Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Limits of My World

Thanks to Ginnie (In Soul), what has always been said of me has now been confirmed.
I'm a communicator. I like to talk. I love to share ideas. I am no secret. Outside or inside, there is not much difference. I am pretty much just as I appear. At first I thought that meant I wasn't that deep, but I now realise that it means my depth is very close to the surface and that you don't have to dig very far in order to find the real me. I don't hide things. Ask me a personal question and you'll likely get a direct answer.
In school every report card was sent home with the words "loves to talk" or "talks too much" somewhere on the page. Never mind the straight A's, I was always being told to keep quiet and to listen more. My favourite doll was "Chatty Cathy", and all my Barbies had their own voices. My Mom always said that my younger brother didn't speak until he was well over 2 because I did all his talking for him.
Now that I'm an adult I don't think I talk all that much and I hope my listening skills are better developed. But I still love those little conversations that are spread throughout a normal day. I noticed how much I thrived on those while in NYC last week. I'd buy a sandwich and chat with the girl behind the counter. Standing in line for the toilet I'd turn around and ask the women behind me where they were from. Sitting in the audience at the musical I'd smile and chat with the person beside me. Snippets of other people's conversations were oh so interesting. The constant noise of the city was stimulating, not draining. I wanted to take it all in and remember every moment.
Now I'm back in Albania, and I feel frustrated. Some of the younger Albanians speak English really well, but most people my own age don't. Instead they speak Italian as their second language, a language I've never studied. The noise of Tirana drains me rather than stimulates. I wear my earphones attached to my iPod in order to keep out the constant sound of horns and traffic. I don't listen to other people's conversations because I can't understand them. "Si jeni?" (how are you?) and "Mire" (good) are about the extent of my daily conversations with people I meet on the street. The boy who sells sunglasses outside my apartment always smiles and asks how I am. "Mire" I say, wishing I could stop and have a longer conversation with him, the adorable boy with shockingly beautiful teeth. The older man with a thick bundle of American dollars who stands on the corner where money is exchanged tries to make contact with me on my way to the gym. "Morning" he calls out to me, his only English word. "Morning" I call back with a smile. In the little shop where I buy water, I hesitatingly ask for "Uje" and inquire "Sa kushton?" (how much?). Without language I become as a child, and I am bothered by it.
There's a sweet lady who sells various neccesities from the top of a cardboard box. She crouches all day on an even smaller box and as I pass her I always make sure to smile at her and give a little wave. There's nothing I need to buy from her, though I wish there was. Yesterday as I was passing she waved to me and motioned for me to stop. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a packet of chewing gum with just two pieces left. She spoke to me in Albanian, asking how I was and more. Again I used my one word "Mire". Her chubby fingers struggled to get a piece of gum out for me and the last one for herself. If I could speak her language I would loved to have asked her questions about her life, her family, her country.

But I can't. Me, the girl who was always told to be quiet, is now often speechless.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 - 1951), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922)

24 comments:

Kim/Thomas said...

Oh Kimmie, you and I are soo similiar, I would have a hard time without communication, I would want to know so much about these people too, just to hear their stories and share with them..

I always joke that I'm an open book, and in my job, I interrogate and talk alot:) I always talked too much in school as well!

I walk around everywhere I go and want to help everyone, I feel like i'm not doing nearly enough as I could, and I sooo hate it that I cannot save the world!

Have a great day, and isn't there any other english speakers around albania? or is that just one of the whacko questions i'm asking? ;)
k

traveller one said...

Ahhh Kim... We sure are sisters :)

I'm always saying sorry for asking too many questions!

Sure there are some English speakers here- that's why I so look forward to my Tuesday afternoon bowling! But you have to make arrangements to have conversation in Enlgish, it just doesn't happen spontaneously.

Romerican said...

This one strikes home for me, in that my conversation skills in Romanian are terribly limited. I feel like such an idiot about it. Sure, I can have some basic conversations, but I cannot discuss art, business, politics, or anything slightly complex in limba romana.

I generally get two kinds of responses: a) People expect me to just magically learn without any structured teaching, which is something I'm not terribly proficient at when it comes to languages. b) People want me to just talk English anyway so they can practice their language skills, which makes these easy for me but the learning goes even slower. Now, when you combine these two factors (plus the bonus that nearly every single book written on "Learning Romanian" is a complete, utter, and total piece of confusing [and/or contradictory] piece of junk)... and my frustration builds.

What keeps me sane is having known some 'foreigners' who took years to leanr English mostly from CNN, back when I was still living Stateside. Trudging ever onward, I pick up a few things here and there... keeping my eye on the prize.

So, I felt ya there for a moment.

tironsi said...

I'm sure there are a couple of Albanians visiting this blog who wouldn't mind answering a few of your questions. How about a running series on learning Albanian? That could even be a blog on its own right, and it shouldn't be started from an Albanian because we wouldn't know what foreigners most like to learn.

traveller one said...

