The month of March has been full of fun Albanian holidays, as well as my birthday. It has been a busy first half of the month working and celebrating. The four major holidays that I have celebrated thus far in March have been: Teacher’s day, Women’s day, my birthday, and Summer’s day.
Teacher’s Day: March 7th | Dita e Mësuesit
- Teacher’s day is a major Albanian holiday. Every year on March 7th schools all over the country celebrate Teacher’s day in commemoration of the first Albanian school. Usually the day consists of student performances and gifts for the staff, as well as a party for only the teachers. In my site, the culture center put on a wonderful show for the teachers. It consisted of singing, dance, musical instrument performances, and traditional dance. One of the student hosts was actually one of the students in the high school youth group. It was awesome to see him perform and be a leader in the community outside of the youth group. Besides the culture center show, I celebrated Teacher’s day with a the teachers at the high school. Luckily, I have an “in” with the high school because I occasionally work with the school psychologist and I have befriended several of the other teachers. It was nice to be invited to the lunch party that was only for the teachers. The party was quite the experience and I had a blast observing another aspect of the culture. Teachers were dressed up to the nines for this occasion. Some of the different styles I noticed were: a pleather black dress with a matching pink pleather jacket, a pink prom dress, tons of animal print and tons of fake jewels attached at the bust, coats of bright lipstick, high heels – the higher the better, and extremely long nails with giant jewels glued onto the index finger. My American friends and family might relate some of this style to prom in the 80s or 90s, but like I’ve mentioned before – Albanian style is very-much different than American style. What is considered classy and fun here, would probably be considered “trashy” where I am from, but I absolutely love it and wouldn’t have it any other way. When the director walked in an hour late rocking red heels with gold spikes, a hot pink/black flower above-the-knee dress, hair done-up in a beautiful up-do, and chunky gold jewelry, I couldn’t help but think how confident and awesome she is. The teachers rented a double-decker bus to transport all of us there and back – it was the first time I ever rode in one of those. The party itself was held in a village near my site at a nice restaurant. We were served traditional Albanian food and they killed an entire sheep for the occasion. When in Albania… eat as the Albanians! Even though I was a vegetarian in the states, I eat meat here to taste the culture, and, the culture tastes good. No Albanian party is complete without valle (circle dancing) and I definitely got my dance on with a few of the teachers.
Women’s Day: March 8th | Dita e Nënës
- International Women’s day is March 8th. In Albania, the holiday is celebrated by women across the country as well. The women in my community celebrate the holiday by going out to coffees and lunch with their friends. It is not common to see many women out in public having coffee with each other, so this is the one day of the year where all the coffee bars are “full of women,” as my coworker said. In my opinion, women’s day should be everyday of the year because women should not feel embarrassed or shame to go out to coffees with their friends like men do everyday. I celebrated this day in Durres with my volunteer friends that live there. A Durres NGO planned a wonderful event across the boardwalk near the sea. There were flowers given out to all the women on the boardwalk, famous Albanian singer performances, and lots of fun all around. After the boardwalk festivities, my friends took me out for an awesome birthday dinner…
My Birthday: March 13th | Ditëlindjen ime
- Round 1: I am so lucky to have connected with some awesome volunteers in this country. My lovely friends Paul, Susan, and Sara took me out for a fancy dinner in northern Albania at a famous restaurant, Mirizi Zanave. The dinner was full of delicious Albanian delicacies, tasty wine, and topped off with an amazing birthday cake. Truly blessed to have such caring and supportive friends.
- Round 2: In Albania, it is the tradition for the birthday girl/boy to pay for all the coffees and bring friends/coworkers sweets and goodies. You invite your friends out for coffee and lunch and then you pay for it. This surprised me at first because I am used to the American birthday tradition. I love being showered with gifts and goodies on my birthday, but when in Albania do as the Albanians do. To celebrate my birthday off right I bought enough chocolate to hand out to my neighbors, coworkers, and favorite store owners. I also made brownies for my closer friends. Throughout the day I passed out candy and took my friends out for my birthday coffees. My wonderful site-mate Kate surprised me with a delicious cake and mini-party in my office first-thing in the morning. She made my first birthday in Albania an experience to remember.
- Round 3: After celebrating my birthday the Albanian way, I decided to also have an America celebration as well. I invited some of my favorite volunteers from across the country to my site for a small dinner party. We went out for pizza and more wine in one of the best restaurants in town. Once dinner was finished we danced the night away in my apartment – American style. My first birthday in Albania was an amazing time!
Summer’s Day: March 14th | Dita e Verës
- Summer’s day is celebrated every year on March 14th in Albania to celebrate the end of winter and the changing of seasons. The main festivities are held on the streets in Elbasan. The holiday is celebrated, like any Albanian holiday, with valle (circle dancing), music, and other fun festivities. In Elbasan, a traditional cookie called ballakume is widely sold on the streets. I have yet to actually try this cookie, which is honestly just not acceptable since I have now been living in this country for a year… maybe I will try one soon! In my community, the holiday is celebrated mainly by young children. It is tradition for the children to visit your home early in the morning and bring gifts in exchange for candy and other goodies. My first visitors arrived at 6:40am. In America, if anyone arrived at my home before 8am in the morning it would be a sin, but I am willing to forgo my beauty sleep for some cuties at my door. I probably scared the children when I answered the door because I literally rolled out of bed with zit-cream still on my face, hair knotted up like a bird’s nest, and threw on an over-sized sweater and some yoga pants. I energized myself enough to have a short conversation in Shqip and hand over the precious candy in exchange for some kind of plant inside a make-shift clay block. Overall, it was fun to experience the tradition, but if children come to my door before 7am for candy any other day of the year I may be a little merzit.
Thus far, March has been an awesome month for me. I am really starting to get into the swing of my service and a lot of projects are beginning to open up for me! I will be submitting my first grant proposal later this week; wish me luck! The proposal is to have several cervical cancer education trainings in the villages surrounding my site and then provide 100 women will free PAP smears. I really hope that we get the grant!