Thursday, May 11, 2017


There are two things I dislike about getting older, no, three actually. One, I dislike that quite frequently my body just does not cooperate with my will forces. Two, I dislike that my brain is slower. Three, I dislike that so much of life is full of endings, and when you age you have quite a few endings to contemplate usually with a pang of pain in the process. 

This evening was the last evening I spent with my host family. Since we volunteers sprinted through Tirana our last Sunday of training, I was unable to celebrate with my family the way I had intended. I had fixed my host family supper as a beginning of the goodbye process the week before , in anticipation of the build up to separation. Today in Elbasan, I purchased some Baklava and some sort of Albanian variation of Rum Baba’s (which were divine I might add) as my contribution to the marking of my departure on my last official evening in Bishqem. 

My language exam went much better than I expected. I truly was prepared to completely bomb, but I was able to actually carry on a marginally intelligent conversation for 20 minutes. It seems my technique of writing down all the answers to possible questions paid off, except for one aspect. When asked about my profession, I dutifully answered: Unë jam Mjeke Popullore dhe Myeke Ackupunctore. My interviewer was very interested in the Acupuncture, and I was completely unprepared to delve into explaining Chinese Medicine in Shqip, the best I could come up with was that it was beautiful and interesting because it was successful, those descriptions were the extent of what I could pull out of my brain on cue. I was gently informed that I needed to work on that aspect of conversation in the debriefing after the exam. 

What is the Albanian word for “meridian” “five element correspondance” and “needle”? How do you explain “Qi” in Shqip? I was so focused on comparing Orange California with Bishqem Albania,  and getting my parents professions and ages pronounced properly, it truly never occurred to me to look up a couple of words so I could explain Acupuncture. I thought this was quite ironic and hilarious all at the same time, but I certainly felt the nudge from my Angel that I need to make up a few sentences on the subject for my counterpart conference. I was told my pronunciation was good though, and that I speak slowly and softly, which is actually how I speak normally when in professional settings.

On the way back to my host family from hub, the beauty of the valley was what I allowed to soak in as it would be my last ride there for maybe forever. There had been a wallop of a rain storm that day, and the clouds started to part while we drove through the farms and vineyards. As I saw shepherds with their flocks, and women in white scarves bent over at the hip gathering herbs in open fields, I had the insight that these activities have been going on since the dawn of time, and will continue after I leave. I was allowed to observe, just for a little while, but it is time to go, and they will continue without me.

As one of my site mates and I walked to our respective houses after the furgon dropped us off, we were stopped by a man I had never seen before. He warmly greeted us, and asked us if we were happy with our assignments. Wow, I had never met this man and he knew I was a volunteer and the name of the city where I was going to serve. He wished both of us great success while in Albania. 

I had lugged a bag and my water filter and fire extinguisher into the city  that morning to leave at hub. I then purchased a bag to help with what is left of my things, and did laundry so I could meet my new host family with freshly laundered clothing. After coming out of the Language Proficiency Exam, I had a levity to me that I have not felt in a while. There is something about  feeling somewhat competent that puts a skip on your step. My host family made a wonderful supper with pork chops, potatoes, fried peppers and salad as a farewell supper. I felt so at home, and was able to chat a bit in Shqip, telling them of my Acupuncture language fiasco. They insisted I take fresh eggs with me to my new site, I declined not knowing how I could possibly carry raw eggs and everything else I have to carry on numerous buses to my new site. It was decided  instead that I would take two large jars of plums and peaches, and some pop corn on the cob, all from their farm, grown and produced in their kitchen. Somehow I will find room in all of my bags for these treasures that come from their heart as well as their land.

The grandmother or gjusha as they are called here, came by, and I was so happy, since I wanted to get a picture of her. I also wanted to get an intergenerational picture of the hands of all the women in this family, as it is the hands of women that are involved in transforming the land, raising children and feeding both animals and human alike. Gjusha has no teeth, which is common for women of her age in this part of the world. This woman raised seven children in the midst of the communist regime. I was sorry I could not really talk with her beyond pleasantries, I would be so interested to hear her talk about her life and what she thinks about how the world is turning out these days. She enjoyed my sweets, and asked questions of me that I could actually understand and answer regarding my next plans.

Endings are part of aging. When I was in Naturopathic School, our counseling class focused on grief, because my teacher, a PHD psychologist, said that encountering grief was the basic experience of all human emotions. We are always in a state of letting something go, and how we process this determines our physical and emotional health. For me, the last few years of my life has been filled with acute soul crushing grief, too many good byes, too much letting go to the point of not wanting to be intimate anymore because of the guaranteed eventual pain. I healed much of my sorrow by caring for an infant who actually enjoyed my presence and would allow me to hold and cuddle him without feeling suffocated and the need to recoil from my touch. I feel that the people I am to encounter here in Albania may heal the rest of my brokenness. What is actually ironic is that both of these experiences involve little or no spoken language.

For me, relaxing is listening to podcasts, books or lectures. Recently, I was listening to a lecture on the nature of the make up of the spiritual world, from the Angelic hierarchies through the Trinity. The lecture spoke of how at the core of Divinity, there is a deep mystic silence. I have often wondered what exactly God and the Angels hear and what language they speak, and a bit in amazement that they must understand all languages. It is also an interesting phenomenon that when people loose a sense, the other senses become heightened. For those who are blind, they tend to have acute senses of smell, hearing and touch. While speaking isn’t necessarily a sense, I have found that when I can not speak for various reasons, my senses become quite acute. I also have developed through my clinical experience a keen sense of observation because I have found that some clues to people’s current health status are not always something they can report on using language.

There is a deep communication that occurs when there are few words. The essence of who we are does not get hidden or lost in the maze of verbal expressions, beliefs and misunderstandings. The warmth of simple caring for another person, of fixing a cup of tea, of laughing at a cartoon or marveling at fireflies and a mauve sunset actually have no  vocabulary, sentence structure or verb case involved. All of these encounters have no words but convey the depth and beauty of the human soul sojourning on earth.

I do not say goodbye often, because I dislike endings. I like au revoir till we meet again, because I believe that we will at some point either here or in the hereafter. Some of the richest encounters I have ever had have been short term and sometimes without words. The meeting of our hearts here in Bishqim has had few words, but the understandings are deep. The beauty and dignity of being a human being does not need words to be evident, in fact they shine through more strongly when there are none. Watching a family love one another, of a grandmothers delight in the dancing of her grandson, of watching a young couple relish in the newness of infatuation, searching for any excuse to touch one another, of a mother comforting an injured child, of a stranger helping me with my bags, knowing I am a foreigner, of the clerk putting extra care into wrapping pasteries into a box with a bow, so much is there, so much is conveyed without a sound.

I will miss the sound of the frogs and crickets, at night, and the roosters in the morning. I will miss the lilting song of the cow mooing in the barn. I often wonder what they are actually saying to one another. I will miss the simple warmth of the presence of another human being who can not talk with me, but cares deeply for my welfare anyways.  I will not say goodbye to this land and her ecology, I will not say goodbye to my host family, for they will always be a part of me, this experience of inclusion, of the beauty and dignity of being a human being actually will never end in my heart or in the valley of Bishqem.

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