Sunday, 30 January 2011

Here Come the Girls

I would like to introduce you to some of my new friends, officially called "The Girls". Yesterday they came over for some coffee, cake and a film. It was good. We watched 10 Things I Hate About You, and they did a great job of keeping up with the English! Significantly better than I'd have managed had we watched in Albanian... It's been great hanging out with them over the last few weeks and I'm excited about spending more time with them. You'll defintely be hearing more about (Floren)Tina because she's my super-patient Albanian teacher, and Norah who runs the Kid's Club (and is my informal Albanian tester).

They tested out my first baking adventure using ingredients available in Kosovo. Turns out vanilla essence is a no-no, but vanilla sugar will do the job instead. And it turned out fine, I managed some pretty tasty chocolate chip cookies (no pictures managed before consumption) and also a coconut slice thing, minus glace cherries. I don't think we missed them though, they still tasted pretty good. YUM.

The Girls also bravely agreed to let me drive them home... Getting behind the wheel has been in the back of my mind since I arrived, armed with my driving license and ready to go! But driving here is not quite the same as driving at home. For a start, check out my wheels:
The truck is a little bigger and heftier than the little Ford KA I drive at home, but I think I'm getting used to it. Even being a left-hand drive hasn't flummoxed me too much yet. The bigger problem here is probably more the general approach to driving by the locals. You will hear more of this in the weeks to come, but for now I will just that the first rule of driving in Kosovo is there are no rules...
CORRECTION: Last week I told you that there were 10 additional characters in the Albanian alphabet, but on further study I realised that there's actually 11 and no w. But those of you who read my last post carefully will know that because you'll have counted all 11 that I introduced to you...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

ABC

Today I had my first Albanian lesson and, as predicted, it was very painful. But I have a great teacher - one of the girls from the Bible Study - and she only laughed at me a few times. So that was nice of her.
Did you know that the Albanian alphabet has 36 characters? You're probably aware that the English alphabet only has 26 characters. That's an increase of 10. This is bad news to begin with.

So here they are, my new nemeses:

C (except the one with the little squiggle at the bottom like in French. I can't work out how to write it on this keyboard. Let down.) - sounds like CH (nice and easy, although I'd like to say that "c" isn't pronounced "see" it's pronounced TSA, or like piZZA. Who's daunted yet?)

DH - sounds like THE (but not "the", more like "thay". Say it like you say THEY)

E (with two little dots on the top. Again, let down by the keyboard) - sounds like UUH (kind of, but mostly not when it's at the end of a word because then you don't really pronounce it at all, helpfully)

GJ - sounds like J (which is easy. Phew)

Ll - sounds like Ll (which isn't the same as L. Apparently. Very far from perfecting that one)

NJ - sounds like NOTHING I KNOW (literally we have no sound that corresponds. So just say it like you see it)

RR - sounds like rolling your r's (which I have never been able to do and am not much closer to doing even after this afternoon's very painful attempts)

SH - sounds like SH (Hooray!)

TH - sounds like TH (again, hooray!)

XH - sounds like G (as in Germs. Manageable)

ZH - sounds like GE (as in beiGE. Obviously)

You all need to get practising because I'm going to test you when I'm home. If you're in this with me then you can feel my alphabetical pain too.

And in other news:

Last night it was a balmy -12 degrees outside and it didn't feel much warmer inside. My saving grace was my electic blanket. And Jesus, obviously.

For those of you concerned about the progress of my knitting, you'll be pleased to know that I'm just finishing up the second arm of my current project, a small jumper. I did discover the other day that I've knitted the entire back in the wrong size needles!! But since that's going to be the least of this jumper's worries, I don't think anyone will notice.

I think that's it from me today. Stay classy Englanders, and thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The least of these

Friday was the last day of shoebox delivery and the first day of snow! We ventured out for one last time into the hills to deliver a final batch of shoeboxes to happy/bewildered school children. Good times. Here is a picture of me. That is me, in the distance. It's amazing to arrive at a school with bare walls and extremely basic classrooms and discovered that some of the children have trekked 5km in the snow to get there.

