Say What?

Below are some words that I throw out on the regular.
Nuk dua të ripërcaktuar atyre çdo herë që unë ta përdor! 


The bashkia refers to the municipality building and government body. Megan, as a Community and Operational Development (COD) volunteer, works in the office of urban planning in the bashkia.

Crowds in front of the bashkia back when Sali Berisha was in town for a campaign stop in June.


Buke literally means "bread," but is used in parlance to mean food, meal, snack, or anything you might eat at any time. So, "Do ha buke?" means "Do you want to eat bread?" but is used to mean, "Are you hungry?" or "Are you ready to eat?" There's a legend of a PCV who started starving in PST because every time her family offered her food, she declined since she was so sick of bread - because all they were offering her was "buke."


Byrek is perhaps the most Albanian of Albanian "cuisine." It's translates to English as "pie" but it's not even really that close. Byrek is made by layering thin sheets of dough with whatever filling you have on hand (almost always a savory filling) and baking it in enormous round pans. I've had byrek me (with) spinach, tomato, eggs & yogurt (sounds weird, but is super common), gjiz (salty cottage cheese), meat, fasulli (bean soup), gjelle (stew), and cheese.


Ah, çuns. çun is simply a dude. It's most often used by Albanians as slang for "boy" or "guy". It's most often used by American PCVs to refer to punks. In PCV parlance, calling a boy/guy/man/teenager a "çun" implies a certain set of universal çun traits: the çun cut (hair that's short on the sides and long on the top), the çun roll (rolling their shirt halfway up their stomachs...can someone please explain to us why?), tight T-shirts, smoking and playing with the cigarette carton to make sure you notice that they're smoking, a love of Euro-pop music and soccer, and general cocky behavior. Also, to pluralize it correctly in Albanian one would actually say "çuna" and not çuns.

Rockin' the çun roll, circa 1970s.

Not all teenage boys/young men are "çuns" in the PCV sense! Just like all American teenage boys aren't punks.

They are, of course, "çuns" in the Albanian sense (guys).


D. Sh. P. stands for Drejtoria e Shëndetit Publik (in shqip, "sh" is a single letter). I work in the D.Sh.P.'s office of health promotion. The building itself is a mod-podge of dentists, pediatricians, financial offices, and random rooms of people sitting around desks smoking and eating fruit or popcorn. To this day I'm still slightly confused on how or what health care is covered, but I do know that if you need to see a doctor you just show up, no appointments. It's kinda crazy there.


Furgons are the main means of transport for those without a private vehicle. They're generally 12 to 15 person passenger vans (some smaller, some a bit bigger) with a sign in the window indicating where they're headed. Even though there's no central group setting the fees, furgon drivers tend to stay consistent with prices (for example, no matter who the driver is, I'll always pay 400 lek - about $4 -  to get to Tirana). That's not to say they'll do their darnedest to fleece any and all foreigners, so I often finding myself convincing the driver that no, I'm not a tourist, but no, I'm not Albanian, but yes, I live here, and no, it's not 10 euro to get to Tirana.


The Albanian lek is, on a good day, equal to about 1 cent. That's in formal currency however - speaking currency is different by tenfold. When shopping for tomatoes at the treg, I might be charged "dy qind" (200) lek but only pay 20 lek. It's a cultural holdover from the 1960s when the government adjusted the value of the lek, after years of instability and inflation, by a decimal point. Even though it's been over 40 years since the value was adjusted, in conversation Albanians still use "old lek" (200 lek, $2, for a tomato?!) to refer to "new lek" (nope, only 20 lek, much more reasonable!).


Everywhere you go in Albania, you'll be within walking distance of multiple lokales. Lokales are small cafes where you will find anything from old men drinking raki and playing dominoes in three-piece suits and fedoras, to çuns drinking espresso and whistling at girls, to the entire teaching staff from a nearby school planning out the year's curriculum while sipping on bitters. Everyone has their favorite haunts: with Lena, I go either to Lola's place next to the Red Cross or to her friend Luljeta's where she doesn't charge us: 

With Megan, we check out different places; and for special occasions, there's the lokale on top of a building overlooking the city:



An expression of "oh dear" or "oh no!" The traditional number of "bos" is two, but when something really dramatic happens one can always add three or four. Also, the pitch of the last "bo" increases in height as the emotion increases in hysteria. It's like a mathematical formula.


Raki is Albanian moonshine. Made from grapes (and, less frequently, honey or walnuts or other local products) by old men in three piece suits. I haven't tasted it (duh), but it smells like drain cleaner or antifreeze. I may or may not be slightly exaggerating.


Albania = Shqipëria

Albanians = Shqiptarët (plural); shqiptar = male, shiptare = female

Albanian (language) = Shqip

Eagle = shqiponjë

TRIVIA TIME! Albania is know as the "land of the eagles" and indeed, its flag features a double-headed one, and its name is almost the same word as that for eagle. How unfortunate, then, that there are no eagles in the entire country. Not even kidding.

Ah, Shipëria, you'll never fail to confuse me.


The xhiro is one of my favorite traditions here in Shiperia. Every evening, entire cities go for a walk. There's often a designated street, boulevard, or park where this occurs, with even main streets being shut down by police in order to let the citizens stroll, visit, eat, and play. Children have free reign to run around, weaving between walkers's legs and eating kokoshka (popcorn) from street vendors. Different cities have different traditions, but the general idea is the same: let's enjoy the weather (regardless of the season, as long as it's slightly warm), visit, show off our best clothes, stroll with our loved ones, and work up an appetite for our buke e djathe.

Me, Sarah, Lena, Becky, and other-Lena xhiro-ing when the girls visited in July 2013.

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