since I am a foreigner, I usually am fearless because my tourist status allows me room for ignorance.  However, this time, the only thing that actually stood me apart was the fact that I spoke only English.  It was the first time I was assumed a local because my physique was common.  Whereas in Morocco, Italy, and the majority of countries I have lived in and/or visited there is no question as to my status as a foreigner.

“I remember now, this is why I do not like coming here.”

“Oh, we can leave if you want.”

“No, no.  We will get a drink.”

“It’s ok.  Since I’m a foreigner, I can be your excuse.”

We all laughed and sat down.  They did not serve coffee.  We laughed again.  We ordered juice and soda.

When I think back on it, this first awkward scenario was hilarious to the three of us.  And from this event, I knew I was with some good people. I mean we full heartedly laughed at the cultural faux pas we had made.

Qendresa explained that it was different in the Pristinha, the capital, where she attends the University with her other sister Fortessa.  Only the small towns still have a majority of men who “go out” and sit in the cafes.

When we were done we walked across the street to the house where I was greeted by their mother, Fatmire, at the door.

Fatmire stood there with an extended hand which I took to shake and I went in to greet her with kisses on the cheek.  I’d spent the past 2 months in Italy and Morocco, where this is the common greeting.  I wasn’t sure about Kosova but I was improvising.  Sadly, when I went in to put my cheek to hers there was no response.  I quickly retracted and looked to Qendresa for guidance.  Qendresa gave me nothing but a wide smile and again we began to laugh.

Later I learned that once Fatmire realized what I was doing, she leaned in but I had already back off and was looking at Qendresa and didn’t see her reciprocation.  Days later, Qendresa translated the story to Fatmire and we spent several moments laughing.

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What to say about the Iberhysajs?  I mean it was all really incredible.  I kept thinking about Karim and his family in Morocco.  How am I so lucky to be treated like an honored guest in these countries around the world?  Both scenarios held several similarities.  In Morocco, Karim was my only translator and in Kosova, Qendresa.  However, somehow I was able to create meaningful interactions with the entire family even without anyone who spoke English.

In the evening, the Iberhysajs would take a walk down a road and up a hill into the forest where there was an abandoned restaurant from before the war.  At the top of the hill, several other community and family members would meet.  Once we reached the top, everyone would sit and talk for a  while.

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I seriously do not know if I have ever met friendlier people.  Everyone knew that I was a friend of Mark’s and therefore that meant I was wonderful.  For those who knew Mark briefly, I was wonderful because I was from America.  With that information about me, nothing else was required for their unconditional love.

I felt grateful.  I felt grateful to Mark, for figuring all the details out for me to stay with these incredible people.  I felt grateful to the Iberhysajs for having me as their guest and for fully integrating me into their daily lives.

Once back at the house we would all sit in the living room, usually with a futbol game on and chat.  Qendresa did lots of translating and there was lots of laughing.  Qendresa, Manjolla, and their brother Dervish were absolutely hilarious.  Constantly making jokes, telling stories, and some how I fit right in.

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At night, Qendresa, Manjolla, and I shared a room.  Instantly I was reminded of middle school and of my girlfriends back home.  We would lay in our beds and talk about so many silly things.  We giggled and laughed loudly just like children.  Happily, with little convincing, I stayed an extra day.

I thought about how amazing it was, that within one day I had made some of the greatest friends in my life.  It was as if we had been children together and could be silly without any fear of ridicule or judgment.

When there is no common language, eye contact is extremely important.  Maybe this is why we all became so close so quickly.  We were forced out of our comfort zones to get to know each other.  We would look in each others eyes when we would talk.  Even when Imer or Fatmire and I were talking, and then usually Qendresa would translate.  Some times she wouldn’t even need to because we understood!  It was an incredible feeling.

I am forever grateful to the Iberhysajs.  I was especially grateful that I missed my bus and was able to spend another night with them.

When I left, Fatmire hugged me and gave me several kisses on the cheek.

So I have a challenge for you….

Do something for a stranger.  Do something out of the ordinary.  Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

The Iberhysajs showered me with love.  No one asked them to do that.  Mark had only reached out through a mass message to all the people he knew in Kosova.  Imer answered with an invitation for me to stay with him and his family.  I am so happy I did because the Iberhysajs became another family to me.  I will never forget their hospitality and will try my best to pay it forward.

