January 3, 2011

Wow! We must not be as greatful in the U.S. to have a new year as the Albanians or something, because they party like crazy here! I definitely had an awesome, unforgettable New Years! I'll get to that in a moment though, because first we have the long awaited transfer news.....Motra Hall is leaving Vlore!
President called on New Years Day night, but I was expecting the news I guess since I had been packing my bags all day before he called. Good thing I started packing early, because I'm still not finished and I leave early tomorrow morning. So I have been assigned back to my first area, Tirana 2/4, and my companion is going to be.....Motra Yourstone! We are both super stoked about that! What makes it even better is that the companionship of Elders that will be in our District will be Elder Moyes and Elder Smith. This is significant, because when us four were all in the MTC a year ago, we made a pact to one day all serve together....but we thought it would never happen. So yeah, we are going to be living our MTC Dream this next coming transfer. I guess going to be with all of them and back to my original area makes up for leaving Vlore, my home for almost the last year (10 1/2 months to be exact) and my awesome cupa, Motra Leit. I've actually taken the news pretty well, although the dozens of visits I've been doing the last couple days have been kinda of painful because everyone else has taken the news a little hard. Obviously because I've been here so long we are all pretty attached, and some members said that they were going to hold me for ransom. I agreed only if they split the cash with me!
RRokaj family - Another farewell party - Vlore, January 2011
It was an interesting Testimony Meeting yesterday in church too, since it was mostly wishes of Happy New Year and farewell wishes for me and Elder Warburton and Eckel who are also both leaving (their area is getting closed, so there will be only 4 missionaries in Vlore now.). I was honored in one testimony with a new title, Mother Theresa II of Vlore....it was quite the honor.
Okay...on to the crazy New Years. So many of you wanted to know about Christmas traditions here, but there weren't any because here they all just celebrate the New Year. For safety reasons, and I'm sure other reasons as well, all missionaries were required to be in their homes by dark on New Years Eve and then had to spend all New Years Day in the home as well - doing some deep cleaning/packing in my case. We got to stay up till midnight though and go out to see the Fireworks on our balcony.
We had a dangerously perfect view of the entire show. It was probably the best firework show I've ever seen, although I felt I was in the middle of some kind of battle. It was literally like all out warfare. When it hit midnight we were surrounded by huge sky fireworks all around us on all sides. They were being shot off from the other side of town, to a couple blocks away, to right below us. Our Landlord's kids were down below our balcony (we live on the 4th floor) and they were shooting them right up the side of the building right past our balcony. Then across the street tons of kids were hanging out their balconies holding huge fireworks in their hands and just shooting them right from their balcony. The best though was these little kids that were just waving around these firework sticks, so they weren't shooting them straight into the air, but rather straight out across the street towards other apartments, like ours! It was crazy! The firework show continued for like 20 minutes and then all the little neighborhood kids (age 7 to 12) started their own little battle right below our apartment. They each had a pocketful of those little firecrackers (the super loud ones that are little, but could probably take off a little kids hand) and a matchbox in their hand to light them, and they were just running around throwing those explosives at each other, at cars, at homes, at stores, into peoples balconies and windows, into trashcans, etc. We just watched them for a bit because it never got old - the stupid things they would do with those explosives. Maybe I'm just mean, but I'm thinking I'm probably not going to let my little kids run around unsupervised with powerful explosives to chuck at their friends....just a thought!
So after all the fireworks around 12:30am we went to bed, despite the phone calls we were getting from the members inviting us to go to the Disco with them! But the rest of the city left their homes and started visiting family and friends.
That is the tradition here that first thing in the next year (even though it is the middle of the night) you leave and start visiting all your family. So even though you haven't seen your Great Aunt three times removed or something like that for the past year, you still go visit her for the New Year. I guess they try to get all those annual visits over with for the whole year. Anyway, these family visits go on for a few days, which means hardly no one was at church on Sunday because they were obligated to wait in their home for visitors. Of course all these visits are accompanied with lots of traditional sweets and food. The main traditional sweet is actually Turkish and is called baklava. It is good, but VERY sweet and can take a lot of time to make because it has lots of layers. I think I have eaten like 5 kilos of it in the past week....ugg! Also there is a traditional meal eaten for New Year. It is made with turkey, which explains why we have seen lots of turkey farms in Albania (imagine herding turkeys instead of sheep) and also explains why for the past week people have been walking around town headed home from the market with a live turkey or two in their hands, hanging off their bikes, or with their head bobbling out of a purse. I'm not kidding! Also explains all the huge blood piles that could be found outside of basically every apartment building....all the butchering they do themselves!

Isufi family- One of many farewell parties! New Years Eve 2011

Motra Leit and I got the privilege to try out this traditional dish last night in fact. I was picking at my bowl cautiously eating the white turkey pieces of meat and the soggy pita type bread that was mixed in it, but trying to avoid the other foreign objects in my bowl that appeared to be like mushrooms or something. Motra Leit wasn't as careful though and was just eating away. I then asked what was in this "delightful dish" and learned that what we thought was mushrooms was actually turkey guts. I notified Motra Leit, but she didn't exactly register what the word "gut" was in English for a minute or so...she was unpleasantly surprised and was too "full" to finish eating, as was I.
As for our like 48 hour lock down in the house for New Years, we had quite a lovely time cleaning, packing, and eating all our Christmas leftover treats. We made the big mistake of thinking that all the pizza and fast food places that are open 24 hours a day 7 days a week would be able to just deliver us some pizza to our house. We thought wrong! There are actually just open 364 days a year, because on New Years NOTHING was open....this whole country was shut-down! So instead we enjoyed my Top Ramen and Mac & Cheese...they were lifesavers!
Anyway, I guess that is all the excitement of my week. I hope you all will have a wonderful, blessed New Year full of all those awesome things that we always wish each other!

Love you all!
Motra Hall