When Laurel invited me to help at her GLOW camp, she gave me the opportunity to finally see a city that had captured my interest both in literature and history - Gjirokaster. Among its famous residents are Ismail Kadare (Nobel prize for Literature nominee, and national treasure of Albania) and Enver Hoxha (WWII rebel leader turned communist dictator from 1944 to his death in 1985). Checking out that city chock full with interest and beauty, doing camp with bright and bubbly girls, and experiencing some b-e-a-YOUteous nature made for an awesome week.
As you can tell, it is built on a mountainside overlooking a valley, lending it the nickname "City of a Thousand Steps."
Kadare wrote in his book, Kronike ne Gure (Chronicle in Stone):
It was a slanted city, set at a sharper angle than perhaps any other city on earth, and it defied the laws of architecture and city planning. The top of one house might graze the foundation of another, and it was surely the only place in the world where if you slipped and fell in the street, you might well land on the roof of a house – a peculiarity known most intimately to drunks.
Yes, a very strange city indeed. In some places you could walk down the street, stretch out your arm, and hang your hat on a minaret.
I got there on the second day, and the girls had already created vision board collages like we did in Lushnje, and Kat (another health volunteer) was in the middle of a presentation on strong women.
Almost all the girls spoke English, and it was hard to get them to stay in Albanian so everyone could understand (they were so eager to practice)! But regardless of the language, they came up with some pretty awesome key words for powerful, successful women:
Afterward, a volunteer came from the Red Cross to demonstrate first aid and CPR. Our model couldn't stop laughing as the teacher tried to "help" her.
Laurel, our commander in chief:
This city is gorgeous. It's been preserved quite well, and there's echoes of everything from Turkish influences to WWII scars left by the Germans and Italians. Just a stroll from the QKF to get a snack, and you're treated to this:
The next day, I did my hygiene lesson. The girls covered period/lady bits health, sun safety, and personal body hygiene. They got super creative (SpongeBob told us to be nice to girls when they're feeling grouchy on their period).
Please take a look at Snow White. Look at her feet. Now look at her neck. Try not to have nightmares.
Laurel, your girls are so much fun and you planned an AWESOME camp!
The day after, we took a stroll through town to pick up trash (and I got to see a bit of the castle and more of the city). The girls got super excited about it - even trying to dig old plastic out of tar in the road (gross). In the afternoon, Laurel gave a valuable presentation on human trafficking in Albania.
The last day, we took a field trip to an aptly-named place north of town called Uji i Ftohte (Cold Water). The river here gets a bit deeper (really, only about four feet) and runs fast, so it's a blast to jump in, freeze your buns off, float down a bit, and then try to swim back.
Across the way was a large herd of goats resting in the sun, serenading us with the bells around their necks.
Mira, the language and culture coordinator from PC headquarters in Tirana, came to check out the camp and came to the river with us. She grew up in the nearby town of Tepelene and told us stories about going to that very spot as a child.
The road from Gjirokaster to Tepelene was lined with dozens of little stalls selling local honey in big jars - with the sun shining through the displays, they looked to me like stain glass. So pretty!
Gjirokaster is definitely worth its hype. It's beautiful and wears its complex history proudly. If you ever find yourself in Albania, this is definitely a place to stop. Thanks for having me, Laurel!