Romerican... Romania was the same for me, even after 5 years I still struggled with speaking Romanian. I often found myself thinking in the language however! I'm sure all expats sometimes feel this way.

Tironsi... Your suggestion is interesting! I tried having a girl come to my apartment a few times a week to teach me conversational Albanian, but she always giggled and laughed at my attempts. If anyone has ideas on how to earn Albanian without really trying (hahaha) please let me know!

Adela&Radu said...

Here is an idea on how to learn Albanian without trying, have a microchip with the language inserted in our brains. (just kidding) You probably have purchased a book or two on how to learn Albanian, but I think "Mesoni shqip" by Cezar Kurti could be a good start. I know an American here in DC that learned Albanian all by herself through that book, I also know my boyfriend who is using the same book and is still on Lesson Five. :) It is not an easy language, but if worse comes to worse you can always learn Italian. :)

verniciousknids said...

An excellent post T1 that perfectly captures the frustrations of not being able to communicate as competently as at home. Thanks :D

rowena said...

I know exactly how you feel, as it was so difficult to communicate with people when I first moved to Italy. But now that I can carry on small conversations, somehow I still find it lacking because I'm using textbook language and not the familiar dialect that many folks in my small town use. Oh well...in the end it doesn't matter because once I open my mouth and say that I'm originally from Hawaii, they start going into a round of questions...Is it really sunny there? Are the beaches as beautiful as shown on tv? Do you where flowers in your hair? Questions to which I can barely get out a "Si" before being asked another.

I think the one question that they will never ask though, is why I would ever want to leave such a place to live in Italy. Instead I get a most curious look which borders on disbelief. A hawaiian in their neck of the woods...who would've known? ;-)

Cynthia Rae said...

This post really spoke to me (no pun intended). I too was always that girl in school who "talked too much".

Now I am in Italy and find myself wanting to talk, but unable to express myself. Gone are my little jokes and quick wit. My only hope is one day I will be able to master this lanuage and show the Italians the real Cyndi.

On another note, welcome back home!
Cyn

woman wandering said...

Welcome back!!!

When I read your message in comments I realised I had missed seeing you around :) I'm a simple creature and it is as much to do with what you described in this post, as me not having a good relationship with time and its passing.

I know what you mean about the isolation of not knowing the language though ... I was like that in Turkey. I can't wait to go back and talk via a translator ... I want the stories that surrounded me there. :)

LondonLily said...

I really like this post, so many people, including me, identify with it. It made me remember how incredibly difficult it was to communicate with people when all I had was basic elementary school english. It is so very frustrating when you can't express yourself the way you want to.
I think you need people like the sweet lady to talk to you in albanian, it is much easier to learn from others rather than struggling on your own over a phrase book. I am now thankful for all the sweet old ladies I used to meet at the bus stop who used to have a one way conversation with me throughout the whole journey, even if all I could do was nod, smile and say "yes, yes".:)

ITS said...

hola,

First of all how is this situation an different than Amsterdam, Bratislava, Bucharest? OK, maybe there are more English-speakers in Amsterdam... Other than that it's the same all over Eastern Europe.

The giggling girl that was going to teach you Albanian, was only giggling because she was incompetent to do the job.

Albanian language is a difficult language, but with the right professor, and a strong will to learn, you can have basic conversational skills in 6 months. That way you will be able to go a bit beyond, "Si jeni" "Mire, Faleminderit", "Mirupafshim".

~Cheers,

traveller one said...

Adela... I've got a few books and a CD and a program on my computer, I just need to apply myself!

Vernicious K... it is a common experience isn't it?

Rowena... I can imagine the shock on their faces!

Cynthia Rae... I knew you and I had somehting in common! *wink*

Wandering woman... I love your expression of stories surrounding you! That's beautiful and it's exactly how I feel.

London Lily... I think it must be incredibly difficult to learn a language from a book! I long for real time conversations here in Tirana. For now I do my best :)

ITS... sure it's the same in all Eastern European countries. I guess I'm just feeling it a bit more intensely after being in NY where easy conversations were a breeze and so much fun. Any ideas where to find a good teacher?

Now I'm off to bed to read my Albanian book.

The SeaWitch said...

I felt the same way you do now when I first moved to Greece. I too was called Chatterbox and my name was constantly on the Chatterbox list in elementary school. In high school, my geography teacher gave us all 'awards' at the end of the school year. I got the Swivelhead award because I was always turning my head around to talk to someone next to me, behind me or in front of me.
Then I move to Greece where most people either assumed I was a snob because I didn't speak to them. I felt like a fish out of water because I couldn't communicate with the people around me. I learned to read and write Greek by myself but I still couldn't speak it until I took a course 3 months after I got here and then my whole world opened up. I regained some of my independence and was able to attend doctor's appointments by myself. I was able to understand what my son's teachers were saying about his performance in school. I could get on a city bus without the fear that I'd end up in Romania because I couldn't read the bus stop signs. LOL
I don't know if your daily schedule permits it, but maybe you could enroll in an Albanian or Italian course a few times a week. It would make a world of difference for you with the added advantage of meeting other people who want to communicate. It's a win-win situation as far as I can tell.