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Sinarades

I’ve made it to Corfu.  Today is my fourth day here and I am sitting in the garden of my house.

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The view is pretty spectacular….

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Have you ever seen a baby hummingbird before?  Well, I literally just did.  I thought it was a bug!  But no.  A beautiful baby hummingbird.  Wow.

Again, I haven’t had very much time to process everything.  The past three weeks I spent traveling through Croatia, Bosnia and Herezegovina, Montenegro, Kosova, and Albania.  There were many wonderful events and I met some of the most incredible families.  Today is the first day I’ve had a moment to write.  When I arrived on Corfu, there was a lot to do in the house.

For those who do not remember, I am in Corfu renting a house in Sinarades; a village town west of Corfu Town.  I’ll be here for two months writing, playing music (Sadly, the piano here was damaged from water that came in by the leaky roof.  The top three octaves are impossible to play but I have my guitar!), riding my motorcycle, and doing little jobs here and there at Robin’s Nest Bar (Robin, the owner of the bar, is renting me the house in Sinarades.)

The house hasn’t been occupied in several months.  Leaving me a lot of sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing.  I usually get completely “type A” with these things and feel the need to get it all done in one go.  However, this time I’ve been fixing it up slowly;  one room a day and sometimes the same room again.

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There are no hotels in Sinarades.  Only a few tavernas and a great place that is a café at day, bar at night where the owner, Giannis, and his right hand man, Fotis, work everyday.  I met these two three years ago during my first visit to Corfu.  They welcomed me back with open arms and a glass of Ouzo.  So, even though I am alone in this old house, I feel safe having them down the alleyway.

Last night I woke up at 3am to some suspicious sounds outside, that then moved into the ceiling.  Mice or maybe a Greek version of squirrels would have been a God send.  This sounded more like a large dog moving above me.

At first I was terrified.  Many scenarios ran through my head.  I know many people wonder what I’m doing here and more so why I’m alone.  In the Balkans, the introductory question everywhere I went was, “Are you single? Why? Why/how are you traveling single???”  I’m fairly certain this little traditional village wants to ask me the exact same questions.

I thought about what HAPPENED to the widow in Zorba the Greek.  It seriously ran through my head that the villagers were outside my house, waiting to punish the single woman!

Once I began to logically think that through, I found that my fear had suddenly turned into anger.  I was not going to be bullied by anyone or anything!

There really is no possible way to get inside the house stealthily.  Climbing through the window would be very difficult, and the obstacles under the windows would detain the intruder/s long enough for me to grab the metal pole to the broom I keep in the kitchen (I seriously planned out these details.)

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With my newfound courage, I got up, turned on the light, and started stomping around the house.  I have always had problems sleeping alone in a big house, so this act was surprising.  I felt proud of myself and with the last of my pride and courage I looked out the windows.  Nothing.  Nothing was there.  The sound in the ceiling ceased.

My anger, even more provoked by lack of sleep, enveloped my entire being and this new experience of pride and courage resulted in absolutely no possibility of sleep.

Three episodes of Homeland later, a blue light started to shine through the window.  I got up and went out to the garden.  No evidence of any animals or angry townsmen.  I climbed up to the patio and took pictures of the sunrise.

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Dark clouds hovered over Albania and distant thunder sounded.  Sinarades, nestled in the hills, began to bustle with life.

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After a few hours of sleep, I went down to Giannis’s for a coffee.  His sister was working.  Several Greek men sat outside of the café.  With their coffees they sat, twirling their “worry” beads, talking and scoping out the main road.  A small boy was crying outside of the cafe and several of the men were comforting him and aiding what looked like a bloody lip.

I was welcomed with smiles and many “kalimeras.”  Apparently, I was not the “single woman” needed of punishing but more so, the curious foreign girl who is living in Ono’s House; the name of my house-Ono being the original owner who passed away some years ago.  Ono was also a foreigner.  From one of the Slavic countries…I think (?)  Over 6 feet tall, and always wearing a cowboy hat, he would walk around the village like a giant…with a cowboy hat.

Everyone said “kalimera” to me.  The more time I spend around the village, the more I see how everyone knows and watches after each other.  This is the community I’ve been searching for.  This is exactly what I asked for.

I cannot wait to share it with you.

AND to share it with all the visitors that are coming!  I am so excited to see you all!

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