Attempting to bake cookies

It is hard to believe that it is Easter today back in the states. I almost forgot to be honest, but I do miss my family and wish that I could have been back home to celebrate with them.  So of my favorite childhood memories are searching for eggs in my aunts backyard back in the day with all my cousins. We lost an hour last night due to daylight savings, so that threw me off a bit. Now I am 8 hours ahead of those of you back in Colorado. It makes chatting very difficult because I only can access the internet on Tuesday and Friday until around 5pm. And I can only access the internet when I am on breaks from the trainings that we have all day long.  I wish I could speak with everyone more, but right now I am so busy!

Today was a very eventful day and my one day off for the past week, so I took advantage! I met some of my volunteer friends in the morning for kafe. After coffee a couple of the girls decided to bake cookies (and I brought measuring cups – yay!). Our cookies came out a little strange… more like one giant cookie that had a different taste. Embrace the chaos right. I think we may have bought some other ingredient instead of butters –whoops. We’ll eventually get it right! In the afternoon I went to another volunteers house for more coffee. It was fun because I got to speak with her host sister who speaks English very well! I showed one of my neighbor children how to hula hoop today too and that was extremely adorable. I have found that there is a lot of supplies to make hoops around here, so I will hafta do that! I definitely want to make some hoops for the village kids to play with around here. It would be great exercise!! I did my laundry for the first time today as well and that was also interesting. I accidently turned all of my whites blue… I am not exactly sure how that happened, but it is just another whoops for the day. It was pretty funny to see some of my clothes and my tie-dye tapestry hanging from my host family’s house.

I spoke more with my host family and showed them pictures of the 14ers I have climbed and some of the different vacations that I have been on.  We are beginning to have a lot more interaction and I am very happy about this, but I am still having a hard time understanding a lot. My Albanian dictionary is my best friend right now. avash avash. I know that I will not fully learn the language in 3 months, but I am going to get better in time! There is no point in stressing myself out about it. I have decided that I will use my teachers for tutoring sessions after class at least a couple times a week. I think they can help me with my pronunciation – right now that is what I am having a really hard time with.

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Community Mapping

The Pajove group began our community map today.  We made a map of all the important landmarks and establishments within our community.  This was a really fun homework assignment because it allowed us to get outside and get to know our new training site.  We also went and visited several other volunteer’s host families and that was a lot of fun as well.  People in Albania are extremely hospitable and it is nice to get to know different members of the community.  It is also nice to get an idea of what other volunteers are experiencing in their host homes.

I just can’t get over how beautiful Albania is.  Pajove is such a wonderful village to live in and being surrounding by other great trainees makes things even better. Tomorrow we will have a tour of the health center and more language training.  Gotta admit that learning the language has been difficult, especially when we are learning at such a quick pace, but I am starting to understand more and hopefully soon I will be able to communicate more as well.  I still can’t believe that I have only been here for a week because I feel like I have been here for a long time. It’s crazy how this whole experience has changed my whole life. Sometimes I still don’t feel like this is real life. I can tell that I have already made some life-long friends.

The first furgon experience – “embrace the chaos”

Today I started to get a little antsy about the whole internet situation here. In the states I really did take advantage of being able to access the internet pretty much anywhere at anytime. I officially had not been on the internet for a whole week, which is totally crazy for me!  I have wanted to talk with friends and family back home, but I have been unsure how to go about where to access the internet since entering the internet cafes is not a common occurrence for women in my village.  I thought the Peace Corps office would have wifi today, but it turns out they are setting it up this week, so hopefully by Friday I will have the opportunity to update my blog and give some more information about my new Albania lifestyle.  Luckily I have had several mix cds to listen to that my friends gave me before I left, but sometimes those songs make me homesick. I really do miss everyone a lot.

