After three wonderful weeks away, I'm returning to Albania. I know I'm going to have to go through a re-acclimatization period. It wasn't until I left Albania, the Balkans, and Southeastern Europe altogether, that I realized how much I have missed the little things in life that I used to take for granted. I've missed the high standard of living that comes from living in a truly westernized society. Yes things might cost more and we definitely pay more in taxes in the United States, but there is a reward for these higher expenses. We have the benefit of properly paved and maintained highways, city streets that are marked and easy to navigate, and safe sidewalks. We have traffic laws that are uniformly and fairly enforced and the vehicles on the road are safe and match the true socio-economic status of their driver rather than being an unaffordable status symbol.
I've missed being able to turn on the kitchen faucet and drink potable water directly from the tap. I had forgotten how wonderful it is to walk into a restaurant (or store) and have it be truly smoke free. (Restaurants and stores are supposed to be smoke free in Albania but I have yet to find an establishment where this law is consistently enforced). Just being able to go to a restaurant and order food that isn't Albanian or Italian is something I'll never take for granted again. (My diet for the past three weeks has been a wonderful international smorgasbord). I had forgotten how wonderful it is to visit a safe and well maintained playground and to just run (barefoot if you like) over vast expanses of green grass. Lawns and other maintained green spaces are such a rarity in Albania, and if you can find them, you would never dream of taking your shoes off in them. The sheer joy of Sidney's laughter as he ran across parks and other open expanses throughout Scandinavia was both heartwarming and a bit disheartening. While I know he is now experiencing things a child living in America or Western Europe would never even dream about, I wonder what simple childhood pleasures he is missing out on. (After seeing all of the bicycles in Copenhagen, he's now asking to ride a bicycle. While he has one at home, there really isn't a safe place for him to do this since even the "pedestrian only road" in the local (grassless) park is cluttered with speeding vehicles).
I've missed being able to browse through stores and see a wide variety of products. As a recent foray into a mega-mall demonstrated, I don't need to actually buy anything. Just being able to look and touch items and know that I could buy them is enough for me. I've also realized how much I miss driving. I do drive in Albania but driving there is like driving on a demolition derby course where you never know when the next vehicle, or animal, is going to jump into your path. The conditions of the roads prohibit driving at a set speed. I think my favorite part of being back in America has been getting onto the interstate, setting the cruise control and just going for miles and miles. I've missed the clean air that is virtually impossible to find in Albania. For the past three weeks I've been sleeping with the windows open so that I can breathe that fresh air. More than once I've found myself standing still and simply inhaling and absorbing the world around me.
So how am I going to re-acclimatize? By fighting off jet lag and jumping right in with both feet back into my Albanian life. Sunday will be spent as a domestic goddess reclaiming my house- laundry, menu planning and grocery shopping are on the agenda. I'll go to work on Monday morning and cap off the day by attending a reception at the Polish Embassy that evening. On Wednesday we'll host a small sit down dinner for eight then we're headed out on a road trip into the wilds of Albania next weekend. I'll be so busy I'll have time for neither jet leg or nor missing the outside world.
Goodbye (for now) America; I will miss you. Albania here I come again; after I re-acclimatize I will enjoy you again as well.