Lyrad and I flew to Zurich on May 7. After buying our plane tickets, we learned that NO ONE anywhere near Switzerland would rent us a car if we planned to drive the car in Albania. We had to get to Slovenia to get our rental car (plus pay big fees for taking it into Albania). So we took a night train from Zurich to Slovenia (private room for 2 -- comfy and felt like we were in an old Hitchcock movie), rented our car, drove it to Croatia, stayed the night in the coastal town of Split (Croatia), then drove through Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro until...
we reached Albania on May 10! Border crossings were easy, though cars cutting in line at this border crossing gave us a taste of driving in Albania.
We'd been invited to the farewell dinner and testimony meeting for the 7 departing missionaries, at the mission home. Elder Dabell told us to wait near the mission office and we would be picked up. As we were standing on the sidewalk after giving up on finding the mission office (the sign wasn't visible enough), we heard footsteps running quickly towards us and it was MADI!!!! So we got our first hugs on the sidewalk, then had to hurry back to the mission van Madi had arrived in, to drive to the mission home. We met the wonderful MP and his wife, who are from Bern, Switzerland.
The 4 departing sisters
7 departing missionaries (plus 2 office elders)
Madi spent the night at the mission home with her 3 MTC buddies, while Lyrad and I crashed in the Diplomat Fashion Hotel across from the mission office. When I was coming downstairs in the hotel to go outside and get something from the car, I walked quickly across the fancy lobby, smiled and said hi to all the workers at the desks, then tried to pass through the wide open glass door -- and crashed into the very clean glass panel. So embarrassing.
On May 11, I met Madi at the mission office and saw the mail slots for each missionary companionship. I smiled when I noticed that several of the boxes had little handwritten notes Madi had put in there. She is quite the letter-writer!
We took some photos around Tirana while waiting for the rental car to be repaired (it made loud squeaking noises the day before, and we didn't want to drive back through 6 countries if it was going to break down in some deserted spot). Since we were waiting at a rental car place, we asked if we could use a different rental car to see Tirana a little and pick up Madi's suitcases.
Madi wanted to buy an Albanian-Russian Dictionary from this bookstore, plus we picked up a few children's books as well, so she can read to her future children in Albanian.
We ran into these cute 3 street-contactors!
Here's a great way for the police dept to cut costs: the blue police car on the side of the road (which causes every driver check their speedometer and slow down) is a cardboard cut-out! It fooled me.
After the brake pads were all replaced, we left Tirana and drove south to Lushnje and its surrounding villages. We visited this family with a beautiful garden. They love Madi. They spoke no English, so Madi was our translator. At each house, Madi translated their rave reviews of her: "Your daughter is amazing. We love her," etc, until Madi laughed and told us, "This is awkward!" But we loved hearing how loved she is and what a difference she made in these peoples' lives.
Next we visited Baby Kasandra and her sweet mother and sister.
The mother knitted us these socks! She is incredibly talented. Also at each house we were served juice and candy or cookies. And every time we took our first drink, we held up our cups and said, "Gezuar!"
Next we went upstairs in the same building to visit little Martini and his mom and grandma.
We had brought little toys for the children we visited, and Martini had a blast with the spinning top, matchbox car, bouncy ball, and balloon.
Lyrad even drank fresh goat milk from their pet goat.
We visited a house with lots of Roma children (cousins all live together) who aren't members of the Church, but they love Madi and give her presents whenever she visits. So Madi wanted to be sure to finally bring them presents, too. We had American candy for them and toys for each child.
They were so sweet. They didn't even mind that I couldn't speak to them; they accepted us with open arms.
They were so excited to show us their newest batch of puppies, including this one named "Riley!" (Rajilli)
Wow -- not many missionaries get to have a dog named after them!
Lyrad brought toys, too -- such as these finger traps. The kids loved them!
These boys found a fun use for the stickers we brought.
On the left is one present Madi opened: a sign that says "MADI" (letters made of clay, put on cardboard), and on the right are a doll and stickers from us.
The sweet girls had all wrapped gifts for Madi and me: used mascara, lip gloss, clothes, flowers.
So loving and generous -- very touching.
Next we visited this woman and her 2 sons, who speak some English. She told me she loves America and how people in the U.S. have the opportunity to improve their way of life. They served us oranges and candy, while the boys showed us their beautiful collections of drawings and let us choose 3 to take home with us. Every Albanian we met was so generous and hospitable!
We visited these sweet 16 year old girls, good friends who were both baptized recently. They are so sad that no more sister missionaries will be in their branch after Madi leaves, so they plan to do Skype lessons with Madi over the summer.
Mama Rosa (who grew up in Kosovo) made us a delicious dinner -- featuring Madi's favorite spinach byrek.
Mothers and daughters. (I'm not used to being the tall one in a crowd, but I definitely was in Albania!)
Because we spent hours waiting for our car to be fixed, we were behind schedule all day and didn't make it to see this wonderful family until 10 p.m. The 6-year-old boy could not be awakened, but the sweet 11-year-old was awake and dressed up waiting for us. I feel so bad that they waited for hours for us to come, with the kids running out to the road to see if we were coming. Sibora loved the little toys and sat coloring in her coloring book as we chatted (through Madi) and the parents showed us their photo collection (including wedding photos). Eglantina gave me beautiful floral fabric; no matter how little they have, they are so giving. (She gave Madi fabric for Christmas, and Madi had it sewed into a skirt and top which she wore for the rest of her mission.)
(The scarf is a gift from Deti and the purple outfit is made from the fabric Eglantina gave Madi for her bday)
We stayed that night in a bed and breakfast in Berat, then after our nice breakfast outdoors we drove through Berat and saw Madi's 2nd companion/trainee, Motra Ariza from Chile, who is serving with an Albanian comp in Berat. Motra Ariza showed me the things I've mailed to her that are hanging on her walls. She is just darling.
Visited friends of Madi's in their shops
Stopped briefly to say good-bye to the RS pres, who gave Madi a handmade tablecloth.
Visited another gypsy compound to say good-bye to these sweet children.
They gave flowers to Madi
They sang songs for Madi
Waving good-bye and blowing kisses to Madi
We drove by the church building in Berat; they meet above a pharmacy
Last drive through Lushnje
Driving to Durres on the coast
The Adriatic Sea
Sorbet in Durres with Madi's Muslim friends
Driving to Kosovo...
Huge poster of Bill Clinton, since he helped Kosovo gain independence from the Serbs
Madi loves these sisters that she hadn't seen in a year! They fed us delicious spinach pita and gave Madi this beautiful family heirloom.
We stopped by the branch president's home in Prishtina; this cute family speaks great English (even the children are learning it well, thanks to tv shows and internet)
Then good-bye to Madi's mission areas. We were off next to see the other part of Madi's mission, for her first time: Macedonia!