Nicola said...

Oh, you must find it so hard - I know how you love to chatter.

I found it hard enough when we went to Spain - that and the fact I am hopeless at languages. I am sure there must be a computer programme that will give you the sounds - so you can hear them. I found it much easier to learn the soundsa and practice saying them, before adding them all together .

The learn Albanian project sounds good too.

ITS said...

Kim,

I know exactly how you can find an Albanian professor. There are several ways.

1) You can go to the Tirana University, department of Language and Literature, ask for who is teaching Albanian Language to foreign students and that will give you the highest qualified person. They might be willing to take on a side project. I am sure your husband's secretary can figure this out for you.

2) Any high-school teacher of English in Albania is qualified to do the reverse and teach Albanian to an English-speaker. They are qualified to do so because they understand how languages work, and have the pedagogy component down. These large number of people will also be starved for extra income (thanks to their wonderful payrates), therefore the perfect people to do the job.

3) I will do it through Skype. :D, but you can't afford me... really...

April said...

that is a terrible feeling. being isolated by a language barrier. i read somewhere that this is the reason that 2-year olds have temper tantums. they know what they want to express, but can't express it properly.

first thing's first. stop isolating yourself from your surroundings with your ipod! it seems like a way to avoid the problem at hand.

i've found in similar situations that it is endearing sometimes when you try to learn the language and stumble through with the help of strangers.

sure, sometimes they laugh at you, but those who really want to make a connection help you put together more detailed sentences.

if you immerse yourself in the sounds of the place, you'll pick up things. (and definitely get some tutoring). just know that the process is not going to go as fast as you want it to go. patience is key.

good luck.

Expat Traveler said...

Ah kim! I know how you feel. If you EVER met my friend Susan, you guys would have the biggest blast ever. You guys are so the same. She stops and chats with everyone, just like you described.

But you know what you can try - teaching them something to say. Use hand signals. Look at the sky and say sun, it's beautiful and teach them English. Some will catch on and maybe you'll have more to talk about...

Milena said...

I think ITS is right (as always!) and you should get a competent professor. Still, I think your albanian would have improved a lot if you'd have known the right people. For example all my best friends know albanian quite well because i've teached them and they like it a lot. You should look for an albanian friend who speaks english and can do the same with you.

ITS said...

"Her chubby fingers struggled to get a piece of gum out for me and the last one for herself."

This sentence in itself is human observation gold. It sparked so many thoughts in my head, I don't know where to start.

The Seinfeld episoded about "man-hands" or the thousands of years of selective breeding among Eastern Europeans to get their women tough enough to handle farming equipement....

Hmmm... there is nothing else that screams Eastern Europe like women with fat hands, mustaches, and an abundance of leg hair...

LondonLily said...

Lol, ITS, I assume you're talking about "old" eastern europe. Eastern european women,not just albanians but the balkans and eastern bloc in general, these days are probably the most glamorous in Europe, in terms of "dressing up" and making an effort. You'd be hard pushed to find fat fingers anywhere, let alone leg hair or god forbid moustaches!

Ginnie said...

So I got out your chart (ha) to see what it is that makes you so full of conversation life! Jupiter (Good Luck) is in Sag in your 3rd house of communication (the natural Gemini house)! Sag is the opposite sign of Gemini and opposite signs always pull from each other. Mars (action) is in Gemini (communication) in your 9th (Sag) house (religion, higher ed, philosophy). So there it is! They get you coming and going. I love it :)

Ardit said...

Common, learning albanian is not that hard. At least the basic words, so you can have some kind of communication with the people around.

My brother in law (he is american) lived in Albania for 3 years, and he knows it fluently. He learnt it with a teacher, twice a week, 1.5hrs each time. Plus aditional reading and practicing. Everytime he goes back home, it makes the people around him happy that he learnt albanian. So many foreign people, that live in the there for years, don't bother to learn any. It is a shame.
Now that we are in the US, when we want to talk to each other so that people around us don't understand us, we talk in albanian.

swissmiss said...

I know I haven't commented here for a long time - my blog reading gets so scattered when Small Boy gets new teeth and gives up sleep in favor of driving me crazy - but I had to comment on this. It exxpresses perfectly the frustration of language barriers, the way you can become a different person. I, too, always got the "talks too much" on my report cards and nobody would believe that now. Though my German has gotten quite good, it seems the initial fear/lost/awkward stayed with me even after my language skills improved, and I behave like a person with much weaker language skills than I actually have.

"Without language I become as a child" you wrote. How true. How frustrating.

And your closing line is wonderfully written.