One of the best experiences I will miss about Albania is grocery shopping. For such a minimal cost, there is a plethora of fruits and vegetables that greet me as a I stroll the streets of Saranda. One way being a tourist or PCV in Albania is so inexpensive is by going local with your food choices.
Growing up on a farm, I was lucky to have parents concerned about us having a balanced diet that we raised on our own. A fun game we like to play is creating something like a steak dinner, with popular pairings being asparagus, green beans or broccoli; and discussing how much it would be at a restaurant. The meat was from cattle we raised or from the neighboring Glascock farm. If we raised it the cost of feed and other expenditures were to be factored in, or it could have been bought on the hoof, plus processing. The vegetables then being only the cost of seed really. My parents time and energy is not forgotten, but not something they had to pay. Not everyone can enjoy this level of personal food cultivation due to location, time or ability.
For a brief time, I tried to find this experience in Ksamil. Together with my live-in bf, we started to grow a vegetable garden behind my friend Tani’s bar. It’s a hot and minimal rain fall area, so with time we neglected the project for traveling to northern Albania and other activities. We did end up with some pea pods and radishes, though.
It’s ok, it was just a little project and ended up encouraging the Çelikus to retake their garden, make some improvements and begin to use their own space more for growing onions, grapes and kind of let the mint spread as far as it wanted for Tani’s mojito cocktails. I’m fine with this development, it’s a bit of goal 2 of Peace Corps, we lead by example and they adopted the practices we were suggesting.. If only Tani would listen to me about putting out a sandwich board to display his cocktail options (Soon to come a post about encouraging a local tourism driven business owner to increase his efforts.)
My original desire for putting in the garden was also to get vegetables I couldn’t find in Albania. However, with three years of experience, the vegetables that are available and the duration that they are has definitely increased. Beets, strawberries, avocados, radishes and even celery are all items where I have seen a change. This seems to be a combination of further imports and also a change in popularity, that as Albanians become more global citizens from their experiences abroad, they are adopting more foods to their palate. I look forward to visiting someday to see more of these changes, hey, maybe with the addition of asparagus eventually.
This fresh local produce, is something I’ll miss sincerely, as it is something that America struggles with. Our big box stores shipping things from all over the world to be readily available at all times of the year, takes out the personal connection one has to the food. Food deserts, zones of cities where fresh local produce is unavailable, or are so far for residents to travel with public transportation; seem a far away concept here.
My main point with going local is this, delicious produce is available and cheap in Albania. The businesses I’m highlighting are a marker to me of this wonderful-ness. There are three little shops on my street in Saranda that are demonstrable of the available produce. They also demonstrate the relationship that families have with businesses, all of them are most often staffed by women. Four women in particular take a large share of the service hours at the shops. These women are wives, mothers and grandmothers; they carry around their granddaughters in the shop, have coffee with their friends in the business and greet passersby on the street. More than a few times, we engage in conversation and they ask after my work at the Children’s Home, my family they’ve never met and myself. While at times my street is a bit full of men with their loud motorbikes and football games at the downstairs bar; this is a part of the community I support and value.