Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The bus ride saga: Tirana, Albania – Thessaloniki, Greece

In some sagas you do not know where to begin. I would say this is one of those times. The simple fact that I am writing this saga proves that we are alive and well.
On the trip to Thessaloníki I had 12 hours to analyze our barefoot driver. He was a energetic man who did not like any vehicles in front of him. So, he would drive to their bumper, flash his light until they moved over and allowed him to pass. If there was a car in the on-coming lane, he would flash them too. This then created a center lane for the bus to drive – half in his lane and half in the on-coming traffic's lane. I guess it was effective!
It was a little odd for Bethany and I as we were the only women on the bus. There was around 30-35 Albania men, and Norm and Nathan. All the restrooms we stopped at were filthy Turkish toilets. I found this very discouraging on the return trip after my abdominal surgery!
At the boarder crossing into Greece there was a precious little 5 years old Albanian gypsy boy. He was standing at the door of our bus and one of the men told him to come up. He went down the aisle with his little hand out. All the men that could gave him money! He was so happy. We gave him some money too. He left the bus but did not think he properly thanked the generous men, so up he came again greeting every row with “Thank you” “ Have a safe trip” “Have a good time”...“ Bless you for filling my hands with money” over and over again.
The bus also made very unusual stops. I was confused when he asked a number of men to get off the bus and get their luggage. They all piled back on the bus bags in hand. Twenty minutes later while we were traveling on the highway I understood. He would pull over on the highway an let off a man here or 2 there. He would find a underpass that would lead them to their town and they would just walk all the way to their final destination.
The 12 hours also gave us ample time to decide if we really enjoyed loud Albania music. We all had ear plugs and head phones to try to create a buffer to the constant sound. We arrived in Thessaloníki around 8 PM and 2 Albania young men helped us catch the right buses and we arrived at our hotel 1 ½ hours later.

Thessaloníki, Greece – Tirana, Albania

Our return trip 8 days later was much different. To begin with we were surprised that it was a night bus. Then, we found out that our driver drives the 12 hours to Thessaloníki and then turns around immediately and returns to Tirana. He slept on the bus for around 4 hours while another calm driver took the wheel, then to our horror barefoot driver was back in the driver seat!

When we hit the mountains everyone started snapping seat belts to help keep us IN our seats! He was driving so fast on the mountain pass that the tires were squealing. At one switch-back he was driving too fast to make the turn. So he braked and screeched to a halt inches before hitting the communist era railing and going over the cliff! After coming to a grinding stop he paused a bit, then with a nervous laugh - backed the bus back on the road and continues our torture. This incident put a little fear in him and a lot of fear in us. His fear factor only lasted around 10 minutes, ours much longer! As I was praying, I was contemplating getting off the bus (3 AM) and calling Fredi Sufa to come and get us with his car! We found out later that that mountain pass is off limits for buses to travel. I understand why!

A few hours later we arrived in Tirana. When we got close to our house we asked to be dropped off early. Bethany was car sick since the mountains and feeling nasty anyway. It was so nice to be on foot! Home was never so welcome. Lela had cleaned the house and made us soup. We were home at last.

Monday, March 9, 2009

International Woman's Day March 8

It was wrapped in a sheet of newspaper. I opened the gift carefully so nothing would slip out. There, wrapped so humbly, lay a pair of socks, lipstick, and a bar of soap. Anther newspaper bundle was left on my seat in the Land Rover. I opened this one to find perfume, lipstick, nylons and some flowers. Included was a precious handwritten note.
These gifts are very precious to me. They are from my dear ladies who struggle every day just to put bread on the table. (most of them make the bread themselves – no bread machine!)
Wrapping things in newspaper was very common a few years ago when there were no plastic bags in the country. We would get fast food sandwiches, money and even a loaf of bread wrapped in newspaper. I still receive a pair of slippers or some dried fruit wrapped in newspaper. It is one of the things I love about Albania. So simple, no pretense. Using what you have.


Lirie grew up in a village in the mountains of Tirana. There is no road to her village for a car to travel, only a donkey path. 12 years ago when the missionaries first visited her village they came by helicopter! As they worked and taught the village folks, Lirie opened her heart to the Lord, and soon her home! The missionaries and the new believers met in her living room for church each Sunday. Today to visit her village it will take an hour by car – then 2 hours on foot! She returns often during the summers. Lirie now lives in Shkoze with her son and daughter-in-law and grand children. She love to knit and crochet and makes beautiful fingerless gloves, slippers, hats and doilies.

Our Team

Norm and I are so blessed to have 3 great kids! They are 'Our Team'. Now that Benjamin is in college stateside our Team is smaller, but we are still strong.
Benjamin had the hard dirty jobs and never complained. He cleaned the yard, feed the dog, took out the trash – this can been an experience in Albania! His trash runs were popular with the neighbors as they would follow him constantly asking if they could have whatever was broken. He even had some cows try to steal his trash! Benjamin's strength and determination is greatly missed in our home today. He lead the youth group with a quiet determination. I know the devotional he gave before he left Albania will never be forgot in the hearts of the teens. We are thrilled to see him attend Bible college and seek the Lord's direction in his life.

Our home is filled with clarinet music all hours of the day. Nathan spends hours practicing his clarinet and also piano. He leads the music each Sunday with Norm. His knowledge of music is such a help to our church. Nathan enjoys teaching music also! He just recently had someone ask for music lessons. He is a born teacher with a love for learning. His spirit is contagious among the youth. After services I find him working with different kids teaching them Tae Kwon Do moves, yoga stretches, gymnastic tricks, or acting lessons! Hidden in his little 'lessons' I see him teaching them character traits, proper attitudes, and a love for God. If Nathan does not have a clarinet or another instrument in his hand he will have a camera! He is working on mastering some new skills with lighting and shadows. Watch out! You could be the next one in his sites!

While Nathan is the photographer, Bethany is the color consultant. She assist me greatly in our new ladies project. She often purchases yarn for the ladies. She creates designs, works with color combinations, and styles. Her natural ability is very helpful! Bethany also works with the children's program and youth group teaching them crafts, games and songs. She has a great passion for truth and right. If anyone of the children are caught cheating she sets them straight. It does not matter if they are 2 or 3 years older than her! She is also been very creative in teaching English. I am often in need of an assistant who can correct books, work on flashcards, lead a matching game, or just direct an English conversation. Bethany can handle it all! She makes learning fun for the kids!

This is our Team. We are so blessed and thankful to the Lord. Nathan will be going to the states to Bible college in the fall of 2010. It will be another time of transition for all of us. We are praying that the Lord would send more people to join our Team. There is much to do in Albania!