"So tell me you love it there." This is what I was recently asked by the spouse of the Naval Officer considering Glenn's position at this post. (A.K.A. a future DATT spouse). I know I shouldn't have been, but I was caught off guard by the request since usually the question is more subtle. Usually the questions are along the lines of do I like the city or tell me about what a typical day is like. This was much more upfront. I hesitated before answering, contemplating what I should say. It would be a lie to say that I love Albania. While I like many things about the country, there are just as many things that frustrate me beyond belief. Thus, I don't love it. Most days I do like it--some days a lot even-- but on other days I do absolutely hate it. Am I short changing the country by telling someone who has never been here that I don't love it?
It has taken me many years to realize and accept it, but it is OK to not love where you are. And yes, it is even OK to hate where you are. This doesn't make you a bad person. Sometimes I get the feeling that admitting you aren't completely enamored with the place you currently live makes you an outcast (or as someone once told me, depressed). At least that is how I often feel here in Albania. Some people look at me like there is something wrong with me because they love Albania, or at least profess to loving it, so much and I don't. Too many people, especially non-Albanians, seem to take the criticism personally. Yes, it is my personal opinion of the place but others are entitled to their own personal opinions as well. We didn't point at a map one day and say we wanted to move to Albania. The U.S. Navy asked us if we were willing to come here and after a bit of research, we agreed. We've enjoyed the past two years and and we have been frustrated by the place at times but those are our personal feelings. I have never expressed likes or dislikes on behalf of anyone other than myself. And because we are all individuals with different likes and dislikes what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. As adults we need to recognize and respect this.
Perhaps it is because I have traveled and lived in many places that I now have an understanding of what I personally like and don't like in a place I call "home". Although they are incredibly important factors, it is more than the house or the neighborhood you live in. The people around us, the opportunities that exist both locally and regionally, professionally and personally, and the daily living conditions of both ex-pats and natives alike all effect our quality of life and thus our own happiness. We may live in a nice house by Albanian standards but it is hard to see Roma beggers on the streets and packs of feral dogs on the corner when we are out and about. At the same time we regularly drive by cars that cost more than a year's salary for our household. When our house is the only one in the neighborhood with electricity, thanks to our super sized generator, I feel for our neighbors who are going with out lights or heat. The contrasts between the "haves" and the "have nots" here is really amazing and equally hard to accept.
After pausing, I answered the question truthfully. There are things I really like about the country and things I can't stand but in the end I have absolutely no regrets about our time in Albania. Sure, it hasn't always been easy but show me someplace that truly is problem free. While some of our time here has been really difficult for our family, we've also had opportunities to do and see things that we would never have otherwise experienced. Our son has flourished here (and achieved a level of Albanian language proficiency that I can only dream about), we've traveled throughout Albania, Europe and back, and we have made life long Albanian and international friends. And that I can't regret. So no, I'm not loving it here but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.