The other volunteers in my village and I took our first furgon, which is basically a large van, to travel to Elbasan for HUB to train with all the volunteers. It was definitely another experience that was a little sketchy. So far I haven’t noticed any real speed limits or stop signs, so the ride can definitely get interesting. Another volunteer likes to explain our whole situation here as “embracing the chaos,” and I would have to agree. It is a motto of our trainee group in Pajove. So today I embraced the chaos of our furgon experience and we made it safely to Elbasan.  At HUB I was able to catch up with all the other volunteers and it was nice to see everyone again.  Even though we have all only known each other for a week it feels like much longer.  We are already all a family and we use each other for support, entertainment, friendship, and fun.  I still feel that coming here was one of the best decisions that I ever made it my life and I look forward to all the struggles and successes that we will face together.  Since the HUB office did not have wifi I went to a local internet café with a fellow male volunteer.  Women in my village are not usually out past sunset.  Our furgon ride from Elbasan was late and I really wanted to update everyone back home, so we went to the internet café and everything seemed okay.  And luckily it was super cheap, only 60 leke (60 cents in America) for us both to use the computers for about 40 minutes.  I feel a lot better after updating everyone online and I was able to come back home to my host family more relaxed.

Even though my language skills are still fairly low I feel like I am starting to connect more and more with my host family everyday.  This morning I showed my jewelry collection to my host sister and host mother.  This evening I showed them the Christmas tree in my room (for some reason there is a fake Christmas tree with a fake watermelon inside my room – embrace the chaos) that I decorated with a bunch of pictures, bracelets, pins, and inspirational cards.  They all told me it was very beautiful.  My host sister helped me with my homework after dinner, while the rest of the family watched the local soccer team on tv. Naten e mire (good night).

Meeting the host family and beginning PST

I haven’t had the opportunity to blog, or even use the internet, for quite some time now. I will probably only have the chance to update my blog on Tuesday and Friday when all the volunteers travel to Elbasan, a larger city and our HUB site, for training together in the Peace Corps office because they have wifi.  There is an internet café in my village, but I haven’t been there yet.  It is not a wifi café, but instead a internet café with old-school computers that I can use.  It will just be easier for me to update my blog when I get wifi at the Peace Corps office.

On Saturday I finally met my host family and that was quite an experience!  My host home is located in the small village of Pajove (pronounced pie-yove), along with four other volunteers.  Four other volunteers are also located in another village nearby, which is a short walking distance from my house. My host family consists of a father (baba), mother (mama), a 17 year old sister (moter), and two brothers (vella) who are 20 and 24.  My host family owns the local car wash run by my baba. My mama works around the house and helps keep everything in order.  My older host brother just got engaged and works at the family business. My younger host brother is a student and so is my host sister.  My host sister is awesome; she uses the English dictionary to help communicate and translate with me. She also does most of the work around the house along with going to school.  No one in my family speaks any English and my shqip is about the level of a small child at best.  We mostly communicate with each other through a dictionary and basic greetings, yes (po) and no (yo), and the word good (mire). We continually say “javash javash,” which means slowly slowly.  Luckily my host family has had two previous volunteers, so they understand that the language and culture takes time to adjust to.

The whole experience has definitely been extremely funny at times, but can also be frustrating.  On my first night I accidently took out all the electricity at my host home by plugging in my Eurosurge – whoops!  I finally got my host sister to help me out yesterday so I have been able to finally charge some of my electronics! These Turkish toilets have also just been a battle for me as well… the sanitation here is very different from what I am used to in the states, but I am sure that I will get used to it soon enough.  Yesterday I randomly ended up helping out in the planting grape trees when I just thought I was going over to another house to meet some extended family.  My host family grows all their own food and over 1000 grape trees alone!  It was funny to “prove myself” and I am not quite sure if I did, farming was not my expertise back in Colorado haha.

Today I had my first day of PST training at the local high school, which is conveniently located right across the street from my house!  We worked on learning the basics of the language, such as the alphabet, numbers, days of the week, etc. My shqip is still pretty bad, but I am slowly beginning to pick up on things and living with my host family is definitely a motivator because I really would like to communicate with them on a more advanced level. We stopped training in the morning for a coffee break – people in Albania LOVE their coffee and I also really enjoy the espresso. My host mom makes an amazing Turkish coffee as well! After our coffee break we continued classes and then all ate lunch together at the local café, which is located right next door to my house in front of my neighbor’s house. Once lunch was over we were free for the afternoon, so the Pajove volunteers walked to meet up with the volunteers from the neighboring village for some more coffee! It was nice to catch up with everyone and hear the funny stories of living with host families.

