When my neighbor in my host family village of Bishqem invited me to his high school graduation party, I said “Of course, I’ll be there!” When he told me to bring a nice dress for the occasion, I said “Certainly, no problem!” When I got there, however, I realized I was in for quite the night, and said “Uh oh!”. For some reason or other, I managed to forget that I was in Albania - that things here are always different then they are in the U.S. - but this time, in a good way.
High school graduations in Albania are not done with caps & gowns, nor are they celebrated with family. Instead, they are celebrated in a lokal, or bar, from 8pm at night until approximately 6 in the morning with only classmates and apparently selected dates (i.e.- myself). I wore my nicest dress but failed to realize until we arrived I was at the equivalent of prom. All girls had their hair done complete with 1000 bobby pins and glittery hair spray and were all wearing snazzy high heels. They were also either wearing a full out ball gown or something so tight and slutty it seemed X-rated- either way, I was definitely UNDERdressed. The boys were also dressed nicely with black pants & a white dress shirt or something similar.
We all waited outside until the whole class was accounted for and then the ceremony began. A red carpet was rolled out with rose petals, we lined up 2 by 2, arm in arm, and walked in couple by couple with THEE most intense music blaring (which I can only imagine is their Pomp & Circumstance), 4 video cameras and 3 photographers in our faces, and all of this to be done in true Albanian style- with a straight face. I almost died of laughter walking in, but managed to keep it cool for a grand total of 1 minute in front of the cameras. We were seated at 4 long tables, served a round of beer and pop, Welcomed by the Principal and 2 student speakers, and then the party took off and never looked back. We were served a feast of food throughout the night- at least 10 courses served up until 3am, limitless beer, had video cameras & photographers constantly in our faces, and danced until the sun came up. My favorite part of the night was when some girl willingly karoke’d an Alanis Morissette song. Due to the depressive mood of the song, the DJ decided to speed it up and mix it a little, to which the girl got angry, slammed the microphone down on the table, and stormed off. Everyone was silent for a couple moments but the music started again and the normal party resumed.
We kept this going until about 5:30 in the morning, when most of us crawled out the bar, saw the sun was up and immediately wanted to go to bed. Bledi and I got home around 6am and definitely had an amazing night. And just in case I were to ever forget the moment, myself AND EXCITINGLY the whole neighborhood has their own 2 hour copy DVD of the party to watch for the rest of our lives. Congratulations graduates!
The end of the night on the dance floor.
Me & Bledi at the Grad Party.