After emptying the van of shoeboxes we headed off to deliver some food and other aid to a collection of families in an especially poor and isolated part of the country. The missionaries here helped build their houses in the years after the war and have been going back regularly ever since. It's a really tough place to be, life is pretty brutal. The mother of the family we visited is about 45/50 and looks at least 20 years older. She has breast cancer - which she isn't being treated for - and high blood pressure. While hosting us she collapsed and although she came round and continued to make us eat biscuits and drink tea, it was really clear that she's very ill and not likely to live very much longer.

The UK team who are here to deliver the shoeboxes had also brought some tracksuits which were going spare at home. They were able to give these out to the older children of the family and we had a great time getting them to strike a pose:

These two are 15 and 22 and did a great job of serving us Turkish coffee and tea. They carry a lot of the responsibility, especially as their mum is so ill. I was really aware that they have practically no prospects, there's barely anything to do, and no work. I haven't really been able to shake them from my mind since. Their poverty is so complete but they are just like us, wanting the same as we wanted at 15 and 22, but with almost no chance of getting it. I'm an optimist, I like to find the positive spin on things but I'm really struggling on this one. So I'm praying for them, that they find riches in God, hope in Christ. If you want, you can join me.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Do you know Justin Bieber?

Another week of shoebox delivery is well underway. The British team arrived on Monday and the last two days have been spent in schools around town and out in the villages. It's been great to see the final stage of the whole shoebox project, having seen boxes made up at home, delivered and displayed at church, and driven off to the distribution point in Eastborne. The boxes we're delivering here were made up in the UK and Ireland so we can really say that these gifts have come from our home for the children. Here are a few pictures:



When you start thinking about shoeboxes for next Christmas, feel free to make up boxes for older children (10-14) as there are never enough, especially for the boys. Hats/scarves/gloves are usually a winner, along with some chocolate and a ball.
Yesterday at one of the schools a group of girls of about 11 got very excited and asked if I knew Justin Bieber. (For those of you who aren't sure, Justin Bieber is a 16 year old popstar/singer type person. Look at his pretty face: ). I told them that I didn't know Justin Bieber but that apparently didn't translate very well and they asked me to please tell him that they love him and that he should go to Kosovo to sing for them. I promised I would when I next saw him. Is that bad? They really do love him (including the boys, I checked) and they show their love through graffiti on the main school door:

11 year old girls are the same the world over apparently.
I've been to Kid's Club, church and bible study since being here but as these are weekly occurences I'll come back to those at a later date. For now you can just know that I'm loving all of them!

If you're an attendee at Bromley Baptist, there should be some prayer cards around on Sunday morning, destined for your fridge doors. And if you've been praying for me, please know that you are being heard and answered.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Off-Roading

On Friday we ventured out of the town to deliver some shoeboxes to schools in the villages in the hills. The first school we delivered to was basically two wooden huts and an office, each with desks, a wood-burning stove, a teacher and some pupils. And the hills and mountains in the background.

We carried on to the next village which required the transiti
on from road to off-road. The Americans in my truck loved it, apparently they go off-roading in their 4x4s all the time. After about 15 minutes of bumping and jumping up the side of a mountain we made it up to a remote school house with just one room, teacher and a few kids. And the stove, obviously. We did some more deliveries, and admired their view of the snow-capped mountains out the windows. The kids are all very sweet, although quite a few of them look pretty bemused by this bunch of foreigners turning up and giving them a box of gifts. Christmas isn't particularly celebrated here so the gift-giving isn't a common custom. But what kid doesn't love a box of toys? So they generally seemed happy.
We were invited to tea in the village, but it turns out that these villages are seriously spread out so it took getting into the trucks to continue the journey. So off we went, embracing the dirt track. Sitting in the back with three others (with eight of us in total in the truck), two facing two was a lot of fun. We were generally shaken around, bumped up and down, left and right. Good times.
So after we've chugged along experiencing the lumps and bumps of off-road travel it gets really exciting when we hit a patch of ice. We start to head up an incline, mountain on the left, nothing on the right, when it becomes clear that we're not going any further. Watching out the back I can see the ice being spit out by the wheels just as we lose any grip. As we begin to head backwards down the hill, our driver turns his wheel to the right and we back (at speed) to the edge of the road. I'm enjoying the view of the almost sheer drop down, pretending that this is in no way completely terrifying and putting my absolute trust in the driver. So we're sliding backwards towards the edge, and down the hill. As we hit dirt at the side of the road, the truck moves forwards and down, the driver steers left and before you know it we're gently sliding back down the hill facefirst. I discovered yesterday that Ernie, the driver, was a formerly a trucker in Canada. It makes sense now.
So, disaster averted. We decide to take a different route which apparently is a worse road but we're going to try it. So after we've climbed and dipped and jolted etc for another 10 or so minutes, and headed down a hill with the truck leaning several degrees past comfortable to the left (during which time I'm planning contingency measures for when the truck rolls and I'm doing something heroic of save the life of the nine year old sitting opposite me), we finally make it to our destination. Thank you Jesus.

