1) Slow down. The number one thing I have learned by living in Albania is to slow down. Albanians have a word for this: Avash avash (slowly slowly). Stop what you're doing to drink a coffee. Drive slower. Walk to places. Take a nap. If you have to be somewhere by 7:00pm, make it 7:30pm... it's okay. Don't devour your food at the table and leave. Instead, nibble and stay longer to talk. Calendar? Pfft. Who needs a calendar? What happens is what happens. Make firm plans for Thursday? Kismet (fate will decide). Need your car back from the mechanic by tomorrow? It may be several days. Don't worry. Enjoy life. Slow down.
2) Friends and family. Traffic comes to a complete stop when two Albanians who know each other stop to say hello. When two Albanians greet each other, they hug and kiss both cheeks. When you ask, "How are you?" it is not a rhetorical question. They genuinely want to know how you are doing. Then proceed to ask, "How is your family? How are your children? How is work? Are you with good health?". When you pay a bill, hire an electrician, or meet a new friend, you must first drink a coffee with them. Get to know them, where they are from, and how many family members they have, how long have they been married. Dominoes? It's not a competition, it is a common means for a group of friends to gather together and talk about politics or sports. And, here is the big one: Cafes are NOT about the coffee. They are an EXPERIENCE. It is a place to talk, meet, and laugh with friends and family. Coffee is just a bonus.
3) Improvise. Lack of resources have caused Albanians to improvise with what little they have. And, they do it well. Car breaks down? Tighten a few screws, clean the part, use aluminum foil to make a casket, use the nuts and bolts from the old Mercedes to fix the newer Audi. Part doesn't quite fit? Bend it, pound on it, it will fit. If its broke, don't throw it out quite yet, it can likely be used for something else. Old and worn out? Don't rush out to buy a new one, we may be able to fix it or modify it to make it last a few more years.
4) Community relationship. When someone dies in the neighborhood, the entire neighborhood gathers together to mourn and show their respect. When someone gets married, the entire neighborhood is invited to join in the pre-wedding celebration. And WOW, Albanians know how to celebrate weddings. When something needs fixed or repaired in the home or business, it becomes a community affair. When the electricity goes out, the community finds ways to get it restored. When the chicken gets out, the community helps to find it, catch it, and bring it back to its rightful owner. It's about serving one another. Blessing and being blessed. Giving and receiving. In fact, the Albanian word for relationship is "marredhenie", which literally means take and give. It's about serving one another. It's about community.
5) Value things. Albanians value their cars, homes, and... get ready for it... their shoes. It used to really bother me when I get behind an Albanian driver who stops at every nook and cranny on the road or the smallest speed bump. Now, I know why they do it. They want their cars to last longer. Albanians spend a lot of time cleaning their homes, mopping their floors, and flogging their carpets. Why? Because they value their home. And, shoes? Good quality shoes are hard to find here. So, they take special care of their shoes in order that they last longer and look nice. There are other things that Albanians value. But, my lesson learned? Value and take good care of what little you may have. They can save you lots of money and headaches too.
Five life lessons that I hope to take with me wherever I go. Thank you Albania.