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Welcome to the land of dangerous hospitality

March 18, 2013

Ever fantasized about hitting the road and going deep into the depths of Albania? Chances are slim, but I am here to suggest you should start.

*Note: Danger in the title is not in a reference to issues of personal safety, more danger of the stomach explosion, gain a bunch of weight variety...

About a month ago I found out that during my fellowship I got to host two visiting engineers from Kiva who were going on a field partner trip to Albania. At the time when they arrived I had only been in the country about two weeks so I was a little nervous that a newbie like myself would be able to really show them real Albania. Come along with us and judge for yourself how I did.

They started off in the office getting to know Bianka the amazing and talented Kiva Coordinator at VFA before heading south from the capital city of Tirana on a epic mountainous road that has the power to make even the most hardy road warrior a little queazy.


Right then on the road to Elbasan I found out how tough these guys were; while I was trying to get as much of body out the window as possible and turning a lovely shade of green they were telling distracting funny stories, asking questions and eating snacks.

The majority of the borrowers that VFA serves in Elbasan and its neighboring villages are vulnerable populations made up of the ethnic Roma and Egyptian communities. Driving through our first neighborhood out car was literally chased down by children who wanted to take us home to their mother, a former kiva borrower. This was not a planned stop but we couldn't say no.

See if you can spot the shy one.
If we did not take any turkish delight, she would have stuffed it in our pockets.

Seeing how this family lives really touched all of us. The loan from Kiva allowed them to building an actual roof on their house, but they are still all sleeping in one room with no running water, no toilet and no electricity. Just ten minutes outside of what looks like a normal european city, whole neighborhoods like this one are still living in extreme poverty.

Things are looking up however with the arrival of baby goats and milk to sell this spring.

No visit to Elbasan would be complete without a stop at the Roma market. Buying clothes from european retailers at the end of the season for re-sell is a huge business in Albania, and the Roma and Egyptian communities have been incredibly successful in this business among other ventures. If you need quality used clothes, this is the place for you! We all got in on the action.

Me in a stunner of a coat!
Chris (Kiva Engineer) contemplating this hot number.
Piles of coziness!

Our next stop was to a village in southern Albania about 45 minutes away from the city of Korca. We were incredibly lucky to get to meet with a borrower that has been a client of VFA for the past ten years and a Kiva borrower as well. In this region the primary business is the local mine, but due to health problems both the husband and wife had been forced to leave their jobs. Without the loan from Kiva that got them started dairy farming they would have really struggled to support themselves and their children.

The treacherous walk up to their house (good boots are a must in Albania!)

Visiting this borrower was VERY different from our last stop, by all accounts they had a very normal house (other than their steep trail driveway) with running water, electricity, indoor toilet. I am not exaggerating when I say that their hospitality was literally so overwhelming I contemplated undoing a button on my pants which by the end were feeling pretty restrictive.

Gezuar! Cheers in Albanian. (You may recognize the blue sweater being sported by Zvi, the Kiva engineer in the middle, from a previous photo...)
Making dough for tasty pies.
Engineers and loan officers have to eat too!

The pies were delicious but my favorite part of the day was the demonstration of how the rabbit on the table had been trapped.

Ayet, the loan officer holding up the rabbit head (brains intact to be consumed by Zvi later)
Hop, hop goes the rabbit until in goes the head through the wire and viola! Rabbit for dinner.
Zvi ate every part of the rabbit, what a champ!

This particular borrower is also known for her ability to read your fortune in the grounds of your coffee cup. I was a little bit nervous for this portion, what if she told me something terrible?!


My future turned out to be a bit murky, but she did continually say how happy I am which was better than some of the other fortunes that were told. On her accuracy, we will have to see as she told Chris that a female in his close family like a sister will be pregnant within the next two months. Who knew a kiva borrower might also be an oracle?

There was so much more that happened on this trip, it was impossible to keep it to one blog post so check back next Monday for part two, until then Mirupafshim from Albania!

Taking a break from the wild road to admire the gorgeous view outside of Elbasan.