I think the next hour or so has been one of my favourite so far, except for the trip to the outside toilet. These communities really are the rural poor, they have very little and live off the land with few prospects for their children. We were served traditional food, pickled peppers and tomatoes, bread, cheese (from the local cows), rice with paprika and chicken, and then tea. Tea comes in little glasses with sugar and lemon and no milk, and is refilled nice and quick. I was happy. But best of all was giving out three more shoeboxes to the three children. It was great to sit around and get excited with them, they really don't have very much and watching them receive new hats and gloves, a tennis ball, a harmonica, colouring books and pens and the rest was really special. It got really exciting and felt a lot like Christmas Day at home. It was so lovely to be a part of that delivery.

The other highlight of that trip was the 104 year old man we encountered on our way. Check out the photos.


Thursday, 13 January 2011

On Arrival

So I made it, pretty much event-free, other than taking off, flying, and landing, all of which are crucial for air travel. And for those of you ever travelling from the Bromley area to Gatwick, I recommend taking the 119 to East Croydon and then the train to Gatwick - I was checked in 90 minutes after leaving the house. Leaving before 7am might help also.

Being here is great, and not even particularly cold. I'm glad I was out for a bit before Christmas, that's helped a lot with feeling like I vaguely know the space and people etc. This week and next will mostly be spent delivering shoeboxes to children at local schools, this week with an American team, and next week with a team from the UK. It's been nice to make some new friends today and only three people so far have tried to mimic my accent. None have done a very good job.

That's pretty much it for now. I'll try and do something interesting soon and put up some photos, also of something interesting. Me probably, with a small child and a shoe box. Watch this space.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Are you a soldier?

Yesterday I went into the bank to tell them that I was going away for a bit and after I'd told the nice lady where I was going and for how long she looked at me and said "Are you a soldier?"

The first and last time (probably) that anyone's looked at me and thought "that girl must be soldier".

I said no, but on reflection if I'd been more on the ball I'd have said "Yes, I am a Christian soldier" and then sung a verse or two of Onward Christian Soldiers. But I didn't.

But anyway, the point is that I'm leaving tomorrow. I'll be travelling with two other women who are working with BMS, Eileen and Leah, who I'll meet at Gatwick bright and early in the morning. I'll be living with Eileen and helping out at the school for children with special needs that Eileen has set up. "Helping out" is a loose term, mostly I just watch Eileen and Carol (another BMS volunteer working at the school) in amazement as they negotiate some serious special needs with a lot of love, compassion and patience.

For those of you who are of a praying disposition, here's where you can start: for safe travel and quick learning of Albanian. I'll keep you posted. And a lot of thanks in advance. See you on the flip side!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Casting On

The countdown is on. I'm leaving in 3 days and most of you have seen me for the last time until at least April. This might be a tough week for you but try and hold it together.

I've not really got much to say at this point but I wanted to give you the chance to get into the habit of remembering to check this blog at least once a day. So well done, add me to your favourites bar and prepare to be entertained.

Actually, the knitting thing - I'm taking mine with me, planning to create a bundle of mittens and gloves and jumpers in between all the teas and coffees and cake and bible study. I've perfected the cable stitch and I'm excited!

Also, thank you SO BLOOMING MUCH to everybody who has sent their hard earned cash in my direction. You have all be extremely generous and I feel very honoured that you're trusting me with your money. I will do my very best to spend it wisely and prayerfully.

Sorry, turns out I did have a bit to say. Or that when allowed a free reign, I will just keep talking. You can skim read from now on, I won't mind. Or know.
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