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Senior Missionaries

From Albania

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Dear Friends,                                                 March 16, 2009

            Welcome to summer, at least here in Albania.  Saturday was the actual holiday but is being celebrated today.  When we asked our young doctor friend, Migena Ceca, about why this is called summer rather than the almost spring that it is, she didnft have a clue; she just knew that she had to work.    Outside it is beautiful and sunny with just a bit of a chill in the air, which is our favorite kind of weather.   Special large cookies made of corn flour are available in bakeries to mark the day.  Just last week was Motherfs Day here, so flowers abounded for sale including individual roses, carnations, and lilies as well as potted crocuses and hyacinths.

Last week I volunteered to go to a favorite produce stand to buy a necessary ingredient for a soup a friend was making -  lulelakër, which means flower of the cabbage.  Guess what it is – cauliflower!  Cartons of glorious luleshtrydhe were about the same price as ones in America.  After buying these strawberries, the thought came to give them to some other friends on the way home.  They seemed excited to receive them.  About a month before as I was hurrying home after Church to roll out dough for crescents, I tripped and fell right on my face!  Hearing my cries, a woman and her daughter and son rushed out to help me.  The daughter asked if Ifd like to go to the hospital, the son if Ifd like some raki.  They helped me to my feet and walked me to a nearby table and chair; when I said that I didnft want raki (very hard liquor), the daughter quietly laughed and told me that she had been wiping the wounds on my face with it.  The son was starting to walk me home when Peter arrived and took over those duties.  Later I took Rudina a plant and note; she loves it that both our names start with gRu..h   Whether shefs on her bicycle or at her home working in the bar-restaurant in their living room, she greets me with a kiss on both cheeks and delight in her eyes.  She and her daughter love the photo I took of them together.

Trying to gseeh things for you as well as ourselves, we thought it would be fun to tell you about vehicles here.  We have watched truckloads and wagons full of gypsies (Romas) arrive from bigger cities on the weekends; word seems to get out that this will be a good time to come.  Wefve taken photos of donkeys pulling carts right in our own alley.  Old 3-wheel trucks made decades ago in China putt-putt down the streets, sounding like over-sized lawnmowers.  People set up their wares to sell almost every morning, unloading their bicycle baskets or carts or the backs of their cars.   Itfs amazing how many cars there are here in Fier, including Mercedes, BMWfs, Audifs, Continentals but like living in your local high school parking lot.  Owning a car and/or driving one were illegal until 25 years ago here; the looks on driversf faces run the gamut from scared-to-death to obliviousness, the driver talking on a cell phone.  Round-abouts up and down the main street make walking across a little iffy.  You should see the long buses as well as furgons (minivans - common mode of transportation) and cars maneuver around tight corners of alleys abounding in open manholes; often a vehicle will back up when therefs no room for two.

Roosters crow all hours of the day and night.  Children and teenagers play soccer in our alley from the time they get home from school until well after dark.  We can tell hours of the day from the loud speaker broadcasting from the mosque several blocks away.  Once in a while there will be a trio of a drum, clarinet, and accordion accompanying the gypsiesf singing.  Most restaurants will have similar Albanian music playing on a local TV station.  When we went to a lovely birthday luncheon at a restaurant in the woods near Divjke and the Adriatic Sea, some of our party got up to do line dancing Albanians love to do.  Greetings occur all hours of the day, whether in the morning – gMirë mingjes, h afternoon gMirë ditah or evening – gMirë mbrema,h with kisses on the cheeks or at least handshakes both upon meeting and departing.  Every morning comes the pounding sound of a woman across the way beating her rug.

Smells include those of animals being sold, like turkeys, chickens, and fish; baking byrek, suflaqe, and pizza; yellow flowering mimosa trees.  Spices here are plentiful and cheap, but in trying to buy ones we need, Ifve been reminded of the game played at showers to identify ones by their scent only.  How great to find selino (celery powder), rigon (oregano), kanelle (cinnamon).  A favorite scent for deodorant is yoghurt; stores abound in gkos.h  Milk is delivered in large pop bottles from the backs of bicycles.  Last night we treated ourselves to fasule and pilaf, bean soup and rice, a national staple and favorite.  When we arrived at the restaurant, the young man indicated that the cook had gone home, but when we said gFasule and pilaf,h he indicated that was okay because he had that ready.  One of our favorite dishes here is eel; it tastes like a very tender white fish but without the bones, just a spine.

Amenities here for us include a washing machine (we figured that washing only during the linen cycle cuts the washing time to 45 minutes from the normal 2 hours), a stove (with 2 electric burners and 2 gas) and oven (still getting used to the convection kind), refrigerator (with duct-tape-repaired shelves), hair dryer, heaters high on the tall walls (just like in Japan) as well as a small one to keep our feet warmer under our desk, land and cell phones, and computers and printers.  We brought 3 of our own laptops   Wefve been blessed with almost constant electric power; many times when the electricity has gone out, wefve blown a fuse with using more than 2 appliances at a time.  Friends of ours in Vlorë had no running water for several hours.  We drink bottled water and use filtered water with bleach to wash all our produce 3 times.  When much of eastern Europe was suffering with no heat during the winter, Albanians escaped that because of the use of hydroelectric power here.

