So Many Differences!
With our journey to Albania behind us and the tears all dried up, week two was time to start finding out what is around us. It is definitely a different world than the one we have left behind. There are so many differences between what we know in America and what we have experienced and will experience in Albania. It obviously would take forever to share all of the differences with you, but listed below are a couple of the more dramatic, interesting, funny differences we have seen already. By the way, please do not get the impression we are mocking or making fun of the Albanians or their way of life. Not at all! But we think it is in the differences between the two cultures that it illuminates the differences between Americans and their way of life and the Albanians and their way of life. Hopefully it points us all toward the many ways God has blessed us, wherever we are.
We noticed the difference in the roads right away. Driving in Tirana is crazy! It is like driving during rush hour in Los Angeles, but with nobody really following the rules. It is almost hard to describe, really, but I guess the best way to describe it is “chaos.” It is crazy on the roads with people walking across the roads at any time (and a lot of cars disregard people which makes for a dangerous situation; an American doctor we met told us that Americans are significantly more likely to get seriously hurt walking around the roads than any other way in Tirana), cars stopping in the road with little warning, people turning left from the right lane, people passing on the other side of the road, people running red lights constantly, and so many more crazy things. Those of you who are reading this and have had the chance to visit or live in Tirana are probably all nodding along as you read. You almost have to experience it to understand. There are holes in the roads from manhole covers that are either missing or have been stolen (we have already heard funny stories of people walking in the evening and falling down these holes into the sewers below. Please pray for us that we would be safe on the roads whether walking (especially with the children) or driving.
Another difference that is easy to notice is the standard of living is much lower than what we are used to in the US. We have been told the average Albanian worker makes about $250/month. Which is one reason why, when possible, both the husband and wife work here. We were told by a couple here (that we will leave nameless), the husband has an important job that would command close to six figures in the US if not more, and the husband makes around $1,000/month. It is one of the reasons why Tirana looks the way it does and why we were able to find the place we live in now that fits in our budget. It’s not because things are cheaper here, because, actually, many things are more expensive here. A tiny box of cereal runs between $3-$5, one twin sheet for a bed costs around $50, and electricity is about four times more expensive than in the US. When we first got to Tirana, we were puzzled at the number of unfinished houses that seem to already be housing people (even though the house might not have walls up yet you might find a bed or a table and chairs). Because so many people can’t afford to build their entire home, they will finish the first floor and live in it while the second, third, and fourth floors are just the cement frame. Then as they can afford to do so, they build the second floor until it is livable enough to rent out the first floor. The rent money then helps build the floors as they can. We are living in the first and second floors of a four story house and our rent money will help the owner finish the third and fourth floors over the next few years. Anyway, the standard of living in Albania is significantly lower than in America, and it will be a test for us to see how content we really are when we have less. Please pray that we would have attitudes of great joy, not in the things we do or do not have, but in the Lord who gives graciously to all.
There are many more differences obviously. Bread is cheap and tastes good but it is hard after a day. We do not have air conditioning (praise God for fans) or central heating (praise God for the wood stove our fellow missionaries sold to us) despite the hot summers and cold winters. We bought our mattress rolled up like a carpet. Our electricity and water turn off randomly. It’s a fifteen minute walk to take out the trash. Cheap towels are almost $20. A gallon of gas costs $9. We can’t drink the water because the water pipes were built right next to the sewer pipes during communism and both have started to crack and leak into each other. But listen to the Apostle Paul:
Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. (2 Cor 11:23-28)
Our silly list doesn’t even compare does it? The Apostle Paul realized that it was in our weakness that we can boast, because it is only when Christ is the only thing good in us that we are finally evaluating ourselves properly. I hope these things are an encouragement to you. We all have so much to be thankful for. Think about all the things God has given to you: whether health, family, wealth, or just the ability to turn on your air conditioner when its hot, God has blessed so many of us with so many good things. And if you are a child of His, than even if your list sounds closer to Paul’s than to ours, you are blessed many times over. God has given sinful people righteousness they could never attain. May today be a day of thanksgiving for all of God’s people as we celebrate the good things He has done for us.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, NASB)