Thus far my experience in Albania has been great! It is such a beautiful country and the scenery reminds me a lot of Colorado.  There are beautiful mountains and landscapes. I am so lucky to be placed in such a wonderful area surrounded with other great volunteers! I will hopefully have some pictures to post soon! Until then, mirupafshim (goodbye)!

PST Staging

Today was our last full day at the hotel. We received our first taste of what kind of projects some of us health volunteers may be working on and I am super excited. At first I was somewhat concerned that I would not have much to offer in that field, but now I completely understand why I was placed within the sector of health.  In Albania some of the health topics include dentistry, family planning, prenatal care, HIV/AIDs and STDs, substance abuse, life skills, breast cancer, school yard clean-up, family violence, roma women training, special Olympics, summer camps, hypertension, and teaching English.  It looks like I will have the opportunity to explore various topics that interest me and I am SO EXCITED about that!! I am hoping that I will be able to do some projects revolving special education, summer camps, basic life skills, and substance abuse.  Getting my degree in Social Work actually has opened a bunch of doors for me involving different things within the country.

We also had to opportunity to speak with several volunteers who have been serving in Albania and they gave a lot of useful tips and information. I can’t wait to go and meet my host family tomorrow, but for now I need to get off my computer because my charger is still packed away in my suitcases that are not stored in the hotel room.

First Post in Albania… FINALLY

So I have been mentioning to everyone how I will have a blog to update everyone back in the states about my Albanian experiences, and now I have FINALLY set up this so-called blog that I will be writing.

Yesterday we all arrived in Albania after the longest traveling experience I have had in my life.  My whole journey began on Monday morning when I flew out of Denver at 7 am to begin staging, the initial portion of training, in Philadelphia. I arrived in Philadelphia a little bit around 12 pm and met up with a fellow volunteer to travel to our hotel together. I ended up meeting two other volunteers who are also from Denver at the airport as well. Once we got to the hotel our job as a Peace Corps trainee began. We immediately started staging and met the rest of the group. There are 34 volunteers in my group and we are the 16th group to come and volunteer in Albania. At staging we learned a little bit about Albania, our travel arrangements to Elbasan and the Peace Corps in general. It was fun and quick. After staging groups of us went out to dinner and got soaked walking around in the rain. The next morning we left the hotel at 10am via bus to JFK Airport in New York. The experience at the airport was interesting, to say the least, but we all made it to Elbasan. And all our luggage made it too!! From New York we took an 8 hour flight to Germany on Luftansa. I was extremely anxious about the plane ride at first, but then I quickly realized that flying international is great, besides the no-sleeping factor. I loved the food on the plane, gotta admit the dessert was amazing! After our long flight to Germany we had a brief layover and then took a short flight over to Albania. We arrived in Albania around 11 (7 hours ahead of Colorado time) and the weather was absolutely gorgeous – mid 60s! We took another, very bumpy, bus ride to Elbasan, which will be the HUB site for PST (pre-service training). Once we arrived at our hotel groups of us went for a guided tour around the city. After the tour we had dinner and were issued our Peace Corps samsung phones. Our phones are extremely old-school, which is kind of fun and amusing to try and relearn how to type in T9.  All of us volunteers were about to pass out from exhaustion during dinner, but we all made it through and then passed out immediately after. It felt nice to get a good nights sleep after traveling for days on very few hours.

Today started week 0 of PST in Albania. It was extremely rainy in Elbasan today, the sporadic weather reminds me of home. We learned more about Albania and the program. I am very excited to begin learning more and more as these weeks go on! There are 10 weeks of PST and then after that we will all move to our respective home-sites around the country. On Saturday we will all move to our host-families in five different cities surrounding Elbasan. I will be living in Pajove with 4 other volunteers. I am so stoked to begin this experience and I got to admit that I still don’t believe that I am actually living in Albania. Bring it on Peace Corps, here I come!