Services have been great here.  Peter loves his $2 haircuts so much that I took a photo of him with his gberber.h  Ditto when I got my hair washed, colored, cut, and styled for $11, all the while getting to watch the beauticians interact and visit with each customer.  Several of the elders have lost a lot of weight with the hot summers here; to get a suit jacket completely altered costs $5.  I so wanted to get my very dusty, dirty boots polished; a smiling good-natured young man did it for the change in my hand $.60.  Cute women with their sewing machines, some electric and some treadle (see electricity above) are ever-making drapes and mending.  Taxi drivers vary; we went on a very scary ride with one of our elders getting transferred to Lushnje.  When those we were to meet werenft there, the driver wanted to charge us an addition $5 for each 5 minutes he had to wait.  However, bus rides in Tirana, the capital, are like $.30.

How is our work going here?  A lot of our time and energy are spent in leading the Church branch (congregation) here in Fier; thankfully, our young elders help with interpreting.  Many people from here have emigrated to Greece, Italy, England, Canada, the United States not leaving any forwarding addresses.  Not that addresses here help much– theyfre like gnear the qenderh [center], gnext to the _____ shkolleh (school).  You just hope that when youfre trying to find someone in a neighborhood that you come upon someone whofs interested enough in people to know where that person actually lives.  Peter brought his GPS, which shows areas but definitely has no streets for the gladyh to tell him about.  Cell phones are almost as bad as at home or in Japan – people often seem to have them glued to their ears, even when theyfre driving or trying to balance an umbrella and basket of chickens on their bicycles.  Keeping up with cell phone #fs is hard, too.  In learning about Albanians, wefve found that they donft line up, whether at the P.O., bill-playing places, restaurant.  You learn to bunch – when in Albania, do as the Albanians.  Peter has monthly meetings in Tirana usually on the 2nd Saturday; Ifm usually happy to go with him and visit with the other American senior women missionaries.  This last Saturday, though, we women decided to stay home.  A lot of us have had bad colds or the flu (got a flu shot at home), accompanied by hacking coughs.  Peter was so grateful to get to see a doctor about not being able to hear with his left ear; she gave him 3 prescriptions.  Our doctor friend Migena here in Fier verified that they are good ones; when he told her about the antibiotic Cipro, she said that itfs available here at a farmaci (pharmacy – which would you rather learn from scratch?) in case he needs it.

With humanitarian work we have completed a number of projects, including getting much-needed medical equipment including a blood analyzer, centrifuge, microscopes for the Vlore regional hospital that serves 250,000 people; the only ones theyfd had were no longer work.  In Lushnje we got to help with the purchase of crutches and 102 warm blankets for invalid workers; the darling leader had the local TV station come to cover this.  Later we went with her to take wheelchairs to a woman who had been bedridden for 13 years and another who crawled into the room to receive hers.  We completed work at a country school that included a heater, CD player, teacherfs desk, cupboards, maps for a new teacherfs classroom.  Now that the school has been made safer from break-ins, the teachers can actually use all these new supplies and show their students the world they live in.  What a delight to go to the school and get to participate with the teachers, students, parents, grandparents in the celebration, complete with dancing and refreshments.  Hopefully wefll get to take a laptop to show them the video clips Peter made.

As we arrived at a preschool for Romas in the Kombinat area of Tirana, the children were in their smiles and coats ready to go home in a seatless furgon.  Our Mission President Neil and his wife had driven us and Illir Gjoni, the very outgoing and engaging young man dedicated to helping his people, down alleys, over lakes of puddles, near drop-offs to get there.  Once there the ebullient Egyptian woman who cooks breakfast and lunch for the children and their teachers was ready for President Neil to plug in the refrigerator for our ceremony.  Illir had called TV stations to cover this celebration, but he didnft have the $20 they wanted.  (Wefve told him to let us know in the future if he comes upon a problem like this.)  She had already been using the new stove.  New purchased chairs and tables made by Romas themselves were in place; ones left over had been taken to a new center for Roma youth, who like young people everywhere like to have their pictures taken.  Illir has found another place to open an additional preschool; wefve also met leaders of a group that works with Romas all over Albania; they have helped with a number of projects where the people are leading themselves.  We are looking for partners who can help with bringing 500 wheelchairs into the country without paying the import taxes, which by law are illegal on goods being donated to Albanians.  To find ones we feel are truly honest is taking time and prayer.   

Wefd love to hear about you and your life; e-mail us at [email protected]..

Love, Peter and Ruth Lynne Snow, Elder and Sister Snow, Çifti Snou in Fier, Albania  

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