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First Report from Albania

Friday is Albaniafs Independence Day here in Fier, Albania. We plan to get a small national flag with a black double-headed eagle on a red background and will see if there are any celebrations. The biggest holiday here is New Yearfs, just like in Japan. When we were called to come on a humanitarian mission to Albania, we thought things here in Fier and in Tokyo would be completely different, but there are similarities. Rain being a part of life in both these places means that umbrellas and umbrella stands are in abundance. Just yesterday when the rains and winds came but we still needed to go to the markets and stores to look for things, I definitely did not feel like Mary Poppins as our umbrellas were blown inside-out, but we just laughed thinking how we must look like as I just gave up trying to make it look normal. It still provided a dry spot even though it was U-shaped. As soon as Bob and Ruth Morton, the couple who were returning home to Georgia showed us the tregs (markets) full of beautiful vegetables and fruits as well as linens, pans, clothes, needlework supplies, tools, we felt at home since some of our favorite places in the Tokyo area were the open-air markets. People here seem to open their stalls 6am-2pm, taking them down or at least covering them up, while they eat lunch and maybe have naps.  Itfs unbelievable that they do that every single day, hurriedly covering things up if itfs raining; how their hands and feet and bodies must be chilled in the damp and penetrating cold. We bought a thermometer and have put in the Celsius temperatures at the 5, 15, 25, 35 marks as well as the negative ones. Youfd think that with out physics and math backgrounds we would automatically know metric temperatures, but we donft. (Didnft they tell us in school 50+ years ago that America would be on the metric system in our adult years? Wrong) Wefve been told that it doesnft snow here in Fier, though it does in the mountains not too far away.

The Adriatic Sea is maybe 10 miles to the west from here, which is at least what the map seems to indicate. We wouldnft know for sure, since we are here without a car, just with our shank ponies (American expression for legs), furgons (minivans without seatbelts, the ones wefve been on for 8-10 passengers), buses (havenft been on any yet), train (open air but havenft experienced one yet, either).  

Jump back to the treg for a minute. The other day after seeing so many women knitting or doing other needlework as they waited for customers, I started pantomiming to ask them if I could take their pictures; each one indicated that I could, though each was also really modest and surprised that I would want to. (Do you think that is like the Japanese or not? The older ones are quite modest about photos, but the younger ones love to put up a V as their pictures are taken.) Peter patiently stopped with me as we saw women knitting, doing needlepoint, crocheting, mending on a treadle sewing machine, making drapes on an electric one. Wefre going to return to give copies of the pictures to each. I wished that I had taken my tatting shuttle and thread in my purse to see if they could tell me anything about it here, since there were some tatted pieces for sale. If you have seen names of and/or instructions for any native Albanian crafts, please share.  Hopefully wefll learn about some. Peter had fun getting a double-ended screwdriver as well as a hammer. Many of the stalls looked like something my father would have loved seeing, his own garage and shed looking like some of them; he was a university professor but loved doing wood and leather-working as well as farming. 

Reading street signs and other things here is much easier than in Japan with its 3 alphabets (at least writing systems). The Albanian alphabet is 100 years old now as declared on a large banner over one of the streets here. We have asked a wonderful young woman doctor about where the exhibit of it is going to be, since her father works near the government building; he said it will be soon, and we want to go to it. The Albanians use the alphabet we do, with the exception of gwh and the addition of gçh and gë. The other day I decided to make a list of Albanian names in Excel and learned quickly how to insert those letters. Some individual letters and combinations of letters sound different, but once you learn those, everything is phonetic. For instance gboutiqueh (I know, itfs French) is gbutikh in Albanian, the guh being pronounced like gooh in gfood.h Since some words here are from English (or some English words are from this part of the world), we can tell what some things actually are and mean. We havenft seen t-shirts yet with crazy combinations of English words. 

What else is similar between Albania and Japan? People usually take off their shoes when entering a home, whether their own or someone elsefs. Dust is one of the reasons here, with the floors being made of beautiful tile. 

Two weeks ago we were traveling to Fier, Albania, via plane from Salt Lake City to New York City, to Vienna, to Tirana. On the last flight sitting next to us was a lovely woman, whose English was very good and who had just been visiting America to watch our elections as a representative of her country of Albania. She is a member of parliament and was able to give us the names of two men representing Fier in that body and who work with health issues. When we asked her where she had learned such good English, she said that, interestingly enough, she had learned it from Chinese teachers out of books from China here in Albania in the e60fs. We had already read that Albaniafs dictator Hoxha had been friendly with Mao Tse-Tung but had broken off ties with all countries including Cuba and China, so Albania was very isolated until 1990. 

