Luke and I moved to Russia in 1997 right after he finished seminary. We arrived in Novosibirsk with next to nothing. . . no cultural knowledge, language skills, children, ministry experience, or possessions. Gradually over the next 25 years, God gave us all those blessings and more. Russia became our home, the place where we felt comfortable, the place where we raised our three children. We knew where to fix the transmission, how to file taxes, which plumber to call, what to substitute for cream soup, and where to get stitches. We had one adventure after another at church, school, and home, and each adventure gave us new knowledge, appreciation, and experience.
Now we are living in Durres, Albania. . . and it feels like déjà vu!
Once again, we are the new guys, sorely lacking in cultural knowledge and language skills. We don’t know much about how ministry works in Albania. We are empty nesters. It’s like we’re newlyweds again!
We’ve spent a grand total of 87 days in Albania. That isn’t much, but we are having adventures and learning.
Albanians are hospitable and friendly. Pastor Nikola Bishka (Niko) and his family found us a lovely apartment to live in and let us borrow things we needed. They are always happy to help. (We especially appreciate their old espresso machine!) Church members have welcomed us warmly.
Albanians don’t want to tell you “No.” I learned this the hard way. Don’t keep waiting around if someone says they’ll do it “in 20 minutes.”
You can buy eggs one at a time. And there’s always a lady selling live chickens just down the block. (Should I surprise Luke some day?)
Locals advise me to look for goods imported from Italy. That is the signal for quality. My new favorite butter comes from Italy. And coffee. And small appliances. And laundry soap. And wine.
Don’t buy bread or baked goods at the grocery store. A nearby bakery will offer fresher goods and cheaper deliciousness.
In Durres, directions are given much like in rural Nebraska: by landmark. We don’t even have a street address. We’re in the apartment building by the pub, “Bar ZaZa.” Taxi drivers and pizza delivery guys know exactly where we are.
Don’t eat olives off the tree. They don’t taste good. Fresh olives must be brined for at least two weeks before eating. My favorite olive merchant is also an excellent, patient man to practice language with. So I buy a lot of olives!
You can keep your washing machine outside on the balcony. (This isn’t Novosibirsk!) I don’t think they are worried about freezing pipes in Durres.
Our apartment is on the 10th floor, and we have a beautiful view overlooking the Port of Durres on the Adriatic Sea. The deep turquoise of the sea at noon becomes a lovely light blue at sunset.
Sunset is the perfect time to wind down and take a walk. The sun is not so hot, the water is beautiful, and the ice cream vendors are still out in full force.
Though I can’t understand most of the words at church, I can see the fruits of faith. I see that the people are happy to gather for worship. They care about each other. They love their pastors. They sing praises with gusto. They are patient and loving with us.
Right now, we are in the U.S. for some family time, classes, and meetings. God-willing we’ll head back to Albania soon. We’re looking forward to learning more about life and work in Albania with new adventures!
Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, wife of World Missionary Luke Wolfgramm.
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