Friday, July 15, 2011

Cows in Tirana

I had a job interview earlier this week. Since it was a State Department position at the Embassy I put on my best black interview suit for the occasion.  This was in spite of the fact that the temperatures have been unbearable lately.  Albanians say it is “shumĂ« vapĂ«” (very hot) and are aghast that we won’t be taking a “pushime” to the sea this summer.  Since we just arrived here it doesn’t seem right that we would take a vacation so soon regardless of what the weather is and will continue to be for the next two months.  Anyway, I digress………….

So after donning a suit for the first time in over a year and using my shaky Albanian to reassure Sidney’s nanny that it is ok to let him cry and that she does not need to watch him the entire time he is sleeping (I am serious here, she will stand in his room and watch him sleep in case he needs anything. I am trying to reassure her that this just isn’t necessary)—I left the house.  Now our house is in what is considered a nice residential neighborhood in Tirana. Our immediate neighbors include the Turkish and Romanian Embassies and the Russian Ambassador’s residence.  While this isn’t Embassy Row in D.C. it certainly isn’t an undeveloped neighborhood. 

The path up
As I have mentioned before, however, the roads leave a lot to be desired.  Since we are still without a car I set out on foot for the 15 minute walk to the Embassy.  If the roads are bad the sidewalks- where they even exist- are even worse.  Manhole covers are routinely non existent and put a whole new meaning into Shel Silverstein’s ­Where the Sidewalk Ends.  To shorten the time I would actually have to walk along the road, I decided to take the short cut that skirts the American Embassy’s housing compound.  I had heard about this shortcut but when I first saw it my immediate thought was that it was a goat trail.  It is a narrow dirt packed trail that runs up then back down a rather steep hill.  The path is lined with blackberry brambles on one side and an ominous looking barbed wire fence on the other.  Despite these conditions this path is regularly used by Americans and Albanians alike. 

So I’m carefully making my way up and down this path in the 95+ degree heat dressed in my black suit and inappropriate walking shoes.  As I approach the crest of the hill I see a cow coming running straight towards me in an unavoidable collision course. Now some of you may or may not know that I spent my early childhood years living on a dairy farm with lots of cows.  Despite this, or maybe because of this, I have a deathly fear of all things cow.  As it approaches me, all I can focus on is the cow’s long horns.  An old man is fast on the cow’s heels but that doesn’t leave me feeling very reassured.  In a split second I decide that there isn’t room on the path for both of us and I decide that the lesser of the evils is my jumping into the blackberry brambles.  So I did it, suit, heels, and all. 

After the cow had gone charging past me I gracefully pulled myself out of the bushes and continued on my merry way with my heart racing.  I now have friends living in countries all around the world but I doubt any of them have encountered a cow on their way to their Embassies.  I can tell you that while JMAS prepared me for a lot of things, encountering a cow was not one of them.  Welcome to Albania!

P.S.  When I relayed this story to a friend at the Embassy she just laughed and told me that there was not one, but two cows living in our neighborhood.  Apparently they live on a property around the corner from our house and their owner takes them out twice a day.  I’m not sure where they go but they must cross through one of the Embassy housing security gates when they do.  I have not seen that yet and while I’m sure it is a sight to be seen, I’m not going to loiter around waiting for it to happen.

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