Adjusting to Life in Albania
Last week, I went Christmas shopping with my aunt. As we were walking all over the city, I came to an astonishing realization. Walking around the crowded, dirty sidewalks of Tirana, crossing the dangerous streets, passing fruit stands and butcher shops with whole sheep hanging in the window, seeing beggars on the side of the road - it's all become so normal to me. I was not very culture shocked when I first arrived here - mostly because Tirana is much more modern than the rest of the country, so I was more gradually introduced to the poverty and corruption that permeates most of the country. However, for a while everything did seem very strange and different. Now, it seems so normal! I am excited to know that I am learning to be comfortable and to feel at home here in a foreign country.
Jozi is a young Albanian woman who has been a good friend of the Hosaflooks for years. She has befriended me, and has been taking me all around Tirana to teach me more about the culture. We have gone to several historical landmarks together, including the 18th-century mosque in the town center, where we were asked to take off our shoes and cover our heads in order to go inside! We have also been to the art gallery, the 19th-century clock tower, and to the lake, a popular place for Albanians to hang out on weekends and holidays. Jozi has been wonderful in teaching me about Albanian history, culture, and language. Her younger sister, Frida, is very good at doing traditional Albanian dances. Once day when I went to their house for lunch, Frida showed me her beautiful traditional costume and taught me how to do basic dances steps. (Click on this link for a video of Albanian folk music and dance.)
For the past few weeks, I have been going to church with Jozi at Kisha Biblika Baptiste Tirana (Tirana Bible Baptist Church). My aunt, uncle, and cousins attend Grace, a church with a congregation that constists half of Albanians and half of missionaries. It is a wonderful church with a good kids' program for my cousins, but I feel that God has called me to attend KBBT, where there are no other missionaries. At KBBT, I will be able to make Albanian friends and hopefully learn more of the language. The services are entirely in Albanian, but Jozi translates for me a little and helps me to learn frequently used Albanian words.
Inside the mosque in Tirana
On Saturdays, we host a youth group for middle school aged kids in Tirana's missionary community. We hold it on the third story of my aunt and uncle's house (which my five-year-old cousin has nicknamed "The Fluff." My aunt has named this youth group "The Bridge" because the missionary kids who attend represent a bridge between cultures, and because they are at an age that is a bridge between childhood and adulthood. About twenty kids attend, all between the ages of 12 and 14. They are a fun, precious group, and the first two weeks of The Bridge have been a wonderful time of fellowship and growing in the Lord.
Since arriving in Albania, we have often seen two gypsy girls washing car windows on the side of the road to make money for their families. We befriended them, and found out that their names are Denisa and Valbona. We only ever see them when we are in the car stuck in traffic, so we've only been able to talk to them for a few minutes at a time, but we wanted to be able to make friends with them and their families. So last Friday evening, my aunt, two of my cousins, and I took a walk to see if we could find one of them. We met Valbona and her mother, Sonila, on the intersection where they usually work. Her mother was very kind, and she invited us to come to their house for a visit.
Last Sunday after church, we picked up Valbona and Sonila, and went to their house. They live in a tiny, run-down house that has a leaky roof, smells horribly of mold, and has a bathroom that doubles as their kitchen. Outside their house in an enormous trash pile, with a dead dog lying nearby As sad as it was, these are actually comparatively good living conditions for gypsies (more politely called Roma), who are incredibly poor and looked down upon by other Albanians. We were greeted at their door with hugs and kisses from Valbona's younger brother and sister, Raulf and Majlinda. My cousins had brought the children gifts, and they quickly became friends.
At Valbona's house we also met Rukia, the oldest daughter, who is thirteen years old. Rukia is a Christian, and loves the Lord so passionately that it shines on her face. We don't know how she came to know Christ or if she is being discipled by anyone, and we didn't want to pry on our first visit, especially since the rest of the family is not saved. But Sonila told us that one day, when she was begging on the side of the road, someone gave her a Bible. She brought it home and gave it to Rukia, who now reads it all the time and often shares the stories with the rest of her family. Rukia writes beautiful poetry, most of which is about Christ and His love and sacrifice. Her poems are full of such deep understanding and such fervent love for the Lord that we were almost driven to tears as she read them aloud. It was truly incredible to see how God is working in her life.
We are very excited to have made friends with this family, and we would like to be able to visit them often. In fact, we are hoping to visit them on Christmas Day Please pray that we would be able to establish a good relationship with them so that we can tell them about the Lord. Also pray for Rukia, that God would keep her strong in Him, as she is the only one in her family who is a believer.