"Sister Nancy greets everyone she sees on the road," is the way Violeta started to relate this experience during an interview.
That has become my "thing". The friends are impressed by how friendly I am to people who walk by. I try to tell them it is my way of dealing with the awkwardness that comes with being stared at. Flash them a smile and say "hello". You may get a smile back, a giggle or a greeting. Sometimes they still look at you as if you are the Loch Ness Monster's second cousin twice removed (Fun Fact: "loch" is Scottish for "lake"!).
One day my greeting actually paid off! Violeta and I were walking to a bus stop when I noticed a woman staring at me. I said "pershendetja ("for your health" or "hello").
This led to the regular exchange...
"She speaks Albanian?"
"Yes," Violeta replied.
"Where is she from?"
Notice the question? Generally, after finding out I speak Albanian they continue asking my service partner questions about me. LOL!
This led to a conversation. Now Violeta has a doorstep study with this woman... and I helped :-D!
On Election Day I was in service with a sister named Fiorella when we were approached by her brother in-law. During their brief exchange he grabbed for her thumb. I figured that he was trying to be flirty but before I could flash him crazy eyes he said, "you didn't vote!"
"Wait... what?" Was my response.
A way for them to prevent voter fraud is to mark the thumb of the voter. It seemed silly to me. Surely if someone wanted to commit voter fraud they can simply wash their hands.
It turns out they do not use an ordinary Sharpie. It has been three weeks since the election and you can still faintly see the mark on their thumbs.
I do not think anyone has ever approached me on Election Day and asked if I voted but here you have a visible sign and people will look to see whether or not you have the mark. It is a thing friends have to deal with and they have to be ready with a reponse and in some cases take a stand.
On the day I left for Albania I remember sitting on my bed watching a Chris Christie for Governor ad and thinking to myself, "I am so glad that I am getting away from this political nonsense! No more, (deep dramatic voice) 'do you know who is a big poopy head? This candidate! Vote for Chris Christie... the non-poopy head.'"
SURPRISE!!!! Guess who was having their Prime Minister elections?!?!? Guess what? They also have an added twist! To quote my service partner, I hope there isn't going to be 'luft' (Albanian for "fighting"... or "war")."
Wait... what?!?!? Suddenly Chris Christie ads do not seem so bad!
Before I get into that, let me tell you a bit about the election. It is almost like the States but we do not have the banners, flags and posters that decorate the streets of Albania. They somehow manage to get the same deep voice announcer that we have in the States so they too have the "do you know who is a big poopy head" ads but this time it's in Albanian. Same dramatic look and hidden camera to show how a candidate is slightly more corrupt then the other. "Yeah I'm corrupt but look at THAT guy! He's MORE corrupt! BOOOOO!!!!"
One party had a group of young people who went out in twos and were armed with mini booklets to talk to people about their political party. The moment you start listening the other quietly stands at a distance and takes your picture on her phone! They did not stop at Albanians. They wanted to talk to me too. I do not think they realized that I am not Albanian. They stopped doing this once I prepared how to turn it into a witness.
The candidates come from various parties. There is the Democratic Party who have been in office for twenty-something years. The New Democratic Party, the Socialist Party, the other Socialist Party (but with different color flags that were not as pretty as the other Socialist Party) the Communist Party and other parties. The front runners were the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party.
This appeared to be a regular election that I would just have to grin and bear it until one night when Aferdita, my service partner nervously said, "I hope there isn't going to be luft."
"Luft?!?!" I asked.
"Yes. If the current party loses they may refuse to leave and then there will be 'luft'."
After some research I found out that after the results are announced there can be an all out revolt or nothing can happen. I also learnt that no one really knew the answer. The common answer was, "nothing is going to happen... *ponders for a moment* well... something COULD happen but I don't think anything will happen *unsure look*."
I was also informed that if things were going to get bad the Branch would tell us to go to Kosovo.
It was some what of a nervous time for me. I started seeing video clips (and a music video) of a riot that broke out after one election. There's nothing like seeing at and thinking, "that's CRAZY!!! Wait... That's like THREE BLOCKS FROM ME!!!!"
Not only am I in a country that might break out into an all out war. This war may happen very close to me.
The next meeting I found myself at the Hall distracted with various thoughts. "What if something does happen? It can! Some refer to the current Prime Minister as (Muammar al-) Gaddafi! He may be capable of staging a coup. Will we make it out in time? Will we end up having to sneak to the border in the middle of the night? What should I carry? What will happen to the friends here?!?!? Are we just going to leave them behind?"
I then noticed the yeartext behind the brother "Be courageous and strong.... Jehovah your God is with you. - Joshua 1:9". Talk about timely! It helped me to calm down and not be so occupied by anxiety. Whatever happens, Jehovah will take care of us. I decided to make sure that I kept up with my personal study.
There was not any drama leading up to the elections but there was one noticeable difference the week of the election. All of the embassy police officers were replaced with armed soldiers.
It was easy to see that the elections were a big deal. Young people walking around waving and wearing flags.
Election Day was quiet here in Tirane. There was some violence in other cities but no rioting.
A few days after the elections the official results were in. People who were in support of the victorious party celebrated. Those in support of the losing party sat quietly. Probably, worrying about their job security. A common occurrence is that the party in power replaces those in government positions that are of the opposite party. Shortly after the Albanian police were back at their embassy posts.
We made it through the Prime Minister Elections unscathed!