Now, what are we doing here on a Church humanitarian mission? Wefll try to give you an idea of the whirlwind of activity November 9-13 when the Mortons took us around to meet people and see some of the projects they and their predecessors had been working on. First of all, a picture of Bob and Ruth Morton. He began college with plans to study to become an architect; she went to nursing school. He was from California and she from Tennessee when they met and married. He changed his mind and became a teacher, instead, and then a principal and she practiced nursing as they reared 3 children who became a physician, F.B.I. agent, and mother. They have lived in the Atlanta, Georgia, area since 1986. He had served a Church mission in Korea as a young man and they were in Korea for the 50th anniversary while we were in nearby Japan. They were called on this first mission together originally to Serbia, but when it became dangerous there in March, they were sent here. With his love of teaching and hers of helping in other ways, their hearts reached out to others, and they were greatly loved by the Albanians. The first place we visited was a little country school several miles out of Fier. They had been taking morning walks to that area for quite some time, when Jimmy, a young father, who had a stand and spoke English, asked them what they were doing. Two of his children attended the school, which had very few supplies. The Mortons contracted a local carpenter to build desks for the 3 young women teachers as well as cupboards to store their supplies in; they obtained a heater and CD player for each classroom; the students already had desks, but the teachersf desks were in shambles. The children themselves were so respectful as we went into each of the 4 classrooms. (Now there is a 4th teacher, so wefre going to get supplies for her, too, as well as other things for the school.) Some have asked our impressions of the people here. Peter says, and I agree, that they dress nicely, taking care of themselves personally; we havenft seen bummy-looking people. The children at the school ranged from blondes to dark brunettes with gorgeous green or blue or dark eyes. They were excited but quiet as we went into their rooms. The school district had finally cleaned out the open toilets and measured the broken windows to replace them. Wefre planning to return this week to talk about future supplies and to see if maybe we can help the families of the students clean up the front and back grounds. 

Tuesday, the 11th we walked off our feet in Tirana as we visited a clinic of a psychologist who is diagnosing and helping children with autism. She had been the contact for a seminar Church-funded and staffed by specialists from Utah; workers from all over Albania were invited to attend it. The woman and her co-workers shared that the wife, a doctor herself, of the Prime Minister had just initiated another national meeting about autism, and the psychologist was going to get even more involved. That day we also went to a maternity hospital to pay the two head nurses who are doing follow-up work from the neonatal resuscitation training Church-funded and taught by a doctor and his wife from America. Their goal was to teach a number of doctors and nurses who then would teach others so that the total number reached would be 500. Sturdy well-illustrated textbooks had been translated into Albanian and given out; hundreds of others are ready to be sent to Kosovo as midwives there are also trained. Probably the highlight of the day was our visit to a school for the blind where the Mortons had delivered 10 Braillers just the week before. The beautiful children there were eager to show us what they had already learned to do with the mechanical machines as they typed out messages of love and appreciation. Have you ever seen Braille done by hand with a stylus on a handle over a thing that resembles an old Lite-Brite board? Itfs slow work; however, it seems miraculous that someone could learn to write on a Brailler, too, with its 6 main keys as well as a space bar and another thing that probably acts like a shift bar. After watching so many of the children, who also live at the school, being kind and loving to each other as they made their way around the halls and grounds of the school, Bob asked one of the teachers if they were always that way. She replied in the negative, as we watched two get into a tiff. Many wanted to give us kisses on both cheeks, left first, Albanian-style, when we left. 

Wednesday we were off to Vlor by furgon to a school for the mentally disabled, where Ruth delivered 4 large-print books made at the blind school. There was a young man there with cerebral palsy who needed a wheelchair, which miraculously was found from a past project in Tirana and which we gave to him last Friday. Wefre headed back there Tuesday to discuss their suggestions for a future project. Thankfully, in each city are younger missionaries who have learned Albanian well and can translate. (My Mother has always said that love is the universal language that all can understand.) In Vlor is another hospital, where the humanitarian missionaries had given the lab director a microscope, for which he and his staff were grateful as well as proud of. Soon wefre going to talk with him about helping get other much-needed equipment for the hospital. That evening was a surprise party for the Mortons since they were leaving on Thursday. It was such fun as they urged us to join in the Albanian line dancing.

Thursday we went to the hospital here in Fier, (population: 55,000); earlier this year the doctors there wanted medical books, including one about anesthesiology. Getting the oxygen for the CPAP unit in the neonatal unit is high on their needs. We finished with a visit to a school for mentally disabled students. I told them, through a translator, how grateful we are for the work they are doing, for their desire to help with others. 

We truly appreciate the Mortons helping initiate us in this work. Other trainers are arriving in a week to help us; they needed to go to Croatia to help the Schmoes, who had no one to show them the ropes there. We met them in Provo, Utah, for the 4 days of fire-hose-in-the-mouth training, and theyfll be a great asset in Croatia. Till we write again, probably later in December. Love, Peter and Ruth Lynne Snow