Thursday, August 29, 2013

Until We Meet Again

No matter how many times I do it, saying goodbye to dear friends never gets easier.  I suppose I should be used to it by now but I'm not.  And as is the case all too often, today I said goodbye to a dear friend here in Tirana.  I know it really isn't goodbye since we will definitely see each other again but her departure means that things are changing, our relationship is changing, and life as I know it in Tirana is changing.  For me, this is all really hard.

We met over two years ago during my first days in Albania.  It was a very hot June day and despite still being jet lagged, with Sidney in tow, I attended my first together of fellow military attache spouses.  For some unknown reason I had been told that none of the wives spoke a lot of English so I should be prepared to speak Albanian.  (In hindsight it is really the opposite; most speak at least some English and very little, if any, Albanian).  Now my Albanian wasn't that great so on the walk to the cafe I practiced sentences I both felt comfortable with and those that would be appropriate getting to know you topics.  By the time I arrived I felt confident that I could do this.  But when I turned to the woman sitting next to me and addressed her in Albanian I was met with a blank stare and asked in perfect English whether or not I spoke the language.  Surprised and relieved I stammered yes and we proceeded to converse in English.  And so began our friendship.

Since that hot day our friendship has grown.  We've shared long lunches (meals that are even considered to be long by European standards) and attended more than our fair share of official receptions.  We've sat through too many garbled dinner toasts and speeches and tried to identify plates of mystery meat together.  (She taught me that claiming to be a vegetarian is always a safe decision).  Together we've witnessed various forms of traditional Albanian dance and music as well as Albanian interpretations of western classics.  We've discussed everything from pop culture to world politics and have both broadened our horizons because of it.  Over time our husbands have become friends and joined into our little mix.  Meals with just the four of us are some of my fondest Albanian memories and after two years I think we've finally convinced them that Americans have no business selecting the wine.  We've traveled together:  from questionable hotel accommodations in Macedonia, to exploring the island of Corfu and most recently a celebratory girl's trip involving lots of food and wine to Madrid, we've created lasting memories that I will treasure forever.

Some people think the nomadic diplomatic life is glamorous but I haven't found that to always be the case.  For every unique opportunity we've had, it has been countered with an unsettling challenge or demand.  All too often our time isn't our own but we must muddle through and find the balance that works for us. I've discovered that this is the case regardless of which country you hail from and having had this dear friend here has made this entire experience infinitely easier.  We've shared personal and professional frustrations and disappointments, joys and celebrations.  We both had successful, full fledged careers prior to meeting our globe trotting military husbands so we have commiserated together about just how hard it is to be a trailing spouse.  She has been my reality and sanity check here in Tirana and has set me straight when I start to go awry.  She gets it and understands and for that I am grateful.  And for all of these reasons, and many more, I am going to miss her so.

But this isn't goodbye.  As I said before, we will see each other again.  Weekly lunches may be a thing of the past but this just means that our next lunch will have to be longer than usual.  Because our family will be remaining in Europe for another three years I know that I will visit her in her home and she will visit me in Belgium.  (However, no matter what I say or do, I can't convince her to return to Albania to visit me before we depart).  However, I know there will be more girls weekends and I'm already compiling a list of destinations.

So dear friend, fair winds and following seas until we meet again.  Come visit (in Albania or Belgium) and I promise you a few laughs,  properly chilled wine waiting and clean slippers by the door.

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