The Balkanista meets Ann Thomson

Opinion Society

Every so often, I come across an expat who has chosen to make Albania home. This month I spoke to Ann and Gordon, a Scottish couple living in Lezhe and learned how their charitable giving turned into a whole new life for them.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Ann and myself and my husband Gordon have been married for 30 years. We are from the West Coast of Scotland but have been living in Lezhe, Albania since September.

Tell me the story of how you ended up living here?

Gordon and I do not have children, and even years ago, Gordon and I started to sponsor a child here in Albania. He was five years old at the time and is now all grown up at 12 years! We started writing letters to each other and communicating regularly through sending pictures and other things. He told me it was his dream to meet me and for us to go to the beach together, so four years ago my husband made it happen. World Vision, who we were sponsoring him through, set everything up and we made our first trip to Albania. Over the following years we visited many more times and every time we visited, it was like coming home. It became harder and harder to say goodbye because our sponsor and his family became like our family. We had bonded so well and loved our time in Albania so much, we decided to just go for it. In February 2018 we bought an apartment in Lezhe, returned to Scotland, packed up our belongings and sold our house. We haven’t looked back since.

Think back to the first time you ever came to Albania, did you have any preconceptions?

I didn’t really have any preconceptions of Albania before I came and I didn’t know anyone who had even visited. A bit of Googling had revealed a bit about trying to cross the road at traffic lights- it isn’t too bad in Tirana but in Lezhe we don’t have them and it can be a bit of a mission to get from one side of the road to the other!

What are the three things you love the most about Albania and living here?

Number 1 has to be the people I have never met people like them anywhere else in the world, the food is great, the countryside is beautiful, the winters are short and the summers long, the shops are more personal as they are not all chain stores…Ok that is more than 3 but its hard to stop at just 3 things!

What are the three things you dislike about Albania and living here?

The driving is crazy and the nicest of people become transformed into a maniac when they get behind the wheel of a car. The pavements are not the best for wearing high heeled shoes, and I don’t like the amount of stray animals roaming the streets without a home.

What do you think are the biggest problems facing Albanian society and its people?

When you speak to the young people of Albania they all want to leave Albania because of the economy and the lack of opportunities here for them- this is very sad.

How do people react to you being a foreigner?

Well people will openly stare at you on the street or when going into a café but they are just curious as to who you are and what you are doing here. Its not unusual for me to ask for the bill in a cafe to be told “oh the man over there has paid for your coffee as he knows you have come to live here and you are welcome in Albania”- this doesn’t happen anywhere else!

Have you learned the language?

Avash avash I have learned a few sentences and learn mostly from my Albanian family and just by speaking to people in the shops and the Pazar. I think Shqip is a beautiful language but the alphabet and different sounds make it very hard to get to grips with at the beginning.

What are your favourite places in Albania? And in Lezhe?

I love Tirana, Shkoder, Kruje, Razem and I plan to visit the south in the summer

My favourite places in Lezhe are Shengjin but not just the main beach, It has beautiful walks in the hills and the coast stretches far with little hidden beaches along the way.

For eating meat it has to be “Mrizi i Zanave Agroturizm”, for fish “Fishlove” and I love going to the roof terrace at the “Jolly Hotel” to look over Lezhe.

Do you intend to stay in Albania long-term?

Yes, this is now our home and we will stay here forever. We made a commitment to our Albanian family and we intend to honour it.

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